The classical Confucian position on the legitimate use of military force

Sumner B. Twiss, Keung Lap Jonathan Chan

Research output: Chapter in book/report/conference proceedingChapter


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. © 2012 Journal of Religious Ethics, Inc.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationChinese just war ethics
Subtitle of host publicationOrigin, development, and dissent
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages24
ISBN (Electronic)9781315740706
ISBN (Print)9781138824355
Publication statusPublished - 2015

Publication series

NameWar, conflict and ethics
PublisherTaylor & Francis

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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