The Duke of She declared to Confucius: “Among my people, there is a man of unwavering integrity. When his father stole a sheep, he informed on him.” Confucius said: “Among my people, people of integrity are different. Fathers watch the backs of their sons and sons watch the backs of their fathers. Integrity can be found in this.”
Nobody likes a grass: but that doesn’t make Confucius’s blustering attempt to place loyalty to the family as a higher virtue than honesty any more palatable. What about the poor guy who had his sheep stolen? Surely he is entitled to some form of justice.
Apologists argue that this passage reflects Confucius’s deeply-held belief that the family forms the rock upon which a stable and just social order is built; but one of the many massive holes in this argument is that once families gain wealth and power they tend to become corrupt self-serving organisms that leech off society at large and do everything they can to protect their unearned privileges.
Just look at the growing concentration of power and influence among the privately educated and affluent middle class who dominate government, politics, finance, and the media in the UK today – not to mention the growing gap between the super-rich 1% and the remaining 99% of the global population.
Even in his day, Confucius railed against the corrupt practices of the Ji family that had to all intents taken over the reins of power in his home state of Lu. Surely he wasn’t so blind that he couldn’t see the dangers, as well as the benefits, of keeping it all in the family.