正名

"Rectification of names" (zheng ming) is an important concept in Confucianism. Faced with an era of chaos, disorder, and misrule, Confucius believed that if names were matched properly to the things they described, order and stability could be created.

There are two aspects to the rectification of names. First, things should be called by their proper name. Thus when one of his disciples asked, "The ruler of Wei is anticipating your assistance in the administration of his state. What will be your top priority?" Confucius replied, "To rectify the names." The disciple responded, "Why is that so important?" to which Confucius replied,

"If language is not correct, then what is said is not what is meant; if what is said is not what is meant, then what must be done remains undone; if what must be done remains undone, the rites and arts will deteriorate; if the rites and arts deteriorate, justice goes astray; and if justice goes astray, the people will stand about in helpless confusion. Hence there must be no arbitrariness in what is said. This matters above everything" (Analects, XIII, 3).
Confucius certainly would not have approved of many present-day leaders who deliberately misuse words to hide their true intentions.

The other part of the rectification of names is that things should conform to the name they already have. Thus one of Confucius's most famous pronouncements: "Let the ruler be ruler, the minister be the minister, the father be the father, and the son be the son" (Analects, XII, 11). In other words, everyone should strive to play his proper role in the social hierarchy.

Even today, the concept of "rectification of names" is one of the most basic precepts of Chinese social philosophy. Throughout Chinese History, political reformers of all stripes would appeal to the idea of "rectification of names" when attempting to reform or topple corrupt dynasties, and even today, the concept is frequently mentioned by would-be political reformers in China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan.

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