Meeting Confucius in modern times

Updated: 2016-01-15 07:59

By Andrew Moody(China Daily)

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"It is as though a descendant of Jesus Christ has just walked out on stage", a colleague of mine whispered loudly and all too irreverently in my ear.

He - someone of the Catholic persuasion, incidentally - was referring to choreographer and chief director Kong Dexin making an appearance at the finale of a performance of Confucius by the China National Opera and Dance Drama Theater.

She is a 77th generation descendant of the ancient philosopher who still informs many of the values of Chinese people.

Leaving aside that Christ is not supposed to have any biological legacy - The Da Vinci Code apart - it did feel a bit like being in the presence of deity.

Whether the great man would have recognized himself in the spectacular performance, presented by the State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs at the Poly Theater on Sunday, doing somersaults and handstands around the stage, is another matter.

No doubt he would have made one of his wry observations about it.

That is not to say the dance drama, which has already been staged at the National Center for the Performing Arts, is devoid of historical accuracy with it being based on Confucius travels to 14 states 2,500 years ago to spread his ideas.

The intriguing aspect of this is to what extent those ideas still continue to spread and penetrate Chinese society.

Many Chinese (even more than Westerners) make fun of some of his more banal sayings while at the same time continue to conform, perhaps unconsciously, to his ideas of family responsibility, order and hierarchy.

Certainly, much continues to be written about how much Confucian thinking informs the business community in China.

Confucius, himself, does not seem to have had much time for commerce, once saying: "The superior man understands what is right; the inferior man understands what will sell."

It was interesting therefore to catch up this week with Professor Max von Zedtwitz over morning coffee at the Sofitel Wanda hotel in Beijing's Guomao area.

He runs Glorad, a research center and think tank and although a longtime China resident moved to San Francisco 18 months ago.

He was in Beijing to give a talk to an audience that packed out The Bookworm on Monday evening about his new book, Created in China: How China is Becoming a Global Innovator.

I was surprised that Confucius would come up so soon again after the Sunday drama.

Von Zedtwitz believes Confucius' ideas could have a bearing on whether China puts a man on the moon within the next decade and Mars by 2060.

He said Asian Confucian cultures that favored harmony and stability were poor breeding grounds for innovation.

"Innovation requires change which moves people out of their comfort zones so that everyone does not settle into their favorite spot," he said.

But he also made the point that Confucianism was also at the same time good for innovation because of its emphasis on education that was vital in producing the necessary skilled scientists.

Yet another mixed mess-age and confusing legacy from Grand Master Kong the Chinese will no doubt have to dance around for more generations to come.

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(China Daily 01/15/2016 page2)