Confucian Internet: An Oxymoron?

Confucian Internet: An Oxymoron?

Work in progress – Please do not cite, quote or summarise or circulate without permission.


International observers and critics often attacks the Chinese government’s Internet policy on the basis of liberal values, if China’s Internet is designed and built on a set of values that is prima facie incompatible with the liberal values, i.e. Confucian values, and that set of values is in itself a legitimate option, then the criticisms against Chinese government’s Internet policy ought to be reconsidered. Particularly, if the Internet only embodies liberal values that cannot be accommodated by a Confucian outlook, it seems that the Chinese government’s Internet policy is, at least, justified from a Confucian perspective. In a similar vein, the Chinese government has drawn from Confucian values and tried hard to promote the idea of “harmonious Internet”. However, to realise the idea of harmonious Internet, derived from Confucian values, requires the Internet and the values it embodies to be compatible with Confucian values. Both issues invite us to rethink if the Internet is indeed compatible with Confucian values.

While there is abundant research on the embedded values in the Internet, there is surprisingly little discussion on the compatibility of the Internet and Confucianism, and Mary Bockover’s (2003) “Confucian Values and the Internet: A Potential Conflict” appears to be the most direct attempt to address this issue. Yet, it has been some years since the publication of the article, and there are also developments of the Internet, e.g. Web 2.0, and new philosophical and ethical discussions of it. Hence, it is an appropriate time to (re)examine the issue now.

Bockover argued that the Internet promulgates values that threaten Confucian values. In other words, she claimed that the Internet is incompatible with Confucianism. Although I agree with Bockover’s conclusion, I think her argument is mistaken. In the paper, I will revisit her argument and show why it has failed. I will then offer an alternative argument to show why the Internet in its current state is indeed incompatible with Confucian values.

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