Maya’s Journal – Day 6

Today we couldn’t go sightseeing because of the smog. Instead, we went to the National Museum. It was downtown and indoors, so we wouldn’t get a lot of pollution in our system. Of course, we had to walk outdoors to get the subway (and back), so I held my scarf over my nose and mouth. I had to breathe really hard in order to get the oxygen I needed. But if I took off my scarf, I would start coughing like crazy, so it was a lose option.
The Museum was wonderful. It was so interesting to learn about Beijing’s dynasties and cultures. After the hour we got some food as the buffet down on the underground floor. After that we walked around and got some ice cream. I didn’t get enough air with my scarf, but like I said earlier, if I took it off I would get a lungful of smog. By the time we got home, I felt horribly dizzy, so I went to bed really early.

Visit the Seniors’ Center with us!

We are preparing a volunteer outing to a senior center on May 28th. Visiting the senior center is one of the most splendid volunteer events held by Lotus. By joining us you can show your international community service by showing your love and care to seniors. It is also a wonderful experience to participate in the Confucian ideal of filial piety. You can find more information about our volunteer excursions on our website, and read about our most recent visit to the seniors’ center.

The detailed arrangement are as follows:

When: 8:00am—2:00pm on May 28th, 2011
Where:Suite 1201, C#XiWu Plaza, 12 Suzhou St. Haidian District
Who: Lotus Students, staff, host families, interns and volunteers

We will go to the senior center at 8:00 am, departing from Lotus Beijing office. The caring program will start at about 9:00a.m. until 12:00 pm. The program and includes caring activities such as singing, dancing, Chinese Cheirapsis, balloon games, holding a birthday party and listening Senior’s personal stories. From 12:00pm. to 2:00pm., we will return to the Lotus Beijing office to have lunch and share personal feelings about the experience.

If you would like to join us or you have something you’d like to perform for the seniors, please email us at beijing@lotuseducation.org before 6:00 pm. on May 26th (this Thursday).

Up to the Mountain

Longquan Temple

[singlepic id=87 w=320 h=240 float=right]It seems that a lot of religions have stories about mountains. Moses went up Mt. Sinai where he received the Ten Commandments, the Yellow Emperor studied Daoism at Qingcheng Mountain (there are an awful lot of holy mountains in China), and who doesn’t love to build a monastery or a retreat house in the mountains? This story, which is long overdue, is about three days I spent at Longquan Temple at Phoenix Mountain (凤凰岭自然风景公园), northwest of Beijing.

Lonquan Temple (龙泉寺) is a Buddhist temple that dates from the Liao Dynasty. These days it’s a lot bigger than it was back then. Recently a lot of new buildings have been added and more are planned. It’s a kind of modern monastery. The current abbot runs a translation centre, translating his own writings into various languages for global consumption. There seems to be an active evangelism component to the mission of Longquan, though the extent of this mission is not quite clear to me. Longquan Temple maintains an active online presence through a blog, and a network of volunteers using QQ (a Chinese social networking site and popular chat client). It also has a well-equipped media room for audio and video production.

New Year’s Eve

I went up to Longquan (or up to the mountain, as everyone who goes there says) at the suggestion of my colleague Holly. Holly is a big fan of the abbot and the work they do there. It was Chinese New Year, and I had nowhere else to go. Honestly, my preference was to spend some time with friends, setting off firecrackers and drinking baijiu (a Chinese liquor), but that plan didn’t work out. Holly told me the monastery would be ‘bustling’ for the Chinese New Year. I very much doubted her. In fact, I was right, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t fun or interesting.

Holly and I went up the mountain together on New Year’s Eve (that was February 2). Lonquan was hosting a “Multi-lingual Dharma Assembly” during the week-long New Year holiday. She told me I could go up there to volunteer and to recite the Sutras in my own language. I wasn’t terribly interested in reciting the Sutras, but I did think volunteering for a few days would be fun. That way I could do some manual labour and wouldn’t have to stress about my day job or my studies. I was assigned to the kitchen (大寮) which suited me quite fine.

[singlepic id=62 w=320 h=240 float=left]As usual with many new experiences, on arrival I just had to follow the crowd. Bow when they bow, clap when they clap, etc. I basically had no idea what was going on for about six hours. There was a New Year’s Eve show put on, with various short skits about living the Buddhist life, singing, musical performances, a speech by the abbot, and a year-in-review video of the monastery’s activities over the past year. At the end of the festivities, we recited a Buddhist text as the clock struck midnight. Then we all received our lucky money from the abbot as we went outside. Outside everyone had their chance to ring the temple bell for good luck in the new year. From Phoenix Mountain there is a great view of Beijing, and there were fireworks going off everywhere across the entire city.

A note about fireworks in Beijing. I was told fireworks and firecrackers are banned inside the fifth ring road in Beijing, due to population density and fire hazards. The fifth ring road encloses most of the city. Outside that there’s a sixth and maybe seventh ring road. However the term “ban” is relative in China. Whatever ban there may or may not be, nobody cares. There are fireworks and firecrackers everywhere, every day of the week-long Chinese New Year holiday, even up to the first morning back at work. You might as well say the Communist Party is banned in Beijing. It’s complete nonsense.

After taking my turn at ringing the bell and watching fireworks for a while, I went back into the monastery and chatted to a few people for a bit. I met Hongmei, who was in charge of the kitchen. She wasn’t actually who I was told to find, and I never did find my kitchen contact the whole time I was there, but I did get where I needed to be. Hongmei told me the wake up call would be at 4 AM and work starts at 4:30 AM. I found my bunk in what looked like a gymnasium turned into sectioned dormitories. My dorm had at least 40 beds. Others were bigger. I think I got to bed after 1AM that first night.

The Monks Run a Tight Ship

[singlepic id=76 w=320 h=240 float=right]On the first morning, someone’s alarm sounded at 3 AM. Then he put it on snooze and it sounded again at 3:15 AM. If you know me, you know I don’t like to be disturbed in the morning hours before my planned time to get up. The Chinese philosophy is that “early to bed and early to rise” is good for your health. Fine, I can go along with that, but how healthy do I really need to be? Isn’t 4 AM early enough?

I made my way to the kitchen at 4:30 AM as directed. I wasn’t actually doing any cooking, I was working under Hongmei doing food preparation. We’d retrieve vegetables from the various food stores around the monastery, clean them, chop them, and then deliver them to the chefs for the next meal. We were always preparing food one meal in advance. So at 4:30 in the morning we were preparing the food for lunch. At any given time there were between four and twenty people working on food preparation. I always seemed to be in an awkward position with work assignments. First of all, my Mandarin is mediocre at best so giving me instructions isn’t that easy, and second, I don’t think anyone ever expected to see a white man do manual labour, so they were afraid I’d injure myself or something.

The monks run a massive kitchen operation. It’s exactly the kind of thing I like: organized, logical and efficient. Hongmei ran a tight show as head of food preparation. There are huge pantries and food stores all over the monastery and it has its own tofu-making facility. The kitchen is a full industrial kitchen except it has no dishwashers. Dish washing is all done by hand. The monk in charge of the kitchen, who I really liked, told me that the monastery acts as a place of refuge in case of emergency. They have their own water supply from a spring in the mountain and their own farm at another location. Though there is electricity there, the stoves are wood-fired. I believe the monastery can support 1000 people without any outside resources, and there were about 800 there during the Chinese New Year holiday.

[singlepic id=74 w=320 h=240 float=left]I spent most of the day in the kitchen. At some point Hongmei told me they would need help distributing food at meal time. I wound up doing this every meal time for the next few days, and I quite enjoyed it. I had to do a quick study in hand signals. At meal time we’re not allowed to talk. If you want more or less of some food being distributed, you have to indicate what you want with a hand signal, and the guy distributing food (me) needs to know what you’re talking about. Food is distributed in large buckets. By the way, the food is fantastic. I’m not vegetarian but these were the tastiest vegetarian meals I’ve ever had.

Food distribution was an interesting experience. In China, people sometimes ignore all the rules (see above, about fireworks) and sometimes they queue up and follow instructions military (communist?) style. This was more of the latter. The food servers worse blue aprons and a white hat. There was a young man in charge who lined us up and marched us up to the dinning hall. We lined up all the buckets and he assigned each person a bucket to distribute and told us which rows in the dining hall we were responsible for feeding. He then said a prayer and we all went to work. When we were not distributing food we were supposed to be standing neatly in a line by the wall waiting for further instructions. We were not allowed to engage in idle chit-chat. Distributing food to a few hundred men only served to make me famous. Before that I was the white guy mysteriously doing manual labour in the kitchen, and only known to whoever else might have been working in the kitchen. Now I was the white guy mysteriously serving other people.

[singlepic id=86 w=320 h=240 float=left]Meal times are also interesting because they’re gender-separated. I believe everything is gender-separated at the monastery, not just the dormitories, but also meal times and prayer and scripture reading times too. We all worked together in the kitchen though. As a consequence of the gender separation, from New Year’s Eve, when we all went out to ring the bell, I didn’t see Holly again until we both returned to work in Beijing. In fact, she left the monastery before me and I didn’t even know she was gone.

The Abbot of Longquan Temple is somewhat of a hero for the many young people who were there. It’s a big place, so we didn’t see him often, but on the first night I accidentally had a quick one-on-one chat with him, which made some of my kitchen workmates a bit envious. I was coming back down to the kitchen after serving dinner and saw that there were a lot of people blocking the kitchen door. When people stand around doing nothing in front of doors or at the top of the stairs in a subway station, it drives me nuts. Can’s they go gossip in a corner somewhere? I just pushed right through the crowd. That’s how you get by in Beijing, with lots of elbow, so I’m good at it now. After pushing through I suddenly found myself in the middle of a circle of people surrounding the abbot. At this point I felt a bit embarrassed. There wasn’t much of substance to our simple chat, just him asking me where I’m from and how I came to be at the monastery. My impression of the abbot is that he’s a very sincere guy, dedicated to his work. He’s always got a big smile on his face.

An Ordinary Day at Longquan Temple

Day two at the monastery started at 3 AM, just like the first. I really wouldn’t have minded the extra hour of sleep until 4 AM, but at this point I had to resign myself to getting up at 3 AM because after that alarm went off, many other people started to stir too. Let me tell you this, if I had been able to figure out whose alarm that was, I would have made sure he didn’t get any breakfast. I’m not very zen.

The second day went by like the previous. I worked in the kitchen, discovered new food stores, which continuously amazed me, and helped in food distribution at every meal. The monk running the kitchen invited me to take some time off from the kitchen to go recite the Sutras. I told him I probably wouldn’t understand what was going on, so I might as well just stay in the kitchen. I think he understood, both the reality that my Mandarin just isn’t good enough for that, and the fact that I wasn’t really interested. In Chinese culture, you don’t often say “no” directly, so saying I wouldn’t understand was the perfect way to decline the invitation. In the afternoon I went hiking on Phoenix Mountain with Linyu and Zhibing, a couple of friends I’d made in my dormitory. It wasn’t quite as cold out there as it was in Beijing and the sun was shining so it was a fantastic hike.

[singlepic id=88 w=320 h=240 float=right]The Buddhist Retreat

Before I went up the mountain, Holly had been asking me to help with some translation. The organizers of the week-long “Multi-Lingual Dharma Assembly” needed some terms on the schedule and program introduction translated into English. There was some discussion between us about whether the word ‘assembly’ was the right word or not. I don’t know much about Buddhism, I only have a vague notion of what the Dharma is, and before I went to Longquan I really didn’t know what was going to be happening, so I didn’t know what to call it.

After two days at the monastery, I started to figure out that it was essentially a Buddhist retreat. It had all the hallmarks of any church retreat I’ve ever been on: sleeping in dorms; a massive kitchen operation running to feed hundreds of people; everyone early to bed and early to rise; lots of prayer times; and people addressing each other in ways they would never do on the street. We all addressed each other using a form of the word “brother” (师兄) which is typically only used among those studying Buddhism, Taichi, or other such things. There is a word for sister (师姐) but I was told that it typically isn’t used. It reminded me of Star Trek, where everyone addresses their commanding officers as “Sir” even if the CO is a woman. One thing that did distinguish this retreat from church retreats I’ve been on, was the number of young people. There were a lot of enthusiastic young Buddhists at the monastery that week. That’s good, because every religion like every society, needs new life to pass its values onto the next generation and to carry the torch. Obviously the Longquan Temple’s evangelism work and online outreach programs are effective.

A lot of people assumed I was a Buddhist when they met me. A perfectly reasonable assumption, else why was I hanging out at a Buddhist retreat when I could have been drinking baijiu and lighting fireworks? Others didn’t really know whether I was a Christian (as Chinese people assume all westerners are) or whether I had no religion at all. Some tried to encourage me to become a Buddhist. As is typical of people engaging in evangelism, some of them were more more pushy, and others were more tactful and respectful. I tried variously telling people nothing at all, and telling them I’m Catholic, but it didn’t seem to make any difference in how they reacted to me.

Coming Down the Mountain

My third day at Longquan Temple started at 3AM just like the previous two days. What can you do? I worked in the kitchen in the morning and then made preparations to leave in the afternoon.

[singlepic id=90 w=320 h=240 float=left]As I was trying to leave, I was approached by one of the volunteers and a friend of Holly’s who told me to follow her quickly to some unknown destination with a purpose she didn’t seem to have time to explain to me. We arrived at a room somewhere in the back of the monastery where I’d never previously gone, which was full of young people. These people, who I think were all volunteers, had been invited to have a quick audience with the abbot. He wasn’t there at this point, but we were being briefed by a monk on what to do when we met him. We were all given “lucky money” envelopes to give to the abbot when we saw him. As usual, I didn’t understand a great deal of what was going on. At some point everyone got up and filed out of the room to meet the abbot. I think things got a bit mixed up, because we ran into him outside the monastery on our way to the appointed meeting room. We all handed over our lucky money gifts, and then paid our respects to the abbot by kneeling down and bowing with our heads touching the ground. We did this three times.

On the second day at Longquan Temple, I had been interviewed by the volunteer journalist for an article on the Longquan Temple blog. He asked me what I thought of the place and the people there. I told him that Christians believe our faith should be shown through our actions, that it’s not just words and prayers. I said that it was clear by the way they welcomed me and made me a part of their retreat without hesitation, that the people I met at Longquan Temple were sincerely living out their faith. I’m not sure if he understood what I meant, because that quote didn’t wind up in the article, but it’s the highest compliment I can offer them.

That afternoon I walked down the hill to the bus stop and caught the bus back into Beijing. The city was still empty and quiet, most people having not yet returned from the Chinese New Year holiday. But there were definitely fireworks.

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Sunday School Anyone?

Today is Sunday. This morning Mrs Jin, her mother and her son took me shopping so that I could buy some gifts for my family. As a typical guy, I have, of course, put this off pretty much to the end of the trip.

I am in the ocean transportation business. I have been since 1979. Not that many years ago, I remember saying with absolute conviction, “there is no way that the Chinese public is ever going to be able to afford western consumer products”. This statement was about as correct as “the world is flat”. Today we walked through some of the largest displays of Dior/Chanel/Longines/Cartier/etc I have ever seen in my life and the throngs of Chinese consumers were consuming as if there were no tomorrow.  Ikea, H&M, Gucci, they are all here and they are booming in a way that US retailers can only dream of.   Cheap?  Think again.  I was trying to find some clothing for my two older kids with a ‘hip’ Chinese motif.   US$80 t-shirt anybody?   Didn’t buy that one, but close enough.   There were, however, young Chinese hipsters paying US$120 for just a sweat shirt that said something groovy in English like “Pretty Boy Car Love” (whatever the heck that means).   After I made my purchases I felt like a jerk when I thought about the kids at the school who wear the same thing every day again and again and again (not out of choice).

After making our purchases, we weaved thru the crowd to a basement-level mega-food court.  We ate a delicious North Chinese hot pot with paper-thin slices of lamb and fish, mounds of mushrooms, pork blood squares (no, I didn’t eat those), carrots, daikon, tofu.  These are put into the boiling two-sided hot pot (one side very spicy other side not spicy at all) which is full of secret Chinese medicinal herbs (vide my last blog).  After a couple of moments you fish them out and dip them into seasame sauce and burn your mouth.   Yummy.

Hot pot behind us, they caught the subway home and I caught a cab out to the school.  Yes, school on Sunday.   When I got there, I realized that I was not just the only volunteer there, I was not just the only teacher there, I was the only adult there.  32 kids came to class.   I felt somehow guilty that they were there appearantly just to listen to me scream interesting stuff like  “Mr Brown likes Summer because it’s hot” over and over.   Class started at 1:30 and was supposed to go until 4:00.  I let them take rather long breaks and we stopped at 3:50.  They were overjoyed.   I was told that they they were supposed to stay until 5pm (no teacher? no administrators?  no clue…).   I told them that I would be going. My gig was done at 4pm and nobody ever told me  I had stay longer.   My entourage from school to the highway is growing.   Today I had seven with me.   One little girl held my hand all the way.  She said, “Teacher, you are in our Chinese hearts and we will protect you”.  What she meant was, that they would protect me from the gouging taxi drivers.  They asked me a few days ago what the taxi would cost from school to the place I am living.  I toned down the number, not wanting to be a big shot and told them 25 Yuan (it really costs about 40 Yuan or US$6).  The reduced number of 25 Yuan left them in a fiduciary stupor.  “That is too much, Laoshi(*)” they said, “the taxi drivers are taking advantage of you because you are a foreigner.”    So every day for the past few days, they walk me down the road, past the fresh chicken shop (with the chopping block and pile of guts out front), the mule meat barbeque (I’m not making this up), the new and fresh looking public toilets with their personnel dressed in white (the kids point this out as a matter of neighborhood pride), the bike repair shop/tent, the guy who brings dozens of bowls of goldfish for sale on the back of his three wheeled bike every day, the pineapple seller who has a running mahjong game going  and doesn’t actually ever seem to sell pineapples, the People’s Police station and the  cigarette store.   I have made it a rule that if anyone runs out into the street, they can’t walk with me anymore, so they all stay on the sidewalk and yell and the top of their lungs at the passing cabs.  When one stops, they rush it, pull open the doors and tell the driver to take me home by the most direct route and that I am a foreigner…as if the driver couldn’t  notice on his own.  A couple think they know where I live and have given incorrect addresses to the driver.  One guy believed the kids and I really had a hard time re-routing him to the correct destination.

I’m not sure who is going to be at school tomorrow since it is technically the official Qing Ming holiday and ‘normal’ schools are closed.  The kids in the class today all told me they would be there.   About another month here and I’d be understanding enough Chinese to actually figure out what is going on.    Well, that’s not going to happen.   A couple more days and this will all be a very lasting memory.

(*) Laoshi = teacher

Chinese Painting Class

Last weekend Lotus hosted a traditional Chinese painting class for students. There aren’t too many students here during the winter, so we beefed up our numbers by inviting some Lotus volunteers from Beijing Normal University. Our guest blogger, Doug, was there as well. Some of the Lotus staff were working overtime this weekend preparing for the summer programs, so they took turns joining us when they needed a break.

I’m a programmer, so I don’t know much about art. I do know that this was a lot easier than our calligraphy lesson in December. I also thought it was curious that we sometimes mixed the paint, which I think was oil-based, with water (on the brush) in order to get a water-colour-like effect when painting. We painted everything, fruit, a Lotus flower, the famous panda, and an opera mask.

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Chinese New Year Migration

[singlepic id=37 w=320 h=240 float=right]The annual migration has started. The streets outside the Lotus office here in Beijing are much quieter than usual for a Monday morning. It’s more like a Sunday afternoon, but then, Sunday afternoon traffic in Beijing is not what you’re used to back home. Recently I’ve noticed a lot more inter-city coaches making early morning and late night departures. A few days ago there were five coaches parked on the sidewalk waiting for passengers to board. This is not a usual practice around here. Lately there are always people on the subway, luggage in hand, on the way to the train station.

I’ve been searching for accurate numbers on how many people travel during this period, but it’s rather difficult to pin down reliable numbers. I think it’s safe to say that in the four to five day travel period around the beginning of the New Year holiday, more than 100 million people will travel home. I’m sure you’ve heard it described as the largest migration in human history, and in China, they do it every year at the beginning of the New Year holiday, and then again a week later. The total number of people traveling is probably higher, but it’s spread out over several weeks as students and others who have longer holidays go home earlier, and return later.

[singlepic id=36 w=320 h=240 float=right]I for one will be staying away from the trains during this period. I have been tempted to hop on a train and go somewhere just to have the experience of participating in the largest migration in human history, but I think the novelty would wear off quickly.  Besides, New Year train trips aren’t entertainment, for most people they’re a major headache.

Calligraphy Lesson for Lotus Students

In December, Lotus organized a Chinese calligraphy class for students currently living and studying in Beijing. There aren’t many students during the winter so those of us who attended got lots of personal attention from the teacher. There was a student from Australia, the US and myself, from Canada. One of Lotus’ Beijing staff also joined us for part of the lesson. Quite a good representation!

The character we worked on was “heart” (心). Ms. Jin, our teacher, explained that we start with this seemingly simple character because its simplicity helps the student learn the balance that is required in Chinese calligraphy.  Ms. Jin, with her dry sense of humour, encouraged us to strive to make our calligraphy beautiful. As you can see from the photo below of my own calligraphy, I didn’t quite achieve the goal!

This calligraphy lesson was a great opportunity for me. One of the reasons I chose to learn Chinese is because of the writing system. Both because of its linguistic uniqueness and because of the beauty of written Chinese.

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Learning Tools Part I – Learning Communities

In order to release the language tools from its upper left hand corner purgatory, I am going to do a three part release of its content.

There are many online and computer resources for learning Chinese and discussing Chinese culture, and you found your first one! The Lotus Educational Foundation has been teaching foreign students Chinese language and culture since 2003. This site expands upon our student and alumni community and opens it to new students interested in the language. Welcome! Join the conversation in our comments sections.

Confucius in Tiananmen Square

Confucius just recently made a home in Tiananmen Square after a long banishment from official discourse. Source: uslesstree.typepad.com

For learning about traditional Chinese culture in modern China, the blog site Useless Tree is unparalleled. The blog centers on the confluence of modern and traditional China in today’s Beijing. I highly recommend taking a peek.

Here are some other resources that you mind find useful in your quest towards learning Chinese and obtaining the unobtainable: fluency in a foreign language. The Chinese forums website, although very ugly, has a lively community of students and professional Chinese teachers sharing their understanding of the language. The community is very active, and your question no matter how simple or complex will get an answer.

The ChinesePod Community Site piggy-backs off of the commercial offering of ChinesePod, but also has a lot of free content, and anyone is allowed to join the forum in order to post questions.

China’s competitor to Google, Baidu, has many resources the are useful for advanced students of Chinese. The website is under Chinese law concerning political material (so don’t expect to get in depth analysis of sensitive topics), but Baidu Baike provides a very good outline for any topic concerning China. Consider it like the Wikipedia of China. Often if a Wikipedia article fails you in China, Baike can pick up the slack. It is all in Chinese. Also Top Baidu gives the top searches in China with definitions and background. It is a good resource if you run across a word or phrase in a news article and have no idea what it means.

That is it for learning communities. Let me know of your favorite hangouts in the comments. More learning tools will follow this week.

From Afar: What does it mean?

Any student studying Chinese should have a basic understanding of the continuing development of Confucianism, especially within the past thirty years. The title of our blog, “From Afar” comes from the opening lines of The Analects of Confucius, “to have friends come from afar, is this not happiness?” Confucianism has meant different things since the man, Kongzi (孔子) was alive in the fifth century BCE.

Emperor Wu of Han, the first ruler to officially sponsor Confucianism.

Emperor Wu of Han, the first ruler to officially sponsor Confucianism. source:wikimedia.org

Confucianism, The Idea

Confucian philosophy, thought, and religion is recovering in China after a long period of decline. The idea and name of Confucius has come to mean traditional Chinese culture. Today, the international nonprofit Confucian Institute works to educate the international community in traditional Chinese culture and Mandarin language under the control of the Office of Chinese Language Council International within the Government of the People’s Republic of China. The Confucian Institute takes the name of the sage and represents the importance of education in traditional Chinese culture, but beyond these aspects, much of conservative Confucian thought has been left behind.

During the Cultural Revolution, Confucianism was denounced as an evil tradition. Students were encouraged not only criticize but to punish teachers and parents. This directly goes against the Confucian tradition of respect for elders and education. Confucianism had been the state religion for millennia, and revolutionary movements from the Taiping Rebellion to the May 4th Movement sought to destroy China’s dependence upon Confucian thought.

Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty (156-87BCE) was the first ruler to set up a Confucian government, but political institutions based upon Confucian thought persisted until the fall of the Qing Dynasty in 1911 AD. Ideas such as “be harmonious without necessarily agreeing” (和而不同) and “governing with virtue can be compared to being the North Star: the North Star remains stationary while the multitude of stars pay tribute” (为政以德,譬如北辰,居其所而众星共之) worked as the foundation for the unification and creation of the Empire of China. Historically, China has been fragmented upon cultural lines that can be traced back to ancient kingdoms, but Confucian thought was able to bring together diverse groups within one national body.

Kong Qiu,

source: wikimedia.org

Kong Qiu, The Man

Kong Qiu (孔丘) was the common name of Confucius. He was born in the Spring and Autumn Period in the town of Qufu in the State of Lu, which is now part of modern Shandong Province. The Spring and Autumn Period arose out of the decline of the Zhou Dynasty, when many kingdoms vied for control within the turbulent politics of the time. Kong Qiu worked as a teacher and philosopher, traveling from kingdom to kingdom to spread his teachings and continue to learn from the leaders of the time.

Although Kong Qiu never found great acceptance in his time, his followers recorded his teachings which became important during the Han Dynasty, nearly three hundred years later. Although he never gained acceptance in life, in death, Confucius has been recognized as the founder of a world religion. Even today, the residents of Qufu protect the town as a holy site, not just the birthplace of a great teacher.

From Afar

Confucius not only had great experience in politics but in philosophy and personal relationships as well. The origin of our title comes from the very beginning of his Analects:

“The Master said: ‘Having studied, to then repeatedly apply what you have learned, is this not a source of pleasure? To have friends come from distant quarters, is this not a source of enjoyment? To go unacknowledged by others without harboring frustration, is this not the mark of an exemplary person?”

(translation from Ames and Rosemont; 子曰:学而时习之,不亦说乎?有朋自远方来,不亦乐乎?人不知而不愠,不亦君子乎?)

The idea of “exemplary person” or Junzi (君子) is a complex one, sometimes translated as “gentle” or “noble person”. It has come to signify an individual dedicated to the teachings of Confucius. Although the teachings are a creation of their time and place, they remain valuable to any student studying abroad in China. We at Lotus hope that anyone who chooses to study abroad, not only in China, can appreciate the friends they meet along the way, and find them as not only friends but teachers.

Sources

The Analects of Confucius. translated by Roger T. Ames and Henry Romsemont, Jr. New York: Random House Publishing, 1998.