Confucian intolerance contradicts philosophy’s own values

By Wang Xinke Source:Global Times Published: 2016-2-1 18:58:01

Chinese public opinion is currently engaged in a fierce debate over whether to revamp a makeshift Christian church three kilometers away from the main Confucian Temple in Qufu in East China's Shandong Province.

This is not the first time such controversy tumbled out. Back in December 2010, an open letter signed by 10 prestigious Confucian scholars and endorsed by well-known Confucian organizations led to the abortion of the construction plan of the Gothic-style Holy Trinity Church in the hometown of the great Chinese philosopher Confucius following a firestorm of bitter contention on the Internet.

Zeng Zhenyu and Wang Xuedian, professors with the Advanced Institute of Confucian Studies at Shandong University and members of the Shandong Provincial Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, called a halt to the renovation, saying the Protestant church "towering over" the central Confucian Temple would spark "intense controversy."

According to Zeng, Qufu is the emblematic spiritual home of the Chinese people and buildings of faiths other than Confucianism should be banned. "You can build churches in other places," said the devout Confucian.

A deluge of dispute has ensued online. A number of netizens, mostly Confucian scholars, firmly object to the renewal plan. "It is of vital importance to defend Qufu as an iconic place of Chinese cultural heritage … Relevant sectors and the public should fully realize the severity of the incident and stop the plan as soon as possible," wrote Chen Lai, a professor from Tsinghua University, in his Sina Weibo post. And more than one scholar says they will cancel their trip to the birthplace of Confucius if the church project prevails.

In contrast, there are also supporting voices. "Why don't we view the whole thing as Christianity approaching traditional Chinese culture?" one netizen wrote. Many are calling for the coexistence of multiple cultures and religions, which they say is a prerequisite for the cultivation and development of civil society.

In today's world that features increasing globalization and diversification, how to face alien cultural forces is a conundrum both China and the rest of the world should reflect on.

It is true that the globalized world needs accommodation of diversity, which actually happens to coincide with the Confucian values.

Confucianism has always existed alongside different faiths and practices, and, since it doesn't seek to tackle grand metaphysical questions but is more concerned with ordinary life, leaves plenty of space for other beliefs.

Tolerance is also one of the essential characteristics of Chinese culture. Today, we can feel such accommodation in many cities where a Christian church and a mosque are located next to a Buddhist temple on the one street. Religious tolerance adds to the appeal of towns for both tourists and residents.

Christianity is one of the officially acknowledged religions by the Chinese authorities and Chinese citizens enjoy freedom of religious belief according to the Constitution. Christianity is believed to be the fastest growing religion in China. Why has it been so difficult to build a Christian church for these believers? It can be attributed to the narrow-mindedness of many Confucian followers.

Confucian thought staunchly opposes intolerance. Only when diehard Confucian scholars break away from their conservative and parochial view can Confucianism see a glorious revival of its values of tolerance and keep abreast of the times.

Wang Xinke, a Beijing-based freelance writer

Posted in: Letters

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