the question is: will chinese society ever reallybe the same as western society? how, from an agricultural society,can we become… …a modern industrial country?or a super power, even? generations of chinese thinkershave pondered this question. things are very different now.it used to be about family ties. but now we have the nuclear family. today is very different from the 1970s and ’80s. values and standards have deteriorated every where.
it’s not only happening in the communist party. it is a universal social problem. every friday evening a group of students meet at their professor’s house. pick up the receiver and press the button. it took me 2.5 hours to get here. most are from rural, one-child families… …who were smart enough to win a place at shanghai’s elite fudan university. together they study, sentence by sentence and character by character… …the classically-written ancient chinese texts of confucius.
start reading here. this piece emphasizes… …that to govern this country you must study this text. it is meant for the ruler. and for ordinary people too?- they’re not requirements for everybody. it’s meant for the elite.- if you don’t learn it… …you won’t know it.- they’re requirements for the elite. here, the classics are different from current opinions. stupid people are controlled by the elite.
a number of peoplewill always be stupid. this is only for the elite.stupid people don’t have to learn this. i think… …problems which the new generationfinds important. firstly an old problem: corruption. government poweris not sufficiently limited. the most significantancient chinese thinkers… …stress the concept of justice. what does this justice mean now?
confucius says that you must do… …what is necessary for the positionyou are in, in society. if your position is as a master,then you must fulfill this role. and you mustn’t abuse your positionby doing the wrong things. i think that in classicalchinese philosophy… …the government mustn’toverburden citizens too much. for instance,by burdening i first of all mean… …they mustn’t force people to leavetheir homes in order to destroy them… …for economic developmentor for building infrastructure.
they mustn’t do that too much. you were born in the 1980s? you were born in an erawhen people follow the latest fashions. it’s the era of your personal experience. you all have better memoriesof events from these days. this is one aspect. on the other hand… …you are more aware of what thegovernment does for you nowadays. and if government does something bad,it makes more of an impression.
your memories of the deng xiaoping era,let alone the mao era… …are vague. you’ve heard about themfrom your fathers. your fathers have told youwhat happened in those days. and sometimes we said: ‘the party’skindness is deeper than the sea.’ but this really ishow previous generations felt. for us it is more about: ‘haven’t house prices shot up,’these thoughts are more negative. the kindness of the partyis what people used to think.
in the 1950s, after the war, we talkedabout the kindness of the party. we don’t think like that anymore. i did it once with amideand then with polyethylene glycol… …and then again with amide. can it be done again, or not? i did it three times.- and the results were weird? were they similarly weird? they were all a bit different. were they all different in the same wayor in different ways?
there are more similaritiesthan differences between us. we’re different from the other studentsat fudan university. but we’re different in a similar way. for instance, nowadays it’s normal… …for a lot of food to be wastedin the student canteen. it takes a lot of energy to produce food. my boyfriend comes froma farming community. and he thinks it’s very important to clear his plate. are you going to finish your food?
my family are closest to me. but they live so far away. when you’re in such a big modern city… …then you miss your family. everyone feels that since the introduction of the market economy… …china is trapped in a spiritual void. everyone sees that despite economic developments… …people are not leading happier lives. our economy may have developed,but something is missing in our lives.
but what? there is nothing spiritual to fall back on. philosophers wonder which era,which culture… …or which concepts we can fall back on. on wards the cloth that was used as a shroud… …must measure 7 cun. and the belt must be 5 cun long. the same hemp must be used that was used for the tight shroud.
and they’re worn together. what is this book about? how do you say it?it is actually… …what the ancestors thought… …about the world and the relationship between people and heaven… …and the system and how you should live as a person… …and the meaning of life. this book is about all these things. from the start of chinese civilization…
this book contains the world viewsof all our ancestors. if you ask about it’s significanceto people today… …then i think… if you really wantto understand something… …then you must start at the verybeginning as then it’s the most inspiring. they didn’t have so much on their minds. that’s why you can clearly seewhat really concerned them… …and how they felt abouttheir own position in the world. so a system was constructed…
…that according to western ideasmeans the most freedom… …and is constructedin the most natural way. and this system is describedin the classics. this is the burial placeof the confucius family. this is the burial place of manygenerations of the confucius family. it is one big cemetery. have you been here before?- no, this is the first time. and i’m amazedthat the family was so big. there were 70 generations,and most of them are buried here.
i’m really amazed that the whole familyis buried here. china doesn’t really havelarge aristocratic families. in general, there are good and bad timesin history. a family tree doesn’t usually go furtherthan one dynasty. i think that only the confucius clan… …existed from 500 b.c. to the beginningof the 20th century without interruption. their family line was never broken. i’ll stop here. when you’re in china, thenyou know that the official teaching…
…which all students and officialsmust learn is marxism. or the chinese version of marxism. it’s the official teaching that officialsand students must repeat every day. if you suddenly introduce confucianism… …then these two teachingswill be at odds with each other. there is no general explanationto keep it all nicely together. so i think the government issilently allowing confucianism… …but is not publicly propagating it. let’s not talk about history for a while…
…but about training officialsin the new china. the emphasis is not ongood government… …but on training basic skills. it’s about practice. but this isn’t mentionedin these ancient texts. you don’t learn from practice,you learn from the saints. what is the party school for then? the party school is for learning. what is the party school’s objective?
government controlwas different in the past. they used to follow the pathof the saints but now it’s marxism. what is the party’s core, do you think?- having the right ideology. i’m not right, eh? the so-called party core… you must obey your leader. unconditional obedience. confucius was born in 551 b.c.he died in 479 b.c. his family name was kong…
…his own name was qiu,and his pen name was zhong ni. when he died, his 3000 discipleswere there. they guarded his grave. emperors used to worshipconfucius here. touch the ground nine timeswith your forehead. that’s the best mark of honour. this monument was destroyedduring the cultural revolution. it was restored in 1984with government help. this monumentwas broken into 108 pieces… …and repaired with cement.
on tiananmen square,the most important place in china… …there was a statue of confucius. it caused a lot of upheavalin china’s cultural circles. there was a huge debatebetween left and right… …and under this enormous pressure… …the statue was removed after 100 days. is it down there? is that the master’s cave?was he born there? that’s right, you go down here.- oh, thank you.
here it is. the master’s cave. oh, it really is here. there is no official solutionto the paradox… …of confucianism and marxism. if they can’t be reconciled… …then i don’t think the statuewill ever come back. i think that the left and right in china… …are different from what they arein the rest of the world. and very different from what they arein the west. truly different.
china’s leaders set their own coursebased on marxism. it is totally different fromthe soviet union’s marxism. the right has a preferencefor western freedom and democracy. or the western enlightenment mindset. they’re hoping china will implementdemocratic reforms. and a market economy. and there is also a conservative trend. confucianism is called conservatismnowadays. we have to take turns to read a piece.
then we discuss what we’ve read. when you come here for the first time,you have to introduce yourself. professor zeng asked meabout my background. then he said: cheng, students who like to studymake me happy. welcome. his words stayed in my mind. it made the biggest impression on me. when i went there, i noticedthat everyone was sitting on the floor. normally, we sit on chairs. i’ve never studied it a lot andmy classical chinese isn’t very good.
i have learnt a great dealfrom the classics… …which i’d never have thought abouton my own. it is such a rich and complete body ofthought. and the relationships between peopleare ‘harmonious’… …to use a modern term. i think it’s an ideal for everyday life. in the university’s ivory tower… …we come into contactwith the chinese classics. but ordinary people with less education…
…are not capable of readingthe chinese classics. ordinary chinese people can still tell youwhat ‘filial piety’ is. they can tell youwhat loving your family is… …and friendliness and kindness. they come to understand confucianismthrough daily practices. it isn’t enough to read the classics… …you have to put it into practice. the chinese think that by 30 youshould be independent and have kids. my parents are getting on.
they’d really like me… …to start a family, have kids. the more children the merrier, they think. with today’s one-child policy,we can only have one. only then are you really obedientas a child. not like me.i lead a rather aimless life. right?i’m not doing my duty as called for. how old are you?- 28, according to western calculations. but according to chinese calculationsi’m 29, almost 30.
i feel guilty towards my parents. every time i go home,my mother mentions it. according to western standards,but i’m not sure if this is true… …it is good to do your own thingonce you’re an adult like me. but as a chinese, i think… …you are not supposed to live your lifejust for yourself at this age. right? personally, i think you’re moreindependent in the west. more emphasis is puton the individual there.
but in traditional chinese culture… i’m writing a dissertation about rights. and although i’m talking aboutwestern aspects… …there is very little about rightsin chinese writings. by contrast, in the chinese classics,in the chinese mental legacy… …the emphasis is on the opposite: duty. this means people considerother people’s needs paramount. i take your rights into account,while you do the same with mine. that way it is not about my rights…
…but about how i respect your rights. all the classics are in this box. this box is important. here are the thirteen classics. we often use them. it’s hot today. before i got married,i focused on my own affairs. i wanted to be educated.i was out for my own success. i was searching for self-fulfillment.
it seemed to be the highest goal in my life. before i married, i thought:once i have a wife… …it would be fine. then we’d live very romantically together. but i’ve discovered thatthis is impossible in china. we’re forced to maintaina whole network of relationships. did you buy sambal? didn’t you buy it this morning? throw in some vinegar and sambal.
i know, it’s how you always like it. would i ever forget that? how many weeks am i now,according to the last check up? about the 24th or 25th week. the baby is now starting to dream.- oh, really? how do they know that?- i don’t know. oh, so it’s dreaming now.how on earth do they know that? hey, dad.we’re home again. you’re back?- where’s mum?
she’s here.- shall we lend a hand? no need.- these have to be washed. how did it go at the obstetrician’s? everything was fine,according to the doctor. the assistant said the baby moves a lot. that taro field is ours too. some havealready been dug up but not this one. how are the sweet potatoes doing? we harvested some of them,but not all of them yet. this is it, we’re here.
there’s not much water in the ditch. people’s lives are changing drastically. in the modernisation process… …lots of traditions are changing. this is the river, near our house. why does someone like me have photosof his village on his phone? it was a village with mountains,water and trees. it was a quiet village. besides that, it wasn’t very remarkable.
are you all well fed and clothed now?- of course. my parents’ generation knewwhat it was like to be hungry. i was born in the 1980s. there was already enough to eat then. this used to be a sand road. it was very dusty.when it rained it was impassable. during the past decade,this road has become wider. with the verge,this road near our village… …is already 70 or 80 metres wide.
at first, modernisation was exciting. when i was little,the first tv came to our village. i can clearly remember that. it wasn’t until the 1990sthat tv came to our village. i still clearly remember it.we were all so excited. lots of people watched that one tv. it wasn’t until ten years laterthat every family had its own tv. and lots of cars came too. then it really got noisy.
we didn’t enjoy it as much anymore. then people in the village startedcomparing themselves to others. this led to jealousy and gossip.things like that. aren’t you hot?do you want my hat? i’m fine.you keep wearing it. let me put it on your head. just you wear it.- no, you. you wear it.- i’m almost done. put this hat on.- there’s no need.
you don’t often walk in the sun. don’t worry. don’t worry. you keep it on. i’m used to it.- no, no, no. no, you. at the university, i often exercisein the sun. here, ‘filial piety’ is important. everyone thinks it’s bad. as if it’s a means of exercising power,like a totalitarian system.
but in the classics, it’s more about pietyand fatherly care. it’s about how we treat each other. and not about one personoppressing someone else. in the west, there is a greater focuson rights. in the west, people demandtheir ‘natural rights’. they talk a lot about human rights. if you’ve always put the emphasison your own rights… …then you only thinkabout your own desires. so in the west there istoo much emphasis on desires…
…and too little on rational thinking. you’re already 30 now, right? you should be working.are you well prepared? i’m staying in shanghai. i can’t possibly work on the land here. you were born into a farming community,but you don’t want to be a farmer. i’m a bookworm,i get my knowledge from books. you form an opinion from what you see. because you’ve studied,you don’t want to be a farmer.
you have to work?- of course. as long as you live in peace. it doesn’t matter how much you earn. but if you don’t earn enough,life would be hard. you must be able to support yourself. you must have a basis, eh?- yes, you’re right. we intellectuals must lookat the whole picture. you’ve read lots and lots of books… according to you, this is just how it isin this village, but in other places…
pick up that taro. in western society,the emphasis is on trade. the production of tools. like the instruments plato referred toin the republic. but it’s not about that in chinese culture. it’s about something totally different. in the chinese classicsit’s about ritual objects. it’s about… …the clothes worn for a ritual and howmany sacrificial vats are to be used.
and what kind of jade must be used. what you must say to peopleand the way in which it is said. which poem must be recited. i think that’s what classicalchinese philosophy is about. western philosophy is primarily aboutbuilding a society. but building a society this wayis very cold and bleak. if you express it instinctively. to continue with confucius: ‘i’m not interested in reward.’
‘or with good deeds,or in punishing bad deeds.’ ‘dishonestly acquired richesare like floating clouds.’ confucius clearly said that. what i do is not about reward… …but about conscience and justice. that’s what ordinary people believed. but among scholars or students like you… …people laugh about thisand shake their heads. you think this does not square with logic.
you have the same vision asthrasymachus had towards socrates. when i just talked aboutconfucianism and buddhism… …your reaction was similarto that of thrasymachus: ‘naive, illogical.then you haven’t had an education.’ and now i’m asking you:what do we do with ethics? have you ever thought about it? ethics are so cutely defined. meta-ethics, rule ethics and pragmaticethics. all kinds of ethical rules. we end up having too many ethical rules,but too few people with ethics.
we’ve made it clear. that was the lesson. the next time,we’ll see how socrates saw it. …kant talks about vorstellung… …heidegger in his book on kant… …he says it is possiblethat the opinion of thrasymachus… …has not been refuted as yet. his ideas are reflectedin international relations. what kind of incense is this? this is for successful exams.
i don’t need it. i only wantto pay my respects to confucius. that’s fine too. come a little closer. this is fine. you must be a student?- i’m a doctoral student. when worshipping, raise both hands. bow three times. the first worship shows you are sincere. the second time:everything will go as you wish.
the third time. your family lives in peace. a confucian must startwith self-development. a confucianmust first become a master himself. and from there continueto expand outwards. once i’m educated… …i must sort out my family. according to this ethical movement. only when the family has been sorted out,can you sort out the country. only when the country has been sortedout, can you sort out the world.
i think that today’s chinese societyis really too vast. because it’s easyto exchange information… …we all try to present ourselvesas positively as possible. wherever you go, you alwaysget a limited perspective. we only see our own world… …but in studies with all our books… …we have a much broader perspective. i don’t think people who stayin their studies are bookworms. because there too,we can keep up with the trends.
but when i go outside,outside the university… …i can’t understand the world anymore. because developmentsare happening so incredibly fast.