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Reflection on Chinese Confucianism in Berlin

June 24th, 2014

News from Berlin - On Monday June 23rd, Professor Dr. Peng Lin of Qinghua University gave a lecture titled ‘Confucianism and Its Importance in China Today’ at the Confucius Institute at the Freier Universität Berlin.


He began by introducing the core tenants of Confucianism to the audience, which composed of an impressive mix of Germans and Chinese—testament to the broad appeal of the Confucius Institutes. According to Peng, the cornerstone of Confucianism is Xiao, which can be roughly translated into piety. Peng argued that the Five Constants of Confucian ethics, ren, yi, li, zhi, xin (humanness, justice, rites, knowledge, integrity), can all be traced back to xiao. 

He elaborated on the concept of xiao, pointing out that it goes beyond mere material responsibility towards your parents— indeed, the crucial criteria for xiao is bringing pride to your parents, and treating them well willingly and respectfully.

When such a principle is projected onto a societal scale as a moral guide, the basic moral unit of society becomes the family, and the source of moral principles comes from one’s filial relationships. Crucially, xiao does not entail blind obedience— indeed, Peng stressed the responsibility of questioning others, including our parents, when we believe they are making bad judgements.

Peng then lamented at the lack of xiao in contemporary Chinese society. Confucianism, or rather, neo-Confucianism, should be used to fill in the moral vacuum brought about by every-growing individualism.

That said, he drew on examples such as a recent CCTV series Zhong hua xiao dao, a 100 episode series of short-movies that focus on filial piety, to show that xiao still occupies a fundamental position in the Chinese psyche.

Peng remained hopeful in the end, and by highlighting the relevance of Confucianism in a society that is increasingly in flux and decentralized, his lecture reminds us that while China and indeed the world looks to the future, it is equally vital to look back to our past.

News from Berlin - Berlin Global