20080221-Confucius Temple qufusd_qufu1.jpg
Confucius Temple in Qufu
Prof. Tang Junyi (1909-1978), and friends such as Mou Zongsan (1909-1995), Xu Fuguan (1904-1982) and Zhang Junmai (1887-1969) established a new Confucianist movement. The Confucianism that they advocated was a Confucianism of truly learned individuals, a highly critical Confucianism, but one that forbade criticism of one’s social superiors. [Source: Professor Yu Ying-shih, China Change, July 1, 2015]

In recent years, Confucianism has experienced something of a revival as the government has changed its tune, welcoming the philosophy of obedience to authority. A sign of that turnaround came with the reintroduction of an ancestor worship festival on the Chinese calendar this year.

Confucian teacher Yang Ruqin told The Guardian, “Confucianism has always been in Chinese people's blood. Although negated for many years, it is still there and when the environment is right, it will come back. I think it is a very good thing, especially in today's materialistic society,” he said. “Most people now are just curious about it instead of really understanding the theory, but that's okay: as time goes on, they will know better. Plus Confucianism is something really suited to the Chinese people.” [Source: Tania Branigan, The Guardian, September 28, 2010 /~/]

Dr Daniel Bell, a scholar at Tsinghua University and author of China's New Confucianism, said: “[Historically] it was part of political legitimation — and maybe that helps to explain the revival now to the extent [China's leaders] appeal to Confucianism for legitimacy. Obviously they don't want to become liberal democrats, but Marxism does not really grab people any more.” But he added: “The revival is happening at different levels of society, with some [Confucian theorists] having a much more critical way of thinking. In Imperial China it was a conservative tradition, but always had a critical edge; Confucius and Mencius were social critics.” /~/

Good Websites and Sources on Confucianism: Robert Eno, Indiana University; Confucianism ; Religion Facts Confucianism Religion Facts ; Confucius ; Confucian Texts Chinese Text Project ; Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy; Cult of Confucius / ; ; Virtual Temple tour; Wikipedia article on Chinese religion Wikipedia Academic Info on Chinese religion ; Internet Guide to Chinese Studies; Qufu Wikipedia Wikipedia Travel China Guide Travel China Guide ; UNESCO World Heritage Site: UNESCO

Confucianism in Asia

20080221-confucian ritual in Taiwan Taiwan Conficucian temple.jpg
Confucian ritual in Taiwan
Confucian philosophy is credited with holding the Chinese government and Chinese society together for 2000 years. Confucianism greatly influenced secular culture in China and provided social code that people were taught in their homes and in schools. In some places Confucianism is treated a religion and there are Confucian temples and rituals.

Confucianism is said to be stronger today in other Asian countries such Korea, Japan and Vietnam than it is in China because Communism was so effective in stamping it out. One study found that the Chinese display less Confucian characteristics such as respect for leaders, ruler of law and the government than South Koreans or Japanese.

In Korea, Confucianism is treated as religion by some people. There are Confucian priests, and Confucian temples were offerings of rice cakes, pears and cow's heads are presented at altars. Korean Confucians wear hats that look like paper bags and perform rites at funerals. See Korea

Confucianism is closely linked with "Asian values" credited by some with spurring economic prosperity in Asia. It has also been used as a justification of authoritarianism, which is misreading of Confucian doctrine. Confucianism does not advocate blindly following and serving the status quo. Rather it teaches one to act decently, honestly and justly. People have the right to question authority if the government does not act in the best interests of the people.

Confucian and Taoism are taught in Chinese schools. Leading New Confucians include Tu Wei-ming, professor of Chinese history and philosophy at Harvard's Yenching Institute.

Confucianism and the Modern World

Benjamin Kang Lim and Ben Blanchard of Reuters wrote: “Chinese emperors embraced Confucianism for centuries, encouraging the philosopher's teachings of filial piety and respect for teachers and authority. Mao then posthumously purged Confucius in the early 1970s. Confucianism has since made a comeback, although not a smooth one. A 9.5-meter (30-foot), 17-tonne statue of Confucius was erected in 2011 outside a Beijing museum adjacent to Tiananmen Square, not far from a portrait of Mao which overlooks the area. It vanished weeks later with no official reason given. Conservatives celebrated its removal, which came on the heels of an online uproar about the statue's location.” [Source: Benjamin Kang Lim and Ben Blanchard, Reuters, September 29, 2013]

Modern Confucian school

Chris Buckley wrote in in the New York Times: “More children undergo Confucian-inspired coming-of-age rites, wearing re-creations of ancient scholars’ gowns. Some universities have turned graduation ceremonies into rituals inspired by tradition. Devotees join in elaborate ceremonies to honor Confucius.” [Source:Chris Buckley, New York Times, October 11, 2014]

June Teufel Dreyer wrote in YaleGlobal: “Confucianism not :a suitable paradigm for a cosmopolitan world. The Great Wall, one of the glories of ancient Sinitic civilization, is also a symbol of the empire’s isolationism: It was built to keep the barbarians out. Moreover, nowhere in the Confucian canon does one find that ties to others should be as strong as ties to kinfolk. In Confucius’ conception of the well-ordered kingdom, relationships should be extended from family members outward, with progressively diminishing intensity. The concept of filial piety has little meaning if one is expected to treat everyone as a sibling. As well, his views on the subordination of women and diminution of the entrepreneur would find little resonance today. [Source: June Teufel Dreyer, YaleGlobal, from a longer paper to be published by The Journal of Contemporary China, October 20, 2014]

Timothy Garton Ash wrote in The Guardian, “There are many contrasting versions of Confucianism. Bell distinguishes liberal Confucianism, official or conservative Confucianism, left Confucianism, and depoliticised pop Confucianism (the Yu Dan chicken soup). More important, Confucianism is just one ingredient in the eclectic mix characteristic of China today. Many features of its society and political system can be described without any reference to Confucianism, and some would have the master writhing in his tomb. Beside Confucianism, you can discern elements of Leninism, capitalism, Taoism, western consumer society, socialism, the Chinese imperial tradition of legalism - and more. [Source:Timothy Garton Ash, The Guardian, April 9, 2009]

It's precisely the mix that defines the Chinese model, which is anyway not yet fully formed. For China is still a developing country, in every sense of the word. Only when it is more developed will we know exactly what the Chinese model is. Meanwhile, if we must seek a single label for China today, then a better candidate than Confucianism would be Confectionism. The secret is in the confection...It follows that it's a great mistake to conceive of a political and intellectual conversation with China as a “dialogue between civilizations”. In this conception, we westerners put on the table what we call “western values”, the Chinese put on the table what they call “Chinese values”, and then we see which pieces match and which don't.

Kung Tsui-chang on Confucianism Modern China

On the contribution of Confucian thought to modern society, Kung Tsui-chang told the New York Times: “Confucian scholars could do a paper on this topic. I will just simply share a few personal thoughts. Confucianism has already been the body of Chinese tradition for more than 2,000 years, and has deeply influenced East Asia and a few other countries. Thus Confucianism is a precious cultural property of the Chinese people and is also a treasure for mankind’s spiritual culture. [Source: Austin Ramzy, New York Times, November 14, 2014 ~]

“Although mainland China has emerged from a period of questioning and denial of Confucianism, with social development, people’s growing awareness of Confucianism’s meaning and value for modern society, the revival of Confucianism in mainland China is already commonplace. From the situation on the mainland, you can see, after undergoing more than a century of attacks, Confucian culture is in the midst of a revival. Confucianism has a great influence on elevating people’s spiritual qualities, and can help raise the level of morality and construct a harmonious society. ~

“In addition, from a global perspective, some ideas of Confucianism, such as “Do not do unto others what you do not wish done to yourself,” the unity of heaven and earth, people as the foundation and so on are now receiving more cross-cultural recognition as fundamental values that can help solve international conflict, the ecological crisis and other serious modern problems. After decades of cultural ruptures, mainland China has once again in recent years recognized the importance of Confucian thought and culture to social development. Of course this is a good phenomenon. I hope that Confucianism in mainland China will not only revive but continue to develop and spread for the sake of peaceful development worldwide. ~

“Over 5,000 years of Chinese history, Confucius is the greatly accomplished and most sacred teacher. His descendants can’t hope to achieve his level of civilization. I am proud to be a descendant of Confucius, but I wouldn’t dare consider myself as his representative.” On the recent inclusion of female descendants of Confucius in official genealogies, Kung said: “In the past, women weren’t included in the genealogies of the Kung family. This was because at that time, women didn’t have high status in society. But with the progress of time, women’s social status has been greatly elevated. So now in keeping with social development, female members of the Kung family are included in the ancestral records. ~

Sinocentrism Tianxia

Tianxia—the Mythical Confucian Golden Age—and Modern China

According to YaleGlobal: “Shorthand versions of history suggest that the arrival of explorers from the West, along with exploitive capitalism, commercialism and expansionism, ruined a potentially idyllic system. Even China’s President Xi Jinping has referred to tianxia in speeches and some conjecture that a supreme, benevolent arbiter could bring harmony to a contentious world – or at least Asia.” [Source: June Teufel Dreyer, YaleGlobal, from a longer paper to be published by The Journal of Contemporary China, October 20, 2014 /]

June Teufel Dreyer wrote in YaleGlobal: “With China reemerging as a dominating economic and military power in the world, some Chinese scholars have wistfully harkened back to another era, circa the 5th century B.C., when under a virtuous and benign Confucian emperor, all was well under heaven. The implicit suggestion in this historical retrospective – under a virtuous China one could return to the golden age. However, this idyllic setting was purportedly destroyed by the arrival of rapacious capitalist powers who were eager to expand their commercial empires and imposed the trading system and the Westphalian notion of sovereignty, with its notion of the equality of nation states answering to no higher authority. Since this leaves states free to act according to their perception of their own best interests, the result has been a Hobbesian war of all against all and a failed world. The solution to this baleful situation, suggest scholars like Zhao Tingyang,, is to reinstate tianxia, presumably with Chinese leadership performing the role of adjudicator for all under heaven. The problem is that the golden age never existed and is likely to prove ineffective for the modern era. /

“Nor is Confucianism a suitable paradigm for a cosmopolitan world. The Great Wall, one of the glories of ancient Sinitic civilization, is also a symbol of the empire’s isolationism: It was built to keep the barbarians out. Moreover, nowhere in the Confucian canon does one find that ties to others should be as strong as ties to kinfolk. In Confucius’ conception of the well-ordered kingdom, relationships should be extended from family members outward, with progressively diminishing intensity. The concept of filial piety has little meaning if one is expected to treat everyone as a sibling. As well, his views on the subordination of women and diminution of the entrepreneur would find little resonance today. /

“Supporters of the revival of tianxia as model for today’s world are essentially misrepresenting the past to reconfigure the future, distorting it to advance a political agenda that is at best disingenuous and at worst dangerous. For all its deficiencies, sovereignty would be preferred option by most.” /

Revival of Confucianism

In recent years, Confucianism has experienced something of a revival as the government has changed its tune, welcoming the philosophy of obedience to authority. A sign of that turnaround came with the reintroduction of an ancestor worship festival on the Chinese calendar in the mid 2000s. Chinese President Hu Jintao drew on the teachings of Confucius to illuminate his ideas on a “Harmonious Society “and called for return Confucian values. Many major universities have Confucian research centers or offer classes in Confucian philosophy. Grade schools have been given permission by the Ministry of Education to offer courses that teach traditional Confucian values. Wealthy entrepreneurs pay thousands of dollars and travel thousands of kilometers to Qufu, to attend classes on Confucian philosophy and dress in the robes Confucian scholars and participate in millennia-old rituals at the city’s Confucian Temple in which participants bow and drink Chinese wine from a bronze goblet surrounded by smoke from burning incense. A wealthy metals trader who paid $12,000 to do just that told the Washington Post, “Any businessman with some success wants to do more than just get rich. [Source:Andrew Higgins, Washington Post, May 18 2010]

Evan Osnos wrote in The New Yorker: “Confucianism has no priesthood or rites of conversion, and is not generally considered a religion, but new members of China’s middle class regard an interest in philosophy and history as a mark of cultivation and cultural nationalism. The Cultural Revolution” in the late 1960s and early 1970s “dismantled China’s ancient belief systems, and the economic revolution that followed could not rebuild them. Prosperity had yet to define the ultimate purpose of the nation and the individual. There was a hole in Chinese life that people called the jingshen kongxu—“the spiritual void.” [Source: Evan Osnos, The New Yorker, January 13, 2014]

“The Confucian revival has been especially visible in the city of Qufu, the sage’s home town, in present-day Shandong Province. In 2007, the city’s International Confucius Festival was co-sponsored by the Confucius Wine Company. Thousands of people filled a local stadium, giant balloons bearing the names of ancient scholars bobbed overhead, and a Korean pop star performed in an abbreviated outfit. Near the cave where Confucius was said to have been born, a five-hundred-million-dollar museum-and-park complex is under construction; it includes a statue of Confucius that is nearly as tall as the Statue of Liberty. In its marketing, Qufu has adopted comparisons to Jerusalem and Mecca and calls itself “The Holy City of the Orient.” Last year, it received 4.4 million visitors, surpassing the number of people who visited Israel.

Many who support the trend are elderly. Li Gengwu, a retired newspaper employee attending the service, studied Confucius as a child before the revolution. “All the good traditional values were abandoned. Now it seems more people are interested. Confucius advocates loyalty and trust and caring for others. In today's society, all people care about is money, so it's good to promote these values.” Younger people were less enthusiastic. “Confucius is an important part of Chinese culture, related to everyone,” said Han Bing, 30, a musician at the event. But she was “not really sure” how he was relevant. Xue Wenjuan, 23, was swift to quote “Learning is our belief,” but added: “That's a commercial for a language training center.” Some don’t like the way Confucianism has been hijacked by politicians. Live television broadcasts honoring Confucius are hosted by provincial-level officials. In Beijing, the mandate of heaven concept has been used to justify the modern Communist regime as “benevolent despotism.” /~/

In 2010, the first service at Beijing's Confucian temple was held since the Communists took power in 1949. Hundreds of schoolchildren gathered to pay their respects. Dancers in red robes and students in flowing black drifted through the courtyards of the 14th century temple complex in central Beijing. See CONFUCIAN TEMPLES, SACRIFICES AND RITES

Confucian Schools


A number of Confucian schools have opened up in recent years. The head of school in Shanghai told Reuters, “Parents send their children here mostly because they are keen on Chinese culture. Modern teaching using traditional Chinese methods failed because the schools abandoned the ancient approach to education, which asked students to read, read and read.” Evan Osnos wrote in The New Yorker: “Parents have enrolled their children at private Confucian academies; I visited a weekend school where children aged three to thirteen were learning the classics by rote, reciting each passage six hundred times. Around the country, Chinese tourists flocked to the surviving Confucius Temples, where they filled out prayer cards. “The overwhelming number are about exams,” Anna Sun, a sociologist at Kenyon College, who studied the cards, told me. “They are primarily wishes for the college entrance exam, but also the TOEFL, the G.R.E., law school.” [Source: Evan Osnos, The New Yorker, January 13, 2014]

Students spend much of their time reciting Confucian classic texts, with children as young as three memorizing passages of "The Analects". The father of a 11-year-old at a Confucian school told the Washington Post, “I don’t want my son to be like all those poor kids who have to take exams all the time. My son is more polite after attending this school, and I don’t have to push him to study.”

Describing a Confucian school outside Shanghai, Mark Magnier wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “At the Chrysanthemum Study school...primary school children sit cross-legged at traditional foot-high desks, brush and inkstand at the ready. Their teacher, dressed in a Han dynasty robe with long hanging sleeves, instructs them in Confucian precepts. Respect your parents. Eschew bad habits. Show deference.”

At some universities student are required to take morality and respect for parent classes. For homework students have been asked to wash their parents feet. One student who was asked to do this told the Los Angeles Times, “It think it’s a bit outdated. Parents can go to the foot massage salons themselves if they really want. They don’t need us to do it.”

Camp Confucius

The Analects of Confucius was the focus of a student activity camp being held in Beijing, Yunnan and Guangdong provinces in the summer of 2010. The Wang Caigui Classic Reading Guide Center recruited 1,000 college students for the one-month reading and calligraphy course. The students paid 660 yuan ($97) for the experience, which was setin the peaceful and isolated environs of city suburbs. [Source: Pan Yan Global Times, May 26, 2010]

Over one-month students read the classics for seven hours every day, plus spent two hours practicing calligraphy. Teachers hoped that through extended reading of The Analects the students would discover how to apply their own meaning to the text, and see how it relates to their individual life experiences. Through being immersed in the free reading environment, it was hoped the students will realize the enviable skill of being able to recite parts of the classic off by heart, and even gain spiritual enlightenment. Natural History magazine

“The Analects used to be a must read book for Chinese people. But nowadays, few people, especially young people can read classical Chinese writing without much difficulty. Through this activity, we hope that young Chinese can get access to Chinese classics and improve their language ability,” said Zhou Yuxin, the director of the center.

Xiao Xiaojun, a student at Tsinghua University in Beijing who signed up said, “I used to read The Analects to pass exams...The free reading gave me a new view on the classic. The deepest impression I got was how fascinating Chinese language was...A simple sentence can have a deep meaning about life and society. A month of reading didn't instantly develop a taste for literature, but the activity for me was just the beginning. I will try to read more Chinese classics in the future.”

Yu Dan and Feel Good Confucianism

Yu Dan book

Confucianism has been embraced as an answer to the spiritual vacuum that exists in China today. Scholar Kang Xiaoguang, a major advocate of Confucian education, told Newsweek, “Chinese society today is at its worst ever. The problem is that there are no moral standards to regulate how people treat each other, their business partners, their friends and family. Relationships are ambiguous and we have no way of judging what makes for a happy life.” Kang wants Confucian education to be mandatory at all schools.

Yu Dan, a media-savvy professor of media studies at Beijing Normal University, helped popularize Confucius with a popular series of television lectures and a book, "Insights of the Analects", that packaged Confucianism in an easy-to-digest, uplifting format but, according to some religious scholars, simplifies Confucianism into a feel-good, fast-food morality and philosophy. Yu Dan says things like, “Now that everyone is busy, it seems that the things that actually make people happy are drifting further away from us. A child should have a dream. This is all related to what Confucius says in ethics.

Evan Osnos wrote in The New Yorker: “No one has harnessed the interest in Confucius more successfully than Yu Dan.She presented a popular series of lectures on state television and wrote a book, “Confucius from the Heart” (2006), that is said to have sold ten million copies. Today, she occupies a position in Chinese pop culture somewhere between Bernard-Henri Lévy and Dr. Phil. She plays down themes that irritate modern readers—such as Confucius’ observation that “women and small people are hard to deal with”—and writes, reassuringly, “The truths that Confucius gives us are always the easiest of truths.” Scholars mock her work—one critic attended book signings in a T-shirt that read “Confucius is deeply worried”—but within a year Yu became the second-highest-paid author in China, after Guo Jingming, a writer of young-adult fiction who travelled with guards to hold back the crowds.[Source: Evan Osnos, The New Yorker, January 13, 2014]

In her book Yu wrote: “The essence of Analects is to tell us how to live a happy life that our souls crave for. Don’t assume we shouldn’t look up to is simply about orienting yourself in modern life.” Daniel Bell, a professor of political philosophy at Qinghai University told the Los Angeles Times. “Not only is this simplifying Confucius, it is a very misleading interpretation. Confucius is about social and political commitment. She provides a feel-good apolitical version that goes against the main message of "The Analects".”

Yu Dan's Life

Yu Dan began her study of Confucianism at the age 6, assisted by her father, a scholar of literature and philosophy. She said “When I was about 10, I loved lines like 'shi bu ke yi bu hong yi, ren zhong er dao yuan' (an educated gentleman cannot but be resolute and broad-minded for he has taken up a heavy responsibility and a long course)... When I reached 30, I was taken by the expression, 'ren zhe bu you, zhi zhe bu huo, yong zhe bu ju' (the wise are not puzzled, the benevolent are not worried, the brave are not afraid). It told me to pay attention to my soul...When I reached 40 I had children as well as parents to look after, and 'lao zhe an zhi, peng you xin zhi, shao zhe huai zhi' (The elderly are comforted by him [the ideal person], friends trust him, juniors get cared for) appealed to me.” [Source: Chitralekha Basu, China Daily, June 9, 2009]

Evan Osnos wrote in The New Yorker: ““At Yu Dan’s headquarters in Beijing, a suite of offices on a high floor at the edge of the campus, her assistant ushered me into a modern conference room. Yu Dan arrived, smiling broadly, and asked the assistant to prepare tea. Yu Dan, who is in her late forties, has high cheekbones and a short, severe haircut. I asked what prompted her to embrace the classics. She said that, like others her age, she had grown up denouncing the ancient scriptures. “When I began writing ‘Confucius from the Heart,’ a lot of people asked me, ‘Why are you writing this?’ And I said, ‘I am atoning for the crimes of my generation, because we were young and we criticized him mercilessly.’ ” [Source: Evan Osnos, The New Yorker, January 13, 2014]

“She paused, and turned her attention to the assistant, a graduate student. “Child, how could you be so stupid!” Yu said. “This tea has been steeping for too long!” She looked at me, and the smile returned. “Children today do not know how to host people,” she said. After Yu became popular, the Party invited her to conferences, and she began presenting her readings of the classics in a political context. “Unlimited possibility leads to chaos, because you don’t know where to go or what to do,” she told me, adding, “We must rely on a strict system to resolve problems. As citizens, our duty is not necessarily to be perfect moral persons. Our duty is to be law-abiding citizens.”

She does not feel that interpreting Confucius for the masses is a burden or an enormous responsibility. Nor does the fact that she is a huge commercial success - when Confucianism is essentially concerned with the virtues of non-material wealth - bother her. “I believe in that which is gained beyond commercial success. I haven't changed a lot in the last three years. I still wear the skirt I bought two years ago, as it feels comfortable. After one has reached one's 40s, I don't think one's values change easily.”

Yu Dan Books and Lectures

More than four million copies of "Insights of the Analects" — twice as many as the latest Harry Potter book — were sold in a few months in 2009 and Yu was in high demand on the lecture circuit. She has done a book tour in London, where the English translation of her successful discourse on Confucian ideas was launched with big fanfare.

"Sentiments" was the top selling book in China in the summer of 2008. The work starts with a discussion of filial relationships in present-day society. Confucius said he wanted the elderly to have peace, for friends to trust him and the young to remember him fondly. Everything in a person's life is based on their relationship with these three kinds of people, Yu writes. See Bestselling books

Yu’s book is based on a series of lectures she presented on CCTV's Lecture Room. An estimated 6 million pirated copies have been sold Yu admits her book and lecture series are for the masses. “And I don't have the right to tell people what to do.” Therefore,rather than taking only a political view, she says, she tries relating Confucian thoughts to one's everyday life experiences and explores how individuals might develop and work toward a more spiritually-inclined life, informed by wisdom. [Source: Chitralekha Basu, China Daily, June 9, 2009]

Criticism of Yu Dan and Confucius for the Masses

Several academics from Peking and Tsinghua universities are highly critical of Yu's work, seeing it as no more than a watered-down, feel-good, apolitical version of The Analects. Some have dismissed her book as Chicken Soup for the Soul. Professor Daniel Bell of Tsinghua University has dedicated an entire chapter of his book, China's New Confucianism, (Princeton University Press), to Yu's work. He says, ‘she doesn't just dumb down but also depoliticizes, making use of Confucian language to promote Taoism.” He also alleges that Yu's depoliticized version of Confucius falls in line with the government's policies. “At the end of the day, Yu's interpretation supports the status quo, which may not be the Confucian view,” says Bell. “If Yu downplays social responsibility and political commitment she might not be committed to Confucian thought.” [Source: Chitralekha Basu, China Daily, June 9, 2009]

“But the depoliticizing was deliberate,” protests Yu. “If we try to understand Confucius in terms of politics, we cannot learn much, because back in Confucius's time the foundations of society lay in feudal ethics whereas contemporary society is built on modern rules. There's no comparison between the two. I feel only the part of Confucius that allows us to talk to different cultures in a harmonious way is relevant to contemporary society.”

As for the charge of supporting the status quo, she says, “I think we should understand and accept a society before trying to change it.” Referring with admiration to the incident of Confucius bringing along three students from the southern provinces to deliberate on politics with the emperor, Yu suggests she can appreciate dissent. “Only a person who understands humanity, accepts reality, has a sense of mission and can take responsibility for his fellows and his country would know how to bring about change.”

Evan Osnos wrote in The New Yorker: “There were signs that liberal intellectuals were not the only ones losing patience with the" new "rendering of Confucius. In November, 2012, Yu Dan appeared before an audience at Peking University after a performance of Chinese opera, and the students booed her. They shouted that she didn’t deserve to be onstage with serious scholars. “Get out of here!” someone yelled, and Yu made a hasty exit. [Source: Evan Osnos, The New Yorker, January 13, 2014]

The Dizigui: Confucianism for Kids, Communists and Companies

Rachel Lu wrote in Tea Leaf Nation, “The 1,080-character Dizigui, authored by a Qing-dynasty scholar named Li Yuxiu,” is “short enough to fit into a small pamphlet. Even compared to other classic Chinese works written for children, Dizigui is austere. It evinces a singular focus on the Confucian code of conduct, generating advice such as this: “When my parents do wrong, I will urge them to change. I will do it with a kind facial expression and a warm, gentle voice. If they do not accept my advice, I will wait until they are in a happier mood before I attempt to dissuade them again, followed by crying, if necessary, to make them understand. If they end up whipping me I will not hold a grudge against them.” [Source: Rachel Lu, Tea Leaf Nation, January 7, 2014 ]

“Given the text’s emphasis on obedience, it’s not hard to understand why the ruling Communist Party has come to embrace Dizigui in spite of its tumultuous relationship with Confucianism. By 2009, Xi Jinping, then expected to be China’s next president, specifically named the text as recommended reading for party cadres. A professor at the Central Communist Party School, which trains Chinese officials, wrote a book called Everybody Should Study Dizigui, and party organizations in far-flung corners of the country have convened study sessions on the text.

“It’s also had an impact on some bottom lines. Corporate bosses have claimed that building a corporate culture based on Dizigui increased productivity and profitability. The chief of a Chinese company making electronic components has actively promoted the text in his factory, telling the magazine Chinese Times in 2010 that managers who read Dizigui are more responsible, and the workers more grateful. The CEO of a Beijing-based boilermaker named Hu Xiaolin said that he communicated better with employees after studying the document. The boss “used to have a brusque management style,” according to an article in Chinese business magazine World Manager, until the Confucian text “made him reflect.”

Beijing Promotes The Dizigui to Produce Obedient Children

Di Zi Gui cartoon

Rachel Lu wrote in Tea Leaf Nation, On January 1, 2014, “scores of children assembled to read aloud, in near perfect synchronicity, a 17th-century Confucian text called Dizigui, which translates to “standards for being a good student and child.” The performance, according to local newspaper Beijing Times, was laden with symbolism: It took place at the historic Imperial Academy in central Beijing, which has been a center of Confucian learning for hundreds of years, and the children wore hanfu, a style of traditional clothing said to be similar to those donned more than 2,500 years ago in the days of Confucius. It’s part of a changing reception for Confucian classics, which Chinese schools and education authorities had largely abandoned since the fall of the Qing dynasty in 1911 in favor of more modern curricula like math, science, and colloquial Chinese. But these days, Dizigui’s short and simple brand of Confucianism — a way of thinking that has always included a heavy dose of respect for family and social hierarchy — has even the ruling Communist Party on its side. [Source: Rachel Lu, Tea Leaf Nation, January 7, 2014]

“The Dizigui began to re-emerge in Chinese society more than a decade ago on the back of an educational movement, called Dujing, that seeks to teach the Confucian canon to children. The movement’s adherents believe that memorization of classics will help transform China’s generation of infamously spoiled single children, often called “little emperors,” into more dutiful ones — and in time, morally upright adults. The text has found a ready set of fans among modern Chinese parents, many of them concerned that contemporary social ills trace back to an abandonment of traditional values, and are thus anxious to provide their children with a moral compass in a fast-changing society.

“Many Chinese, however, aren’t pleased by the newfound popularity of this ancient wisdom. To them, the increasing popularity of Dizigui feels like a throwback to a darker age when education encouraged conformity and suppressed free thought; not exactly the best way to prepare children for a 21st-century knowledge economy. When, in Aug. 2013, Guangzhou’s prestigious Sun Yet-Sen University required freshmen to submit a summer essay reflecting on the text, the move drew sharp criticism from some teaching staff and Internet users who saw the requirement as a repudiation of modern educational values like creativity and skepticism. And after the Jan. 1 children’s reading in Beijing, screenwriter Zheng Xiaochong commented on Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter, that the text “is a part of a zombie culture with no ability to innovate.” Another Weibo user argued that it was effective — but only “for training slaves.”

“That may be too tendentious. Most of Dizigui brims with universal adages like, “If criticism makes me angry and compliments make me happy, bad company will come my way and good friends will shy away.” That’s actually part of its attraction to those in power: Few can object to its anodyne moral lessons, but hidden within them is a code of conduct that emphasizes acceptance of strict hierarchy, respect for social order, and deference to authority. For more than 2,000 years, Chinese emperors have found Confucianism a useful tool for authoritarian governance. Now they seem keen to try again.

Kong Family

The Kong family of Qufu, Shandong are Confucius's descendants. They have resided in Qufu for 2,500 years and are recognized by the Guinness Book of Records as the family with longest traceable lineage (back to Confucius's great-great-great-great grandfather in the 8th century B.C.). Of the 600,000 people who live in and around Qufu, nearly 130,000 of them are named Kong.

As of 2009, about 2 million people were recognized as descendants of Confucius. A new family tree was put together that year to honor the 2,500th anniversary of Confucius’s birth that recognized minorities and overseas Chinese and is believed to be the largest family tree in the world. When it was last put together in 1937 it had only 500,000 members.

In Qufu about 20 percent of the population still bears the Kong surname. Not long ago, it was a disgrace to carry the name. "We were crushed by the Cultural Revolution," Kong Qingying, a 52-year-old calligrapher, told the Los Angeles Times. Now Kong makes his living selling scrolls at the Confucius Temple, a sprawling compound on the family's ancestral grounds, and his family name is both a source of honor and a sales pitch to tourists.” [Source: Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times, March 25, 2011]

Until early in the 20th century, the direct descendants of Confucius lived in a mansion built and rebuilt over the years with money donated by emperors eager to show respect for the man who provided the philosophical underpinning of the system that kept them in power.

Seven of Confucius's 86 lineal descendants are still alive today. The first born son of the 77th generation fled to Taiwan in 1947 with his family to avoid harassment by the Communists. The family members that remained in China survived the Red Guard attacks. Kong Deyong is a 77th-generation direct descendant of Confucius and keeper of the Confucian flame (2007).

Kong Demao, one of two surviving members of the 77th generation in thr 1990s, married a man who fled shortly after the communist takeover in 1949 and left her with two children and no source of income. She have lived in Qufu all her life, with the exception of 10 years spent in a labor camp during the Cultural Revolution. After she was rehabilitated in 1979 she was placed in a local communist committee. In the 1990s, Kong Demao was chairman of the board of three liquor companies — Confucius Family Jia Liquor Company, the Confucius Family Group and Confucius Yun Liquor Company — and a travel agency. The Confucius Family Group produces beverages like the Confucius Family Red Wine and made a before-tax profit of around $10 million a year.

Kong Qingdong, a Peking University professor who says he is both a Communist Party member and a 73rd-generation descendant of Confucius, is a strong supporter of the government and severe critics of those who criticize the Communist Party.

Confucious family tree

Kung Tsui-chang, Heir to Confucius

Austin Ramzy wrote in the New York Times, “Kung Tsui-chang is a 39-year-old businessman in Taiwan who is the 79th-generation direct descendant of Confucius. He inherited the title of Sacrificial Official to Confucius from his grandfather, Kung Te-cheng, who died in 2008. The position was created by the Republic of China in 1935 after it abolished the title of Duke of Yansheng, a noble rank in Imperial China given to the descendants of the Chinese scholar and philosopher. [Source: Austin Ramzy, New York Times, November 14, 2014 ~]

“While the Dukes of Yansheng had special powers over Confucius’ domain in Qufu, Shandong Province, the modern-day Sacrificial Official to Confucius’ role is limited to officiating over annual ceremonies in Taiwan that commemorate the Great Sage. But though the privileges attached to his own hereditary title have diminished over the past century, and Confucianism came under violent assault in China for much of the second half of the 20th century, Mr. Kung says that in recent years he’s seen the appreciation for Confucian thought grow.” ~

On his early life, Kung Tsui-chang told the New York Times:“I remember that ever since I was a child, my family did not put any particular pressure on me. My parents wanted me to know how to treat people politely and to always behave and conduct oneself in an upright and honest way. I grew up with three generations under one roof, in a home full of books. It was what could really be called a family of intellectuals. When my grandfather was alive, he was rigorous in his scholarship, always with a book in his hand. And when he wasn’t reading, he was writing. Growing up in such an environment, I developed a complete respect for knowledge.~

As an adolescent, I studied “The Analects” and other classics of Chinese traditional culture just like my peers, and I didn’t feel anything special compared to the other students. Each year, my grandfather officiated over the sacrifices to Confucius. My general feeling was that was a matter for adults and something very distant from me. I felt that way up until a year before my grandfather’s death, when because of health reasons, he asked that I conduct the rites. It was then when I became conscious of my future path. It’s a responsibility and also an honor. ~

Kung Tsui-chang on Life as the Heir to Confucius

On his life as the Sacrificial Official to Confucius, Kung Tsui-chang told the New York Times: “Under the rules of the “Points on the Sacrificial Offers and Commemorations of the Greatly Accomplished and Most Sacred Teacher Confucius,” the Sacrificial Official to Confucius is inherited by Confucius’ descendants. The person who inherits the position must be surnamed Kung. This rule stipulates if there is no male descendant who can take up the position, then a female descendant can take it.[Source: Austin Ramzy, New York Times, November 14, 2014 ~]

“After 2009, when I became the Sacrificial Official to Confucius, I founded the Chinese Association of Confucius, in May 2011, in order to spread Confucian thought and culture. In August of that same year, I went to Qufu for the first time with my mother, my wife and 20 association board members. The people there put great importance on our reception. I conducted a ritual at the Confucius Temple, and also toured the temple, the Confucius Family Mansion and the Confucius Research Institute and a few other spots. The year after, on Grave Sweeping Day, I participated in the spring ceremony held at the Confucius Temple on Mount Ni, and Confucius’ descendants together conducted the family rites at the Confucius Cemetery. This was all public, and some media outlets covered it closely. ~

“In May 2014, “I went to Qufu again, and in addition to visiting the Confucius Research Institute, I accepted the honorary title of dean of the Qufu Normal University’s school of Chinese national culture studies. On the mainland, my closest relative is my great-aunt in Beijing. She’s my grandfather’s older sister, Kong Demao. This year, she’s 98 and still in good health. When I went to Qufu in 2011, I made a trip to Beijing to see her, and I saw her again this May. Now we’re in close touch.” ~

On what do you teach your children about Confucius, Kung told the New York Times: “I have a son and a daughter in third and first grades, respectively. I believe that a child’s education should be suitable to normal development, and they shouldn’t receive any special pressure because of their identity. I hope they grow up lively and healthy, and develop their moral, intellectual, physical, collective and aesthetic education. In fact, Confucian thought is already internalized in most Taiwanese people’s behavior, including our household. ~

Chow Yun-fat Plays Confucius

In 2010 a state-backed film about Confucius was released with Chow Yun-Fat, better known as a tough guy in Hong Kong gangster movies, playing the great master. Chow is best known for his role in the Oscar-winning Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, but he made his name in high-octane Hong Kong gangster fare such asHard Boiled and A Better Tomorrow. [Source: The Guardian]

The film was directed is Hu Mei, one of the best known female directors of China's vaunted fifth generation. Her a conductor for an army orchestra, was imprisoned by the Red Guards, while her grandfather died in custody.

The film is said to have had a budget of 150m yuan (£16m). Shot in Hebei province and at Hengdian studios in Zhejiang, it was is one of a number of films put together to celebrate 60 years of communist rule.

Image Sources: 1) Taiwan Confucian Temple website; 2) Seoul Searching website; 5) Confucian school. Telegraph; YouTube

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2021

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