Confucianism is more about way of life

By Yao Ying
0 CommentsPrint E-mail China Daily, January 14, 2010
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Buying and selling diplomas, plagiarizing theses and the flood of insignificant papers in journals pose another type of threat to higher education, and thus to the basic tenet of Confucianism.

And then we have people who lambasted Confucianism during the "cultural revolution" (1966-76) but today claim to be Confucian scholars. How can we take their thoughts and writings seriously? Kung says.

We should understand Confucianism is a philosophy of practice. It is not just readings of an ancient text to pass exams or write books or to sermonize on. A true Confucian scholar is also a Confucian follower. He has to practice what Confucius taught. But how many people do that?

Under such circumstances, how can we say Confucianism is undergoing resurrection?

A person has to study traditional thoughts seriously either to support or to oppose them. Do we see a lot of people studying Confucianism seriously? Behind all the craze for Chinese studies, in which nationalistic views may have a role to play, Confucianism is still where it has been for a long time: a marginalized subject in universities and a way of living that seems irrelevant in today's society. The reason: our academic set-up, family structure and lifestyle all have changed substantially during the past century, which saw Chinese culture crumble under the weight of Western thoughts and ideas.

People of the Middle Kingdom were self-sufficient and self-contented. But they were closed for centuries, too. So when they came to know the progress Westerners had made in science, education, philosophy and culture, they were overwhelmed; they were overcome by a sense of inferiority.

This prompted them to try and rid their lives of traditional Chinese culture as quickly as possible. And in their rush to embrace everything Western, they conceived the West to be prettier than it actually was. That's why, says Kung, Chinese were more Westernized than the Japanese and Koreans when the latter were going through a similar process. The sad outcome: Many traditional cultural markers, still evident in Japanese society, have been lost in China.

China has followed the West selectively since the May 4th Movement in 1919. Since Chinese misread that Western civilization was only about skyscrapers and cars, they embraced industrialization wholeheartedly and missed out on Western music, literature and arts, sports, philosophy, religion and law.

We don't have to lament this if we learn a lesson from history. "This is the time for double enlightenment," Kung says. "We should not just study Chinese culture, but also see Western culture in a new light." Only by doing so can we know the advantages and disadvantages of Western culture, and avoid evaluating our own traditions wrongly.

Western philosophers have always looked toward ancient cultures such as Greek and Hebrew for enlightenment. Since Voltaire, Eastern philosophy has become another source of inspiration for them. Western and Eastern cultures both can be invaluable resources for Chinese people, and whether they turn them into wisdom or carry them as a burden depends entirely on them.

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