Saturday, November 11, 2006


By Uncle C

All my rich and famous friends must have heard of the great Chinese philosopher, teacher and moral leader Confucius. The more educated will have read his celebrated Analects. Confucius is to moral philosophy as Jesus Christ is to the Holy Bible, the prophet Mohammed is to the Koran, and Buddha is to the sutras of Buddhism. Even if less educated people have not read Confucius’s Analects they will surely they have offered their prayers at the many temples dedicated to Confucius scattered across every Chinese community in the world.

So I was intrigued to read that the leader of the Confucian Academy in Hong Kong has approached the Chief Executive and asked him to do two things. First, to build a Confucian temple and, secondly, to make the birthday of Confucius a public holiday. I am against the first proposal but am completely neutral on the second. Why you may ask should I be against a new temple.

Well, there is no doubt that Confucius was a great teacher and moral philosopher. His teaching is so firmly embedded in the Chinese mind and history that no aspect of Chinese life has not been affected by Confucius. When we speak of fidelity to our parents, ancestral worship and a system of government based only on merit, our inspiration comes from the philosopher Confucius born over 2,500 years ago (at about the same the time as Buddha was born).

All successive dynasties in Chinese history had to pay their respects, or at least pay lip service, to the ideals of Confucianism. Even today the one common ideology that binds the Mainland and Taiwan is a shared devotion to the teachings of the sage.

Confucius taught us many things concerning human life such as how men should behave, how families should behave, and how rulers should behave but he hardly, if at all, was concerned with theological and spiritual matters. In one of his classic remarks, when asked about the after-life, he is reputed to have replied that he did not claim to have any supernatural power and he never spoke about anything such as a soul or about life beyond death.

Confucius, therefore, was neither a god nor a religious leader. And it would be wrong in my view to build a temple dedicated to him. Erect a new academy plated in pure gold if you like, but not a temple that encourages people to pray and burn incense before his effigy. A crucial aspect of Confucius’s greatness was that he stuck to what he knew best, moral philosophy. He was interested in the practicalities of everyday ethics. He was a realist who offered practical solutions.

By worshipping him as a god we demean his greatness and distort his reputation. To be truthful to his teachings and wishes, we should revere Confucius as a practical philosopher and not worship him as if he had supernatural powers. There are already plenty of supernatural gods in the Chinese pantheon of gods and it is unnecessary to add another — especially Confucius who would not like the idea. Also the government should remain strictly secular and not use taxpayers’ money for any religious purpose.

But as for that extra public holiday, I do not suppose many employees will object.

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