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What does Confucius have to say about retaliation?

By Dr. Henry Wong Meng Yeong | Friday May 16, 2014

When one has been dealt a nasty blow, should one retaliate? How would you respond if you have been cheated by someone you have completely placed your trust in? To some, revenge is usually not far from their minds and getting even seems only natural, if only to retaliate and deliver a blow for a blow.

Confucius was asked his thoughts on “Repaying resentment and malice with virtue and kindness”.老子Lao Zi the founder of Taoist philosophy believes in the order of nature, that what goes around comes around. Doing nothing would be in line with Taoist teachings. Therefore Confucius was asked indirectly if he agreed with the views of Lao Zi on recompense.

Confucius answered: If you repay malice with virtue, what then do you repay virtue with?

In this respect, the teachings of Confucius and Lao Tze concur on two points. The first is that one should not repay evil for evil. Confucius continued: resentment and malice should be recompensed with uprightness and justice; and virtue with virtue. If someone is evil or malicious to one, Confucius asserts that one should not retaliate by adopting “a tooth for a tooth and an eye for an eye” approach. Instead one should deal with the person justly with uprightness and not return malice with malice.

Confucius asserts that we should return virtue with virtue. It is only natural if one has been the recipient of kindness and trust that one should reciprocate likewise. “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?” (Matthew 7:9,10) It would be unthinkable for a Chinese to repay one’s loving and dutiful parents with disrespect let alone unkindness. It is equally inconceivable to repay your kind and hospitable friends with malice and hostility. To the Chinese, being ungrateful (忘恩负义) and requiting kindness with malice (恩将仇报) are simply unthinkable. This is the second point in which the teachings of Confucius and Lao Zi are in congruence.

Retaliation is best summarized by Mahatma Gandhi: An eye for an eye only makes the whole world blind.