China and Neighbourhood

The Confucian Academy, Soft Power and Patriotism

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By Antony Ou | 31 December 2010


Since the beginning of the 20th century, Confucianism has been fundamentally challenged. The crucial concepts like filial piety, imperial loyalty and social harmony were viewed as conservative and authoritarian by westernized scholars. According to these scholars, Chinese people should abandon it and welcome new sets of imported value systems such as Liberalism and Marxism. However, certain Confucian apologists argued that Confucianism should be maintained and revitalized. For instance, Kang Youwei (1858-1927) reinvented Confucianism by incorporating western values such as Democracy and Communism. In his work Datongshu (The Book of Great Unity), the future Utopia will be realized by a single central democratic government under a communist system. He insisted that all these values could be found in Confucian texts. From the above description, one can equate him to any Universalist or Socialist of today. However, one of the interesting things about him was that he proposed that Confucianism was a religion, (again, an imported value to China) and we should treat Confucius as the Grand Master. We should worship him and abide by the codes and norms of Confucianism undoubtedly. This set off the beginning of the establishment of the Confucian Academy (孔教學院).

 

Confucian_Academy_logo

The Confucian Academy is a misleading term and is lost in English translation. The second Chinese character actually means religion, and the English term does not reflect such an orientation. Chen Huanzhang (陳煥章) (1881–1933) founded the Confucian Society (孔教會) with his teacher Kang Youwei in Shanghai. Subsequently, the Hong Kong Confucian Academy was established in 1930. That same year, the Confucian Secondary School was built. From 1942, Zhu Yuzhen, Lu Xiangfu and Huang Yuntian were the chairmen of the Academy. Tang Enjia then has become the Dean of the Academy since 1992. Nowadays, the Academy aimed at following Confucius’s teaching and promoting the essence of rites and benevolence. Its objectives are:

  • Promoting Confucianism as the nation’s major religion in order to enhance the cohesion of the Chinese nation,
  • Advocating Confucius’s birthday as a public holiday in Hong Kong,
  • Establishing Confucian temples in various cities and towns around the world,
  • Including Confucian teachings in primary schools, secondary colleges and universities,
  • Constructing the Confucius Memorial Hall in Hong Kong and make it as the world’s centre of the Confucianism.

 

On the one hand, the Confucian Academy thinks that it bears the responsibility to export Confucius’s teaching to the world. The Dean, Tang Enjia is a preacher of Confucianism. He insists that Confucianism is the essence of Chinese culture, and is desirable to export it all over the world. To him, the key teachings of Confucius include Confucian “business ethics”, filial piety, Confucian “environmentalism” and so on. Firstly, businessmen should always keep their promises and should prioritize “rightness” over what they can gain. In other words, businessmen are moral agents who do business with moral conscious and ethical means. Secondly, everyone should love and take care of their parents, and by doing so societies can be peaceful and harmonious. Thirdly, according to Tang, Confucius is an “environmentalist”, who studied the relationship between human beings and nature. He proposed that we should not be in conflict with nature, instead, we should respect it and cherish it. Eventually we could possibly realize that human beings and nature are inseparable and even compatible with each other. Hence, for Tang and his Academy, in facing the challenges of moral decay and environmental degradation, Confucian teachings are essential prescriptions to the modern world. Confucianists do have the duty to uphold these principles and warn the others. In this sense, The Confucian Academy is a centre for breeding “soft power”.

 

 

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