Ancient teachings aid modern lifestyles

By Zhao Ruixue(China Daily)
Updated: 2017-02-08 07:32:16

Students in traditional costume participate in a series of activities known as the 'six skills', which formed the basis of elite education in China during the Zhou Dynasty (BC 1046-BC 256), when Confucius was alive.[Photo by Cai Xiaomeng/For China Daily]

The government is promoting the work of Confucius, the nation's most famous sage, in a bid to reaffirm traditional Chinese culture. Zhao Ruixue reports from Jinan and Qufu, Shandong province.

Two years ago, a 50-square-meter room in Sandefan village of Jinan, the capital city of East China's Shandong province, was rarely visited by local residents.

However, since it was converted into a base for lectures about the teachings of Confucius, China's best-known ancient sage and educator (551-479 BC), the room has become a mecca for villagers.

The lectures usually feature stories that highlight Confucian beliefs, mainly those related to filial piety, loyalty, integrity and benevolence.

Yan Binggang, deputy head of the Advanced Institute for Confucian Studies at Shandong University, visits the village once a week to deliver free lectures. He has made a habit of relating stories about people being punished for bad behavior, such as disrespecting one's parents and refusing to honor promises.

"Your attitudes toward your parents will have an impact on your children and when your children grow up, they will tend to treat you in the same way you treated your parents," Yan said, adding that many people are unable to hold back their tears when he shares stories about filial piety.

The room, known as the Confucius Classroom, is one of more than 3,000 centers in Shandong that are promoting Confucian thought, which is viewed as an important part of traditional Chinese culture.

Children read ancient stories at the Confucius Temple in Jilin, Jilin province.[Photo by Zhu Wan Chang/For China Daily]

Reinforcing values

Concerned that the teachings of China's best-known sage will lose ground as a result of the country's rapid development and ongoing urbanization, the government is moving to reinforce traditional cultural education nationwide.

Confucian teaching rests on the belief that humans are fundamentally good, and can be taught and changed by personal and communal endeavor and self-cultivation. The sage's maxims, such as "How happy we are to meet friends from afar", "Harmony should be cherished" and "Do not do to others what you do not want others to do to you", have remained popular in China for thousands of years.

Although the teachings were heavily criticized during the "cultural revolution" (1966-76), the country's top leaders are now stressing their importance.

In 2013, President Xi Jinping visited the hometown of Confucius, Qufu city in Shandong, and made a speech after attending a discussion with Confucian experts.

In his address, Xi said research into the philosopher and his beliefs should make the past serve the present, discarding the less-valuable while keeping the essential so the thoughts of the renowned philosopher will continue to exert a positive influence today.

In 2014, Xi made a speech at the opening of an international conference to commemorate the 2,565th anniversary of Confucius' birth, becoming the first Chinese president to address an international conference dedicated to the works of the great sage.

If a country - no matter which country - does not cherish its own thinking and culture, its people lose their souls and it will not be able to stand, Xi told the audience.

Parents and children wear traditional robes to celebrate Spring Festival in Jinan, Shandong province.[Photo by Zhu Zheng/For China Daily]

Setting a trend

In Shandong, more than 2,800 villages and 700 residential communities have already set up Confucius Classrooms. Now, other provinces and regions are following suit.

Jiangsu province aims to develop a foundation to promote comprehensive teaching of moral philosophy via courses in classic Confucian thought.

In Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province, all the schools under China's nine-year compulsory education system have launched activities that focus on reading traditional classics.

"Confucian teaching must come out of the ivory tower to reach people in the countryside, who are often not educated," Yan, from Shandong University, said.

As the birthplace of the sage, Qufu works to revive Confucian culture in every part of the city.

Walking around the Confucius Temple, one notices the the contrast between the roads that run alongside. Banbi street, a slate road to the west is dotted with ginkgo trees, echoing the ancient walls of the temple, while Gulou street on the east is dotted with shops, creating a modern atmosphere.

Like the two roads, the local authorities are creating new ways to promote traditional culture and exploring special ways to revive the Confucian spirit.

Since 2014, local people have been invited to join the ceremony held annually at the Confucius Temple to honor the sage and to promote love, sincerity, filial piety and benevolence.

Kong Xianglong, head of Linqian community near the Confucius family cemetery, a major scenic spot in Qufu, said almost all of the community's 1,800 residents know a fundamental tenet of Confucian teaching - that people who are untrustworthy in word are also likely to be untrustworthy in deed.

"Around 80 percent of the residents in Linqian work in tourism-related businesses. Years ago, conflicts frequently occurred between tourists and business owners, but now the disputes have disappeared, thanks to the efforts to spread Confucian thought," Kong said.

The government is promoting the work of Confucius, the nation's most famous sage, in a bid to reaffirm traditional Chinese culture.

Growing influence

Now, every one of the city's 405 villages has a Confucius Classroom. Shi Junzhen, a 60-year-old resident of Qianjia village, is proud of his daughter-in-law because of the efforts she made to help his wife when she was in the hospital in July.

"There are many good stories about filial piety in our village, partly because we are enlightened by Confucian teaching," he said.

Yang Hong, head of Shuyuan village, said the local Confucius Classroom also acts as a platform to narrow the distance between officials and residents.

"The villagers actively voice their opinions about village management and the officials listen to their opinions patiently. Our village has seen great changes in every aspect - for example, people are friendlier to their neighbors and the village is much cleaner," he said.

"Confucianism is always in Chinese people's blood, no matter how the social structure changes. What we want to do is to awaken beliefs that are buried in people's hearts. It's a long process, one that can only be done over generations and generations. We cannot push hard. We can only begin with concepts that are close to people's lives, such as guiding them to be filial, caring and friendly," Yan, from Shandong university, said.

Local sages

Yan said new ways need to be explored to build up a system that will produce a "self-sufficient" system of teaching in villages. "Cultivating new-style village sages who are respected by the villagers might be a good way," he said.

Zhao Jieping, a retired primary school teacher, is famous in Sandefan village because he took care of his mentally disabled younger sister for two decades. The villagers have selected the 67-year-old retired primary school teacher to assess the qualities of candidates for the roles of local sages.

"The villagers respect and trust Zhao, so his opinion will influence them substantially," said Zhang Jiang, the village head.

In the deep winter, the Confucius Classroom at Sandefan village was a little chilly, but several elderly men were writing Spring Festival couplets for villagers as China's most-popular annual holiday approached.

The influence of Confucius was evident in most of them, but most especially in the one that carried one of the best-known maxims of the ancient sage: "Great virtue can carry all things".








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