Happy Birthday Confucius!

Confucius’ birthday, celebrated in China. Photograph: Wu Hong/EPA

What number comes to mind when you wish someone “Happy Birthday-Many Happy Returns”? 90, 95, maybe a 100? How about 2,561 years? That’s right 2, 561 years and going strong. Yesterday Beijing marked Confucius’ birthday with pomp and ceremony for first time such a service took place at Beijing’s Confucian temple since the Communists took power. What a comeback. Reviled during China’s Cultural Revolution, anything that related to Confucius or his philosophy—books, art, sculptures, temples—were damaged or destroyed. According to the Guardian newspaper, the philosopher’s comeback began in the 1990s to legitimize the same party that once sought to destroy it—he has “reappeared in school textbooks, and President Hu Jintao drew on Confucius in establishing his vision of the “harmonious society”. Historically, China’s cultural heritage was largely shaped by Confucius in that the idea of the individual is one of social meaning; that is, relating oneself correctly through right conduct. Relating in a social context was through five basic relationships: ruler and subject, father and son, husband and wife, older and younger brother, and friend to friend. Also central to Confucian thought and Chinese philosophy is the concept of Ren for no other subject, including filial piety, engaged the attention of the master and his disciples as this. Ren, written with the two characters combined to stand for “man in society,” has been translated as benevolence, universal empathy, or simply “humanity.” Is “humanity” outdated, a thing of the past in China’s culture or even globally? Perhaps what Bill Moyers observed in his interview several years back with contemporary Confucian scholar, Tu Wei ming, is worth noting here. For Moyers, Confucianism isn’t just something learned in books or emulated observing role models, but something that resides in the “DNA” of the Chinese. As the Chinese re-connect with their ancient roots as they are bound to do as a historically-focused culture, it will be interesting to see the form “humanity” takes. Like the rise and fall of its many dynasties, Confucianism has waxed and waned for several millennia. In its latest form perhaps it is the greatest irony that Confucian humanity will be a Communist state-sponsored effort. Read the entire Guardian article: http://bit.ly/asAuHO

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