By James Miller
In a recent article entitled Two Big China Stories You Missed This Year Jeffrey Wasserstrom, a respected professor of Chinese history at UC Irvine, highlighted the rehabilitation of Confucius as one of the most significant trends in contemporary China. As a historian, his main point was, well, historical. To outsiders it may seem perfectly normal that Chinese leaders want to associate themselves with Confucius, China’s most famous philosopher. But this would be to ignore the fact that for most of the 20th century, Confucius was distinctly out of favour among the CCP leadership. According to Communist revolutionaries, Confucianism was a patriarchal feudal ideology that could have no place in the “new China.” How staggering it was, therefore, to see Confucius at the heart of the mega-spectacle of the Beijing Olympics.
This revival reached new heights during the torch run, when the flame’s arrival in Qufu, the sage’s hometown, was celebrated lavishly. It was then taken to an even higher crescendo during the Opening Ceremony, when Confucius was quoted as Hu [Jintao] and other leaders looked on with approval. Then 3,000 actors took the stage at the Bird’s Nest, dressed up to represent a massive contingent of the sage’s disciplines.
The question here is whether this revival of interest in Confucius actually means anything, or whether it is window dressing on the part of China’s elite.