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孟子 (circa 372-289 BC) Philosopher Mencius

FOR more than 2,000 years, Mencius (also known by his birth name Meng Ke) has been widely regarded as a principal interpreter of Confucianism and arguably the most famous Confucian after Confucius himself. He was also a great thinker and educator in his own right, in the middle years of the Warring States Period (475-221 BC). His eponymous book, Mencius, is one of the four classics of the Confucian school.

In contrast to the sayings of Confucius, which are often short and self-contained, the seven chapters Mencius?contain long dialogues, usually between Mencius and rulers of various states he had visited as an itinerant philosopher.

However, as he interpreted Confucius, Mencius also gave Confucian ideas his own distinctive philosophical stamp.

Ever since their introduction, Mencius' doctrines of innate human goodness; the malleability of human nature; benevolent government; and the people's right to revolution have greatly influenced the politics, ideology, culture and ethics of Chinese society as well as the evolution of the Chinese nation.

First and foremost, Mencius believed that all human beings share an innate goodness that can be cultivated through education and self-discipline.

But, he also stressed: "Slight is the difference between man and the beast. The common man loses this difference, while the gentleman retains it."

He also developed Confucian thinking on benevolence into the doctrine of the "benevolent government." He introduced the "people first" concept by saying "The people are to be valued most, the altars of the grain and the land next, the ruler least. Hence, in winning the favor of the common people, you become emperor."

But Mencius also endorsed the "right of revolution." He said that if a ruler became a ruthless tyrant like King Zhou of the Shang Dynasty (1600-1046 BC), the people should have the right to kill him and that killing should not be deemed "regicide."

Many people believe that Mencius' mother was instrumental in bringing forth a great philosopher. In order to provide her son a proper environment during his childhood, she moved their household three times.

According to legend, his father died when Mencius was still very young. First, he and his mother lived near a cemetery. One day, his mother found him imitating the wailing of the paid mourners and playing with other kids building mud tombs. She thought this was not the proper place to rear her son.

So she moved near a marketplace. But soon, her son began to imitate the hawking of the vendors, who were usually despised in ancient China. Mencius' mother decided to move again.

Finally, they moved near a school. Inspired by what he saw and heard, Mencius started to imitate the courteous behavior and study habits of the students. Observing the change in Mencius, his mother decided not to move again and settled down there.

Today, Chinese people may not all be faithful followers of Mencian doctrines, but they all know the story of Mencius' mother, who moved three times in the interest of her son.


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