Monthly Archives: July 2018

A short introduction to Confucianism by Michael O’Sullivan

Explaining History’s reporter at large, Michael O’Sullivan write from China, where he is currently based, on the precepts of Confucian thought.


A figure deeply associated with China in popular consciousness, there is no denying the influence that Confucius has had on China. From the Second century BCE until 1911, the body of this teachings Confucianism was the official orthodoxy of Imperial China and had a deep impact on Chinese Society and societies throughout Asia. Over the millennia this ideology was constantly changing with other thinkers contributing to the core Confucian beliefs of: “man is morally perfectible, that learning is the key to moral improvement, that sages (wise men of the past and the study of history) of antiquity provide a way to be moral and behave appropriately in society, that the morally superior man can have a transforming effect on others, and that social harmony is the result of people fulfilling the moral responsibilities of their roles”. The purpose of this article is a very brief overview of Confucianism, I have either the expertise (Having not even read the entirely of the Analects of Confucius) however given its importance to the history of Asia, it merits a discussion.

Beliefs and Neo Confucianism

As mentioned above, man and society is central to the thought of Confucius. Living through a period of civil war and disunity in China, the Master sought to encourage practices that promoted a peaceful society. These practices include good government, proper social relations and a respect empathy for all peoples bound within ritual practice. Ritual practice or Li are behaviours that actualise the practices of a peaceful society, this includes rules such as manners for eating, the appropriate practice for grief and remembering dead ancestors, how marriages are to be conducted, styles of clothes to wear etc. By practicing these rituals sincerely and with the appropriate emotion man cultivates and expresses his innate goodness, which in turn transforms him into a righteous man and ensures the perfect functioning of society.
It cannot be denied that the idea Confucian society is very hierarchical. The role of Li as mentioned above is to condition people to fulfil the rights and responsibilities of their assigned roles of: ruler and subject, father and son, husband and wife, elder brother and younger brother, friend and friend.” Upon the proper functioning of this system and its components is social harmony achieved, as illustrated in the example of the ruler. The ruler who rules through his mastery of virtue and Li, ensures the wellbeing of his subjects and teach them proper ritual behaviour, thus ensuring the functioning of the other roles.
It must be realised that for Confucius and his followers that this hierarchical view also had a religious dimension. While there is much argument over whether Confucianism is more focused on humans and philosophy then religious with fascinating arguments being put forward such as Confucius using the framework and language of traditional Chinese religions to express his philosophical views and allow people to understand and access them., it is my opinion that Confucianism is a religion.
Although there is no creator or master deity in Confucianism, for the Master and his followers; the notion of two realms, the physical human world and heaven existing in a state of “organic interconnectedness between the realms and all beings occupying them is a central idea. Only when humanity practices Li and proper ritual behaviour those this natural balance occur. Linked into this idea is concepts of a spirit world occupied by nature spirits and ancestors (to be worshipped) who can influence the material world. This metaphysical aspect of Confucianism was developed by the Neo-Confucian thinkers such as Zhu Xi. According to Zhu Xi, the aforementioned interconnectedness and moral perfectibility is made possible by Qi, a cosmic energy of which all things are made.Moreover, morality occurs as humans are allotted different quantities and qualities of Qi, despite this however, man through ritual practice may rarefy and purify his Qi thus achieving the Confucian goal of personal and thus societal, thus cosmological harmony.
However, it is an important question to ask if Confucianism is a philosophy or a religion. It is perhaps best to borrow an example used by a researcher of Buddhism who suggested that the study of religions is like the three blind men describing an elephant. Each accurately describes a part of the topic but not the whole. When considering the question of whether Confucianism is a religion or not, Ninian Smart’s seven dimensions of religion is an excellent model to frame the question. According to Smart a religion contains these seven aspects: practical and ritual, experimental and emotional, narrative and mythic, doctrinal and philosophical, ethical and legal, social and institutional and material. As discussed above ritual, practice, doctrinal, ethics and experimental (in the form of Neo-Confucianism) are all present in the ideology, the ultimate goal of which was to create a genuine emotional condition in the practitioner.

With the acceptance of Confucianism by the First Han Emperor as the basis for Chinese and governance with the Imperial exam system codified the legal aspect of the ideology. Where the analysis may fall apart is the Narrative and mythic aspects of religion. It could be argued that Confucius’s lifelong interest and revival of practices related to the idealised society of the early Zhou period (1045?-221 BCE). Given that much of the practice of Confucianism is revived from idealised stories and examples of the “Golden age” of the Zhou, it could be debated that these stories fulfil the role normally reserve red for the mythical and epic in other religions which is a debate worth having.


Confucianism is a diverse body of ideas which shaped Chinese and South-East Asian countries for thousands of years until the present day. Given the richness of its though and its shaping of societies to this day, it is a topic worthy of the many investigations into it.


Gardner, Daniel K. Confucianism A Short Introduction. Oxford University Press, 2014
Keown, Damian. Buddhism A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press. 2013.
Prof G, 2017. Introduction to Confucanism. [online, video] Available at: [Accessed 10 June, 2018]


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Japan’s Strategic Failings 1940-41

The position that Japan entered the war in was based on assumptions and desperation. Watch the video below for more:

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“Cabbages and Kings” Information Society and Uzbekistan by Michael O’Sullivan



A 2015 article on UK libraries described efforts by Parliament to amateurise public library services following widespread closures (Dickens, 2015). Given the desire of nearly every country in the world to create an “Information Society” such actions appear counterproductive. This sentiment is also stressed in Library and Information Studies (LIS) literature, especially if the author is writing about information literacy. It could be argued that these writings express a belief in Utopianism, i.e that the work and practices of Information Professionals can overhaul and improve both the individual and society as a whole.
More specifically the dream of many Information professionals is the establishment of a society in which every citizen has acquired the skills necessary to evaluate and utilise the wide range of information sources available to them. Furthermore, the method to achieving this ultimate goal is very simple;  information training allows people to improve their overall lives by basing their knowledge on the best sources available.
However, as illustrated by the UK example most governments appear content with the most immediate benefits of the Information and Communication Technology revolution rather than exploiting the full potential of these innovations by providing the necessary infrastructure. Conversely, any unwanted effects of the Information age such as social media whistle blowing, data leaks and the free exchange of opinions and materials are subjected to rigid controls and scrutiny in order to maintain the political, economic and social status quos of various sectors. Despite the global nature of the Information revolution, the corpus of LIS literature is predominately focused on Western Anglophone countries. Therefore, it may be interesting to discuss a state which does not received a great deal of attention e.g. the Republic of Uzbekistan.
After the collapse of the Soviet Bloc many member states of the Commonwealth of Independent Nations received support from UNESCO and the EU to develop their information, educational and cultural heritage sectors. As noted by a 2013 report prepared for the European Commissions TEMPUS-TACIS program (Technical Assistance for the Commonwealth of Independent States):

“the collapse of the Soviet Union was disastrous for the highly centralised and collaborative library system shared by the members states” (Johnson, 2013, p.43).

One of the former Soviet states Uzbekistan sought to reform the library service following economic chaos of the 1990s with “a Presidential Decree (No.381, 20 June 2006):

‘About the organisation of information and library provision for the population of Republic’: which placed ‘librarianship and the implementation of new information technologies among the top priorities in the country’ (Johnson, p.5)
The importance importance of LIS to the Uzbek government is further illustrated by a flurry of similar decrees:
1. No.VII-3029, (2002) “On the Improvement of the Organization of Scientific Research Activity”: adapt library services to post independence circumstances.
2. Presidential Decree (No.381, 20 June 2006): renamed 14 regional public libraries as Information and Library centres (ILC) governed by Communications and Information Agency of Uzbekistan (CIAU)and co-ordinated by the Republican Information-Library Centre
3. 2006 Decree: Renamed school and university libraries Information Resource Centres (IRC) with some falling under the auspices of CIAU
4. 2006 Decree: All ILC’S and RLC’S to possess computers and internet services and help develop “national information resources, electronic libraries and databases”. (Johnson, pp.52, 53, 55, 63)
Moreover, the main role assigned to IRCs and ILCs is “the creation of electronic libraries and databases that combine all their information resources in a union catalogue” (Johnson, p.63). The efforts made by the Uzbek government are detailed in depth by the report with special attention paid to the creation of a Master’s program with EU funding and collaboration to meet local requirements. The program is hosted by Tashkent University of Information Technologies and was a success domestically (Johnson, pp.68-69). Indeed, the author of the report quotes Rakhmatullaev’s, (2000) belief that the development of library and information services is part of a broader program of transforming the region economically, politically and socially (p.70). The only obstacle to the process noted by the author is the country’s reliance on central planning (Johnson, p.70).
As mentioned above, the belief in the transformative powers of LIS is deeply ingrained in academic writing on the subject. Unfortunately the hopeful arguments of LIS researchers rarely match up with the realities of how individuals outside the profession perceive Information services, as evidenced by recent developments in Uzbekistan. Even after the major overhaul of LIS and the information sector the politics, economy and society of the region has not changed for the better. Presidential elections in 2015 have been described “as a show” with no competition against the incumbent leader. Moreover, the state controlled media depicted the election as fair with opposition candidates putting forward programs for reform at managed public meetings, while at the same time stressing the importance of stability and continuity of the current regime (Schenkkan, 2015, Elections). Contrary to the desire to create an information society, freedom of speech is tightly controlled by the Karimov government as evidenced by the following practices: the refusal to acknowledge economic instability, falsified economic forecasts and predetermining the opposition campaign policies etc (Schenkkan, 2015, Elections).
More seriously these trends of information control obfuscate very serious issues. An excellent example is the conflict in Iraq and Syria, which is depicted by Central Asian governments and media outlets as the fate which will befall the country if the current governments were removed from power (Schenkkan, 2015, Central Asians). Moreover, this authoritarianism has created an information situation in which disgruntled Uzbeks (especially migrant workers in Russia) accept misinformation, propaganda and apocryphal information in the traditional and social media as fact (Schenkkan, 2015, Central Asians). However this topic will be discussed in another blog post.
In short, contrary to the idealism of European Information Professionals, Uzbekistan has not become an information society. Despite repeated political and social commitments to the ideal, the stance of the Uzbek government prevents libraries and information institutions from fulfilling their primary goal of providing information to their patrons. The consequences of this policy is a severely misinformed society, who cannot locate or act upon relevant information and are reliant upon a predetermined view of the world, politics, society, economics and certainly every conceivable sphere of life. Such circumstances are debilitating, deceitful and more dangerously deluding. Moreover it is not an information literacy society or a paradise. But it is Utopian is the sense that most of its claims does not exist.
Dickens, J. (2015, August 19) Nicky Morgan Library campaign branded a ‘hollow gesture’ after closures. Schools Weeks. Retrieved from
Johnson, I.M, (2013). Library development in Uzbekistan: progress and problems since the dissolution of the USSR. The International Information & Library Review, 45(s 1–2). 50–62.
Schenkkan, N, (Producer). (2015, March 28th) Central Asianist #1: Central Asians in ISIS & ISIS in Central Asia. [Audio Podcast].
Schenkkan, N, (Producer). (2015, March 28th) Central Asianist #3: Elections in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. [Audio Podcast]. Retrieved from

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