What Confucius said

A portrait of Confucius

For 2,000 years, the theory of Confucius (aka Kongzi) has been mainstream thought in the minds of the people of East Asia, including China, Japan, and South Korea. Not long ago, over the National Day Golden Week holiday, the Analects of Confucius, a collection of his brief aphoristic fragments, became popular in China again, because professor Yu Dan (于丹) of Beijing Normal University conducted a 7-part daily lecture series on the well known program Lecture Room (百家讲坛). The program, broadcast by CCTV 10, is an educational show popular with the general public, and made Yi Zhongtian an "academic super boy" last year.

The current issue of San Lian Life Week contains a interview with Yu Dan. She became famous for her popular explanation of the Analects of Confucius, and her book of lecture notes sold 800,000 copies in just one month. "I want to understand the ancients from the surface, without textual research, and touch the nature of life," said Yu.

The other person mentioned on the cover is Nan Huajin (南怀瑾) a master of guoxue who also wrote a book to explain the Analects of Confucius. But he is more famous in Buddhism rather than Confucianism.

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There are currently 4 Comments for What Confucius said.

Comments on What Confucius said

Is it true that this issue has a centerfold with Bai Luming (aka, Guo Xue Spice Girl) showing exactly how she intends to seduce Confucius.....?

I always find myself wondering though is this Confucianism a kind of revivalism, a renewing of the tradition? Or is it Confucianism like the New Life Movement of the 1930s was "Confucian", a kind of traditionalism in the service of the state?

Yu Dan's lectures are her own personal take on Confucius - her book is 《论语》心得, or "What I learned from the Analects". She makes the classic immediately relevant to her listeners by reading the text directly as a manual for life rather than an institutional pillar. Not everyone agrees with this "Chicken Soup for the Soul" (心灵鸡汤 - this is actually in Sanlian) method of reading Confucius, of course. Yu is hardly a guoxue revivalist. She calls Confucius "a lovable old man."

But CCTV's Lecture Room programs all seem to attempt to narrow the gap between the classics and modern everyday life. One of the goals of Kang Zhen's lectures on Su Dongpo, for example, is to help the audience understand what kind of man the great poet - what he looked like, how he treated his friends (anecdotes about practical jokes), and a bit of poetry to top things off. Yi Zhongtian did something similar with his analysis of the characters in Three Kingdoms.

Sanlian asked Yu why her lectures were popular when so many people who have explained the Analects in the past have not raised much of a response. Her answer:

It's because they had no media strategy. A good TV program can build a bridge between the language of the elite and the language of the masses. I study media, and I know how the audience thinks; in studying television, you find that people's memories max out at three things. I think that Confucius was someone who knew this rule of media; he didn't list off lots of stipulations - everything was in groups of three.

I'm late to the party here, but I want to say that I think Yu Dan is performing a valuable service in several ways. She is making Confucius accessible. She is liberating people to interpret him in their own ways. And she is making old Chinese culture cool. The fact that her interpretations of the Master's thought can sometimes be fairly peculiar is not a real problem, in my opinion.

As far as this being "traditionalism in the service of the state," I don't think so. She doesn't spend much time recommending patriarchal hierarchies. Rather, she finds the elements in Confucius that connect with more liberal points of view.

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