"Admiration of Harmony" in Ancient Chinese Culture
(Clearwisdom.net) "Admiration of Harmony" means admiring harmony,
unity and friendship in social relationships. In traditional Chinese culture,
the meaning of "harmony" is very rich. Harmony is essential in relationships
between individuals and the relationships between nations. It's also imperative
in humanity's relationship with nature. The original meaning of harmony is peace
and coordination. It is said in Zhou Yi [a book of prehistoric Chinese diagrams
that disclose the changes in the course of nature], "If two people are of the
same mind, their strength can break iron." It is also said, "Harmonious sounds
resonate within each other and harmonious energies attract each other." It is
also written in the Analects of Confucius, "The ultimate goal of etiquette is
the achievement of harmony." Obviously, the ancient Chinese paid considerable
attention to the effects of and the need for harmony.
To many people, harmony means open-mindedness and a balance of firmness and gentleness. For a community, it means that people get along with each other peacefully and amicably. The ancient Chinese people, however, didn't sacrifice their principles in their pursuit of harmony. "Gentlemen are harmonious but aren't the same as each other. Lesser men are all the same, yet they are not harmonious." (Confucius, Analects of Confucius) "Admiration of Harmony" has always been an esteemed moral tradition of the Chinese nation.
In Shang Shu (also known as The Book of History), the author wrote, "Yao can use his wisdom and morality to harmonize his relations. When his blood relationships are harmonious, again he clearly distinguishes the good officials from the bad officials within the tribal alliance. When the quality of the officials is known, he diligently unites the realms of various feudal lords." (Yao's Book, Shang Shu)
In Yao's book of Shang Shu, the author described the peaceful world under Yao and Shun's governance. At that time the superior and the inferior were harmonious. All the people enjoyed a good and prosperous life. It was best described by the phrase, "work after sunrise, and rest after sunset." This was Confucianism's ideal society. The formation of this society depended on harmony. The families were harmonious, the different levels of officials were harmonious, the thousands of feudal lords' states were harmonious and the world was at peace. In order to make people harmonious, it was necessary to require them to conform to common social criterion and morality out of their own volition. The ancients said, "Use wisdom and morality to harmonize the people," they emphasized the use of wisdom and morality to allow the people to obey.
In Xi Ci, the author Zhou Yi wrote, "If two people act as one, their strength can break iron, and their words are as sweet as orchids." Cui Hong also said in his West Qin State of 30 Countries in the Spring and Autumn Period, "A single one is easy to break, but if all unite together, they are really hard to break."
The sons of the king of the Huns were never harmonious. The king called them together, and gave each son an arrow. He told the princes to break the arrows, which they did quite easily. Then the king gave each son a bunch of arrows in turn, and told them to break it. Nobody could do it. Then the Hun king told them, "If you brothers aren't harmonious, you're just like the individual arrows, and you'll be very easily defeated by your enemies, but if you are united, then you're like the bunch of arrows, and no one can defeat you. This is the strength of harmony."
Confucius said, "The ultimate goal of etiquette is the achievement of harmony." (Xue Er, Analects of Confucius) If that's the case, then social norms are necessary to establish harmony among people and between humanity and nature, but Confucius also thought that "harmony" didn't mean "without principle." He said, "Gentlemen are harmonious but aren't the same as each other. Lesser men are all the same, yet they are not harmonious," emphasizing the difference between a gentleman's and a base person's principles when they interact with others. The gentleman has his own opinion and can still treat people generously. Others easily influence the lesser man. He repeats their ideas and flatters them, but when there's a conflict of interest he can't get along with them.
Confucius also said, "The gentlemen are harmonious but they do not echo others." (The Doctrine of the Mean) The ancient people called a man with high moral standards a gentleman. People had great respect for gentlemen, but they also expected more from them. A gentleman is very kind and gentle, but his heart is characterized by its fortitude. They are harmonious, yet they have their own beliefs and don't drift with the tide.
When speaking of harmony, people may remember the words of Mencius, who said, "Cosmic timing isn't as good as favorable earth conditions, and favorable earth conditions aren't as good as human harmony." (The second part of Gongsun Chou, by Mencius) Those are the words of Mencius when he spoke about the war. According to him, "Human harmony" meant that people are of like mind and united. Mencius also spoke of the political principle, "being happy with the people." He said, "If the king is happy about what his people are happy about, his people will be happy about what the king is happy about. If the king worries about what his people worry about, his people will worry about what he worries about." (The second part of The King of Liang, by Mencius) The wise king always shares in the joys and sorrows of his people. His heart and his thoughts are ever on his people. Only in this way is he able to win the support of the people.
The ancients wrote many words about how to achieve harmony in social relationships. "Friendship between gentlemen is as light as water, while friendship between the lowly is as sweet as honey." (Shanmu, Zhuangzi) Although a gentleman's friendships were light, they were lasting, whereas a lesser man's friendship was easily broken, despite its sweetness. From the ancients' point of view, the friendship of gentlemen didn't depend on the fulfillment of personal interests; it was as clear and transparent as water.
Confucius said, "The gentleman supports and praises others' achievements and good things. He does not laugh at others' misfortunes." (Yan Yuan, Analects of Confucius) We should treat people generously and help others do well. Guan Zhong and Bao Shuya, who lived in the Spring and Autumn Period, were good friends. They did business together. Guan Zhong always benefited more than Bao Shuya in their dealings. Bao Shuya never took it seriously because he knew Guan Zhong's family was poor. Guan Zhong even became a military deserter during the war, but Bao Shuya never belittled him, because he knew that Guan Zhong needed to support his elderly mother. Guan Zhong was greatly touched. He always said, "My parents gave me life, but Bao Shuya knows me." Bao Shuya's generosity made Guan and Bao's friendship an eternally edifying anecdote.