Perfect mix of Confucianism & Buddhism
By You Nuo (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-07-15 07:48

Perfect mix of Confucianism & Buddhism

China's rise seems to be the hot subject of discussion both inside and outside the country. But there may be some differences between what people talk about and what they can see in real life.

Many, for example, seem to believe China's rise is fueled, at least in part, by Confucianism, even if it is not a return to the Confucian definition of the benevolent patriarchal state.

A small part of the Chinese population - some cultural elites and parents - seem to strongly believe that young children should be made to recite the Analects like their great grandfathers (when formal education was not available for women).

Outside the country, too, some observers tend to define the rise in China's economy and national pride as a result of Confucianism, irrespective of whether they are ready to welcome it or not. This is reflected in the recent correspondence in The Guardian between Martin Jacques and Will Hutton, two authors who hold different views on China's rise.

It is beyond comprehension why so few cultural experts, Chinese and foreign, have not attributed the rise to Buddhism. It seems they think it is quite an archaic thing belonging only to the older generation's memory. The reality can be in stark contrast if only one spends a day (any day) visiting a Chinese temple. Of course, from an elitist point of view, much of the mass activity there, such as praying for one's kids to help them pass the college entrance exam or seeking a quick recovery for a sick relative, can be dismissed as not very serious.

But that is not all. A trip to a Chinese bookstore will show a constant supply of books to meet Buddhist interests. In fact, on Dangdang.com, one of the largest online bookstores, a search for guoxue - national (Confucian) classics - can have 3,580 hits in the book section. And on Zhuoyue.com, the Amazon outlet on the Chinese mainland, the same search can fetch 2,438 results.

In contrast, a search for "Fo" - Buddha - can generate 9,979 results in the book section. And on Zhuoyue.com, the same search can score 1,739 hits.

While it would take an expert to find out why there is such wide difference between the two subjects on the sites, on the Chinese-language general search engine, Baidu.com, a search for guoxue can get some 8.8 million results, compared with 41.7 million results for "Fo" and 13.2 million results for "Chan" - an East Asian sect of Buddhism, called Zen in English from a transliteration of the Japanese.

Confucianism is admittedly a very important component of Chinese cultural tradition, but it is far from the only one. It has taken many forms in the past 2,000-odd years, from a set of moral teachings by the nation's first private school master to an official ideology used to unify and regulate people's thinking, and then to a tradition in cultural studies that absorbed, and at times borrowed heavily, from other sources, including Buddhism.

Indeed, it would be absurd to talk about Confucianism, especially its lasting value and chances of its renewal without talking about how it came into being in the first place - the period about 2,500 years ago of "one hundred schools contending". Through its development, Confucianism learned from Buddhism, then a foreign religion and way of life for almost 1,000 years after it was introduced in China.

In China's ongoing process of economic take-off, there is a curious and rarely noticed phenomenon: private entrepreneurship may appear more energetic and creative in the country's southeastern coasts, including the Yangtze and Pearl river deltas where Zen Buddhism was and still is more popular.

Is this a sheer coincidence or something that can be related to a cultural level? No cultural expert has come up with an answer yet.

In overseas Chinese societies and communities, from Hong Kong to San Francisco, Buddhist temples stand alongside Christian churches, and Zen books, and Confucian readings are sold alongside books on business management and modern economics. What significance can these bring beyond simply mixing?

E-mail: younuo@chinadaily.com.cn