17 February 2017

Confucian kindergartens?

As the father of a four-year-old hapa haole girl myself, one who has already studied some of the National Learning under my wife’s guidance, I might be able to get behind this recent Wuhan initiative:
Children in scholars hats bow before a statue of Confucius, the Chinese sage once reviled by Communist authorities but now enjoying a revival as parents look to instil his values in their offspring.

With central government backing, hundreds of private schools dedicated to Confucian teachings have sprung up across the country in response to growing demand for more traditional education.

At a new institution in the central city of Wuhan, about 30 students aged two to six chant: "Our respect to you, Master Confucius. Thank you for the kindness of your teaching and your compassion".

Five-year-old Zhu Baichang admits he does not understand all the maxims he enthusiastically recites, but says: "It's very interesting."
At the same time, clearly there are some questions that need answers with the pædagogical method described here:
The sage "actively encourages debate" and "his disciples had to forge their own ideas", which contradict the rote learning system used in Chinese schools, [Asia journalist Michael] Schuman notes.

He also insisted on reciprocity of obligation, so that leaders owed their subjects good governance, and if they failed to deliver they could lose the "mandate of Heaven" -- which would justify an uprising against them.
I am slightly disappointed by the way this gets glossed in the article (Confucius did indeed emphasise reciprocity and moral governance being key to the Mandate of Heaven, but the idea that uprising was justified against unjust rulers was more explicitly set out in the Mencius than in any of the works traditionally ascribed to Confucius). But Schuman is, as usual, quite correct on the larger and more important point, about rote learning not being everything (or even the most important thing) in Confucian education.

Speaking as one more sympathetic (to say the least) to the institutional strand in Confucianism dominant in the Han, Tang and Qing Dynasties, than to the heart-mind strand dominant in the Song and Ming Dynasties, the inward meaning of the institution is important. If Confucian education is ever to thrive in China, it needs to cultivate the shoots without pulling them up. And even if ritual plays a large role in a child’s life (as it should), it needs to be underpinned by the living principles that rest within ritual. Confucianism cannot simply be outward display. It needs to let children explore and question. And most importantly, it needs to offer them the tools they need to interrogate for themselves, and reject the mercantile materialism, consumerism, selfishness and individualism that has lain hold on the society around them. For this last goal, the ideas of reciprocity and proportionate responsibility, as a true reflection of harmonious balance, needs to be central.

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