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).

Visiting Confucius Hometown

A few weeks ago I took a weekend trip to Qufu, the hometown of one of China’s greatest philosophers, Confucius. Confucius was a philosopher in the Spring and Autumn Period. I first heard about Confucius at the age of 12 when my parents returned from a trip to China, having spent two days in Qufu studying Confucian thought. Until I went to Qufu, I figured pretty much everyone in the world had at least heard of Confucius, being one of the most famous Chinese philosophers and all. As it turns out, westerners either haven’t heard of him, or just aren’t that interested in visiting his hometown. In Qufu I got as many stares from people, on account of being a foreigner, as I normally get in small villages in China.

[singlepic id=156 w=320 h=240 float=left]In Qufu there are three major sites: the Confucian temple; the family mansion occupied by his descendants after Confucian thought became the basis of Chinese society and the basis on which emperors maintained power. There’s also the wooded graveyard where Confucius and many of his descendants are buried. I got a part-English, part-Mandarin tour of the Confucian temple, from a 76th generation descendant of the man himself. That was good Mandarin practice for me, and my guide’s English competence meant that I could get clarification on anything I didn’t understand. It seems Confucius has provided well for his descendants. They have a whole city to themselves with an endless supply of domestic tourists. Who says studying philosophy doesn’t pay? Bill Gates will never be able to provide this kind of endless economic opportunity to his descendants.

Though Confucian thought originated in China, I don’t think there’s much of it left here. It was exported from China a long time ago, to neighbouring countries such as Korea and Japan. It still remains strong in those countries, but as a result of the Cultural Revolution in China, it’s just not that strong anymore. My tour guide at the temple told me of how the majority of the temple was destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. One of the tablets that was not destroyed had a red mark on it, placed there by a student, indicating that this particular tablet should not be destroyed. The reason he marked it as such, was because that tablet was written by an emperor who had grown up as a farmer. During the communist days, farmers and labourers were held up as the most important members of society. That that one tablet was not destroyed seemed a bit random to me. Why save it, just because it was written by a former farmer turned emperor? Sounds like typical ideologically-driven thinking to me and also sounds like it could have gone either way, as mobs roamed through the Confucian temple.

[singlepic id=155 w=320 h=240 float=right]Then I started to wonder. How did that student, in the middle of all the destruction, come to mark that tablet and save it from destruction? He or she was obviously educated enough to know what the tablet meant. As someone who was educated, he risked being a target of the mobs destroying things during the Cultural Revolution, not a participant. Who was this person? Did he agree with what was going on, but also think this tablet deserved to be saved? Or was he participating because he had no choice, but when he saw the opportunity to save a piece of history, he took it? Was there a debate among the students at the time about the merits of saving something written by a feudal emperor praising Confucius, given that they were trying to destroy both feudalism and Confucian thought? Did that student get denounced as a counter-revolutionary because of his suggestion? Did he survive the Cultural Revolution? I bet there are a lot of stories like this, with anonymous actors and unanswered questions, throughout China and throughout history.

[singlepic id=173 w=320 h=240 float=left]Among the notable sights at the Confucian temple are the ten dragon pillars. In imperial China nobody except the emperor could claim to have any affiliation with dragons. Not only were there ten dragon pillars in the Confucian temple, but they were considered to be even more elaborate than anything in the Forbidden City. Any time an emperor came to visit (and several did, some of them several times) the pillars were covered up, so that nobody would wind up losing their heads.

In the evening, back at my hostel, I found they stocked a bottle of fine French liquor called Pernod. I’ve rarely seen good liquor in hostel bars, and I never seen Pernod anywhere. I guess the Confucians have good taste. However, I had to teach the bar tender how to serve it. I sat there that evening, in the hometown of Confucius, who lived 2,500 years ago, drinking French liquor and talking to my friends online. The next morning I took a bus to Jinan, and then the bullet train back to Beijing.

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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.