The ancient Chinese philosopher Meng-Tzu is usually known to Westerners by his Latinized name Mencius, if he is known to them at all. Though not famous outside his native China, Meng-Tzu left us many ideas worthy of consideration, and these often have unexpected parallels with more modern and familiar thinkers. Alejandro Chafuen, Acton’s Managing Director, International, examines some of these parallels in a piece published today for Forbes. Chafuen argues that Meng-Tzu’s ideas are worth remembering not only for their own sake but for the potential guidance they can offer regarding China in our own day.
A couple of years ago I learned with surprise that the China-Italy Association for Economic and Cultural Development (SECIC) wanted to give me an award named after the great Italian explorer Marco Polo (1245-1324). My life has not been as adventurous and dramatic as his, but I do spend considerable time globetrotting trying to find “treasures” and innovations in different corners of the world. While Marco Polo looked for industrial and commercial assets, I mostly look for intellectual talents and policy ideas.
Carlo Lottieri, the libertarian professor who was president of SECIC, soon learned that there already was a Marco Polo award, so the organizers changed its name to the Marco Polo-Meng-tzu Award, after Meng-tzu, also spelled Mengzi (or the Latinized Mencius). I also feel somewhat connected to Marco Polo for what he meant to trade and because some of my family roots are from the Veneto region. I am a strong believer in free trade as a tool to bring cultures together and make better use of Creation. (By free trade I mean voluntary exchanges between free people—trade between government entities is free for them but not for taxpayers, who end up as subsidizers of last resort and stakeholders without rights.) I had, however, no knowledge of Mencius’s contributions or relevance prior to learning of the award.
I have studied political and economic philosophy going back to the Greeks, such as Plato and Aristotle, who were contemporaries of Mencius. But I had never studied Asian philosophies. Out of respect to my Italian-Chinese hosts, I delved into his teachings. I liked a lot of what I read.
“Why Mencius?” I kept asking myself. It seems that in search of a philosophical narrative for the current communist or “state-capitalist” China, those in charge of the cultural agenda thought that it would be helpful to resurrect his contributions. Mencius (c. 371 BC – c. 289 BC) was one of the most important students and followers of Confucius (Kung Fu-Tse, 551 BC – 479 BC).
When Lin Yutang (1895-1976) published his acclaimed anthology The Wisdom of China and India, he chose to name his chapter on Mencius “The Democratic Philosopher.” Lin Yutang has been regarded by some, such as economist Mark Skousen, as a Christian and a libertarian. Thanks to his outstanding command of English, Chinese and philosophy, Lin Yutang’s summary of Mencius’s views captures his essence much better than other authors.
Can today’s China look back to Mencius’s writings as a guide for its economic model and trade relationships? I hope so.
Read the entire piece here.
(Homepage photo credit: Wikimedia Commons, public domain.)