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A Neo-Confucian Ethical Paradigm for Global Citizenship Education


In recent years, the need for global citizenship education has been increasingly recognized as a critical component of sustainable development. This paper by Tan C. presents an ethical foundation for global citizenship education grounded in Neo-Confucianism, an ancient Chinese philosophical tradition developed during the Song Dynasty (960–1279) (Johnson, 2019). The author examines how Neo-Confucian values can provide a practical framework for educating individuals to live meaningful lives as responsible and caring citizens of the world (Tan, 2019). By emphasizing several core virtues, including self-cultivation, mutual respect, and reverence for Nature, Neo-Confucianism can foster awareness of our interconnectedness with other people and with Nature, ultimately inspiring us to act responsibly on behalf of both.


According to research, the interest in global citizenship education (GCE) has been increasing steadily. However, despite this positive attribute, some hindrances that have blocked the effective development of GCE are most likely triggered by factors such as a lack of agreement on its conceptual foundations, ethical effects, and pedagogical methods. Research demonstrates that one conceivable conceptual foundation for GCE is neo-Confucianism. This model type underscores the significance of individual ethics and interpersonal relationships (Johnson, 2019). Research further shows that the neo-Confucianism model focuses on the individual cultivation of valuable character traits such as sincerity, wisdom, and courage. Applying these character traits makes the model well-suited to address the ethical implications of global citizenship (Yongli & Yiping, 2021). For this fact, neo-Confucianism provides a useful, ethical framework for GCE because it promotes cultivating virtues such as empathy, altruism, and self-reliance. Also, since neo-Confucianism emphasizes the importance of education and nurturing people morally, the model can provide a pedagogical approach to GCE that is conducive to its effective development.

According to research, Neo-Confucianism is a rebirth of traditional Confucianism. This model has its routes during the Song dynasty, which lasted from 960 to 1279. The model emphasizes important character traits such as filial piety, loyalty, and honesty is emphasized in this concept (Johnson, 2019). Neo-Confucians also adhere to the “Three Obediences” philosophy. According to this philosophy, women should obey their fathers when they are young, their husbands when they are married, and their sons after widowed. Neo-Confucians further believe that all beings are interconnected and that it is human’s responsibility to care for others. This caring ethic is especially crucial in today’s worldwide environment when we are increasingly intertwined with individuals of many cultures and origins. If GCE is to be genuinely effective, it must be grounded in a caring ethic (Yongli & Yiping, 2021). Therefore, humans can only aspire to establish a more just and peaceful world if they endeavor to comprehend what common humanity entails.


Tan Chengxiang’s article “An ethical foundation for global citizenship education: a neo-Confucian perspective” looks at how neo-Confucianism can provide an ethical foundation for global citizenship education. He begins by exploring the concept of global citizenship and how different philosophical positions have handled it. He then discusses the neo-Confucian tradition and how it might offer a distinct and beneficial perspective on global citizenship (Tan, 2019).

Tan contends that the neo-Confucian essential concepts of ren (humaneness), yi (righteousness), li (ritual propriety), and Zhong (loyalty) might act as a guide for individuals on their journey to become global citizens. He then discusses how these ideas might be used in global civic education. He explores, for example, how ren can help us develop compassion and understanding for others, whereas yi can help us learn to behave by what is fair and just. Tan believes that by anchoring global citizenship education in neo-Confucian ideas, we may produce a more ethical and responsible citizenry that is better prepared to face the problems of our increasingly globalized world (Tan, 2019).


In recent years, global citizenship education (GCED) has gained traction as an important way to educate young people about the difficulties of an increasingly interconnected world. While no single definition of GCED exists, it can be expansively described as an educational approach that aims to instill a sense of global citizenship by fostering respect and appreciation for diversity and promoting skills and knowledge for direct involvement in addressing critical problems (Hanna, 2022).

One key challenge in developing GCED programs is ensuring they are founded on a sound ethical foundation. In this article, Tan explores the potential for using a neo-Confucian perspective to provide such a foundation. He begins by discussing the need for GCED programs to promote both universalistic and particularistic values before arguing that a neo-Confucian perspective can provide a helpful framework for integrating these two sets of values. He then provides a detailed overview of how this framework could be applied in practice before concluding with some thoughts on the potential limitations of the approach (Tan, 2019). This article will be of interest to educators and scholars working in the field of GCED, as well as those with an interest in ethics and education more broadly.


In order to develop a sound ethical foundation for global citizenship education (GCED), this article proposes a neo-Confucian perspective. According to the author, Confucianism is “particularly well suited” to provide such a foundation due to its emphasis on humaneness (ren), righteousness (yi), and propriety/ritual observance (li) of respecting local customs and traditions when interacting with people from other cultures (Tan, 2019).

First Level of Analysis: Ethical Leadership as the Ethics of Leaders

According to the Confucius model, a person’s ethical character forms the foundation from which all other virtues are built. This model further emphasizes that for one to become a successful leader, one must exhibit the four cardinal virtues of Confucianism which include: benevolence, justice, courage, and wisdom. Each of these virtues is valuable in its own right, although they are also interconnected and mutually supportive. For instance, benevolence refers to the virtue of caring for others, and it is an integral virtue in good leadership. A leader who is benevolent will put the well-being of others first and will strive to build good relationships of trust and cooperation with those who surround him or her. Justice is the virtue of doing what is fair and equitable, and it is essential to effective leadership. Typically, a just leader will ensure that everyone serving under them receives an equal opportunity, regardless of status or power. Courage is simply the virtue of facing challenges head-on, and it is such a valuable character trait in effective leadership for it equips the leader with the spirit and attitude of a lion. Therefore, courageous leaders will not be afraid to take risks, and as a result of their daring attitude, they will be able to inspire others to face challenges head-on. Lastly, wisdom is the virtue of knowing how to solve problems. Problems are common in a typical organization and thus wisdom is an important virtue of effective leadership. A wise leader will be able to identify and address the challenges that her or his organization will face before they become unmanageable (Yuan, Chia & Gosling, 2022).

Second Level of Analysis: The means of Ethical Leadership

According to research, ethical leadership in global citizenship education is critical since it is an integral component of the process of developing a strong global community (Bosio & Torres, 2019). Tan defines ethical leadership as the following four components: (1) developing a personal philosophy of ethics; (2) providing an example for others to follow; (3) cultivating a feeling of communal duty; and (4) advancing global justice. Tan contends that a neo-Confucian viewpoint can provide an important ethical framework for global citizenship education (Tan, 2019). Neo-Confucian thinkers, in particular, highlight the importance of personal moral training and the need for individuals to accept responsibility for their own acts. The author also emphasizes the significance of instilling a feeling of communal duty, which neo-Confucian philosophers believe is necessary for the development of strong communities. Finally, Tan argues that supporting global justice is critical to ensuring that everyone is treated equitably. Based on these reasons, it is obvious that a neo-Confucian perspective can provide useful ethical direction for instructors of global citizenship (Tan, 2019).

Third Level of Analysis: The Heart of Leadership

According to the article, neo-Confucianism emphasizes the importance of ethical principles in leadership. A neo-Confucian perspective would suggest that good leaders should have a strong ethical foundation in order to motivate their subordinates and inspire them to do their best. They should also be aware of the consequences of their actions and refrain from taking advantage of others. This understanding of ethics could help leaders strive for a better world, even if it means sacrificing short-term gains (Tan, 2019).

Tan believes that identifying the heart of leadership is the first step in establishing an ethical foundation for global citizenship education (Tan, 2019). According to research, the heart of leadership refers to the emotional center and driving force that drives people to engage in collective action. Whenever people come together to do a task collectively, they are able to achieve greater things than one such task is done by a single individual. Based on this understanding, educators with the heart of leadership may build courses that drive students to engage in global citizenship. Furthermore, such educators will define the values that are most valuable to them and their loved ones (Johnson, 2019). In essence, Tan contends that Confucianism provides educators with a set of values that would enable them to help to live socially acceptable lives that inspire people who look up to them to achieve greater results (Tan, 2019) Therefore, the heart of leadership is such a significant virtue that allows leaders to live exemplary lives not only for the people they lead but also for society.

The second phase in creating an ethical framework for global citizenship education is the creation of a belief system. According to research, a belief system refers to a set of ideas about the world, and the belief that a person holds is put into action (Johnson, 2019). Based on Tan’s findings, competent educators must instill a belief system that values global citizenship to a larger extent as it is one of the main factors that contributes towards a globalized world (Tan, 2019). Research further shows that educators may foster a sense of communism and individual responsibility in students by teaching them about the concepts of global citizenship. By approximation, this practice will help students and other learners to develop a common belief system that not only values their colleagues but also appreciates the significance of diversity. This practice can help in breaking the long-lasting chains of racism that have troubled the world for a long period (Hanna, 2022).

The final step in developing an ethical framework for global citizenship is developing a strong curriculum. A curriculum refers to an instructional plan that guides students through a sequence of tasks or courses. This plan enables students and learners to acquire knowledge sequentially based on their abilities. Tan believe that schools should develop a curriculum that focuses on global citizenship principles. Educators may help children develop a feeling of community and responsibility by teaching them about the importance of global citizenship (Boluk, Cavaliere & Duffy, 2021).


This article offers a fresh look at global citizenship education via the prism of neo-Confucianism. It has investigated Confucian ethical ideas, such as the five relationships of kindness, and claimed that these values should serve as the foundation for any global citizenship education program. Neo-Confucianism is a long-standing East Asian tradition, and its ideals could provide a helpful perspective on global citizenship education. Furthermore, the paper has highlighted some of the challenges that global citizenship education programs may confront, such as balancing traditional beliefs with contemporary realities. Based on the research and Tan’s findings, one example of a global civic education program that incorporates neo-Confucian ideals into its curriculum is the GIBBS model. However, a good percentage of ideas from this model are implemented in diverse global citizenship education programs. As a result of this implication, they may necessitate necessary improvement.

Action Plan

Tan, a neo-Confucian thinker, believes that comprehending the interconnectivity of all things is essential for ethical global citizenship. Owing to this implication, Tan recommends for a greater emphasis on history and culture in global citizenship education to foster such understanding. Tan believes that educators should emphasize the similarities and differences between cultures and civilizations, as well as the underlying values and ideas that underpin them. They should also investigate how these links have influenced how people see and interact with the world. Tan suggests that educators focus on three key areas in global citizenship education: history, culture, and values. He further believes that educators should emphasize the importance of critical thinking and personal reflection in global citizenship education. Finally, Tan advocates for international collaboration and networking among educators as a way to promote ethical global citizenship (Tan, 2019).

According to Tan’s proposal, educators should emphasize the interconnection of all things while teaching about global citizenship. This tactic can be accomplished by emphasizing the linkages between many cultures and civilizations, as well as the underlying values and ideas that underpin them. Tan’s proposal further implies that when teaching about global citizenship, educators should also emphasize the necessity of critical thinking and personal reflection as these qualities can help them to think beyond the surface. Finally, it is also factual to state that international collaboration and networking among educators are critical in the promotion of ethical global citizenship (Tan, 2019).

Although the interconnection of all things is an important notion to emphasize when teaching about global citizenship, it is not the only one. Research shows that in addition to emphasizing the interconnection of all things, there is a need for educators to emphasize the different ways in which global events have touched people globally (Johnson, 2019). For instance, scholars recommend educators talk about how global events like the 9/11 terrorist attacks affected different groups of people around the globe. Other issues that educators can address are the rising cases of immigration across the world that is causing increased criminal activities which is a threat to national cohesion and peace (Wasif, 2021). By so doing, educators can help in promoting global citizenship devoid of any negative stereotyping.


Boluk, K. A., Cavaliere, C. T., & Duffy, L. N. (2021). A pedagogical framework for the development of the critical tourism citizen. In Activating Critical Thinking to Advance the Sustainable Development Goals in Tourism Systems (pp. 19-35). Routledge.

Bosio, E., & Torres, C. A. (2019). Global citizenship education: An educational theory of the common good? A conversation with Carlos Alberto Torres. Policy Futures in Education17(6), 745-760.

Hanna, H. (2022, November). Global citizenship education. In Soft Skills and Hard Values: Meeting Education’s 21st Century Challenges. Taylor & Francis.

Johnson, C. E. (2019). Meeting the ethical challenges of leadership: Casting light or shadow. Sage Publications.

Tan, C. (2019, October 25). An ethical foundation for global citizenship education: a neo-Confucian perspective. ResearchGate; Taylor & Francis (Routledge).

Wasif, R. (2021). Terrorists or persecuted? The portrayal of Islamic nonprofits in US newspapers post 9/11. VOLUNTAS: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations32(5), 1139-1153.

Yemini, M., Tibbitts, F., & Goren, H. (2019). Trends and caveats: Review of literature on global citizenship education in teacher training. Teaching and Teacher Education77(1), 77-89.

Yongli, L., & Yiping, L. (2021). Self-cultivation as the basis of person making: A Confucian perspective illustrated by a case study of Zeng Guofan. Psychology and Developing Societies33(1), 27-53.

Yuan, L., Chia, R., & Gosling, J. (2022). Confucian virtue ethics and ethical leadership in modern China. Journal of Business Ethics, 1-15.


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