Confucius Says…

Confucius says: “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.”  This is just one quote from the famous Chinese teacher and philosopher.
We saw an exhibition on Confucius recently in Shanghai at the Rockbund Art Museum, a new museum near the Bund. This museum is small and this one installation covered its five floors, so this exhibit was very focused.  The Confucius form above filled one two-story gallery.  The exhibition is called  “Q Confucius,” and was created by Chinese artist, Zhang Huan.

The artist asked these questions, “,,,faced with rapid economic and societal changes and energy and climate challenges, how can we achieve sustainable development? What responsibilities come along with China’s rise in international importance? Where is the sense of spiritual belonging for contemporary Chinese?…” (from Rockbund Art Museum site,

This Confucius appears to be standing (or rising, sinking?) in a pool of water.  His chest moves in and out, appears to be breathing, and with heart beating.  Confucius has had a profound impact on this part of Asia, especially in China, Korea, and Japan.  His teachings have shaped thinking and philosophy here.

Confucius face shaped on animal-skin (with Barbara reflected)

To give you a little background about Confucius and why he was so important here:  he was born in 550 B.C. in the land of Lu, in the western part of what is now the modern province of Shantung(Shandong).  His name was K’ung Ch’iu, in Chinese.  He was referred to as K’ung Fu-tzu, the Master, or philosopher K’ung, by his countrymen.  The name Confucius came about much later, as his name was altered by Jesuits, bringing his ideas to Europe(from The Sayings of Confucius, Longmans, Green and Co. London, New York, Toronto). He did not lead an amazing life.  He held a number of jobs like a civil servant, worked for some Chinese rulers at the time, but retired from this work, after the death of his mother in 527 B.C., as he obeyed the Chinese custom to mourn the loss of his mother.   After his years of mourning were over, he did not return to work.  Instead he devoted himself to study and teaching.  He  moved about the countryside sharing his teachings with disciples.  Most of the writings about Confucius were done by his disciples, and that is what we read today.

Ash painting of Confucius and his disciples

Some of Confucius’s teachings have left us some great sayings and quotes:

“What the superior man seeks is in himself; what the small man seeks is in others.”

“Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in getting up every time we do.”

“What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others.”  The Golden Rule is based on this.  Many people attribute it to Confucius.

“It does not matter how slowly you go so long as you do not stop.”

The fact that Confucius was so important here in Asia, is probably about his beliefs about order, respect, and collectivism.  “Confucianism focuses on the cultivation of virtue and maintenance of ethics, the most basic of which are ren, yi, and li. Ren is an obligation of altruism and humaneness for other individuals within a community, yi is the upholding of righteousness and the moral disposition to do good, and li is a system of norms and propriety that determines how a person should properly act within a community. Confucianism holds that one should give up one’s life, if necessary, either passively or actively, for the sake of upholding the cardinal moral values of ren and yi. Confucianism is humanistic, and non-theistic, and does not involve a belief in the supernatural or in a personal god.” (Wikipedia)

You can see why this was incorporated into the Communist government of Mao.  In Confucianism, one is not as important as the community, and one gives of oneself to better the community.  One has no need of religion, as it does not follow the model.

Ash picture of Jesus Christ and his disciples

The picture above is juxtaposed with the picture before it…Confucius  and his disciples on one side, Christ and his apostles on the other…with a sea in turmoil in between.  The fact that all of these pictures were painted with ash collected from burned incense (at Buddhist temples?), and thus considered spiritual,  further raises the question of religion and spirituality in China today.

This exhibit was a thought-provoking one…it raised many questions about Confucianism and modern-day China…and where are they heading?

We are trying a new theme for the blog that allows large pictures. Let us know what you think of it.


5 thoughts on “Confucius Says…

  1. Wierder and wierder—Heavy stuff but it certainly does make cultural sense—Lets hope that it has a future that is as useful as its past—Let us hope we all have a future—LUV JIM

    • We didn’t include the fourth floor exhibit, with a mechanical Confucius flailing around inside a cage with live monkeys! Or his other one…a 9-meter-long log slowly being eaten by termites (inside an enclosure of screening inside a small building that just gives you enough room to wslk around, and yes, a few termites get on you! The future is a big question mark for all of us! Thanks for reading and commenting!

      • Hi Barbara and Tom,
        The photos are spectacular…the images so powerful. I especially like the juxtaposed ash paintings. The magnitude of the message gives me great pause. Syd

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