In what seems the passing of a moment, Confucius, who was once deposited by revolutionaries into the dust bin of history has made a comeback into mainstream society, and already it seems as if peoples enthusiasm for reading Confucian classics has surpassed their love of soul uplifting self help books. Does this mean that Chinese society is gradually unshackling itself from the worship of money and materialism and is instead turning towards the pursuit of spiritual serenity and morality?
Today while I as at home casually watching some TV, I came across a public interest add on CCTV that portrayed a young guy returning home with his girlfriend, whereupon the family elder declared to the whole family “Kinsman, from today on she will become one of our family members.” Through this veil of sentimentalism, it was almost as if I could see the image of that old grandpa from Lu (Confucius) which had long vanished from rural areas. I was curious, if that old man, being the family elder, did not agree to the marriage of this young couple, what kind of scene would that make?
In his ‘Report on the observations of peasant movements in Hunan,’Mao Zedong once placed political authority, clan power, theocracy and the authority of the husband as the ideological and systematic representatives of feudal patriarchy. However today it seems that traditional family ideology that once faced the wrath of revolution has begun to reemerge in a positive light within the language of mainstream discourse. Yet with traditional family ideology rising from the ashes,do we really want to see representations of patriarchal authority such as family temples, domestic discipline, or even‘women’s virtue,’exemplary moral behavior, arranged marriages and foot binding cloths come marching back into fashion? (Indeed many have already returned)
That such a ‘public interest’add would appear on CCTV is indeed no accident, this small segment is itself reflective of the trajectory which contemporary ideology is following. In the historical blink of an eye, Confucius, once placed by the New Cultural Movement into the trash bin of history is now making a sweet comeback, with the reading of Confucian classics and worship of Confucianism riding on a tide of popularity that matches the public’s interest in B grade singing competitions. Whether on TV, on the internet or on the streets, the ‘Master of the Classics’(Confucius)is everywhere to be found, and regardless of whether you have read them or understood them, if you don’t slip in a few lines from the ‘Standards for Students’into everyday conversation you feel almost ashamed to admit that you received an education. All through the streets, billboards promoting pictures of ‘The 24 stories of filial piety,’including the one which made Luxun fear his grandmother for so long, ‘Guoju buries his son,’are once again being propped up by virtue loving moralists, putting a grand name to the estrangement of the relationship between grandchildren and grandparents, ‘Promoting Filial Piety.’Buried in the May 4th avalanche of cold neglect for over half a century, the temple of Confucius is also coming back into to popularity, with each years ritual ceremonies seeing to herald from a different age, as if for two thousand years nothing has changed but the actors performing the play.
Standing firm through two thousand years of wind and rain, the temple of Confucius was there to welcome in the Tang and Song, and was still there to send off the Mongols and Manchus, even the Chinese butchering Japanese would not forget to do their kowtow’s and burn some incense in front of‘Old Kong’(Confucius). That old homeless dog (Confucius) that once had his soul smashed by China’s revolution has hurtled back to the demeanor and position of‘Great Sage Teacher,’ and thus the twenty century Chinese revolution that began with an attack on the house of Confucius, has now ended with his complete revival, almost as if we have come back to where we had started.
Many people only think of Confucian ideology as being about virtues such as parental love and filial piety, or respecting teachers and elders, this is really, to put it in the words of Jiang Zemin ‘to young, to naive, to simple.’This understanding places Confucius in the same standing as the gossiping ladies on the neighborhood committee who sort out domestic issues and really does not give him enough credit. You don’t need to read archaic classical texts to know that parental love and filial piety is virtuous,even those aunties on the neighborhood committee who haven’t read a thing could talk about such things for years on end. How could these ladies ever live up to such a (posthumous) title as ‘Great Sage Teacher,’worshiped unswervingly by countless generations of rulers for thousands of years.
Those people who recommend reading the classics are most likely quite intelligent, and being intelligent people, would definitely not be so stupid as to take the morals and values of their 8 o’clock family TV series as the main goals of their life’s existence. Their ultimate goal is rather to train a generation of sons and daughters to be loyal, patriotic, pious and subservient. Yet are these‘intelligent people’anything like those parent respecting loyal ministers that we find in the classics, most likely not. While Luxun was flipping through the pages of local gazettes that extolled the virtues of the moral people in the local area, he discovered that parent loving loyal males were a rarity, and instead it was the virtues of chaste female martyrs that made up one if not more chapters in the gazette. Unable to prevent a sigh, he remarked that he did not know what had happened to those Confucian classics that the men had read, as in the end, it seemed that only illiterate women were able to put them into practice. After the fall of the Ming dynasty, one of Confucius’ great followers, Qian Qianyi and his fallen consort Liu Ru agreed to drown themselves in a lake, sacrificing themselves for the dynasty they had lost. Originally this was going to be quite a romantic event, (one talented man, one lovely lady, one a loyal minister the other a female martyr), one that would definitely get them a place in history books, however unfortunately, used to soaking in the warmer waters of the Qinhuai river, Mr Qian decided that the water was a little too cold and let Ms Liu jump in alone. Even after having read so many of Confucian classics, it seems that his virtue was even lower than that of a courtesan, these scholars really are something. After the Japanese invasion of China, the previous standing Northern Warlord government who surrendered to the Japanese army were on the whole, a bunch of Confucian worshiping, classic reading Manchu remnants, and in the end it turned out to be the uneducated Han, Wu Peifu, who provided a bit of national fighting spirit. In order to promote the teachings of Confucius and Mencius, the leading authority on Chinese Classics, Ji Xianlin (Was it Chinese classics or Indian Classics) and Qian Wenzhong went on CCTV and kowtowed and bowed, and yet just after Mr Ji passed on, Professor Qian ended up in a dispute with Mr Ji’s secretary over his inheritance. At the funeral, angst over a turtle turned into a fight, and thus these high and mighty moralists showed their animal nature. With a mouth full of virtue and benevolence,how many of these moralists are really thieves and prostitutes in disguise, in the end only they themselves know.