Jan 27, 2020 in Analysis

The notion of the proper order first appeared in Confucianism in the 5th-6th centuries BC, when Confucius established his philosophical study in China. The teaching offered the appropriate behavioral rules for the people who wanted to live in a harmonious country. The proper order was the significant concept of this doctrine; it was the aim of the philosopher to achieve the proper order in the state. According to Confucius, the proper order was the state of things and actions, which were directed to the attainment of the concord and flourishing of the nation. The minimal purpose of the proper order was social peace and diminishment of societal violence, and the maximum purpose was the material and moral flourishing. Thus, the idea of the proper order appeared to attain harmony, peace, and prosperity in the world and make the citizens happy.

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Three Levels of Proper Order

Confucius distinguished three levels of proper order: self, social, and government. The first level was achieved by means of self-cultivation. This process indicates that a person should educate and change him/herself to become a noble and intelligent individual. Self-cultivation was the first thing every ruler had to do before governing the state. Confucius said, “Before putting their states in proper order, they regulated their families. Before regulating their families, they cultivated their own selves”. He told about the ancestors, whose actions and traditions were the best example of the life-style for the philosopher. Confucius revered the ancient customs and believed that by observing them, the harmonious society might be created. The society begins with a family, and a family begins with self. Thus, a man (or a woman) should try to make their souls perfect. They have to clear their thoughts and make them sincere. Confucius considered that the aim of every individual was to investigate the things and their nature and see them in their real essence. When they manage to do so, they get enough knowledge to make their thoughts frank. It, in turn, will lead to the perfection of their souls, and their selves will be cultivated. As a consequence, a self-cultivated person can regulate the family, and it brings the society into a state of peace and contentment. Therefore, the first level of the proper order activates the fulfillment of the second and third levels.

The second level is social order attained through the local institutions, such as families. Confucius affirmed that if there was no order in a household, there would be no proper order in a state. Thus, the relationships between the family members were the essential part of the proper order formation. The relations within a family could be subdivided into three groups: relations between spouses; father and son terms, and the relations between the children of one family. These three groups were interrelated, and if one of them failed to follow the rules, the order in a whole family disappeared. In Confucianism, every person should behave in accordance with the norms and rules of the etiquette; otherwise, harmony could not be achieved. The common principles for all family members were to be kind and honor elder people. Moreover, the elder person is not only the aged one but also the person of higher origin and title. It means that a subject should respect his/her ruler as he/she respects the parents. Another significant principle was to observe the traditions and appreciate the memory of the ancestors. It was the mother’s obligation to teach her children the proper behavior and attitude toward the others. Thus, if a child esteems his/her parents and elder brothers, he/she will hold the governor and the authority in respect as well. The wife should also obey her husband and be devoted to him. Women were always considered to be the subordinates of their men; however, they assisted their spouses and were the holders of the home hearth.

A family is not the unique social institution. Here belong villages, religious institutions, economic associations, and other non-government associations. All these establishments influence people and their development as individuals. In every community, a person behaves differently; however, the norms are always the same – to respect and do not abuse the others. Hence, proper order in every cell of the community leads to harmony in the whole society.

The third level of proper order is the highest one – the government. If the previous levels are fulfilled, the proper order of government is possible. Confucius believed that the ruler had to be a noble man who wisely manages the state. He must be humane and knowing, and he should not use violence in his way of authority. If he uses violence and abuse, the disorder will appear, and his subordinates will not respect him. When Ji Kang Zi asked Confucius about government and killing a person who did not follow the Way as a punishment, the philosopher answered, “in conducting your government, why use killing? If you, sir, want goodness, the people will be good”. The ruler should treat other people as he treats himself, and they will do the same. The aim of Confucius doctrine was to educate those people who did not follow the Way and direct them to their personal Way. The philosopher wanted to replace the disorder in the state with the proper order, thus returning to the ancient Golden Age, when the sage-kings ruled the commonwealth. Confucius considered that only wise people could govern the state; that is why he created his study that offered the possible modes of behavior to become a noble, intelligent and humane man (or woman). However, at the times of Confucius, only men could manage the state.

What, Where, Why, and How of Proper Order

When the notion of proper order was established, the paradox of its necessity and fragility appeared. The proper order was necessary for the state and its prosperity but, at the same time, it was too fragile to achieve. If one of the levels of proper order formation was broken, the other could not exist properly, and the disorder appeared. For instance, a ruler is self-cultivated; he has good relations with his family, but one of his children does not obey him. First, it leads to chaos in the household but further, it causes the split in the authority. If the ruler’s subjects see that his son does not pay attention to his father’s words and ignore him, they would think: why should I obey him if he cannot manage with his son? They begin to show their disrespect, and the order disappears. Thus, the proper order is necessary for the flourishing society; however, it is unstable and can be broken at once. That is why the proper order is indispensable for every constituent of the universe because one mistake originates several others. Meanwhile, it is brittle because there is always someone who will not follow the rules and violate the traditions. Another suggestion is that proper order is fragile because of the fate of Heaven, such as natural disasters. For instance, the earthquake ruins the buildings and kills humans, and nothing could prevent it. There could also appear routine or destabilizing conflicts, for instance, civil wars and revolutions. Such movements can be dispelled but, nevertheless, the order will be broken. Political, economic, and cultural corruptions may cause the disorder as well. Therefore, proper order can be implemented only if all the levels are fulfilled – the people are self-cultivated, the families are regulated, and the society is harmonious and wealthy. Moreover, the relations between the neighbor countries must be positive. To achieve this aim, every citizen of one society should follow his/her personal way – Dao. The Dao is the basis concept of Confucianism and the Way to concordance.

Rites are significant for the proper order as well. According to Confucius, rites have three roots. “Earth and Heaven are the root of life, the ancestors are the root of human species, and rulers and teachers are the root of order”. Each of these roots is interrelated and cannot exist without another one. The same is in the society – it cannot exist without people or governors, as well as without harmonious families. The main features of the proper order existence are the following. The ruler treats people with respect, humaneness, and sets rewards and punishments fairly. The hierarchy is beneficent, and the benefits are both material and moral. The leader should be virtuous, and he should tend to harmonization and the state flourishing. The material flourishing means an economic abundance, and the moral flourishing implies widespread trust, minimization of destructive actions, and the appropriate use of names. Confucius believed that the regulation of names was essential for the harmonious society. Every human being should conduct him/herself in accordance with his/her name; otherwise, the order would be destroyed.

To continue the mentioned above, it is worth saying that proper order can be implemented in the society in the following way. The bureaucratic and fiscal minimalism should prevail, and it will lead to economic prosperity. The diminishment of coercive actions is important because they cause resistance, and it breaks the order in the state. Nothing can be coerced to the people without their will. The taxes must be balanced, so that the citizens could afford paying them without material losses, and both the society and people would benefit. The virtues of the ruler must be maximized to make his government virtuous. There were times when the servants had to take the examinations where they showed their knowledge of the etiquette and virtues. Moreover, the hierarchy in the government is as important as in a family because it helps to establish the order and economic regulation in the country. Thus, to achieve harmony and balance in the society, it is necessary to provide the rank of actions and follow them.


The notion of the proper order has deep roots and originates from the Chinese tradition of Confucianism. Since that time, it was frequently used by the regents of the state to attain concord and prosperity. Proper order is necessary for every country; however, it is fragile because it depends on many factors. First, human beings should cultivate their selves to regulate their family relations. Second, the harmony in the family must be achieved. Third, the ruler must set an example to his subjects so that they would obey and respect him. If all the regulations are observed, the proper order is possible. Nevertheless, if the arrangement in one of the stages is disrupted, each cell of the society will suffer from chaos. Thus, it is hardly possible to attain proper order in modern society when following the Confucian doctrines. However, they can still assist in establishment of partial harmony and preserving the old traditions and culture.


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