As early as November 1966, the Red Guard Corps of Beijing Normal University had set their sights on the Confucian ancestral home in Qufu County in Shandong Province. Invoking the language of the May Fourth movement, they proceeded to Qufu, where they established themselves as the Revolutionary Rebel Liaison State to Annihilate the Old Curiosity Shop of Confucius.
Within the month they had totally destroyed the Temple of Confucius, the Kong Family Mansion, the Cemetery of Confucius (including the Master’s grave), and all the statues, steles, and relics in the area...
In January 1967 another Red Guard unit editorialized in the People’s Daily:
To struggle against Confucius, the feudal mummy, and thoroughly eradicate . . . reactionary Confucianism is one of our important tasks in the Great Cultural Revolution.
And then, to make their point, they went on a nationwide rampage, destroying temples, statues, historical landmarks, texts, and anything at all to do with the ancient Sage...
The Cultural Revolution came to an end with Mao’s death in 1976. In 1978 Deng Xiaoping (1904–97) became China’s paramount leader, setting China on a course of economic and political reform, and effectively bringing an end to the Maoist ideal of class conflict and perpetual revolution. Since 2000, the leadership in Beijing, eager to advance economic prosperity and promote social stability, has talked not of the need for class conflict but of the goal of achieving a “harmonious society,” citing approvingly the passage from the Analects, “harmony is something to be cherished” (1.12).
The Confucius compound in Qufu has been renovated and is now the site of annual celebrations of Confucius’s birthday in late September. In recent years, colleges and universities throughout the country—Beijing University, Qufu Normal University, Renmin University, Shaanxi Normal University, and Shandong University, to name a few—have established Confucian study and research centers. And, in the opening ceremonies of the 2008 Olympics, the Beijing Olympic Committee welcomed guests from around the world to Beijing with salutations from the Analects, “Is it not a joy to have friends come from afar?” and “Within the fours seas all men are brothers,” not with sayings from Mao’s Little Red Book.
Tellingly, when the Chinese government began funding centers to support the study of the Chinese language and culture in foreign schools and universities around the globe in 2004—a move interpreted as an ef f ort to expand China’s “soft power”—it chose to name these centers Confucius Institutes...
The failure of Marxism-Leninism has created an ideological vacuum, prompting people to seek new ways of understanding society and new sources of spiritual inspiration.
The endemic culture of greed and corruption—spawned by the economic reforms and the celebration of wealth accompanying them—has given rise to a search for a set of values that will address these social ills. And, crucially, rising nationalist sentiments have fueled a desire to fi nd meaning within the native tradition—and to of f set the malignant ef f ects of Western decadence and materialism.
Confucius has thus played a variety of roles in China’s twentieth and twenty-first centuries. At times praised, at times vilified, he has been both good guy and bad guy. Yet whether good or bad, he has always been somewhere on the stage. These days Confucius appears to be gaining favor again, in official circles and among the people. But what the future holds for him and his teachings is difficult to predict. All we can say with any certainty is that Confucius will continue to matter.
Daniel K. Gardner (Confucianism: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions))