Tiananmen: Confucius Relegated?

Just as the sage, in his later years, travelled from court to court to offer his advice (more often than not in vain, or so the tale goes), so – apparently – does his statue, originally unveiled near Tian An Men Square, next to the National Museum of China, in January. The statue disappeared under cover of darkness early Thursday morning, April 21, the New York TimesAndrew Jacobs reported on April 22, and nobody seemed to know where it had gone. It may now be found somewhere else within the museum or its vicinity, or somewhere in a park. Or somewhere inside a nearby museum.

According to a famous quote, Mao Zedong might have buried the sage alive. Consequently, Maoists gloat, and Confucianists grieve, according to the New York Times, while Zhang Qianfan (张千帆), of Beida Law School and of the university’s Constitutional and Administrative Law Research Center, may silently smile. After all, he had challenged the unveiling of the sage (or His Likeness) at the National Museum entrance early on, in an opinion for Caijing , on February 24.

Zhang, however, is no Maoist, and he is probably not the only intellectual who opposed the statue’s location for other than Maoist reasons. Zhang’s case had been that the state had to be neutral toward religion, according to the PRC constitution, chapter 2, article 36. Zhang had also questioned what is still put forward by Confucianists now cited by the New York Times – that only Confucian teachings could rescue China from what he described as a moral crisis.

Guo Qijia, a professor at Beijing Normal University who helps run the China Confucius Institute:

“Students come home from school and tell their parents, ‘One of my classmates got run over by a car today — now I have one less person to compete against,’ ” he said. “We have lost our humanity, our kindness and our spirit. Confucianism is our only hope for becoming a great nation.”

Confucianism, on the other hand, should not fear competition, Zhang had suggested in his Caijing opinion, just as true gold didn’t need to fear to be refined by the goldsmith (真金不怕烈火炼). As a state doctrine, Confucian orthodoxy hadn’t done Confucian thought any good. And, turning Voltaire’s famous statement around:

“Even if I agree with what you say, I’ll fight with my life to stop you from monopolizing the discourse”  (我即便同意你说的每一句话,也要誓死反对你垄断话语的权力).

There are many Confucianists in China – especially among the academia. Some of them probably liked the statue and its location. But just as likely, others didn’t.

The authorities didn’t explain their decision to remove, or to relocate, the statue. Did they oppose a Confucian scheme to monopolize the discourse? Or does the Mao Zedong Thought matter more after all?

Either way, Mao’s mausoleum on Tian An Men Square now has one competitor less.

____________

Related
Konfuzius Verschwunden, Ethik Gesucht, Sinica, April 27, 2011
Wen Jiabao’s Endgame: Neither Law, nor Order, April 21, 2011
Does Confucius matter outside Asia, December 12, 2010

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