Confucian Comeback

By Liu, Melinda | Newsweek International, September 17, 2012 | Go to article overview

Confucian Comeback


Liu, Melinda, Newsweek International


Byline: Melinda Liu

China remains divided over reviving its ancient sage.

In Tiananmen Square last year, when the stolid National Museum of China reopened its doors following a costly renovation, a 31-foot-tall statue of Confucius stood outside. A short while later the statue mysteriously disappeared. The museum offered no explanation. But speculation ran high that as the decade-old effort to reinsert Confucius into Chinese society has gathered steam, some in Beijing have grown ambivalent. Government officials "hope to make good use of Confucianism, but fear criticism for reviving it," said Zhang Lifan, a former researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing. Given that the revered scholar died back in 479 B.C., many doubt that modern China can be governed entirely by Confucian proverbs. Still, China needs something to fill the moral vacuum; Marxism long ago lost its luster, and many fear that money madness now holds sway, that capitalism has created a Darwinian struggle that some have dubbed "keeping up with the Wangs." Meanwhile, the regime's rule has increasingly come under siege from bloggers and an influx of Western notions like universal suffrage. As a result, many officials have put their hopes on a mix of nationalism and Confucian thought to glue together China's tattered social fabric.

The epicenter of this new cultural revolution is Qufu, a town in the countryside of coastal China, where Confucius was born. Here visitors don fuchsia-trimmed robes, kowtow before a statue of the great sage, and on his birthday--Sept. 28--observe a full-blown ancient ceremony, complete with song and dance. Last year Zeng Zhenyu, an analyst at the Advanced Institute for Confucian Studies of Shandong University, proposed to the provincial government that Qufu be transformed into a special Confucian culture area, modeled after the government-created special economic zones, which spearheaded the nation's shift toward capitalism. …

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