By Jiang Qiongji
“I’m not an idol. I hope I can be an exam-
ple that people learn from for their own
actions. Just adoring me without doing
anything is futile,” said Hong Zhanhui,
24, a college student from Henan Prov-
ince, who became famous after the
story of how he adopted his sister and
supported his collapsed family became
well known throughout China last year.
Hong Zhanhui, born in a small vil-
lage in Henan, lived with his younger
sister and brother and parents.
His life changed at the age of 12,
when his father was struck by a mental
disorder and killed his younger sister
accidentally. Later in the same year, his
father found an abandoned infant and
Hong decided to adopt her despite their
difficult circumstances.
In the next year, his mother left the
family because of the physical abuse she
received from her sick husband.
Hong’s younger brother also left
home shortly afterwards, leaving the
family’s future in Hong’s hands. Hong
had to split his time between study and
working to support family.
Hong was honoured by CCTV as one
of its “Move China 2005” people this
January, an honour given only to those
who help Chinese society progress.
“I didn’t expect my story to move
China. Whatever the media reports about
me, I’m still an ordinary son and brother
who bears the responsibility of taking
care of the family,” said Hong, at East
China Normal University in Shanghai
on March 21.
Since he became famous, Hong has
consistently turned down public dona-
tions. He said he has declined the money
because he himself had passed the worst
period and there are many other disad-
vantaged people who needed help much
more than he does.
Supported by
Huaihua College, his
college in Hunan prov-
ince, he has launched
a financial aid foun-
dation to fund poor
high school students
with good character
and academic per-
formance. An initial
sum of 100,000 yuan
(US$12,500) has been
put into the fund.
Hong said: “The
reason why I chose
to fund high school
students is because
elementary and jun-
ior middl e school
(level 1- 9) st udents
can be supported by
the government according to the nine-
year compulsory education rule; and
college students already have the ability
to make money.”
He recalled the hardship he suffered
in high school. “It was very stressful then.
I had to pay off expensive medical bills
for my sick dad as well as my tuition fees
while taking care of the whole family. I
even contemplated suicide,” said Hong,
who could hardly hold back his tears.
“But I didn’t want to tell them (the
school) about my situation, because I
didn’t want to be on the “poor students
list” and receive money from donations.
I didn’t need sympathy from others. So I
peddled ballpoint pens at school to make
money for myself,” he continued.
“Many people looked down upon me
for this activity at the time, but I had to do
it. When my business went well, a jealous
bookstore boss struck me every time he
saw me peddling the pens, until my left
eye was almost blinded,” said Hong.
He succeeded in his little business
and was even able to continue his study
at college with the money he made in
his spare time. But he also regretted not
being able to enroll in a good university
due to the time he spent as a pedlar.
He said: “My goal was initially to en-
ter Peking University. I felt so sad when
I received the admission from Huaihua
His first book, “When Hardship Be-
comes An Obligatory Course,” was pub-
lished recently. He said he would give
an “autograph signing sale” for his book
during his short visit in Shanghai. The
money he makes from the book will be
contributed to the financial aid founda-
tion he has launched.
He also plans to initiate a summer-
camp programme, in which children
from rich families pay some money to
live together with their less fortunate
peers to experience tough conditions.
For poor students, he said the most
important thing was to adjust one’s state
of mind to one’s circumstances and main-
tain a positive attitude. “People who be-
come successful never give up; people
who give up can never be successful,”
said Hong.
Hong Zhanhui moves students of East China Normal University with his
experience. WU KAI
By Xiao Chen
He is familiar to millions of Chinese due to the Mao tattoo on
his arm. He is famous and infamous for biting off a chunk of
Evander Holyfield’s ear during a heavyweight title bout.
Love him or loathe him, Mike Tyson is coming to
Shanghai next week, the first time the bad
boy of boxing will have set foot on Chinese
mainland soil.
The man who became the youngest heav-
yweight champion in history is not coming
to fight anyone, but to attend the opening of
the Snatch Bar & Nightclub.
A beautiful and plush club that offers hip
hop, drinks and KTV under one roof, Snatch
was introduced to Shanghai by Greg Lites, co-owner of a
successful club promotion company based in Los Angeles,
who is said to have good connections with celebrities and
folks in Hollywood.
Tyson is scheduled to show up for three nights between
11 pm and 1 am from March 30 to April 1 in Snatch, which
could hold 1, 400 people.
He will pose for pictures with customers and sign his
autograph for them.
The only punch he is going to deliver, along
with some customers, is not to a man, but a ma-
chine that will show the power of his fist.
After quitting boxing last year, Tyson is going
to relax in Shanghai.
Arriving at Pudong Airport next Thursday
morning, he will have hours to spare. He will tour
the Grand Gateway, a shopping mall in Xujiahui.
Tyson is said to have a love for shopping malls.
The once most feared boxer in the world is also going
to win some hearts and minds by making a donation to a
local orphanage in Luodian Town of Shanghai’s Baoshan
District, where he will be crowned an honourary citizen
of the town.
He is also scheduled to visit the Lake Malaren Golf
Club there.
If there is anyone Tyson is going to fight in Shanghai
this time, it will be himself.
The 40-year-old tough guy, who was taken out of reform
school by a boxing trainer as a teenager and later spent three
years in prison for rape, will seek advice from a Buddhist
abbot in Jing’an Temple.
“The beast” is coming to Shanghai to “confess” his past
wrongdoing, said the headline on the Shanghai Morning
Post on Thursday.
After getting into so much trouble in his life, Tyson
hopes the Buddhist abbot will point out a direction for his
future life, said a source close to the organizer of Tyson’s
Shanghai trip. Shanghai will be the only stop in China for
the boxer this time.
Tyson has tried hard to resurrect his image since his
retirement from boxing. He donated 5,000 pounds to a me-
morial fund early this week after he heard a West Yorkshire
policewoman was shot on duty. Tyson was there serving as
referee for the World Cage Fighting Championship, billed by
supporters as the ultimate test of athleticism but condemned
by critics as barbaric.
In 2004, he donated US$5,000 to a proper burial of
Cuban pugilist Kid Gavilan who died in poverty.
Tyson’s China trip is expected to last for three days. He
certainly hopes that the talk with the Buddhist abbot, set for
April 1, will not fool him, but enlighten him completely.
Retired bad boy of US boxing
to visit Shanghai nightclub
Mike Tyson will
come to Shanghai
next week.
By Xu Jitao

I hope you can keep your passion for science
in the future,” Dr Robert Lawrence
Kuhn said when asked by a
student of Jiaotong University
about the key to becoming a
good scientist.
Kuhn, the author of “The
Man Who Changed China:
The Li fe and Legacy of
Jiang Zemin,” had been
invited to Jiaotong Uni-
versit y on March 21
to speak to students.
Hundreds of students,
including many from
overseas, at tended
t he speech because
for them Kuhn is an
especially interesting
person, and in some
sense also a mystery.
Many Chi nese,
i ncludi ng st udents at
the university, knew of
Kuhn because of his book
about Jiang.
A story for the world
“The book was real l y a
continuation of a long-term desire
to tell the true story of China to the
world,” Kuhn said. In 1989, he was in-
vited by Song Jian, the former chairman of the
then State Science and Technology Commission,
to come to China and advise on reforms started in
the areas of science and technology. It was the first
time Kuhn had visited China and he was impressed
by many of the things he
saw and heard.
After 1989, he trav-
elled between China and
America many t i mes.
“I had a growing sense
of frustration because
people i n t he United
States and the American
media had really a very
simplistic and distorted
image of China,” Kuhn
recalled. He decided to
help both Chinese and
Americans to understand
each other better through
his work.
In 1999, an eight-
episode Chinese docu-
mentar y series cal led
“Capital Wave” was
broadcast in China on
Chi na Cent ral Televi -
sion (CCTV)channel 2.
The documentary was
produced by Kuhn and
was the first co-produc-
tion between China and
the United States on economics and business to
be broadcast in the country. It was also the first
series dealing with mergers and acquisitions to be
shown on CCTV.
Starting in 1997, with his Chinese friend and
partner Adam Zhu, Kuhn began to produce a series
of documentaries about China. Over the fol-
lowing three years, using US$1.5 million
of his own money, the documentary
“In Search of China” was com-
pleted and shown on PBS in
the United States. The series
was well-received by its
American audience.
“But I t hought
something was miss-
ing in what we were
doing,” he said. “I
didn’t explain the
importance of Chi-
nese contemporary
history. The turbu-
lent hi stor y of
the 20th century
brought the nation
trauma, tragedies,
opportunities and
“People would
understand today’s
China better if they
could understand the
contemporary history of
China. And I found that
President Jiang’s life was a
wonderful personification of
that history. He became a vehi-
cle through which to tell the story
of China to the world,” Kuhn said.
Starting in 2001, it took Kuhn more than
four years to finish the book about Jiang. In those
four-and-a-half years, he tried to discover and ab-
sorb everything he could about Jiang. In addition,
he interviewed many
of Jiang’s friends,
teachers, rel at ives
and col lege room-
“It was not my
full-time job, it was
my night job. I wrote
t he book at night
because during the
day I was running
an investment bank.
I wrote t hi s book
from five or si x in
t he eveni ng unt i l
three or four in the
morning everyday,”
he said.
At the time Kuhn
was executive man-
ager of Citibank, the
chairman of Geneva
Companies and the
chai rman of Kuhn
Media Group and his
companies’ business
kept him hard at work
every day. Writing
the book occupied all of his spare time.
“The core of the book was provided by the
special and exclusive interviews with people who
knew Jiang personally in each area of his life,”
he said.
Over the four years, he conducted many in-
terviews himself. From Jiang’s sister Jiang Zehui
to his college roommates, from Jiang’s best friend
from work when he was still employed in an
automotive factory to his mentor Wang Daohan,
Kuhn tried to talk with every relevant person he
could find.
Not for business
After the book was finished and published,
many people were impressed.
“People in the West who have read the book
may not agree with everything I wrote, but they
said it had offered them a new understanding of
China. They take it seriously and recognize that
the book is presenting a complex story they have
never heard before. Some people disagree with my
approach in the book, but they see it as reflecting
part of the reality of China,” he said.
After the book was translated into Chinese and
published in China last February, many Chinese
also read it. Although Jiang made no comment
about Kuhn’s book when they met, he commented
on it to others.
“One of Jiang’s best friends, Shen Yongyang,
who worked with Jiang in Changchun First Auto-
motive Factory from 1958 to 1962, asked Jiang’s
opinion of the book in the year after it was pub-
lished. Jiang told him that he thought the book
was very objective,” Kuhn said.
But Kuhn was questioned by many people
about his motivation in writing such a book.
Some wondered whether there was some busi-
ness or political purpose behind it.
“In my life, I spent at least half of my time
doing things which have no relation to business.
When I wrote this book, I just followed my own
passion. I spent tens of thousands of hours writ-
ing it. If I had been interested in doing business,
I could have spent those hours more profitably
doing something else,” Kuhn said.
“I’ve been fortunate in my life that I’ve been
very successful in business in the United States.
I built big companies and sold them to other big
companies, so I don’t have any financial needs,”
he added.
“I like to do business and I do so, in invest-
ment banking and many other areas. I put the
same energy and dedication into my business
activities as I put into my writing, but I don’t do
business to do writing and I don’t do writing to
do business, they are two separate elements of
my life. I have done and want to do business in
China, but while I was writing the book, I did
not do any business.”
Write like a scientist
Born to a rich Jewish family in 1945, Kuhn
showed talent in business and writing.
He has a PhD degree in neuroscience from the
Anatomy and Brain Research Institute of the Uni-
versity of California Los Angeles (UCLA) and a mas-
ter’s degree in management from the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology (MIT) Sloan School. He
taught psychology at MIT, anatomy at UCLA and
business strategy at New York University.
Being a scientist helped Kuhn a lot when writ-
ing his book.
“I understood that many words in the book
could be interpreted in many ways, so I tried to
be very cautious and to make sure that everything
in the book was as true as anything I wrote in my
academic writings,” Kuhn said.
Being a serious scientist and successful banker,
Kuhn was asked by the Chinese government for
advice in many areas, including science, technol-
ogy and economic reform.
“To write such a book made me a better and
richer person. My understanding of China be-
came deeper. It gave me confidence that I really
understood China — that’s a very good feeling,”
Kuhn said.
Jiang’s biographer is man of many parts
Writer Kuhn works to help Chinese and Westerners understand
each other through the contemporary history of China
“People would understand to-
day’s China better if they could
understand the contemporary
history of China. And I found
that president Jiang’s life was
a wonderful personifcation of
that history.”
Author of “The Man Who Changed China:
The Life and Legacy of Jiang Zemin”
The book, “The Man Who Changed China: The Life and Legacy of Jiang Zemin,” became a best seller when it was published in China last year. GAO ERQIANG
‘Move China’
hero says don’t
give in to hardship

DECEMBER 2 - 3, 2006
n humanity’s long quest to under-
stand ultimate reality, the encounter
between science and religion — bat-
tling over the perennial question,
Does God Exist? — is perhaps the
most significant clashing of opposite views
of seeing the world.
In the West, the Catholic Church in the
past, and some fundamental Christians in
the present, reject science whenever they
feel it comes into conflict with their form
f l ti
Today there are many philosophers
and some scientists who take a different,
and quite sophisticated approach, to their
belief in God. These questions and this
debate have profound implications and
their importance is overdue to be consid-
ered seriously in China.
Timely book
It is in this context that a very timely
book has been published in China.
Zhao Qizheng, former minister of the
State Council Information Office, and
Luis Palau, a well-known international
Christian evangelist, conducted a series
of conversations, called the “Riverside
Talks,” which they term “A Friendly
Dialogue between an Atheist and a
It is a pioneering effort in China to
introduce a vital subject of high con-
temporary relevance and explanatory
power. These are the kinds of subjects
that make minds sharper, more aware,
more in touch with deep reality.
Zhao, who was trained in nuclear
physics, shows both knowledge and
sensitivity about the Christian belief
system. He has read the Bible and
understands its teachings and stories.
He sees the Bible as great literature, re-
plete with wisdom, and he finds artistic
beauty in its prose, proverbs and poems
— so much so that Zhao even advises,
“The Bible is well worth reading from
all of these perspectives.” What he does
not do, of course, is revere the Bible as
the revelation of God.
On the other hand, Palau claims
that the Bible is divinely inspired and
presents his arguments, many centered
around the central personality of Jesus
in the New Testament and the claim of
his resurrection from the dead.
Zhao says that although he too reads
the Bible, “I am not a believer.” His
probative question “Why?” is the reso-
nating theme of the entire book.
Zhao explains his unbelief in the
words of a scientist: “I can only under-
stand what exists, what is concrete and
substantive … I cannot understand a
metaphysical concept.”
It is indeed in the metaphysical
aspects of religion — the claim to
explain Ultimate Reality — that Zhao
and Palau disagree. On matters of
the social benefits of religion, such as
contributing to a harmonious society,
there is more agreement.
Zhao, whom I must disclose is a
personal friend, presents rich and pro-
found ideas from traditional Chinese
philosophy — such as the dialectical
relationship between the physical and
the spiritual — and notes that although
he does not believe in a God; the con-
cepts of “spirit and soul” are not alien
to him.
“Atheists and theists,” he says,
“share the same pursuit in the realm of
the soul and the spirit.” He points out
that each would have different under-
standings of spirit and soul.
A dialogue between an atheist and a
Christian cannot progress far without
the atheist bringing up the “Argument
from Evil” (to the theist it is called the
“Problem of Evil”), which historically
is the strongest demonstration of the
non-existence of God.
If God, as Christians claim, is all-
powerful, all-knowing, and all-good,
how could there be such enormity of
evil in the world, not only the “moral
evil” that human beings do to each
other but also the “natural evil” of
earthquakes and f loods, illness and
disease. The fact that there is such evil,
which no one can deny, is the demon-
stration to the atheist that there is no
Christians, as one would expect,
have answers to the Problem of Evil,
many answers
actually, which
have been well
honed over cen-
turies of debate.
(A theist’s answer
to evil is called a
“theodicy,” which
is a defence of
God’s goodness
in light of the un-
deniable ubiquity
and depravity of
These theist
answers are often
complicated and
mostly involve
“the Free Will
Defence,” which
means that God
could not pos-
sibly have created
human beings
with real free will
without also giv-
ing them the real
option of doing
evil and suffering
Yet it is the scale of evil which is so
troublesome to believers and so support-
ive of the atheistic argument, a problem
made even more potent by the fact that
a good deal of the evil in the world has
been caused by religion itself, through its
intolerance of the beliefs of others.
Throughout history, religion has been,
over and over again, stained with blood of
its victims and stamped with the cries of
those whom it has tormented.
As Nobel Prize winner Steven Wein-
berg said caustically: “Religion is an
insult to human dignity. With or without
you would have good people doing good
things and evil people doing evil things.
But for good people to do evil things, that
takes religion.”
Yet there is something new in the age-
old debate. In recent years, the search
for scientific explanations of ultimate
reality has been energized by increasing
recognition that the laws of physics and
the constants that are embedded in these
laws all seem exquisitely “fine tuned” to
allow, or to enable, the existence of stars
and planets and the emergence of life and
If the fundamental laws of physics had
much differed, if the values of their con-
stants had much changed, or if the initial
conditions of the universe had much
varied, what we know to exist would not
exist since all things of size and substance
would have been impossible.
Progress made
“Riverside Talks” is an excellent gen-
eral introduction to the issues and the
controversies of science and religion
for general audiences who are hereto-
fore unacquainted with them, but those
truly interested should go further.
If it seems improbable that human
thought can make progress in explain-
ing ultimate reality, consider the
progress already made.
A century ago scientists assumed
that our own galaxy, the Milky Way,
was the entire universe. Today we grasp
the monumental immensity of the cos-
mos. But how is it that we humans have
such farsighted understanding after
only a few thousand years of histori-
cal consciousness, only a few hundred
years of effective science and only a
few decades of cosmological observa-
tions? Maybe it’s still too early in the
game. Maybe answers have been with
us all along.
I am pleased to see Minister Zhao
Qizheng and Minister Luis Palau
— two different kinds of ministers to
be sure — bring the debate between
science and religion to broad audi-
This subject is becoming more
popular in China, and well it should
— this is a good sign of the continuing
development of Chinese society and the
increasing sophistication of Chinese
The science-religion dialogue is a
fundamental probe into the nature of
reality, the methodology of discerning
knowledge and humanity’s place in the
Never a dull moment
Does God exist?
The Confucian
way of saying,
I love you

Dr. Robert Lawrence Kuhn, who has a doctorate
in brain research, is the creator and host of
“Closer to Truth,” a public television series in the
United States that deals with the implications of
state-of-the-art science, the philosophy of sci-
ence, and the philosophy of religion. Two of his
“Closer to Truth” books have been published in
China, the latest one relating his work in China in
understanding the meaning and applications of
President Hu Jintao’s “Scientific Development
By Fiona Lee
On my first day teaching English to classes of
wary freshmen at a certain university in north-
eastern China, I asked myself, over and over
again, “What am I doing here?”
Nine months later, I’m still asking myself the
same question. Calling teaching an adventure is
an understatement. On my good days, I feel I’m
definitely expanding my students’ horizons in how
to use English, American culture and in learning
about themselves. On the days that I have dubbed
“soul-destroying days,” my classes could be
termed: traumatic accidents in progress, bystand-
ers beware.
Someone once told me that most of the people
teaching English in China were there to escape
from something. I think I’m here to escape from
The one thing about teaching English to those
charming text-messaging, sleepy, mostly indiffer-
ent students is that it’s never boring. It’s a chal-
lenge to get them motivated, especially when the
mood of the class changes each time I walk into
class. Sure, I have a lesson plan for each class, but
that doesn’t mean I’m actually prepared for what
might greet me.
One critical part of teaching in China is the
culture shock. I don’t mean only the culture shock
of a foreigner adapting to a new country, but also
the culture shock of a teacher and a class adapting
to each other.
Two semesters later, I’m still experiencing
culture shock with my students. We never seem
to be on the same page on even small matters.
Why can’t they keep my handouts that I spent
so much time and money making? Why do they
not understand the idea of a final draft, even
after I’ve explained it time and time again?
Why can’t they write a skit that gives every
person in their group a speaking part when
this is the fifteenth time we’ve done skits? Why
don’t they bring paper with them to class? The
“whys” never stop.
But I can see the “whys” from the students’
point of view, too. Why is our teacher always on
our case about arriving late? Why does my teacher
want me to stay awake during class when I’ve
spent the entire night at the Internet café playing
World of Warcraft?
Why does my teacher actually expect me to
hand in the assignment when she wants it instead
of whenever I want to hand it in? After all, their
Chinese teachers don’t expect these things from
them, so who is this crazy foreigner and why is she
always on my case?
Teachers are also amazed by how certain errors
repeated themselves over and over again. The
most infamous one, of course, is the “he/she”
As a student of Chinese, I know that
in Chinese the written characters
are different, but the pronunciation
of the characters is the same, so
there’s a reason for it. All the same,
I can’t understand why after some
13 years of English, my students
still make that mistake — even
after all these months where we’ve
played games identifying “he/she”
and after I’ve constantly asked,
“He is a girl? She is your boy-
Then there’s the use of “play.”
After trying to gently correct their
usage of the word by saying that
only children play in English, I finally tried to
shock them into not using the word. I explained
to my students that the connotations of the word
“play” regarding adults were different from the
connotations regarding children.
Yes, children play with each other. But if you
are 21 years old, you do not “play” with your
friends. And you definitely do not want to say, “I
play with myself.”
I explained to my students exactly what “I
play with myself” meant in English. They were
mildly shocked; and we had a good laugh. We
brainstormed various ways to say it differently.
“I spend time with my friends,” “I hang out
with my friends,” “I enjoy being by myself”
and so on.
A week later, they handed in essays I had as-
signed on their high school experiences. Half of
them were still writing, “I play with my friends.”
Sometimes you just can’t win.
While I’m often banging my head against the
wall when I think about the many frustrating
moments with my students, there are many other
times when I know that this is one of the most
rewarding jobs I’ve had.
One of my most successful lessons, one that I
borrowed from another teacher, was when I had
my classes do a scavenger hunt
where they had to find, ask for
and take photos of items available
in the shops around campus.
The catch was that they
could only speak English to the
shopkeepers. Each group had
a watcher who made sure that
the group did not speak Chinese.
The scavenger hunt was meant to
mimic the experiences of foreign-
ers in China or the experience
of any traveller in a foreign
country — the small, eve-
ryday frustrations of the
language barrier.
When we held a feed-
back session after
the scavenger
hunt, I asked
them what
they had
the ex-
ence. They had all found it difficult and disorient-
ing to not be able to speak their native language,
especially when the shopkeepers didn’t under-
stand why they were speaking in English when
they were very clearly Chinese.
The students often had to resort to communi-
cating in body language instead. They also asked
question after question about what it was like to
be a stranger in a strange land, about what it was
like to be unable to communicate verbally with
They left the class that day still talking about
their experiences. Of course they would forget all
about it by the next day, but for a good hour and
a half, they had spoken English — or for some
of them, not spoken at all — and understood the
value of language.
The foreign teacher of English is also not simply
a language instructor, but also an embodiment
of everything positive or negative about their
home country. Since I’m an American, one of my
brighter students is inclined to say sly comments
about the Iraq War in response to basic grammar
I hold an occasional English corner of my own
with my students since their schedule doesn’t
allow them to attend the regular English Club.
Because most of the students attending one night’s
English corner were male, we took a vote and
watched the film “American Soldiers,” essentially
a propaganda film on the Iraq War with every
cliché in the book, but the English in the film
was straightforward and easy for the students to
After we watched the film, my students and
I had a great conversation about the Iraq War.
I went to bed that night extremely pleased with
myself and with them. Hadn’t we just discussed
current affairs in a thoughtful way? Hadn’t my
students learned something about different per-
spectives regarding the war?
But what did my students really take away from
it? They were all using curse words they had heard
in the film the next day. In fact, I had to take one
aside and gently correct his usage of a particular
phrase that had been used in the film, explaining
that no, you do not need to put the preposition
“to” between the curse word and “you.”
After all, his parents were paying a lot of money
for him to be in this programme. As long as he’s
going to be using English, even if it’s curse words,
he should be using it properly.
So what am I doing here? I have to ask myself
that question because the answer changes all the
time. I’m an ambassador, a language partner and
an adviser — all in a day’s work for the foreign
teacher of English in China.
By Sam Crane
Confucianism is often considered a rigid and
conservative philosophy, unsuited to the chang-
ing values and practices of modern society.
There may be some truth in that perception,
especially as it relates to the ways Confucian
thought was used historically to authorize state
power and patriarchal rule.
But there is more to Confucianism than that.
If we go back to the Analects we can find a more
open-minded and flexible understanding of hu-
manity, one that is relevant for contemporary life.
To get to the heart of the matter, the Confu-
cian idea of ritual (Li) might be seen as the
most rigid of ideas, a demand that we practise
standardized and formal ceremonies for every
significant life event: births, deaths, weddings,
venerations of ancestors, etc.
Yet, while Confucius certainly believed that
we should thoughtfully enact our social roles,
his notion of ritual was neither so narrow nor so
rigid as modern interpreters might suppose.
Take one of the most cryptic passages in the
Analects: “Gu (ritual vessel), not a gu, a gu
indeed, a gu indeed.” {实⤜实.实䊶.实䊶.C̲ b̵
c̲. c̲ z̢i. c̲ z̢i.)
The simplicity of the passage opens it to mul-
tiple interpretations, but some commentators
see in it a move away from dry formalism and an
acceptance of diverse expressions of sincerity.
Confucius, in this passage, may be comment-
ing on a situation where ritual procedure calls
for a vessel of a certain sort, a gu, but one is not
available. The ceremony proceeds with some
other type of cup, not a gu, standing in for the
usual object. In the end, however, the form of
vessel does not matter.
Rather, the sincerity behind the act is so genu-
ine that the expression of deep human commit-
ment invests the non-gu with the significance of
a gu. It is a gu indeed, because the loving care of
humane action makes it so.
The larger message is that we do not have to
blindly adhere to traditional ritual forms. Inten-
tions and sentiments are most important. If we
truly care about what we are doing, then we can
find many different ways to perform our social
duties considerately and meaningfully.
Our modern lives have changed the forms of
our social relationships. Work may take us away
from home and consume much of our time. New
communications media create novel channels
for human interaction.
Beneath all of the social and cultural change,
however, we still have a need to cultivate our
closest ties with family and friends. Those social
bonds define us as individuals and, if we are to
express fully our individuality, we must attend
to our social roles.
Confucius understands this. He tells us that
the form of our meaningful interactions with
others will change as society changes around us.
Traditional means of performing our social
commitments may not be available to us. Yet if
we are sincere in our feelings, we will find new
and appropriate expressions of our heart-felt
affections. We will make a gu out of the circum-
stances at hand.
The author is a professor with the Williams College in Wil-
liamstown, MA, USA
A Chinese atheist and
an American Christian
go head to head to
debate the existence
of god in a bold,
new book, as Robert
Lawrence Kuhn reports
Zhao Qizheng, former minister of the State Council Information Office, and Luis Palau, a well-known international Christian evangelist,
promote their book “Riverside Talks,” on August 30 in Beijing. LU ZHONGQIU

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