The Fiduciary Community
Image representing the "Fiduciary Community" chapter of the book Centrality and Commonality
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What is a “Fiduciary Community”?
Tu Weiming: A fiduciary community … is a society of mutual trust instead of a mere aggregate of individuals. In such a society, the goal of the people is not only to live in peace but also to aid each other in moral exhortation as they cultivate their own personal characters. (C&C, 56)
Do we live in a society of "mutual trust" or are we merely "an aggregate of individuals"?
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Confucius teaching his disciples (representing the social nature of personal transformation)
I. Personal Transformation
The Profound Person
The fact that the way of the profound person can, on the one hand, be manifested in the lives of ordinary people and, on the other, be hidden from the sages is verifiable by common experience. We all, to a certain extent, practice the ordinary virtues of serving our parents, taking care of our children, or helping our friends. Few do all these things regularly and conscientiously. Still fewer try to integrate their daily lives with their quests for self-knowledge. It is indeed rare to find those who act to establish long-lasting values by giving a general structure of meaning to their everyday activities. And it is almost impossible to imagine that a single person, by a strenuous process of self-realization in the context of ordinary human-relatedness, can creatively transform the existing world and formulate an ultimate order of existence which is powerful and pervasive enough to become a defining characteristic of human heritage. (C&C, 32)
animation of ripples
Do you think that this approach to self-cultivation is uniquely "Confucian" or is it a model that might be adapted to any system of morality — whether religious or secular?
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Confucius with Concentric Circles (representing self-cultivation) and the Chinese character for "filial piety" (xiao)
Filial Piety
It is not difficult to see that the notion of the irreconcilability of self and society is frequently predicated on an unexamined proposition that the growth of one’s individuality necessitates a denial of one’s sociality. ... The quest for self-cultivation in Chung-yung is never conceived as an individual’s lonely struggle to achieve inner peace. ... An understanding of this key issue requires first an examination of the concept of “filial piety” (hsiao) in Chung-yung.
Comic page showing one of the attempts that Shun's family made on his life
Commonly rendered as “reverence for parents,” filial piety is considered by many to be the prime virtue in Confucian ethics and the basis of its understanding of proper human relations. ... In the Confucian tradition, the father-son relationship is not only dyadic and hierarchic but also absolutely binding. Even in extraordinary circumstances, a person is rarely justified in breaking away completely from its requirements. ... [A] significant case is Chung-yung’s choice of Shun, the legendary sage-king, as the paradigmatic example of a filial son. According to a well-known account of Shun’s predicament, he was surrounded by a ruthless father, an iniquitous step-mother, and a hostile half-brother. Shun clearly demonstrate his filial love by harmonizing his family relations under extremely difficult conditions. But from the perspective of Chung-yung, the outstanding manifestation of Shun’s “great filiality” (ta-hsiao) was his inner strength that enabled him to become a benevolent ruler despite his personal plight. (C&C, 40-44)
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Mencius once remarked, “Keeping one’s parents when they are alive is not worth being described as of major importance; it is treating them decently when they die that is worth such a description.” (C&C, 45)
Ancestral tablets in an ancestral shrine
For a traditional Confucian, ancestral worship by filial sons may be taken as the microcosm of an ideal society. Ceremonial acts in this connection symbolize desirable behavioral patterns. To respect the old and to honor the dead is to show special concern for the common origin of all. The old are respected not only for their past service but also for the continual value of their wise guidance. The dead are honored because a loving memory of the forefathers brings forth communal identity and social solidarity. Society so conceived is not an adversary system consisting of pressure groups but a fiduciary community based on mutual trust. Only in this sense was Confucius able to make the claim that if the ruler can administer his state with rites, he will no longer have any difficulty. (C&C, 48)
Do Confucians place too much emphasis on "filial piety"
... or is this truly the foundation of a harmonious society?

Representation of the Cosmos with the ruler as the "North Star" and the Turtle, Tiger, Phoenix, and Dragon protecting the north, east, south, and west
II. Political Transformation
The Obligations of Rulership
ConfuciusChinese character for "politics" (zheng)The goal of politics is not only to attain law and order in a society but also to establish a fiduciary community through moral persuasion. The function of politics then is centered on ethical education. In our ordinary use of the term, we also can consider politics a branch of moral philosophy, dealing with the ethical relations and duties of governments. But the Confucian concept of politics as rectification involves many aspects of ethicoreligious thought that are not usually associated with the political arena.
        Of primary importance is the fact that the project of rectification is originally aimed not so much at the people as at the ruler himself. The idea is that the ruler, for the sake of his leadership, must engage in the rectification of his personal character. ...
The moral integrity of the ruler, far from being his private affair, is thought to be a defining characteristic of his leadership. He must realize that what he does in private is not only symbolically significant but has a direct bearing on his ability to lead, for the kind of people he can attract depends, in large measure, upon his personal character. Without the participation of qualified personnel, the conduct of government, unlike the growth of plants, will be slow and stagnant. The ruler’s moral integrity is therefore an indispensable condition for good government.
Compass with moral virtues for NSEW
If the ruler’s cultivation of his personal character is  of great political significance, what does it actually entail? Chung-yung’s suggestion is as follows:
The cultivation of the person is to be accomplished through the Way, and the cultivation of the Way is to be done through humanity. Humanity (jen) is [the distinguishing characteristic of] man, and the greatest application of it is in being affectionate towards relatives. Righteousness (i) is the principle of setting things right and proper, and the greatest application of it is in honoring the worthy. The relative degree of affection we ought to feel for our relatives and relative grades in the honoring of the worthy give rise to the rules of propriety (li). (C&C, 49-51 [XX:4-5])
Is personal morality really essential for leadership?
How important is it that we trust our leaders?
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What happens when Americans don't trust the president?
What happens when the world doesn't trust the United States?

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If the ruler cultivates his personal life, the Way will be established. If he honors the worthy, he will not be perplexed. If he is affectionate to his relatives, there will be no grumbling among his uncles and brothers. If he respects the great ministers, he will not be deceived. If he identifies himself with the welfare of the whole body of officers, then the officers will repay him heavily for his courtesies. If he treats the common people as his own children, then the masses will exhort one another [to do good]. If he attracts the various artisans, there will be sufficiency of wealth and resources in the country. If he shows tenderness to strangers from far countries, people from all quarters of the world will flock to him. And if he extends kindly and awesome influence over the feudal lords, then the world will stand in awe of him. (C&C, 59 [XX:13])
Image of China with concentric circles radiating from the center
Is this perspective hopelessly naive or does it represent
the foundation of a strong sociopolitical order?
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Image of people united around a globe with national flags from around the world
III. Global Transformation
Broader Implications of the Fiduciary Community
During the Warring States, a number of competing states engaged in continuous warfare in the struggle to survive and/or win complete dominance over the Chinese world. Based on this early Chinese context, Tu Wei-ming writes:
It is not enough for the ruler to provide leadership, as a chain of commands extending throughout the country. The most he can achieve by that is to ensure his hegemonic authority for a limited period of time. He can certainly evoke a sense of fear among the feudal lords by sheer force, but if he does so, his influence is confined to areas in which he can directly exercise his political and military power. The ruler who is a real king (wang), rather than a mere hegemon (pa), must cultivate a holistic vision of politics, penetrating deeply into all levels of human-relatedness. Only then will the world stand in awe of him. (C&C, 60)
How is this relevant to the contemporary "global" context?
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Is the U.S. President (generically speaking) a "real king" or a "mere hegemon"?
Image of China with concentric circles radiating from the center
Is this religious yet?
Cartoon image of Confucius