Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Confucius is Still Alive in China!

Martin Jacques, author of When China Rules the World: The End of the Western World and the Birth of a New Global Order, claims that even during the "Maoist period, Confucian values and ways of thinking continued to be influential, albeit in some subterranean form, remaining in some measure the common sense of the people" (New York: Penguin Press, 2009, p. 200). Jacques believes that Confucian ways of thinking are currently being revived "and scrutinized for any light that they might throw on the present, and for their ability to offer a moral compass" (200-1). First brought to light in imperial China through the life and teachings of Confucius and his disciples(551-479 BCE), these ancient thoughts appear to be the bedrock assumptions of culture both past and present in China. historical past. Two important continuities--the parental role of the state and the central place of education-- are maintained, regardless of the political structures of dynasty, republic, or communism. The bedrock philosophical assumption of Confucianism is a strong optimistic anthropology, namely that people are basically good (which goes against the grain of a more western, Augustinian view of humankind) and if brought up with proper parental guidance and education, children will have the appropriate responses for a harmonious family and society (199).

And I think that I saw it. Confucius was still speaking even in 2010 in China. At the Shenzhen Foreign Language School in the Guangdong Province, students learned in an atmosphere surrounded by aphoristic sayings of Confucius. Beautiful plaques on the wall said that education really mattered. The one that first caught my attention was the one in the conference hall where we first met the Chinese educators and some of the students. I looked up and saw these words: 'jyau sywe shang jang" translated means "teaching others teaches yourself." Others stated, "The spring wind brings up (educates) all things" (chun feng yu wu) and "Though growing up through mud and dirt, be not polluted" (wu ni bu ran). The spirit of learning has not been stamped out by the fierce cataclysms of political and social change. The opening words of The Analects of Confucius, a collection of brief aphoristic fragments compiled years after the death of Confucius, attest to the importance of study, and the importance of studying abroad, providing inspiration for 21st century China and our own United States of America.

"The Master said, 'To learn and at due times
to repeat what one has learned, is that not
after all a pleasure?
That friends should come from
afar, is this not after all delightful? (The Analects, Book 1.1)