Hidden agendas – or confused Confucians?

During my recent visit to Beijing I went for a walk one morning, and ended up at Guozijian (国子监) and the Confucius Temple (孔庙). Guozijian was a kind of national academy for examinations (科举) during imperial times. A few Chinese tour groups passed through, and there was a distinct smell of incense, but I could not see it burning anywhere. I heard a tour guide discuss the difference between burning incense in a Buddhist temple and a Confucius temple, focusing on the different things one should ask for at each place… Popular ”Confucian” worship in the middle of Beijing?

Yu Dan (于丹) speaks at the Confucius ceremony in Beijing in 2010. Her popular book "Confucius from the Heart" (论语心得) has sold many million copies around the World.

In the side buildings were exhibitions about Confucian ceremonies and on Confucianism and its influence in the World. The exhibition on Confucian influence made me confused. The final display showed the distribution of Confucius Institutes (孔子学院), and the text in both English and Chinese explained:

[we] shall carry traditional Chinese culture and Confucianism forward to the world, establishing Confucianism as an outstanding branch among the various world cultures
把以孔子儒学为主干的中国传统文化传向世界,使孔子儒家学说成为世界多元文化中的一枝奇葩

So much for the criticism of Confucius Institutes as tools of Communism! This is their true aim… or maybe not? Other texts claimed, in both Chinese and English, that Gottfried Leibnitz (莱布尼兹) was a German missionary. I thought he was a philosopher inspired by Confucianism.

Painting of Kim Jong Il funeral, December 2011, displayed at Guozijian exhibition

It all seems very confused and haphazard for being the second most ”sacred” place for Confucianism in China after his birthplace Qufu (曲阜). However, I found more clues to contemporary ”Confucianism” as I was about to leave Guozijian. In the last side building there was a temporary art exhibition. To my great surprise it was an exhibition to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il Sung (金日成), ”eternal president” of North Korea! I would rather not see Kim as a benevolent Confucian father figure, but maybe someone thought it would be a proper place for him. A more plausible interpretation would be that not many people visit Guozijian, and it is therefore easy to ”hide” such an exhibition, unwanted but necessary for diplomatic reasons. ”Confucianism” can be very useful…

Time for a new song — “The East is shaking” (to the tune of “The East is Red”)

The time when ”singing red songs” (唱红歌) was considered to ”fill us with enthusiasm and unbounded confidence” (激情满怀、信心百倍) is over for this time. Many people thought that time passed already in the 1970s. As much as Bo Xilai dismissed as ”complete nonsense” (无稽之谈) the claims that ”red songs” were ”leftist” and a way back to ”the Cultural Revolution”, he was himself dismissed from the politburo (政治局). His wife Gu Kailai (谷开来) is under investigation for murder on British businessman Neil Haywood (尼尔·海伍德), along with Zhang Xiaojun (张晓军), an aide to the Bo family. These recent events could have been a novel plot by Qiu Xiaolong (裘小龙) – or maybe a chapter in Wang Lixiong’s China Tidal Wave (黄祸) – but it is for real. The question now is if these events will cause any political tsunami (海啸) for China.

The Wang Lijun case could have functioned as a kind of ”tsunami warning system” for the top party leaders, and maybe it did give them time to stop some rumours (谣言), and prevent a few people from escaping. Things seemed a little out of hand, however. These events show how vulnerable the party-state is, even its top leadership, despite all the control mechanisms.

Bo Xilai looking at eggs at a market in Xining, Qinghai

Official media now talks about justice and discipline, and gives an idealized image of how the legal system works: ”Our country is a socialist country ruled by law, and the respect for law and the status of the law cannot be trampled. No matter who it involves, if you offend the law, you must be dealt with in accordance with the law” (我国是社会主义法治国家,法律的尊严和权威不容践踏。不论涉及到谁,只要触犯法律,都将依法处理). This is especially interesting in the PRC, where the constitution defines the special role of the Communist Party to lead and guide the Chinese society, including the improvement of ”the socialist legal system”.

Things must be rather shaky now with preparations for the 18th party congress this autumn, and the next politburo meeting should perhaps start with a new song called ”The East is shaking” (东方摇)? ”东方摇、太阳升、中国出了一个薄熙来…” Trustworthy sources tell me that such singing fills you with ”enthusiasm and unbounded confidence”. ”Shaking” is also a homophone of ”rumour” (谣) in Chinese…

Note from an old “China hand” (Finds from the archive 4)

These extraordinary days when commentaries are prohibited on Chinese micro blogs and the air is full of rumours around the Chinese leadership, I happened to stumble on something in an old book. I was going through the Sam Sköld book collection, and as I opened the second volume of Stanislas Julien‘s Syntaxe nouvelle de la langue Chinoise (1869-70) I noticed a thin paper with a typed note in English.

It was a note on postponing the meeting of ”The China Study Group” in Wuhan (武汉), dated 31 May 1934, and it was signed by the secretary of the group, Edmund Clubb. At the next meeting Mr. Clubb would be speaking on ”Authoritarian Government and the Present Situation in China”, a title that could fit any seminar or conference today.

The note from Edmund Clubb

It is not clear who the other members of the ”study group” were, only Sam Sköld and Edmund Clubb (1901-1989) are known. When Mr. Clubb wrote the note in 1934 he was the American consul in Hankou. He is especially interesting because he became a victim of McCarthyism (麦卡锡主义) and one of the ”China hands” (中国通) accused of ”loosing China” after the PRC was established. He was then US Consul General in Beijing, and was the one to close the consulate and haul down the US flag in April 1950. After returning to the USA he became head of the China desk at the US State Department, but was suspended after only a year as a ”security risk”. His testimony before the House Committee on Un-American Activities is available here.

It would have been very interesting to hear Mr. Clubb talk that day in June 1934 in Hankou, and it is likely he had insights in the events of those days that few other Westerners had. He wrote several books on China, and one of his reports from 1932 was published in its entirety in 1968 as Communism in China: as reported from Hankow in 1932. It was probably the first in-depth diplomatic report about Communism in China to reach the US State Department.