Rejecting dirty hands : Wang Fuzhi’s commentary on history

Activity: Talks or PresentationsOther Invited Talks or Presentations


Confucian discourse on politics often impresses people as being too idealistic. It focuses on depicting a high-sounding ethical relationship between virtuous leaders and devoted followers, thus prescribing guidelines that direct and constrain political behaviors. Yet our complex daily experience in politics hardly conform to this caricature of Confucian politics. The binary opposite language of 'righteous', 'unrighteous,' 'benevolent,' and 'non-benevolent' at times seem too simplistic or even naive to be provide any pertinent guidance in the real political world. Such tendency has been relatively well depicted in Western political philosophy as the 'Dirty Hands Problem' in politics. This essay would approach this debate from a different perspective: how would Confucians respond to the issue of dirty hands politics? In this article, I will develop one possible strand of Confucian perspective through critically engage with one particular Confucian master—Wang Fuzhi. Through reconstructing Wang's line of thought, I contend that Confucianism has taken the issue of dirty hands politics seriously. Ratherthan resorting simplistic political moralism, Wang's rejection of dirty hands politics has exemplified Confucianism's sensitivity to realistic constraints in politics.
Period7 Mar 2022
Degree of RecognitionInstitutional