How does “wu-wei” contrast with the Confucian way of governing people?

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Confucian philosophies of government are actually not as far from the concept of wu wei as they might first appear. Both systems emphasize calm and harmony. The emperor should be the serene center of the empire, not striving officiously to interfere in the lives of his people, but doing as little as possible (wu wei means "inaction" or "doing nothing").

The real difference between wu wei and Confucianism is that the former is a purely philosophical counsel of perfection, while the latter has actually been implemented as the primary system of government in China and the Sinosphere over more than two millennia. The ideal Confucian emperor does not interfere needlessly in the lives of his subjects, but what if the need is demonstrable? What if there is a war or insurrection, for instance? Confucianism suggests strategies of intervention. These are normally as peaceful and harmonious as possible. For instance, mediation is particularly valued as the right way to solve a conflict, without too much emphasis on the rights and wrongs of the matter. However, the Confucian official must function in the real world and is therefore empowered to act in order to solve disputes, rather than relying on the path of complete inaction which wu wei would suggest but which might lead to violent anarchy in real life.

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