Confucius Vs. Avatar: Rethinking Confucian Advocacy in the 21st Century

By Antony Ou | 24 September 2010



Fei Mu, who is now regarded as one of the all-time-favourite directors of China, filmed Confucius in 1940 during the time of the Japanese invasion. He attempted to reconstruct the life of Confucius (551-479BC) during the period of Spring and Autumn (770-476 B.C.). Every copy of the film had supposedly lost and forgotten until 2001, Hong Kong Film Archive has received an anonymous film donation of the long-lost movie. It was restored and shown in 2010. After watching the film twice in 2010, as a scholar of Confucianism, I do not think that the movie carries exceptionally strong modern political message, although Fei Mu was a patriot who produced several crucial patriotic movies. Instead, Fei Mu tried to provide us a very plain and overall picture of Confucius within his context: A chaotic and divided feudal state of Lu with internal struggles for power. Confucius, at his age of 50, was exiled and travelled to other countries for 14 years in order to pursue his moral and political ideal of ren (benevolence). He had never succeeded and went into many kinds of troubles. Nevertheless, his teachings have subsequently influenced imperial China for more than 2000 years afterwards.

Hu Mei has made another film of Confucius this year in 2010. It has created numbers of controversies at the same time. The film was originally scheduled in 2009, which was the commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). However, the release date was adjourned to January 2010. The new Confucius movie takes a very different approach from the old one by “hollywoodizing” Confucius— Confucius becomes a “nationalist” and an almost derailed lover. One can argue that these were propaganda strategies that could possibly boost the box-office (Gross revenue of 127 millions RMB). Yet, Chinese people seem to prefer James Cameron’s movie Avatar, which received around $700 millions RMB nation-wide (2.7 billion USD worldwide). The film has conquered the Chinese box office for three weeks and received positive reviews. Why do the Chinese people like Avatar, much more than their very own national “avatar” Confucius? Why do the Americanized futuristic freedom fighters won over the “blood and soil related” ancient Chinese saint?

  • Avatar and Its Implication to China

The movie Avatar sets the time in 2154, where human beings invade the planet of Pandora, for the sake of unobtanium, a type of precious energy for the Earth. The “hawkish” humans ignore and damage the population, culture, feelings, and rob natural resources of the Na’vi, the human-like inhabitants with blue skins. At the same time, human scientists create Na’vi-human hybrid bodies, namely avatars. The avatars are connected to human controllers’ neurons so that they can remotely control their avatars. The avatars are the “good guys” who attempt to make friends with the Na’vi, and that is how the story begins.


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* Published in the Third Issue of Political Reflection Magazine (PR).

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