Page 2 of 3   <       >

Confucius Making a Comeback In Money-Driven Modern China

In Beijing, the Education Ministry has approved more courses in traditional Confucian culture. The government also supports 145 nonprofit Confucius Institutes in more than 52 countries and regions, aimed at promoting Chinese language and culture. People's University added a new major in 2005: the study of ancient Chinese civilization.

The popularity of Confucianism is in part a sign that most ordinary Chinese citizens, except for party officials and some academics, no longer truly believe in a communist ideology.

"China has made great economic achievements in the past 30 years, and this has brought back a confidence that we lost. With this confidence comes a return to being proud of Chinese culture," said Kang Xiaogang, a professor at People's University and one of China's top proponents of Confucian education. "Another important reason for the growing popularity of Confucianism is that the effectiveness of Marxist ideology has decreased. That's why the government needs to look for new ideologies."

President Hu Jintao has not officially endorsed Confucianism as a new ideology but has embraced some of its ideas, evoking Confucius's name in 2005 and -- along with Premier Wen Jiabao -- calling for a new "harmonious society" aimed at calming social unrest.

Kang said he thinks Confucianism should be made China's national religion; other scholars insist that it's impossible to simply turn a philosophy into a religion.

Already, a debate has begun over whether Confucianism can really solve problems that China's fast-paced modernization and current education system have failed to address.

Last year, a charismatic Beijing Normal University professor was plucked from obscurity to host a state television program that explained "The Analects of Confucius," a collection of teachings attributed to the philosopher, in everyday language. Professor Yu Dan then wrote a $3 book based on her lectures, which sold 4 million copies, more than double the sales of the previous bestseller, "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone."

But Yu Dan's book has been criticized by scholars for providing an incomplete, even distorted view of the philosopher's teachings. Yu herself acknowledges that she did not present all of Confucius's ideas, because she feels not all are relevant to modern China. For example, Confucius advocated a patriarchal system that assumed men were superior to women.

In an upcoming issue of Du Shu, China's leading intellectual periodical, Tsinghua University philosophy professor Daniel Bell argues that Yu's book depoliticizes Confucius, who in fact was a radical social critic with low opinions of his rulers. It is not surprising that Chinese leaders would play down Confucian values of social or political criticism, Bell said.

Educators say their colleagues sometimes use a selective application of Confucian values that are fashionable at the moment.

"People think they can find happiness in money," said Zhao Zeyuan, principal of another campus of the Young Pioneers school, on the grounds of the city's recently restored Wen Miao temple. "We try to teach the original Confucianism here, and it asks people to discipline themselves and treat others well, so that society can be harmonious. The Confucianism interpreted by some Chinese scholars is not exactly the same as the original Confucianism."

Even government officials are describing communist ideology in novel ways, arguing that it is compatible with Confucianism despite the party's effort over more than a decade to destroy the philosophy.

<       2        >

© 2007 The Washington Post Company