Views of Confucius have always been in a state of flux.
Back when the “Asian Tigers” saw their tremendous economic rise, it was Confucian ideals of hard work and obedience that were claimed to be responsible. Nobody was to criticize their political system, for it was just the way things were handled in a Confucian/Asian nation state, and these different governance styles and systems worked. It was “Asian Values” all the way.
When things aren’t going so well or problems are met head-on, the same obedience is blamed as the root of nepotism and a lack of creativity, however.
In China, the statue of Confucius may have had to go from Beijing’s Tiananmen Square again, but China’s relationship with its ancient sage star philosopher certainly has continued apace.
Here, too, it has continued apace in the usual ‘confusion’ way of this country’s recent history: He was, not so long ago, one of the old things to get rid of. Even then, the struggle against parents and teachers was all the stronger an issue because of the lasting effect of his teachings that call for obedience to these authorities, and obedience was a source of the whole new revolution, just in deference to a new father figure.
Family ties have continued to be of the utmost importance. Ancestors have to be remembered, fed and clothed; laws enshrine the need for children to care for and pay respect to their parents; traditional views of gender roles and relations hold some sway; families help each other and “help” of this kind becomes rather indistinguishable from nepotism and corruption. And, such ideas find wide transference to the body politic, as they always have.
Appeals to Confucian teachings have risen again. They have done so, in particular, as they have been considered potentially helpful for the purposes of the political sphere, all the more so as society is decried as having lost its moral footing and behavior, focused on the material side of things as it has become.
Between Wangfujing, Beijing’s preeminent shopping street, and the Confucius Temple, the two concurrent developments recently came together only too well.
On Wangfujing, the “International Brand Festival” claimed that better brands make for a better life and city and presented goods to aspire to.
Meanwhile at the Confucius Temple, it was the end of summer courses for middle school students. Time to pay respect to the sage, honor the parents, vow to be a good student… and to fervently love the country.
Handling such contradictions, problematic as we seem to see it, is just the reality of cultures. Life always stands between tradition and change, individual desires and decisions and cultural normalities and social pressures…