September 29, 2005

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The people's Confucius

Everything old is new again. Confucius is quickly regaining his place amongst China's pantheon of heroes. Yesterday in Shandong there was a major celebration of Confucius's birthday in Qufu. The China Daily waxes lyrically, saying Confucius soundbites offer wisdom and laughter and stating Confucius probably ties with Shakespeare for the title of most quoted human ever and noting he scooped a guy called Matthew: Most Confucius aphorisms can easily cross boundaries of age, culture and religion. Actually parallels exist: "Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you." This echoes the Golden Rule from Matthew 7:12: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

For a long time the Communists had trouble with Confucius. The China Daily puts it delicately:

However, not every citation from the sage sounds palatable to the modern ear. Confucian overemphasis on filial piety and respect for authority was criticized during the May 4 Movement in 1919 as hampering social progress. In the early 1970s, Confucius became the target of character assassination as part of a weird political movement.
"Weird political movement" - what a great phase. I wonder if that will become part of the Party's official history.

Like all things in politics, the key question is why now? The answer is between the lines of a piece in the People's Daily titled Enlightenment drawn from global worship of Confucius:

...The world today is not in peace, this is mainly because of hegemony and terrorism...Confucius said, "A gentleman gets along with others, but does not necessarily agree with them; a base man agrees with others, but does not coexist with them harmoniously".
In case it's too subtle for you, I'll help you: U.S.A.
...Fifty years ago, the Chinese government, together with India and Burma (Myanmar), initiated the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence for handling international relations, and thus made major contribution to world peace.

The "one country, two systems" principle advanced by Deng Xiaoping has successfully solved the problem of the return of Hong Kong and Macao to the embrace of the motherland and it embodies China's traditional spirit of "harmony without uniformity", thus providing the world with a typical example for solving similar problems.

In case it's too subtle for you, I'll help you: Taiwan

Confucianism advocates benevolence: "One who, destining to develop himself, develops others and in destining to sustain himself, sustains others", "Don't do to others what you don't want others to do to you", and one should get along well with all peace-loving people. Refraining from seeking hegemony is a fine tradition of Confucianism.
China's present peaceful rise is precisely an inheritance of the fine tradition. China's peaceful development will not constitute a threat to the surrounding countries. As Chinese President Hu Jintao said in his speech delivered at the summit marking the 60th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations on September 15: We should "adhere to the spirit of tolerance, jointly build a harmonious world. Difference in history, culture, social system and development pattern should not become obstacle to exchanges among various countries, still less should it be a reason for mutual antagonism". This actually is an emphasis on "harmony without uniformity".
That last paragraph is for everyone, with an emphasis on the U.S.A.

So the why is simple: Confucius hasn't changed, but the Communist Party has. "Harmony without uniformity" is the antithesis of the CCP's history.

posted by Simon on 09.29.05 at 11:14 AM in the China politics category.


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Heh. The Pancha Sila came into existence right *after* China's invasion of Tibet, and *before* the Sino-Indian War.

And they didn't stop upstandingly nonaligned Indonesia from invading both East Timor and West Papua.

posted by: Joel on 10.01.05 at 03:47 PM [permalink]

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