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Confucius Versus Modern Chinese Thinking, Part 1

Popularity 8Viewed 10967 times 2016-5-11 04:00 |System category:Life| government, personal, history, Chinese, Versus

Confucius is revered in China as the wisest man in Chinese history. His thoughts not only dealt with daily living, such as, relationships, social action, personal development, attitude and right thinking, but, he also influenced government and shared his wisdom on governing justly.

As the West has come to realize that materialism and the pursuit of money and luxury is futile and really doesn't satisfy the human soul, they have turned to ancient Chinese wisdom. They have turned to the wisdom of Lao Tse, Confucius and others to guide them in how they should think for living a life of true success. 

In China, much of the ancient wisdom has been downgraded or outright forgotten. The pursuit of money, material possessions, status and prestige are obviously all about society and are now driving the lives of many.

An old Chinese professor recently pointed out to me how Chinese have abandoned ancient Chinese wisdom and thought. Though Chinese culture throughout the world is being promoted through what is called 'Confucius Institute', the wisdom of Confucius is now largely ignored.

I decided to become a student of Confucius and study his writings in order to learn and understand his philosophy. Much of his philosophy was summed up in notable quotes that he spoke. As I began to study these and learn them so that I might apply them to my own life, I also remembered the old Chinese professor and what he said. It was quite easy to see the contrast and contradictions between the ancient wisdom and modern Chinese thought. So I embarked upon a personal project of studying this subject. Now, I want to share it with others in hopes of resurrecting these life impacting and shaping thoughts.

"Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in getting up every time we do." - Confucius

The heart of this quote is that you realize and accept that there are times in life that you will fail. But, as we like to say in the West, 'failure is never final unless you quit.' In the West today, we respect the person who says, "I'm not perfect, but, I am striving to learn more every minute of every day." We have come to realize that 'perfection' is not something that is found in reality. The wise man says, "I know nothing" while the ignorant man says, "I know everything."

The wisdom of Confucius is profound. Not just in the hearing of his thought, but, most importantly, in the application of the thought. It is good, right and honest to know that you aren't perfect and that no one else is either. In teaching my students English, if I make a mistake and realize it, I quickly let them now that I did and give them the right answer. For me, 'looking good' or 'having face' has to do with whether I taught my student the right thing rather than just me saving face. I don't care about 'face' nearly as much as I do about teaching the truth.

When we fail, we don't quit. We keep going. Sometimes we encounter things that we will never overcome, but, we don't stop. We move on. We reach higher. True wisdom is knowing that you will fail, admitting when you do (the student respects the teacher who is honest with them and despises the teacher who pretends perfection), correcting your mistake or failure and get up again.

This is the true wisdom of Confucius. This is the way our children (in the East and in the West) should be taught. Integrity will always win out over pretension. Confucius had it right. His wisdom can guide your life and bring you true lasting success, but, only when you embrace what he said and apply it in your daily life and character.

(Opinions of the writer in this blog don't represent those of China Daily.)


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Reply Report voice_cd 2016-5-11 09:03
Thank you very much!!! we have highlighted your blog.
Reply Report seanboyce88 2016-5-11 09:33
The problem with a lot of confucius' work is that it is at odds with modern Chinese philosophy in a big way.

For one, Confucianism promotes stratification, it accepts there are rich people and there are poor people and the poor should know their place
安贫乐道 quite literally, be content with poverty. Now you can see it is anti materialism but it was also an idea that the poor were poor and instead of trying to get rich should strive for virtue. However, in a society that promotes equality, the idea that some are rich and some are poor seems unfair.

another example of how China just rejects it's traditional philosophy is how the education system is here, which is interesting. There are many stories where confucius' students come to home and he has small tales and analogies to get his point across. One such story is along the lines of:

one student comes up and asks confucius' a question, he answers.
A second student comes up, asks the same question but he gives a different answer.
The third student comes up and again asks the same question and receives a third different answer.

His whole point is that, there is no objective answer to many of life's questions and that would should be constantly questioning onjectivity, looking for new answers and that there is no one answer. This is reflected by the phrase 百家争鸣,which is "let a hundred schools of thought contend", this is in reference to the warring states period of China where Classic Chinese philosophy was first developed and, in a way, China became world leaders on philosophy (back in 475BC). Most Chinese classic philosophy comes from this period of time, and why? Because EVERYONE ASKED QUESTIONS. no one was assuming anyone was right. They employed a scepticism that we see in modern postmodernism and yet is sadly missing from modern Chinese education. You can even see it in other writings, like zhuangzi who has stories involving him proving confuciius wrong and confucius admitting his own wrong doing.

Sadly it was 500 years later where some Chinese men decided that confucius was the one true answer and all other schools of thought should not be studied. And that began 2000 years of stagnation in Chinese philosophy as they went against the very teachings of confucius while preaching him. His grave must look like a very long tunnel, he would have been rolling in it so much he would have turned into a drill and bored his way to the states.

And this "there is only one answer" philosophy got taken up by China in a big way, it became a part of the imperial exam科举 where students basically had to memorise the exam (much like the modern Chinese exam system) and this is why the education is all a mess today, simply because China DIDN'T follow confucianism too well.

So next time a Chinese person talks about "tradtional Chinese education" you have to ask, China has 5000 years of history, which part of traditional are we talking about here, as China has forgotten most of their traditional history sadly.

Sorry for almost hijacking your thread with this comment, my PhD is in educational philosophy, we study confucius a lot and I find it a very interesting topic. Great post and I would thoroughly recommend reading confucius and maybe zhuangzi after. 2 very different styles but both taught through lots of story telling.
Reply Report MichaelM 2016-5-11 14:45
Sean, thank you for sharing. You share a lot of insight that is new to me and which I find extremely interesting. I think the intention today is 'look right in the moment and it will suffice in fooling enough naive people to make people believe you are nearly omnipotent.' A bit exaggerated, but, you get my point. Western people have this romantic idea that Chinese still follow the ancient wisdom though it is far from the truth. I've taught lessons here that introduced actual people in Chinese history who lived close to my own home here, yet, they knew nothing about them and hadn't even heard of them. Yet a foreigner comes from America to teach them about their own history. I visit the local museums and libraries and have learned a vast amount of local (Henan) history that even my students' parents don't know. It is exciting and very rich history that I would think everyone here should know.
Reply Report SEARU 2016-5-11 19:00
seanboyce88: The problem with a lot of confucius' work is that it is at odds with modern Chinese philosophy in a big way.

For one, Confucianism promotes stratifi ...
You are a strong hijacker who I admire very much and I think the author of the blog  would be pleased with your wonderful comment!
Reply Report SEARU 2016-5-12 06:50
MichaelM: Sean, thank you for sharing. You share a lot of insight that is new to me and which I find extremely interesting. I think the intention today is 'look ...
Confucian theory was invented by the great man Confucius; basiced on his oral words (mainly), thousands of his students and other scholars in the history had developed it into complicated more perfect science that has influenced Chinese society for so long!

When I was primary school,we were taught to take Confucius as a ugly negative figure who old idea was not fit for the building of the socialist country!

I had spent two years on university education in the Confucius‘ hometown  that period totally changed my old view on his teaching. I saw many local people respect him as some religious leader-god: kneeling before his figure with tears and begging for good fortune!

I think most of Chinese are equipped with communist theory that is much stronger than Confucian one! -----------certainly Confucian is wisdom formed by so many scholars through the raining and snowing of the history from which we could learn and benifit a lot!
Reply Report seanboyce88 2016-5-12 10:39
MichaelM: Sean, thank you for sharing. You share a lot of insight that is new to me and which I find extremely interesting. I think the intention today is 'look ...
I feel we are kindred spirits, I too love visiting museums and libraries to learn about history.

When it comes to the three kingdoms period of history, a lot of people are surprised when I teach them things like who invented mantou haha. I love Chinese history, I just wish there were more good films about Chinese history  
Reply Report AlexfromAmerica 2016-5-12 13:22
seanboyce88: The problem with a lot of confucius' work is that it is at odds with modern Chinese philosophy in a big way.

For one, Confucianism promotes stratifi ...
"Confucianism promotes stratification, it accepts there are rich people and there are poor people and the poor should know their place "
I for one can see some wisdom in what Confucius said about stratification. I don't come from a very rich family, but I see how American politics have been poisoned with envy of the rich, especially by Bernie and Hillary.
We shouldn't be eager to confiscate wealth that doesn't belong to us, that we didn't earn. That is the central temptation of the younger generation today.
If you really think Confucius wanted serfdom, then you can think that, but I think he was more cautious, and wanted the lower classes to exercise virtues of patience, not being to eager to upset the apple cart.
Reply Report seanboyce88 2016-5-12 15:56
AlexfromAmerica: "Confucianism promotes stratification, it accepts there are rich people and there are poor people and the poor should know their place "
I  ...
Possibly, such is the problem with philosophy of 2000+ years ago, we have no way of confirming his meaning haha, you could very well be correct.

However, I am against multi national corporations and super rich because for someone to get richer, others must get poorer, that's just how money works basically. I am not envious of the rich, I just personally wish for a more fair society. The economic inequality gap has been shown to be a root cause of many of society's problems. There is a book called "the spirit level" that uses the gini co-efficient to correlate economic inequality and a majority of societal problems. So I am anti stratification for this reason, I see it as a root cause of many problems and only by rocking the boat will anything be done.
Reply Report seanboyce88 2016-5-12 15:58
AlexfromAmerica: "Confucianism promotes stratification, it accepts there are rich people and there are poor people and the poor should know their place "
I  ...
My point though, no matter how we interpret it, your way or mine,(Like I say, confucianism is open to interpretation) it is definitely add odds with the Chinese concept of "socialist core values" of which equality is one. This core value comes from a very communist definition of the meaning being rooted in marxism, and it is talking about the removal of stratification. It's interesting to see such stark contrasts between modern and traditional China.
Reply Report shelley_filming 2016-5-12 20:00
seanboyce88: My point though, no matter how we interpret it, your way or mine,(Like I say, confucianism is open to interpretation) it is definitely add odds with t ...
so insightful you are into the confucianism.
Reply Report TedM 2016-5-13 11:18
"Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in getting up every time we do." - Confucius
So many good comments about this issue.
Where did the wisdom of this get lost in China?
People afraid to change in case they are wrong, people who make no decisions for fear that their manager will disagree. People who do not contribute to discussions or decision making because they are afraid of failure, saying "wrong" things and losing face. I see this in education every week. No-one should be afraid of making mistakes. The mistake is being afraid to do anything.
Reply Report SEARU 2016-5-13 12:19
TedM: "Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in getting up every time we do." - Confucius
So many good comments about this issue.
Where  ...
Failures are the footsteps you left on the path leading to your success!
Reply Report Ted180 2016-5-13 21:57
Life and reality are not as simple as many think. It is by COMBINING the best of VARIOUS philosophies that the best world can be created.
Reply Report SEARU 2016-5-13 22:46
Ted180: Life and reality are not as simple as many think. It is by COMBINING the best of VARIOUS philosophies that the best world can be created.
You may become great man or make some miracle if you could take (or make) complicated things into simple ones!

Some people live more happier than those philosophers!
Reply Report Ted180 2016-5-14 04:53
seanboyce88: Possibly, such is the problem with philosophy of 2000+ years ago, we have no way of confirming his meaning haha, you could very well be correct.

How ...
Most economists do not believe that profit-making is a zero-sum game if properly-controlled. Note the GENERAL increase in wealth that accompanies most types of economic growth. Note that capitalist mechanisms can be combined with socialist ones. There is flexibility if people take the trouble to develop it. The gini coefficient (and its variations) are very helpful guides.
Reply Report MichaelM 2016-5-14 19:17
SEARU: You are a strong hijacker who I admire very much and I think the author of the blog  would be pleased with your wonderful comment!
I don't mind. He is full of great knowledge. I appreciate it.
Reply Report MichaelM 2016-5-14 19:18
SEARU: Confucian theory was invented by the great man Confucius; basiced on his oral words (mainly), thousands of his students and other scholars in the hi ...
I think that there isn't enough people who adhere to his wisdom
Reply Report MichaelM 2016-5-14 19:19
AlexfromAmerica: "Confucianism promotes stratification, it accepts there are rich people and there are poor people and the poor should know their place "
I  ...
Very interesting Alex. Thanks for sharing.
Reply Report MichaelM 2016-5-14 19:19
TedM: "Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in getting up every time we do." - Confucius
So many good comments about this issue.
Where  ...
Yes. The very same question I'm asking.
Reply Report seanboyce88 2016-5-18 00:00
Ted180: Most economists do not believe that profit-making is a zero-sum game if properly-controlled. Note the GENERAL increase in wealth that accompanies most ...
Oh I completely agree.

I am a socialist at heart and yet I understand the need for capitalism. People forget the very medicine that keeps many alive may have been driven by a want for more profits...and thats ok, its a means to an end.

Capitalist mechanisms help keep the economy competitive, providing incentive to forever improve while socialist policies help to redistribute the wealth in a fairer way, and in a way that gives the poorer part of the population more spare cash....in turn boosting cash flow and increasing consumer spending.

I see both going hand in hand very well, and it seems to be the case in the Scandinavian systems. Like I say, socialism can be used to create a fairer society. An unfair society is the root cause of many problems and I believe fixing this makes both myself happy from a humanitarian point of view, and the capitalist happy from the economic point of view. Unlike many on here, I do not assume that political or economic systems are so black and white. In fact, i would personally prefer not to categorize systems as "capitalism" and "communism" as it confuses people and give the systems a bad name. Chinese "communism" and Cuban "communism" are worlds apart. The definition is too hazy...

I could talk about this all night. But from reading your posts, I am sure you know all this haha. I am typing more for others reading this conversation and now it's bed time for me.

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MichaelM

Michael is the author of the transformational book, Powerful Attitudes. He is a professional educator, an educational consultant, an author. He lives in Zhengzhou, Henan Province. He enjoys playing guitar and writing poetry. He loves China.

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