Thursday, October 18, 2007


Freedom, Democracy and Harmony Diplomacy: A Review by Morgan Steacy, York University, Toronto, East Asian Studies.

Have you ever heard someone say, “Can’t we all just get along?”, and thought that it sounded reasonable? This is exactly what I believe happened to Dr. Francis Fung, Director General of the World Harmony Organisation. Dr. Fung has written an article entitled, Freedom Democracy and Harmony Diplomacy that essentially asks this very question. The difference here is that he answers with a resounding, yes.
Up until now no one has ventured to explore the reasons that people have so often asked this question, but have never actually dealt with why the answer that should be YES seems determined to remain NO. So, how does this article evade the puerile nature of the question that it deals with?
Dr. Fung has chosen the USA, as the major world power, to be the primary focus of his urgings. He links historical downfalls of people quite succinctly with the current situation of the world. He describes a world that is so overcome with the notion of “spreading freedom” that there is never a moment to stop and think about the hypocrisy of deciding to “bring freedom” to another nation.
He describes this as “freedom diplomacy”, a process which is detrimental to societies because of the fact that they are not determining their own freedom, making it inherently flawed. He further points out that while terrorists have acted in order to destroy our freedom, their success in actually doing so has been ineffective. He claims that it is our reaction to terrorism that has actually limited our freedom. He is not claiming that countries should eliminate counter-terror measures. The point he is making is that we are dealing with the symptoms of a problem rather than the problem itself.
Some believe that the answer to the problem lies in the style of governance that persists in regions where terrorists are able to survive. The answer, to these people, is simple. Spread democracy. If democracy’s impact has been felt to the extent that it has in so many other parts of the world, then surely there is no reason for it to fail elsewhere. The truth, unfortunately, lies far from this simplistic view. It is impossible to deny that democracy has been a boon to many societies, and has even been the backbone of success in the modern world, but there are differences in the way that each nation practices democracy. The flexibility that democracy allows within a defined structure is one thing that makes democracy such an amazing concept. Unfortunately, it is often the case that narrow-mindedness and a lack of true cultural understanding inhibit the propagation of actual democracy, and it is only imperialism that perseveres.
Finally, Dr. Fung, having illuminated many of the problematic approaches currently being undertaken, leads the reader to the solution. Harmony is an approach that supports rather than censures, it is tolerant rather than judgemental and it is inclusive instead of being exclusive. Harmony is meant to encompass the fundamental principles that one ought to adhere to in all facets of life. Decision-making processes would be geared towards harmony, rather than personal gain, from an individual level all the way to a global plain.
Dr. Fung has taken a concept that is so seemingly simplistic and breathed a palpable life into it in this essay. The statement that he is making is direly needed and I hope that he continues to make statements like these so that people will start to realise that the solutions that are currently failing to solve the contentious issues of global peace will continue to fail until we realise that it is our very goal that is misguided. We need to establish global harmony before thinking about global peace. Harmony does not imply agreement, only tolerance. It is possible to bring harmony about quickly through education and compliance. Once the people of the world commit to harmony as a means to solve problems, the problems of the world will finally become manageable, and maybe then we will all “just get along”.

Francis C. W. Fung’s most recent essay, “Harmony Essential for Human Rights” has struck a cord that I believe to be invaluable at this stage of human existence. His focus here is clear from the title but his approach to the topic is unique and insightful. With contributions to this topic as common as they are, it is difficult to find an article that sheds new light on the subject, but this is just what Fung has done.
Human rights are considered by most to be equal and inalienable for all people regardless of race, gender, ethnicity or nationality. Fung has posited that, while this is an ideal goal to strive for, it is necessary to understand that each individual nation has limitations that create obstacles in the path of human rights development. He further notes that it is possible that behaviour that could be perceived as a human rights violation in one place may well be a legitimate course of action in another. China’s one baby policy exemplifies his point perfectly because of the fact that this is a case where the seeming infringement of one’s human rights is, in fact, a boon to the greater good.
Creating the elaborate web of infrastructure necessary to operate a fully functional society bereft of so-called human rights violations requires discernment of the needs of that particular society along with a stable economy. Given the fact that China’s population crisis has created a situation wherein many are unable to provide the necessities of life for children due to a lack of facilities and resources, it seems unconscionable that the North American media should pass judgement so readily without sufficient knowledge or personal contact with the situation. The idea that a blanket of human rights, conceived by the Western world, is able to cover any situation is egocentric and more importantly inaccurate.
Having identified the problem as being an inability to understand the varied needs and values of nations as they relate to the implementation of human rights, Fung goes on to suggest that it is the imminent Harmony Renaissance that could reveal the solutions. Harmony requires that people allow for the differences between cultures without passing judgement. It requires that people take the time to ask questions and make decisions after they have heard the answers.
The concept of ritual is instrumental to Confucianism and may lend itself well to this discussion. The tenet holds that in carrying out ritual properly one becomes a human being. The performance of ritual requires genuine interaction with another individual or individuals. If we were to think of every moment as being ritualised, we would be forced to connect to the other that we intend to judge rather than simply imposing our own standards upon the other on whom those standards have no bearing.
Excusing nations for all violations of human rights is certainly not what is being called for. Nor is Fung necessarily claiming that each nation should independently determine the degree to which human rights can be provided. Rather the importance of what Fung is claiming lies in the acknowledgement and acceptance of difference. The manner in which a country behaves is determined by its history, its geography, its current socio-economic make-up and intangible cultural traits. Without a profound understanding of all factors involved it is impossible to understand decisions made. It is with this outlook that modern leaders and citizens must enter the global-political realm and replace careless judgements with calculated decisions based in the growing tide of harmony.

Morgan Steacy, York University, Department of East Asian Studies.

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