The Return of Confucius

February 24, 2007

Source: The Standard

A savvy Chinese academic has become a national sensation with her re-reading of the once-spurned philosopher's central ideas on human values and rules of interaction. Steven Ribet explains early one evening in October in a studio in central Beijing something quite strange is happening.

University professor, author and more recently media celebrity Yu Dan is appearing on Lecture Room, a popular show on China's state-controlled television. She is standing on a podium facing the audience at the front of a theater. And with the strength of conviction of any Christian cleric, she is preaching.

"Life and death, wealth and honor: these are things that heaven can give and take away, and that each of us often has no power to decide," she says. "What's important is that we face up to the misfortunes and sorrows in our lives; that we accept them in the shortest possible time. We mustn't get caught up in them. If we keep on asking why - asking heaven and asking earth - then all that can do is add to our pain."

Much of the subject matter is the same and the unsettling certainty of belief of a preacher is there too. But Yu Dan's creed is several centuries older than Christianity. It is no less central to Chinese identity than Christianity is to any Western country. And its founder is the most important figure in China's history.