A piece in today's NYT reminds us of the popularity of Yu Dan's take on The Analects. Not much value-added here, however. Yu has been something of celebrity for over a year now. I have blogged about her three times already: here, here, and here. I am generally supportive of what she is doing - as I should be, since it comes pretty darn close to what I am doing. So, I was ready for some critique in today's article, but it never really rose above the most basic description. More analysis and evaluation is needed...
There are a couple of good quotes, however. First, Yu has a clear understanding of why her personalized - some might say Taoist-ized - version of Confucianism speaks to so many Chinese people now (her Analects book has sold over four million copies):
“When I was young, in the 1960s and 1970s, we didn’t have many choices,” she explained. “You never changed your job, or your house — and whoever thought of going abroad? Poverty brought stability; there were no inequalities. But now it is different, there are many gaps and people are unsettled. They want to find a way to live a less anxious life.”
Modernization, which has accelerated extraordinarily in the PRC since 1979, ultimately creates a mass desire for pre-modern "stability" and "certainty." People thus look to the past for ideas and stories that might ease their contemporary anxieties. This same dynamic explains the demand for religion in the US and the Middle East, just as it explains the turn toward "national studies" in today's China. The Post-Mao moment is also the retro-historical era (can I say that? I just made up a word, 'retro-historical" to capture that sense of postmodern return to "history". Maybe it doesn't quite work...)
And I like Yu's response to her critiques here:
“I have a right to speak, and they have a right to speak,” she said of her critics. “I believe in a diversity of opinions. And my critics have their logic. You have to understand that some of these people have been studying Confucius their whole lives.”
There is a marvelous irony in this essentially liberal statement: it is used by a woman in "Communist China" to defend her right to put forth her own interpretation of Confucius. Liberalism in the service of Confucianism. Or is it Confucianism embedded in liberalism? Communism seems completely irrelevant to it all. But can we say that China is now liberal? Well, not completely; not politically. But culturally and socially, Yu's defense of her rights and her embrace of diversity of opinions is utterly common in China. So, it is, at least, liberalizing in this sense. And that means that Confucianism in China now must be expressed through, and enacted within, a liberal idiom, if it is to be acted upon in the present.
We are all liberals now (can I say that?).