How to understand Confucianism today?

Updated: 2013-06-26 06:51

By Zhu Yuan (China Daily)

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How to understand Confucianism today?Is Confucianism still relevant today? This is the question I asked my students at the University of Iowa. Many of them answered in the affirmative, although very few of them said anything convincing to support their answer.

This has been the question I've been looking for an answer to for years.

Very few historical figures have received such strikingly different evaluations, from saint to good-for- nothing, or been accused of being the source of all the country's problems today.

There was definitely no problem with Confucius worrying about the collapse of propriety, and the whole of society being plunged into chaos, when all states during the Warring States period (475-221 BC) sought to seek dominance over the country.

Today we have laws and regulations to regulate people's behavior and thus maintain social order. So we can never feel what Confucius felt in his time.

But people in their 50s experienced 10 years of chaos during the "cultural revolution" (1966-1976), when the laws and regulations failed to function and protect people's rights and interests. They know how important social order is.

Although some of what this ancient sage said may not be appropriate today, most of what he, and Mencius, said are exactly the social norms required of people today.

When reading Confucius' Analects, it is not difficult to find that Confucius is both a pragmatist and an idealist. On the question of how people should observe propriety and cultivate their minds, Confucius was specific.

For example, he said that a person should examine himself every day to make sure he is committed to the things he has done on behalf of others, will be true to his word in getting along with friends and practices what he has learned.

The idealistic side of Confucius finds expression in his description of how a person can cultivate himself and develop into a man of moral integrity. He sets a very high goal that very few individuals will be able to reach during their lifetime.

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