The classical confucian position on the legitimate use of military force

Sumner B. Twiss*, Jonathan K L CHAN

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

26 Citations (Scopus)


Focusing on the thought of Mencius and Xunzi, this essay reconstructs and examines the classical Confucian position on the legitimate use of military force. It begins by sketching historically important political concepts, such as types of political leaders, politics of the kingly way versus politics of the hegemonic way, and the controversial role of lords-protector. It then moves on to explore Confucian criteria for justifying resort to the use of force, giving special attention to undertaking punitive expeditions to interdict and punish aggression and tyranny. Following this discussion, the essay then attends to important Confucian moral constraints on how military force is properly employed, including prohibitions on attacking the defenseless, indiscriminate slaughter of enemy forces, destruction of civilian infrastructure, prisoner abuse, and non-consensual annexation of territory. The essay concludes by first discussing an illustrative case from Mencius and then comparing its reconstruction of the Confucian position to those offered by other scholars.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)447-472
Number of pages26
JournalJournal of Religious Ethics
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2012

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Religious studies

User-Defined Keywords

  • just cause
  • lord-protector
  • Mencius
  • moral constraints on military conduct
  • punitive expedition
  • right authority
  • righteous or just war
  • true king
  • Xunzi


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