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BBC: Genius of the Ancient World – #3/3 – Confucius



Historian Bettany Hughes embarks on an expedition to India, Greece and China on the trail of three giants of ancient philosophy: Buddha, Socrates and Confucius. All three physically travelled great distances philosophising as they went and drawing conclusions from their journeys. With Bettany as our guide, she gets under the skin of these three great minds and shines a light on the overlooked significance of the 5th century BC in shaping modern thought across the world. Historian Bettany Hughes travels to India, Greece and China on the trail of three giants of ancient philosophy. In the final episode, Bettany travels to China on the trail of Confucius, a great sage of Chinese history whose ideas have fundamentally shaped the country of his birth for around 2,500 years.

Additional Resource from The Open University 

Confucius – Old Ideas for a Modern China?

Professor Roel Sterckx explores how the philosophy of Confucius still influences modern China.

Statue of Confucius

Confucius, by Wu Weishan at Clare College, Cambridge

For several weeks in 2011, a 31-foot bronze statue of Confucius by the sculptor Wu Weishan stood in front of the National History Museum in Beijing. This was a uniquely curious historical interlude: ancient China’s exemplary sage shared the view with Chairman Mao. The unveiling of the statue prompted a flurry of commentary at the time. Was this an ominous sign for the rediscovery or rehabilitation of Confucius and the traditional values he represented? Were China’s leaders voicing an ambition to turn to China’s pre-imperial and imperial past as a source for contemporary political and moral values? In the wake of China’s extraordinary social and economic transformations could Confucius fill the cultural and political void which had been occupied by Marxist ideology? The statue, however, soon disappeared to an obscure position in a courtyard. This had always been the plan …, claimed government officials.

Competition with Mao proved too challenging but the public revival and re-endorsement of Confucius in recent years can hardly escape the eyes of anyone observing China. The master has returned in biographical drama: a movie starring Chow Yun-fat as Confucius was screened in 2010.  The most public manifestation of this phenomenon outside China are the hundreds of ‘Confucius Institutes’ established worldwide by the Chinese government in recent years.  These institutes promote the officially endorsed narrative of Chinese culture and history. But why does the People’s Republic of China borrow the Confucius figure as a brand? MORE AT LINK



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