Writer's Block

The USA is the place I was born. Canada is the place I was raised. Taiwan is the place in my heart.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Why I don't like Confucius

Last week one of my students gave me this box of mooncakes, well to be more specific, Confucius mooncakes. Actually, at first I didn't realize that this was the Confucius on the box.

To me it could have been any old, generic Chinese guy. It wasn't until my Mom saw it and asked, "Who sent us these Confucius mooncakes?" Then I realized... it's Confucius!


a tin of Confucius mooncakes serving double duty for Teacher's Day and the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival

Here in Taiwan, Teacher's Day is celebrated on September 28, the birth date of the poster boy of teachers here in Taiwan, Confucius. It seems like few students today remember their teachers on this day. One of my colleagues told me that it even used to be some sort of national holiday in Taiwan. This year I made out pretty well, besides the box of Confucius mooncakes, one of my classes sent me a card with a bag of candies and I received a text message from a former student. Had it not been for these thoughtful gestures, I'd have completely forgotten about Teacher's Day!

One thing I know is that I don't like mooncakes or Confucius for that matter.

"You can have them, give them away or do whatever you want with them because I don't like mooncakes and certainly don't like Confucius," I told my Mom.

"Hmpf, what do you know about Confucius?" she responded.

"I know that he was supposedly a male chauvanist," or so I'd heard or read somewhere.

"Well he did say some wise things, but he also said something like 'Women and lowly people are the worst kind to have to deal with.' I don't think you should be making such statements about things you don't know about."

True, I haven't read any of Confucius' works. I couldn't quote him. So I suppose my dislike of Confucius was a little shaky. I knew that Confucius was a Chinese philosopher, revered as one of China's greatest teachers and that many of his teachings focused on knowing one's place in society and behaving accordingly. I suspected that some of his teachings smacked of chauvanism. And it does bother me sometimes when the Taiwanese adopt hegemonistic aspects of Chinese culture.

In the states Confucius has been reduced to a dirty old fart, who makes dirty, sexist jokes a la "Confucius says" genre, or if read in English effected with a Chinese accent "Confucius say man who..." I'll leave you to click on the links to discover some of this bathroom humor.

This article is pretty telling of Confucius' opinions of women:

Women to be included in Confucius' family tree
www.chinaview.cn 2006-07-25 20:22:57

JINAN, July 25 (Xinhua) -- Confucius, who looked down upon women, probably never expected that his female descendants would eventually be included in his family tree, which for generations has ignored the second sex.

Having women in Confucius' genealogy is the first for China's greatest teacher, but also a rarity in the whole history of genealogy in China where a centuries-old mentality has traditionally valued men and belittled women.

The thoughts of Confucius (551-479 BC), a philosopher, educator and founder of Confucianism in the late Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 BC), are still very influential in Chinese society.

"The new practice in compiling genealogies is a revolution in China, which has a tradition of undervaluing women. The fact that it is Confucius' family, with its reverence for tradition, is a significant symbol," said Prof. Liu Shifan, vice president of the International Association of Confucianism.

According to Kong Dehong, in the past women descendants were always excluded from the Confucius Genealogy. The spouses of male descendants, marked in small characters behind the names of their husbands, were almost hidden.

In the new 5th family tree, which was kicked off in 1996, women descendants will be written in the same size characters as men. Spouses of female descendants will be marked in small letters behind the names of their wives.

Kong Dewei, head of the Confucius Genealogy editorial office, said so far as the office knew, women descendants make up less than 200,000, or approximately 20 percent, of the total. The figure will change as the compilation work advances, Kong Dewei added.

Confucius was recorded in the Analects as saying," Women and people of low birth are very hard to deal with. If you are friendly with them, they get out of hand, and if you keep your distance, they resent it."

"This citation takes it for granted that men are superior to women. The Chinese used to think a married woman no longer belonged to her original family," said Pang Pu, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Today this point of view is still deeply rooted in some parts of China, particularly in rural areas, making it difficult for the Genealogy to include every female descendant of Confucius.

Confucius' descendants living in cities are usually more willing than their rural peers to include women in the family tree.

Kong Dewei said as far as the compilers know, the youngest Confucius descendant is a girl named Kong Nianying born in 1995.

Kong Lingren, a 76th generation descendant of the Confucian family and former vice chairwoman of the All-China Women's Federation, said as a woman, she was delighted to hear about the inclusion of female descendants in the family tree. In her 80s, she now lives in Jinan, capital city of east China's Shandong Province.

Confucian thoughts have profoundly influenced Chinese society for more than two thousand years. Apart from a positive attitude toward life and the world and respect for morality and virtue, Confucianism also contains some negative elements, including a neglect of innovation and scorn for women.

Family trees are an important part of traditional Chinese culture. They record priceless historical information and represent a precious legacy for Chinese people. Enditem

Editor: Mu Xuequan
==================================================

The practice of leaving female relatives off of a family is a common practice in Chinese culture, so we can't blame Confucius alone for promulgating this practice. After all, I suppose he was a man of his time.

Question is, how does this "victory" for female descendants of Confucius, contribute to the legend of Confucius as China's greatest teacher?

2 Comments:

  • At 10/12/2006 7:24 PM, Anonymous Jerome said…

    Feli, I would simply call it "too little, too late"

    Confucius's philosophy still remains dependent on and mired in a feudalistic, agricultural-based society for its framework and underpinings. A society where roles never change--only good when you are in the favorable role.

    Good stuff if everyone buys into the system and the system fits the reality you are in but. . .

     
  • At 1/06/2007 5:24 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Just a little bit of Chinese history, the Wu Emperor of the Han dynasty based his rule heavily on the Confucious's system and teachings. His period of rule later became the most famous and prosperous era of that dynasty.

    This system may not work in modern times but like everything else nothing is perfect. I think for anyone during the B.C.s to even consider gender inequality would have been very bold. So let's not hate Confucious for believing what everybody else quietly believed in at that period of time.

    Confucious is widely remembered for his emphasis on 'Li' or manners/ettiquete and filiality. These are important concepts which modern societies are losing their grip on these days. So it's important to keep what is useful to society from the old schools of thought. After all that's how people or creatures evolving in sophistication.

     

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