The Twelve Point Pledge’s: The Human Body and Anarchism.

Shifu was a key figure in the Chinese social revolutionary movement, in particular the Chinese anarchist movement. Throughout his short life (1884-1915), Shifu oversaw the organisation of multiple anarchist and revolutionary groups including the Conscience Society (Xinshe) in 1912. Established in Hangzhou, the Conscience Society was formed as an anarchist self-improvement group that took up many similar practices to other anarchist groups such as the Promote Virtue Society created by The Paris Group. These self-improvement practices are most evidently seen when assessing the group’s ‘Conscience Society Covenant’. This can best be described as “an anarchist behavioural code tailored to the needs of an awakened Chinese moral elite.”1  The Conscience Society Covenant, otherwise known as the ‘Twelve Point Pledge’s’ were as follows:

(1) Do not eat meat.
(2) Do not drink liquor.
(3) Do not smoke tobacco.
(4) 4. Do not use servants.
(5) Do not ride in sedan chairs or rickshas.
(6) Do not marry.
(7) Do not use a family name.
(8) Do not serve as an official.
(9) Do not serve as a member of a representative body.
(10) Do not join a political party.
(11) Do not serve in the army or navy.
(12) Do not believe in a religion.2 

The most compelling element of the ‘Twelve Point Pledge’s’ is the first 3 pledges. This is because they do not directly relate to anarchism at its core; that being a movement committed to the abolition of government, and thus by association, bureaucratic institutions such as religion and, the institution of marriage. The question thus stands, how do the first three pledges relate to anarchism? 

Edward Krebs writes that during the spring and summer of 1912, Shifu wrote a series of essays to amplify his ideas on several points in the covenant.3 From these essays, we gain insight, not only into Shifu’s anarchism but also into the reasoning behind the first 3 pledges.

Firstly, Shifu’s belief in vegetarianism, on the surface, seems hardly essential nor relevant in regards to anarchism. However, Shifu’s inspiration can be drawn back to two key figures in social revolutionary history: Leo Tolstoy and Li Shinzeng. Both these figures were firm believers in the interconnected nature of a vegetarian lifestyle and anarchism. Furthermore, Shifu used these figures as inspiration in arguing that “vegetarianism was essential to non-violence and good health.”4 Thus, when assessing Shifu’s views on vegetarianism, we gain a true understanding as to why Shifu includes ‘Do not eat meat’ as his first pledge within the Conscience Society Covenant. To truly see a change in the world, we must also change our own habits.

Regarding the following two pledges (2 and 3), Shifu presents us with a scientific explanation behind their inclusion. Shifu notes that alcohol produces euphoria and thus undermines the brain’s ability to function.5 When focusing on the third pledge, Shifu offers a chemical analysis of tobacco, drawing conclusions from both western scientists as well as Li Shizeng. ((Ibid.)) Citing these two pledge’s, Shifu discusses the importance of science and its interconnected relationship to moral behaviour, and thus, anarchism.

Critically, he argues that those who want to improve society must also strive to treat their own bodies in a matter of accordance with these scientific findings. The main reason behind this is quite similar to the view set out regarding the first pledge. To improve society, one must also strive to improve their own body. This is exemplified by Shifu when he writes, “everyone should improve his own renge [human nature/quality] in order to assist the progress of society and mankind; if we develop our renge… everything we do will accord with the truth.”6

Therefore, when focusing on the first three pledges, we can understand why they were included, despite their lack of overt relation to anarchist ideals. In Shifu’s eyes, the commitment to the reforming of society begins with the reformation of one’s personal habits and way of life. Thus, there is a clear focus on physical practices such as eating, drinking and smoking. When assessing Shifu’s explanation for the first three pledges it is, therefore, clear to see their relation to anarchism and Shifu’s ultimate aim in socially reforming society.

  1. Krebs, Edward S. Shifu, soul of Chinese anarchism. Lanham, Md: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. 1998. pg, 101. []
  2. Ibid. pg, 102. []
  3. Ibid. pg, 103. []
  4. Shifu wuncen [Shifu’s Collective Writing’s], pp. 85-92 []
  5. Krebs, Edward S. Shifu, soul of Chinese anarchism. Lanham, Md: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. 1998. pg, 103. []
  6. Shifu wuncen [Shifu’s Collective Writing’s], pg. 100. []