Rana Mitter at the Confucian Temple in Qufu
Sunday 5 March 2006 21:30-22:15 (Radio 3)
For more than 2000 years, Confucian values formed the basis of Chinese society. But in the last century those values were brutally renounced as Maoist China jettisoned its ancient philosopher.
Rana Mitter explores how Chinese society and culture were turned upside down by the rejection of Confucian values. Rana travels from Qufu, where Confucius was born, to the centre of modern political power in Beijing, witnessing how in today's China, a second cultural revolution is underway.
Now Confucius is being rehabilitated as an ancient sage, contemporary business guru and tourist attraction, with Confucianism being promoted as a possible solution to the country's 21st-century dilemmas.
This is the story of a cultural revolution - not simply the revolution unleashed in 1966 but the broader story of how Chinese society and culture was turned upside down by the rejection of Confucianism, values first renounced by the young radicals of the New Culture Movement in 1919, utterly condemned by Mao and then recast and rehabilitated by Mao's successors in the 1980s.
Now, once again, contemporary philosophers, novelists and business leaders are free to study and discuss Confucian values - asking above all how Confucius would respond to the problems of today's China .
Rana begins his journey among the temples and cemeteries of Qufu, rural birthplace of Confucius and one of the greatest architectural complexes in China.
Outlawed for decades, Confucian values may now be undergoing a revival, but how much do the tourists who walk among the cypress trees of Qufu know about his vision of society or the forms of behaviour he thought morally correct?
How do those raised and educated under Communism regard the Confucian values of non-violence and moderation and the belief in rigid hierarchies - the assumption that servants must obey masters, subjects obey rulers, children obey parents and women obey men?
In Beijing, Rana explores the dramatic events of 1919, when thousands of radical students marched through the city, shouting 'Down with Confucius' and calling for a revolutionary New Culture Movement to end China's 'century of humiliation', replacing backward Confucian values with the modern, Western faith in science, democracy and individual freedom.
In the cafes and streets of the old student quarter we hear the stories of the young radicals who renounced the old hierarchies in favour of sexual freedom, women's rights and democracy, writers such as Ding Ling and Lu Xun, whose sardonic, uncompromising condemnation of the Confucian past continue to inspire modern novelists.
Rana also hears memories of Mao's Anti-Confucian campaigns and the Cultural Revolution, when educators were persecuted and all hierarchies overthrown, as pupils turned on teachers, party officials were renounced and Confucianism was utterly rejected.
Finally, Rana traces the gradual return of Confucianism in the 80s, as Party leaders set out to rehabilitate the traditional values of stability and non-violence and recast Confucius as a Chinese patriot who championed education, industry and private enterprise - the values which drive today's economic boom.
Rana Mitter is University Lecturer in the History and Politics of Modern China at Oxford University and a Fellow of St Cross College. He is the author of 'The Manchurian Myth: Nationalism, Resistance and Collaboration in Modern China' ( 2000) and 'A Bitter Revolution: China 's Struggle with the Modern World' (2004).