Society

Hooked on the classics

Why Confucius is back in vogue

"Nowadays men study in order to impress people": Confucius said this in the fifth century BC

A teacher in China claims to have discovered the cure to internet addiction. According to the Wuhan Morning Post, An Deyi runs a home school (or rather, rehab) in Wuhan that cures young internet junkies. His secret? According to An: “To cure internet addiction, the simplest method is reading ancient Chinese masters’ classic works.” At An’s school, students have to study guoxue, or traditional Chinese learning, a few hours a day, in combination with a healthy diet and physical exercise. By the end of a few months, An says, the addiction will be replaced by a healthy appetite for the Chinese classics.

Guoxue has garnered enormous interest not only among internet junkies but all across China. Wuhan University launched a guoxue program in August last year, charging Rmb28,000 ($4,088) in tuition. Similarly, Fudan University in Shanghai has introduced a similar program, asking for Rmb38,000. Despite the exorbitant price (an average Shanghai urbanite makes Rmb18,645 a year), there are many takers.

The new found enthusiasm for guoxue is something of a surprise, given that in the last century the study of Chinese literature and philosophy, especially Confucian thinking, was lambasted for being suppressive, says Raymond Zhou, a columnist at China Daily. “People of previous generations went to extreme lengths to trash guoxue,” he wrote. “They needed to get rid of guoxue’s constraints that had bound us for thousands of years. The country was in dire need of an injection of fresh air and new thinking.”

But many Chinese today are eager to reconnect with their roots again. With the spirit of patriotism running high since the Beijing Olympics, Chinese traditional virtues and philosophies are back in fashion.

The most conspicuous symbol of China’s recent craze for national studies is the popularity of the book, Yu Dan’s Reflections on ‘The Analects’, which has sold over 4 million legal copies in China. Yu Dan, the writer, also a television personality, has based his book on seven lectures given in 2007 on the popular prime-time television programme, The Lecture Room, in which the wisdom of Confucius’ Analects was explained in simple and easy to understand language.

Nonetheless, there is no better spokesperson for guoxue than the hugely popular Premier Wen Jiabao, an ardent classicist. The premier has developed a canny habit of quoting ancient Chinese poems in his speeches. Last month at Cambridge University, Wen quoted an ancient Tang poem to describe the situation the country is in: “From shore to shore it is wide at high tide, and before fair wind a sail is lifting.”

Interestingly enough, guoxue workshops are now attracting high-level executives from across the country, says Xinhua. At a workshop in Wuhan University, most participants are chairmen and CEOs of well-known domestic enterprises in China. Rather than attending elite business schools to learn about Western business models and practices, perhaps they find Sun Tzu and Zhuge Liang’s ancient strategies of winning battles more fitting for today’s business environment?


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