Professor Yu Dan’s Talk on Ideals 于丹教授谈理想
Sigh! I also admire Professor Yu Dan, whose books are wildly popular in China, for promoting Confucius, but in her talk on ideals she really is teaching people the wrong thing; according to her it’s bad to have high ideals, but good to be a hedonist! If you want to reform the country, to bring happiness to the country or peace to the world, then you lack humility. You are not good enough to talk about such things. You are only good enough to have as your ideals “down to earth” things, like going to the countryside in spring, having a party there, singing some songs and relaxing a bit. If this is not keeping the people foolish and enslaved then what is it? This is also putting down those who worry about their country and their people, and praising those hedonists who only think about enjoying themselves! And she talks about it with such conviction and self-righteousness - tsk, tsk!
Is everything in the classic Lun Yu always reliable, always correct? To me, this passage in Lun Yu is probably not accurate. Here Confucius is portrayed as a teacher who sneers at but wouldn’t come out and enlighten his student; when a student has high ideals he’s arrogant, yet when a student is more modest then he has denigrated the importance of The Rites. Only when a student obviously of noble birth, haughtily waiting until he has finished playing a lute that only nobles can play so well, give an answer from a hedonistic viewpoint that only a noble can fully appreciate from personal experience, promoting the kind of romantic activity that only a noble accorded a life of leisure can regularly enjoy, only then does Confucius endorse the answer. How could the “Teacher For All Generations” look down upon students of commoner origin and pander to students of noble origin?
He couldn’t. Therefore, Mr. Ma Qian Li, a modern Confucian scholar who has written a whole book to criticize Yu Dan, interprets this passage as the student wanting, not for himself to go play in the countryside during spring, but for everyone in the world to be able to go play in the countryside during spring, to be able to enjoy such leisurely lives, and that Confucius thinks that this is the highest ideal. I think that this interpretation is a bit contrived and does not match the original text, but at least Mr. Ma hasn’t participated in glorifying hedonism, the way that Yu Dan has. I personally think that Lun Yu does have some things that are wrong, some things that cannot be what Confucius would advocate, and this passage is an example. I think that toward things in the Confucian classics, it doesn’t hurt to take an objective attitude - of course we shouldn’t say that everything is wrong, but neither do we need to blindly take everything to be right.
By the way, I think that the kind of thinking that Professor Yu Dan promotes belongs to the school of Confucian philosophical idealism, and follows the same lines as people such as Zhu Xi, which I don’t completely agree with. Moreover, I think their method of thinking is dangerous, and can lead to absolutes, excesses, arbitrariness, cultism and other bad things, of which this extolling of hedonism is just an example. At the same time, however, she is still promoting Confucius, courtesy and integrity and she is making people interested in Confucius and the Chinese intellectual heritage, so all that should be affirmed. I don’t agree with “The Ten PhD’s” who rudely attack Yu Dan，saying that she has no right to interpret Confucius in her own way, and saying that in carrying Yu Dan’s talks the media lacks a conscience and is endangering Chinese culture. If Chinese culture is so weak that it collapses when a professor popularizes it a bit, when ordinary people get to know it a bit, and that it has to be kept hidden in the hot houses of some elite school PhD’s, why do we need this kind of culture? Perhaps The Ten PhD’s are a bit lacking in respect for the Chinese intellectual heritage?
The Chinese Cultural Renaissance has begun; no doubt a hundred flowers will bloom and a hundred schools will contend.
Feng Xin-ming 冯欣明