Lacquer Screen Essay Essay, Research Paper
Confucianism was one of the most influential of the four Great Traditions in ancient China. However, it did not become such a big way of life until after Confucius death, as he only had a small number of disciples following him during his lifetime. Confucianism stressed the importance of some of the greatest virtues of life, including filial piety, Jen, Chi, Yung, and Li, as these represented devotion to the parents, benevolence, wisdom, moral courage, and ritual, and were the keys to achieving moral goodness. With Confucianism being such a popular way of life, the government was obviously influenced by it, and it was a working way to govern society. All of these aspects of Confucianism are seen in Robert Van Gulik s novel, The Lacquer Screen.
The Confucian ideal end of government would be governing by moral force, rather than harsh laws and restrictions. Confucius believed that governing by moral force would be much more effective than scaring the society with the consequences of breaking the laws. This ideal is shown throughout The Lacquer Screen, as the reader follows Judge Dee throughout the Wei-ping district. Judge Dee is visiting Wei-ping from the Peng-lai, where he is a magistrate. During his visit, he finds that the wife of the magistrate of Wei-ping has been murdered and a prominent banker has apparently committed suicide. Judge Dee feels the need to investigate these events, with the Magistrate Teng Kan being a friend of his. Through his investigations, the reader sees exactly how the government worked and how Confucian beliefs, as well as Legalist ones influenced it. Each district was overlooked by a magistrate assigned to enforce the laws and rule the court, and every magistrate reported to a higher-ranking Prefect. These Legalist practices coincided with the Confucian ideals of governing by moral force. Even with such emphasis on law, morality was still a way of life, and the law was there to punish those who did not follow a code of conduct that would lead to goodness. Even the criminals of the underworld still followed a code of honor. The Corporal, leader of the underworld, would not allow murders to take place with his prior knowledge, as it was not an acceptable way of life. The Confucian ideals of moral goodness are repeatedly seen in The Lacquer Screen as everyone is expected to behave according to the Way. If they do not, as is the case with Kun-shan, Mrs. Ko, and Leng Chien, they are punished according to the laws. This is a clear relation of how the Confucian way of government works along with the Legalist way. Another aspect of Confucian governing is that not only those born into nobility can hold position. Any man who makes himself superior through the Way can hold office. Such is the case with Chiao Tai, who was a highway robber at one time, but changed his way of life and became Judge Dee s lieutenant. All of these parts of Confucianism are shown through the government, as well as the virtues of Confucianism.
Filial piety was the root of all virtue in Confucian belief. It is a complete devotion and respect to one s parents and family. Surnames preceded personal names in ancient China, so that one recognized what family they came from. This showed that the family name passed down was more important than the personal name. One was taught morals by their parents, and complete respect and obedience towards the parents was expected. Hardly, if any, is seen in The Lacquer Screen of devotion to the parents, but more is seen of devotion to the family. Although the reader learns at the end of the novel that Magistrate Teng was not devoted to his wife, the rest of the novel shows how Magistrate Teng was very loving and devoted all of his time to his wife. Unable to have children and create a family, Teng focused solely on his wife as a family. After her murder, he devoted all of his time into finding justice. What appears to be a complete devotion to his family is the main demonstration of filial piety.
However important filial piety was in Confucianism, it was not the only virtue. It was the root of all virtue, with Jen, Chi, Yung, and Li resulting from filial piety. Jen was the virtue of benevolence. In Confucianism, goodness cannot come without benevolence. Judge Dee displays this virtue to the fullest as he shows nothing but kindness to those who follow the Way, and even to those who do not, and he is the most superior person in the novel. Wisdom was another virtue, represented by Chi. Wisdom comes with age, as one learns more and more as they grow older. Such is the case with the Student. Because of his young age, he is seen as not being as wise and therefore cannot be given much responsibility. This was important in Confucianism as one learned more and more, they understood the Way better and better. Yung, the virtue of moral courage, was essential in following the Way. Not having the courage to do what was morally right would keep one from becoming superior. The virtue of ritual was very important in Confucianism. This virtue, Li, brought an order and togetherness for all followers. All of these virtues tied together the ideals and purpose of Confucianism, which was of moral goodness.
Ancient China was influenced by many ideals of thinking. Confucius believed that morals were the key to superiority in life and that people should be governed by moral force. He believed that there were several virtues that could lead people to this moral greatness. Among these were filial piety, Jen, Chi, Yung, and Li. These aspects of Confucianism in ancient China can be seen throughout The Lacquer Screen, as Judge Dee exemplifies the superior man in following the Way, and the reader can grasp the ideals of Confucianism as well as Legalism.