Sunday, December 12, 2010

I Love the Chinese; Therefore I Study Confucius

Twenty years ago I traveled with Linda and my sons Dan and Josh to Singapore, where I taught at Asia Theological College for twenty days. I had, as students, Chinese Jesus-followers who were heading towards becoming leaders in Singapore's Christian community. I taught two courses: my Spiritual Formation class, and a class on cross-cultural evangelism. Those twenty days with my family and many new Chinese friends and students were life-changing.

I also became friends with a number of Chinese pastors who attended my doctoral classes in spiritual formation. One of them, Dr. Paul Chan, invited Linda and I to come to Vancouver to be the speaker at their annual conference. They called the conference "Being and Doing," with the idea that what one does ("doing") should come out of one's being. In this ay one's doing would then be "authentic." Lnda went with me and we spend six wonderful days in the beautiful Vancouver area. And my love for and interest in Chinese culture and Chinese Christianity was increasing.

At Palmer Seminary one of my students was Dr. John Hao who is, in my mind, one of today's great leaders in God's Kingdom. John and his wonderful wife Rosie invited me to teach at Faith Bible Seminary in Queens, and speak at their church. Over the past seven years I have been with them multiple times, and will go again to teach and speak this coming January.

I think it is a good think to continue to learn and grow, so I'm reading Paul Wasserstrom's recent China In the 21st Century. Part I explains the "Historical Legacies" of China, with a major section on Confucious and Confucianism. As I'm reading this I think of the statues of Confucius and the Confucian culture we saw in Singapore. I've got a copy of Confucius's Analects, and think I'll read some before my NYC trip. I've never deeply studied thse things, and now feel it will add to my understanding of all things Chinese.

I got a mild shock when I began reading about Chiang Kai-shek's part in a Confucian revival in China in the 20th century. I remember hearing about Chiang on tv, but knowing nothing about him. Wasserstrom writes: "Despite being a Christian, Chiang elevated [Confucius's] birthday to the status of a state holiday. He argued that the emphasis on tradition, family, social order, and clearly delineated hierarchies in Confucianism could go hand in hand with the teachings of the Bible." What? So many rabbit trails, so little time to follow them all. I want to know more about Chiang's Christianity!

"Ironically, the period of rule by the Christian Chiang Kai-shek was a time in which Confucius was revered, as, even more ironically, is the current rule by the allegedly still atheist Communist Party." (Wasserstrom, K 365-73)

October 1, 1949 - The Communist Party drives Chiang into exile in Taiwan. The birthday of Confucius immediately stops being celebrated. "The anti-Confucius campaign of the early 1970s was just the most radical and focused expression of an anti-Confucian viewpoint that predominated throughout the Mao years and that continued during the brief post-Mao period." (Ib., K 373-80)

Today, Confucius is once more venerated in China. This "fits in with a general tendency by the current regime to emphasize continuity with the past." (Ib., K 380-89)

So what did Confucius say?
  • He wrote on how a "true gentleman" behaves in his daily life.
  • He wrote about how a ruler should govern.
  • He placed a high value on education.
  • He stressed "the meritocratic aspect of the Chinese political tradition, [which] is that people are pretty much alike at birth but become differentiated via learning." (Ib., K 240-48)
  • The Analects emphasize the importance of three things: "education, ritual, and relationships that re hierarchical yet provide benefits to both superior and inferior." (Ib., K 248-56)
  • The study of classical texts was important "because it was by studying [them] that a person could learn about and begin to emulate the actions of the most virtuous figures of the past ages." (Ib., K 248-56)
  • "Ritual was important because it was a physical acting out of the best practices of earlier ages." (Ib.)
  • He emphasized four relationships in particular: ruler and minister, father and son, elder brother and younger brother, and husband and wife. All of these are reciprocal and involve combinations of benevolence coming from one party and deference from the other.
  • The former parties were expected to protect the latter, and in return the latter were expected to be obedient to the former. "The social order was threatened whenever people failed to act according to their prescribed roles." (Ib., K 264-72)
When I was teaching in Singapore my students, during lunch time, began asking if I was hungry. I said "Yes." And they would take me to a restaurant and pay for my lunch. One day one of the seminary leaders told me that my students liked treating me to lunch but were expecting some reciprocity. Which I gladly did, feeling somewhat embarrassed that I did not know more about the Confucian culture I was in.