IN RECENT years, the British media have depicted China as a kind of post-communist Gomorrah. The Communists had claimed to have abolished all vice, and yet commentators now describe it as a country where material greed is now the only belief — as if it were a den of iniquity.
After working for ten years with Chinese institutions and individuals, however, I find that Chairman Mao and consumerism have both failed to banish Confucius from their hearts. In everyday dealings with business people, professionals, officials, and students, it is clear that their moral references are still largely Confucian.
Indeed, their ideals bear a striking resemblance to the Anglican values that I was brought up with: inclusiveness; responsibility for our actions and respect for others; inter-generational solidarity; plus the idea that we express our moral worth through our behaviour towards others. What mattered to Confucius and his disciples was what, in the last analysis, mattered to Christ: love, responsibility, and hope.
In fact, I find that the Church of England’s and modern Confucians’ values have so much in common that they can together form the moral foundation of a new school, Kensington Wade, which opened
its doors earlier this month. It is expected to be the first of
many Chinese-English immersion schools.
We have set up the school because we believe that it is essential for the UK to have people who can operate in a world in which China is increasingly influential; that Chinese is the other international language; and that Chinese society is re-
establishing its traditional values, as it emerges from the nightmare of communism, and avoids the sirens of the free market.
IN A television series, Confucius from the Heart, wildly popular in China, the presenter Yu Dan showed her hundreds of millions of viewers that modern Confucianism had moved on from paternal power or female submission, back to the essence of the Master’s teaching. Christ told us to love others, and in Yu Dan’s interpretation of the Master, there is not much difference.
Although Confucianism is sometimes accused of lacking an all-embracing morality, the concept of Ren can be seen as the equivalent of Christ’s love: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15.13). Ren is universal love, encompassing reverence for the earth and all within it.
There are some shared values in Christianity and Confucianism, and even more specifically in the Church of England, such as “inclusiveness”. Looked at in the perspective of history, Anglicanism as a whole eschews the zealotry or exclusiveness of other Christian Churches; the Church of England is the epitome of our culture’s genius for compromise, pragmatism, and hard-won respect for diversity.
Confucian values have played and are playing, despite the disruption of communism, a similar part in China. They liberate from the bigotry and tyranny that are essentials of communism and turn minds to how a moral life of service can be lived.
In his exhortations and his exposition of “China’s Dream”, President Xi Jinping appears to be trying to make Confucianism once again the mainstream; perhaps he is just reflecting the will of the people. The aggressive universalism of Marxism-Leninism seems now a thing of the past, a temporary product of Russian influence, at odds with China today.
WE HOPE that our school realises these virtues. We will see Bible stories as tales of beauty and moral import, whose facts matter much less than the moral message. We will try not to confuse roles, but acknowledge authority. In Chinese society, a person is not just John or David, but a father, an aunt, a teacher, a colleague — and this distinction is made clear when teachers call each other by title and surname.
School is less about self-discovery and more about learning the best that our forebears and teachers have learnt and can transmit; the purpose of study is not only personal enrichment, but equipping the self with what it takes to make a contribution to society. The motto of my Chinese university is also a Confucian precept: “Strive always, serve the common weal.”
Pupils will be encouraged to be collaborative in their work; reports from the UK’s Department for Education found that Chinese classes had no “clever” and “backward” children or “setting”; everyone is expected to, and does, reach the same level, though at different speeds.
Children will be encouraged to help each other, and in this way are reminded how interdependent we are: “No man is an island,” or, as Confucius had it: “When three walk together, at least one will be my teacher.”
The Anglican and Confucian approaches to life have, in their essentials, a great deal in common. This is why, when trying to devise an ethical basis for our school, we decided that there was no contradiction inherent in claiming that we adhered to the Church of England and to Confucian ethics. What brings us together is more important than what divides.
Professor Hugo de Burgh is Director
of the China Media Centre at
the University of Westminster, and the chairman of Kensington Wade School. www.kensingtonwade.com