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Communists turn to Confucius

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James Reynolds | 11:36 UK time, Friday, 20 March 2009

"Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves."

"It does not matter how slowly you go so long as you do not stop."

"Wheresoever you go, go with all your heart."

If you're Chinese, you probably knew the author of these sayings by the time you got to the word "Before". If you're not Chinese, you probably got it by the end. These proverbs are some of the sayings of China's first moral teacher, Confucius (551- 479 BC) - a man whose teachings are now back in fashion in this country.

Statue of ConfuciusThis week, it was announced that Chow Yun-Fat is to star as Confucius in a state-backed film to mark the 60th anniversary of Communist rule in October. A recent book about Confucius' teachings has sold more than 10 million copies.

For centuries, Confucianism provided the moral foundation for the conduct of life in China. Confucius and his followers designed a system of government and society based on harmony and respect for social order.

But during the early years of Communist rule, Confucianism came under attack. Chairman Mao decreed that there was room for only one belief system in China: his own.

During the decade-long Cultural Revolution, Red Guards attacked the home of Confucius and tried to destroy all forms of religion and tradition. Many were killed for their beliefs.

Then, at the end of the 1970s, Deng Xiaoping began to introduce capitalism. The certainties of Mao-style Marxism began to fall away.

A few years later, the Communist Party started to worry about a growing vacuum of belief in China. Universally-mandated faith in Communism was being replaced by a new belief in money, and also by a growing number of religious movements. One of these movements, the Falun Gong, was seen as a dangerous cult which posed a threat to the Party's rule.

The Party needed an alternative - a faith that might help to guide its citizens through life in a country that was trying to jam several centuries' worth of change into just a few years. In the end, it chose to do what every political party does when it faces a crisis - it went back to basics. In this case - to Confucius.

After he took office in 2003, China's President Hu Jintao began to talk of building a "harmonious society" - a deliberate echo of Confucius. Communist Party officials talk as much as they can about harmony (conveniently, the need for harmony is often used as a pretext for stopping all forms of dissent).

Here in Beijing, the 14th Century Confucian Temple is a popular destination for Chinese tourists. Harmony within the grounds clearly needs a little vigilance. A sign warns that there will be "No Admission for Drunkards and People with Mental Problems".

A colleague and I asked some of the visitors for their favourite Confucian sayings.

"I work for a very big company," one woman told us. "Every day I have to work in a team with colleagues. I practise and experience one of the mottos of Confucius: 'When three people travel together, one must be the teacher.'"

"Confucius says a noble man can love a beautiful woman but not have lust," a man told us. "That philosophy taught me a lot. My son is still young but when he grows up I will teach him about it and show him the root of our culture."

Do you follow the teachings of Confucius? Do you have a favourite Confucianism?


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