May 15, 2010

CHINA: Ancient wisdom of Confucius reverberates in modern China

WASHINGTON, DC / The Washington Post /  Asia-Pacific / May 15, 2010

By Andrew Higgins

QUFU, CHINA -- Zhong Yong, a wealthy metals trader from the far west of China, recently took a long weekend off work, boarded a four-hour flight across the country and then drove for two hours. His mission: to dress up in a long black robewith crimson trim and tap his head on the ground in front of a wooden statue of Confucius.

Duan Yanping, a technician at the local electricity company and one of Qufu's most zealous Confucians, prepares incense at a Confucius school that he runs.
Andrew Higgins - The Washington Post 

"Any businessman with some success wants to do more than just get rich," said Zhong, the chairman of EverSunny trading, who traveled here to the birthplace of Confucius as part of a crash course in Chinese philosophy and religion. It cost him nearly $12,000.

Dressed in mock ancient garb, Zhong, 45, knelt on a gold cushion and sipped Chinese wine from a bronze goblet. Then, amid giggles from bystanders and smoke from burning incense, he kowtowed to honor the ancient sage.

The ceremony, a mix of theme-park gimmickry and earnest ritual that dates back more than two millennia, took place at Qufu's Confucius Temple, the focal point of what, in imperial times, was China's guiding creed.
Today it's the center of a burgeoning personality cult built around a philosopher who died in 479 B.C. It's a movement endorsed by the government but one that is also providing cover to some who question China's direction.

Chinese entrepreneurs take part in a ceremony of worship for Confucius at Qufu's Confucius Temple. Andrew Higgins - The Washington Post 

A revival of interest in Confucius and other aspects of what Mao Zedong vilified as China's noxious feudal past has been underway for years, spawning best-selling novels, television dramas and films set in the Imperial Era. The Communist Party, tapping into a deep vein of cultural nationalism, has encouraged the trend, in part as an antidote to Western ways.
Overseas, Confucius has become China's standard-bearer, with dozens of state-sponsored Confucius Institutes, including one at the University of Maryland, promoting the study of Chinese language and culture.

But a Confucian revival sanctioned and initially steered by the party has grown into something more vibrant and also more unpredictable. It has become a quest for alternative ideas that challenge not only foreign imports such as democracy but also some of the homegrown results of China's dash to modernity.

Confucianism, an elaborate system of moral philosophy and political theory, has always been a two-edged sword, both deeply conservative and potentially subversive.

Successive Chinese dynasties, deploying Confucianism to cement their rule, distilled its complexity to a simple message: obedience. Confucius prized hierarchy and order, but he also believed that virtue, not wealth or power, should decide who governs: "If a ruler departs from benevolence, how can he be worthy of that name?"

Businessmen, dressed in mock ancient garb and enrolled in a crash course in Chinese culture, bow before a statue of Confucius. Andrew Higgins - The Washington Post China's current government is still backing Confucius and has adopted as its own one of his favorite concepts: harmony. But it sometimes has a hard time selling its preferred image of the sage as a bookish patriot, now on display in movie houses across the country thanks to "Confucius," a multimillion-dollar bio-epic. It has been widely panned as a snooze.

Zhong and fellow entrepreneurs who trekked to Qufu to worship at the Confucius Temple are by no means unruly dissidents. They cheer the party's emphasis on stability, applaud its economic success and mostly scoff at the idea that China would be better off with democracy. [rc]

"If Confucius were alive today, he would probably join the Communist Party"

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