Yesterday’s stray dog becomes today’s guard dog

Source: China Heritage (1/4/19)
Yesterday’s Stray Dog 喪家狗, Today’s Guard Dog 看門狗
Dog Days (VIII)

This latest addition to Dog Days — a series of canine-themed articles, essays, translations and art works marking The Year of the Dog (16 February 2018—4 February 2019) — takes as its theme China’s most famous ‘stray dog’ 喪家狗, the pre-Qin thinker and latter-day Sage, Confucius. In it, the irrepressible thinker, critic and essayist Liu Xiaobo 劉曉波 reviews the controversy surrounding Peking University professor Li Ling’s 2007 book, Stray Dog: Reading ‘The Analects’ 李零著《喪家狗——我讀論語》. Continuing his two-decade-long critique of the intellectual world, Liu then discusses the history and fate of China’s intellectuals as Homeless Dogs, Guard Dogs, Lap Dogs, Whipping Dogs and even Running Dogs.

Liu’s observations on State Confucianism, as well as on the benighted state of China’s intelligentsia, are even more relevant today, in 2019, than when he made them in 2007.

Acknowledgements: The following translation is taken from Liu Xiaobo, No Enemies, No Hatred: Selected Essays and Poems, edited by Perry Link, Tienchi Martin-Liao and Liu Xia, Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2012, pp.188-200. We are grateful to Perry Link and Lindsay Waters for supporting our request to reprint this essay and to The Belknap Press for their kind permission. (The typographical style of the original has been retained.)

Yesterday’s Stray Dog Becomes Today’s Guard Dog
Liu Xiaobo
translated by Thomas E. Moran

Chinese people are talking excitedly these days about the rise of China as a great nation. First we spoke of an economic rise, then a cultural rise; we started spreading money around the globe, then exported soft power. There have been fads for reading the classics, for honoring the memory of Confucius, and for promoting Confucian ethics. China Central Television (CCTV), pressing to reestablish an orthodoxy in China, has used its program Lecture Hall to touch off a fad for reading The Analects. The government has put big money into “Confucius Institutes” around the world in an effort to spread soft power. The dream of ruling “all under heaven,” repressed for a century or more, is now resurgent and is taking Confucius the sage as its unifying force. The craze for Confucius grows ever more fierce.

In my view, the government’s real goal in promoting Confucius is not to give new life to an ancient culture but to restore the tradition of venerating Confucius as a sage, a restoration that fits hand-in-glove with the promotion of radical nationalism. In the years since Tiananmen the government has used a two-pronged strategy of mounting campaigns against liberalization and “peaceful evolution” on the one hand while whipping up “patriotic” sentiment and channeling it in support of itself on the other. This “patriotism” has become a new pillar of the regime’s ideology, and the Party’s advertising of what it calls a “Golden Age of Prosperity” swells the nationalist tide. This could not be more clear than it is in the concluding lines of the official “Address at the Ceremony to Honor Confucius at the 2005 International Confucius Cultural Festival in Qufu, China,” which read: “Prosperity is at hand; Great Unity is the dream; revel in our Golden Age and the glory of strong nation.” Is this Confucius? Or a paean to nationalism and the new Golden Age?

Over the past year the promotion of traditional culture in CCTV’s Lecture Hall has helped to turn Confucius into a commercial product—to become, in Lu Xun’s phrase, a “sage in vogue.” (Much the same thing happened in the Mao Zedong fad a few years ago.) Today books on Confucius in a variety of genres are making big profits for publishing houses, and adult education classes on traditional Chinese culture and the Chinese classics have been highly profitable as well. At Tsinghua University, a course on traditional Chinese culture costs 26,000 yuan; at Fudan University, it costs 38,000 yuan, and the fee for an after-school course on the classics for children is even more astronomical.

The CCTV program has also helped to turn pseudoscholar Yu Dan into a national celebrity. Yu Dan has been hawking Confucius with a sales pitch that combines tall tales about the ancients with insights that are about as sophisticated as the lyrics of pop songs. Her often arbitrary and always shallow interpretation of Confucius injects a bit of the narcotic of pop culture into the current Confucian renaissance. The take-home message of her book Confucius from the Heart is that Confucius teaches that we can all have peachy lives if we just live like cynics: no matter what befalls us, if we just smile at our troubles and do not complain, we can get along and live in bliss.

[To read the whole translation click here]

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