One of the main ideals of Confucianism is the notion of the collective good. This tenet prevails in all aspects of society; it is somewhat similar to Communism, but also different in nature, as it extends the concepts of core familial ties to the entire society. The welfare of the society is more important than one singular individual in that society.
One of Confucianism’s most important texts, the Book of Rites (Chai, 1967, pp. 364–66), describes the ideal of commonwealth under the rule of a benevolent king as follows:
When the Great Way prevails, the world is shared by all. The virtuous and competent are elected to serve the public. Mutual confidence is fostered, and good neighborliness cultivated. Hence, people do not regard as parents only their own parents, nor do they treat as children only their own children. Provision is secured for the aged till death, employment for the adults, and development for the young … . Therefore, people don’t engage in intrigue or trickery, nor do they engage in robbery, theft and rebellion … . This is called the age of commonwealth.
There are three different periods in this ideology: the turbulent age, the prosperous age, and the peaceful age. Confucius lived in the turbulent age. Therefore, he believed that through economic and political development a society will arrive to the peaceful age based on the understanding and belief of the collective being more essential than the individual good. This is a central disparity between many Western ideologies and Confucianism.
However, the ideal of commonwealth can be achieved only in a peaceful age when everyone loves everyone else as his own family and political power is always exercised by the virtuous and the competent rather than the heirs of the royal family. Here, we see that common individual needs are imbued with ideal morals to create a peaceful age. The virtuous individual is more important than the virtues of the ruling class.
The collective good was extremely important for Confucius and his thinking. In societies such as South Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan, such norms have created a working class with high levels of communal understanding and productivity. Individuals in these societies have been taught since a young age that the greater good is more important than the good of the individual. This has created a working class that is highly productive and very efficient, thereby creating economies that have high levels of efficiency and a cohesive working class.
Figure 12.5. Gross Domestic Savings (% of GDP). Source: World Bank, 2021
Further, this notion of the collective good can be seen in the economic and social spheres in the Four Dragons through an extremely high savings rate. The high personal savings rates in these entities have steadily increased for the last five decades. Economic experts have maintained that such high savings rates have been a contributing factor to the greater economic development of these societies.