Confucius makes a comeback

Cultural Insights — By on July 10, 2007 at 12:09 pm

That’s the message of a story in the Christian Science Monitor, which reports that the 2,500-year-old teachings of Confucius are gaining popularity in contemporary China.

Come back, Confucius, all is forgiven. For nearly a century the ancient sage was confined to the intellectual doghouse in the land of his birth.

Today he is fast supplanting communism as Chinese rulers, businessmen, and ordinary citizens turn back 2-1/2 millenniums to his teachings to help them cope with the economic and social changes racking their country.

“The economy is developing very fast, but people feel the need for wisdom and morality,” says Gu Qing, who publishes books on traditional Chinese culture. “Now we’ve solved the problem of filling people’s stomachs, they are looking for something to fill their minds.”…

For most of the 20th century, Chinese leaders reviled Confucianism as a feudal philosophy whose emphasis on respect for elders, propriety, and the harmony of hierarchy had trapped China in its past. The nadir for the man whose precepts defined society for more than 2,000 years came during the Cultural Revolution, when Red Guards went on a weeks-long rampage of destruction in his hometown.

The current government sees Confucius in a more positive light: President Hu Jintao’s key slogan, “a harmonious society,” is a conscious evocation of the Confucian value of harmony and balance.

The new popularity of Confucius has even made a star out of university professor Yu Dan, thanks to a television lecture series. She has her own thoughts about why the ancient sage’s teachings are again striking a chord in China.

Ms. Yu says she struck a chord with a public confused by rapid change. Not long ago, she notes, citizens found a job and stayed in it for life, were assigned a home and lived in it for life, and rarely contemplated divorce. “Life was poor, but poverty brought its own kind of stability,” she says.

Today, the freedom to choose a career and a home can be unsettling, Yu says. “For a person who knows what he wants, choice is a luxury. But for someone who has no standards by which to choose, it can be a disaster. That’s why the pursuit of belief is getting stronger.”

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