Apart from accumulating a bunch of foreign reserves and constructing a truckload of huge buildings that other countries cannot be bothered building anymore, China’s self-proclaimed “rise to power” does not include the cultivation of any soft power it can brag about. Therefore, China has had to resort to locating antiques and has even rolled out Confucius (孔子) in its quest to establish some form of soft power. In the process, Beijing has established Confucius Institutes around the world and even erected a huge statue of Confucius standing on equal ground with the statue of former Chinese leader Mao Zedong (毛澤東) in Tiananmen Square.
As China was busy honoring Confucius, the Taiwanese Ministry of Education also just happened to announce that it will be listing the Four Books of Confucianism as “basic teaching materials for teaching Chinese culture” and that it will make the study of them compulsory in senior high school in the hope that the 2,000-year-old teachings can be a super-fix for complex problems, such as school bullying and drug use among students.
Unexpectedly, before it had been there for even 100 days, the Confucius statue was removed from Tiananmen Square, suddenly and mysteriously in the space of one night — spirited away just like many of China’s human rights activists have been “removed.” In China, where things are not transparent and where every last thing has a political connotation, the sudden appearance and disappearance of the statue is no trivial matter.
Since ancient times, the reverence, or lack thereof, that Confucius has received in China at any one time has been a good way of judging developments in Chinese politics. Confucius has also been the scapegoat for cultural and political struggle in China for a long time.
During the May Fourth Movement, the slogan “Down with the Confucian shop” became popular. In the 1970s, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) initiated a movement in which former CCP vice chairman Lin Biao (林彪) and Confucius were denounced together. These developments in China made dictator Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) very happy. He in turn used the opportunity to start revering Confucian thought again as part of a “cultural renaissance.”
Chinese President Hu Jintao’s (胡錦濤) sidekicks must know about how Mao admired China’s first emperor, Qin Shihuang (秦始皇) and his burning of books and burying of scholars. Mao referred to the first emperor as the pioneer of the anti-Confucian movement. Mao even laughed at Chinese author Guo Moruo (郭沫若) when he said the communist party of the future would worship Confucius.
The display of statues of Confucius and Mao together in Tiananmen Square represents a major battle for status between Confucianism and Maoism in China and this struggle clearly shows that China is not the “harmonious society” the Chinese government would like us to believe. There is obviously more than meets the eye behind Hu’s sudden backtracking.
China’s “rise” is all about money, corruption and an ever-increasing gap between the rich and poor. These have become the “Chinese characteristics” Beijing so often talks about and this has provided Maoist proponents, the leftists, with a chance to make a comeback. Those that are now in power do not dare reform the system and they are incapable of solving problems, so now they have brought out Mao’s foe, Confucius.
Anti-Confucians have long criticized Confucians as talking a lot about humanity, justice and morality with nothing but greed and lust in their hearts.
In the recent battle between Confucius and Mao, Confucius has lost and the people who decided to erect the statue in Tiananmen Square could be in serious trouble. Taipei has been emphasizing Confucius as a model for the times by reviving the old practices of revering Confucius and studying the Confucian canon. However, the recent “disappearance” of the statue in China and the fact that it is unlikely to ever see the light of day again, is very interesting.
If Confucius doesn’t re-appear, this would be a good thing, as it would save Taiwanese students from being forced to recite his scriptures.
James Wang is a commentator based in Taipei.
Translated by Drew Cameron
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