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Is there such a thing as just wars? A Confucian approach

Yves Vendé
Chinese military culture is mainly known to the general public through the Sunzi, a work translated into French in the 18th century by Joseph Amiot. However, in his presentation of the Sunzi, Amiot takes care to place this work in the broader context of imperial Confucianism. It is thus in the context of debates between Confucian and Taoist schools that the Sunzi must be placed. From this point of view, a careful reading of the Talks, the Mencius, the Daodejing (and the Sunzi) highlights a point common to all these schools: in the ancient Chinese world, the ideal is to win the war without having to fight it. Thus for Confucius and his followers, it is a government according to humanity/benevolence (ren 仁) that will meet the needs for peace and unity of Chinese society as a whole. This perspective resonates with that of the Catholic tradition as interpreted in the 20th century by the magisterium. Both Confucian and Catholic traditions indeed rule out a priori justifications for the use of violence, if not against tyrants, and will tend to support international structures.

Ces derniers mois, la guerre entre l’Ukraine et la Russie et le positionnement de différents états face au conflit ont suscité de nombreux débats. Il a, par exemple, été reproché à la Chine de ne pas s’opposer fermement à l’agression russe. Cette guerre a aussi engendré un discours violemment anti-occidental de Poutine, rejoint sur ce point par la Chine. Cela fait d’ailleurs plusieurs années que la diplomatie chinoise a opéré un tournant dans sa posture par rapport aux États-Unis en particulier.

L’entrecroisement de ces deux thèmes, de la justification des conflits armés et de la différence d’approche entre Occidentaux et non-Occidentaux concernant la guerre, ne sont pas nouveaux. Au xviiie siècle, Joseph Amiot (1718-1793) – missionnaire jésuite en Chine – a publié ainsi une traduction de l’Art militaire des Chinois en 1772 à Paris, dans…


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