A total of 800,000 teenagers have read the great Chinese classics, including the Analects of Confucius, across the country in the past two years, and the number of students to take part in the project of reading the Chinese classics, launched by China Youth Foundation, is expected to reach 3 million in the coming 10 years.
The warm welcome extended by the teenagers, their parents and some famous scholars to the project is simply a reflection of the influences of ancient sages, especially Confucius, on the contemporary Chinese society.
Although Confucian philosophy is widely thought to be the most important basis of Chinese culture, the sage's ideas were severely criticized during the "cultural revolution" (1966-76) as a feudal ideology.
With the ending of the "cultural revolution," efforts to erase Confucius' influences on Chinese people was shown to have been unsuccessful, and scholars worked harder on Confucian studies and the spread of Confucian precepts.
"Our scholars are developing the Confucian philosophical system so that it can play a bigger role in contemporary China," said Professor Jiang Guanghui, secretary-general of the International Confucian Federation.
The collection of Confucius' and his followers' thoughts is so huge that it is always possible to find something useful to the contemporary world.
In the early 1980s, Confucian moral principles were reintroduced to youths on the Chinese mainland to better cultivate them.
His doctrines are important guidelines that many people follow.
"Though I know little about Confucian thought, I can say that he was a highly noble person and was devoted to civilized life," said one person on the street.
Like Wang, many have not read the original works of Confucius, but they know many of the best doctrines because they are such an integral part of Chinese culture.
In the 1980s, however, another trend, launched by scholars and students returning from studies in Western countries, emerged in opposition to doctrines of Confucianism.
Liu Xiaobo, a radical scholar and former teacher in Beijing Normal University, for example, repeatedly argued that Confucian thought impeded China's communication with foreign civilizations and the utilization of their achievements.
This trend still influences some young people, but most would admit that Confucianism is also a positive force on society's morals.
"Confucian ideas teach me how to be a noble person, though I have not read his works carefully," Dai Jie, a recent college graduate, said.
Some look on Confucian thoughts in a superstitious way.
It is reported that each July, when the national college entry examinations are held, Confucian temples are filled with parents asking Confucius to bless their children.
With the fast development of East Asian economies, Confucianism, which is considered to have profound influences on some of these societies, such as Japan, the Republic of Korea and Singapore, has been named as a major reason for their successes.
Since 1989, large ceremonies to celebrate Confucius' birthday have been held in China. In 1994, President Jiang Zemin praised the great man's contributions to Chinese society on the occasion of his 2,550th birthday.
Professor Wang Dianqing, director of the Oriental Moral Institute in Beijing, is working to spread knowledge about Confucius and his works. He helps students in primary and middle schools learn and recite Chinese classics.
The essence of Confucianism should be taught to the younger generation or it will be lost next century, Wang said.
The Confucian Cultural University was established this May in Shandong Province's Jinan. Another such university, including a Confucian institute, science, humanities and law schools, is currently being built and will open next year.
He Keyong, a teacher from a little town in Zhejiang Province, also started working to spread Confucian ideas several years ago.
He has published a concise biography on Confucius and opened a private school in his hometown to teach teenagers Confucius' works.
"Parents warmly welcomed my school, for they know Confucian doctrines are important to living a moral life," the teacher said.
(China Daily 12/11/2000)