IN two years, artist Qiu Qingfeng has painted 30 portraits of
Confucius, each with a stormy visage mirroring his own disquiet.
"Society needs Confucius. His teachings for self-improvement,
studying hard, and being a man of integrity are still applicable
today," says the 23-year-old, whose paintings hang in the great
sage's hometown manor. "But very few people now understand
Confucius. And that's a tragedy."
As communism decays and capitalist greed spreads, Chinese grasp
for new values amid a spreading cultural unease. Increasingly,
people speak openly of self-doubt and soul-searching triggered by
rapid-fire market change, bankrupt Marxism, and the drift from
traditional Confucian ideals.
Beijing's communists confound the confusion. They scuttled the
virulent anti-Confucius campaign of the Cultural Revolution and now
invoke Confucian ethics of obedience, respect, and sense of
commonwealth, which form China's cultural bedrock. Still, in a
campaign reviving communism's favorite everyman, they exhort
Chinese to "learn from Lei Feng," the fictional soldier and Marxist
Both Chinese and Western observers say weakened Confucianism,
disillusionment with communism, encroaching Westernization, and the
pell-mell pursuit of wealth have eroded recent beliefs and left
many Chinese at a cultural crossroads.
"During the Cultural Revolution the struggle against
self-interest ... was commonly accepted. But later we discovered
that we had been fooled because the practice was mine is mine and
yours is mine too," says a professor at People's University in
Beijing. "I still believe in the struggle against self-interest....
But today we are asking what are the values that work in the market
"There is chaos in Chinese values," he adds. "What should be the
values for today?"
"The most important thing is that the social contract doesn't
exist anymore. Can China be as Confucian as before? Certainly not.
But this is no longer the culture of Mao's new man, either," says
Yves Nalet, a China analyst in Hong Kong. "Many are asking how long
can people just care about themselves and not care about others.
The Chinese are saying we don't know what we want to be."
Amid the disarray, the 2,500-year-old tradition of China's
greatest thinker and educator, known here as Kong Fuzi, is key to a
lively intellectual debate overfilling what some Western scholars
consider China's moral void.
More of an ethical code than a religion, Confucianism, first
taught by the philosopher in the 5th century BC and adopted by
subsequent rulers over the centuries, remains deep-rooted in the
Chinese way of thinking, even in ways people are not always aware
of, intellectuals here say.
Even communist supremo Mao Zedong, who attacked Confucius as a
misguided feudal lord, used Confucian strictures to stay in power,
Chinese scholars say. …