Carting Out Confucius

Evan Osnos reports that the Chinese government – which just a few decades ago blamed Confucianism for fostering “monsters and freaks” – has found a new use for the ancient scholar:

In the eighties, the Party studied how Confucian values had helped to stabilize other countries in East Asia. Generations of Chinese thinkers had dreamed of finding the optimal recipe for “national studies” – the mixture of philosophy and history that might insulate China from the pressures of Westernization. After the democracy demonstrations at Tiananmen Square in 1989 ended in a violent crackdown, leaders needed an indigenous ideology that might restore the Party’s moral credibility. The Communists gave speeches at meetings devoted to Confucianism, and state television launched a series about traditional culture intended, it said, “to boost the people’s self-confidence, self-respect, and patriotic thought.” In 2002, the Party officially stopped calling itself a “revolutionary party” and adopted the term “Party in Power.” The Prime Minister, Wen Jiabao, declared, “Unity and stability are really more important than anything else.”

The view from Qufu, Confucius’ home town:

In 2007, the city’s International Confucius Festival was cosponsored by the Confucius Wine Company. Thousands of people filled a local stadium, giant balloons bearing the names of ancient scholars bobbed overhead, and a Korean pop star performed in an abbreviated outfit. Near the cave where Confucius is said to have been born, a five-hundred-million-dollar museum and park complex is under construction; it includes a status of Confucius that is nearly as tall as the Statue of Liberty. In its marketing, Qufu has adopted comparisons to Jerusalem and Mecca and calls itself “The Holy City of the Orient.” Last year it received 4.4 million visitors, surpassing the number of people who visited Israel.