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US media: China is a 'Confucian country'

(People's Daily Online)

13:46, June 27, 2012

For a long time, Westerners had heard of Confucius, but never seen his face. Jesuit Matteo Ricci introduced the image of Confucius in the Chinese culture to Europe in the 16th century for the first time, and later to the American continent.

A 1735 issue of the New York Weekly Journal devoted two pages to a reader's letter about the Chinese people's reverence for Confucius and several quotes from the ancient sage.

It was the first time that a U.S. media outlet had reported Confucius, said Zhang Tao, the author of Confucius in the United States of America.

Confucius had been a symbol of a foreign civilization for more than 100 years since then until the mid-19th century, when a large number of Chinese workers went to the United States to join the West Coast Gold Rush. From then on, the U.S. media began forming a clearer understanding of Confucius.

The Chinese immigrants were not welcomed by locals when they first arrived in the American continent. The United States even enacted the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882. In such a context, Americans' description of Confucius became antiquated and ridiculous. The Chicago Tribune once said that the remarks of certain protesters were as confusing as the teachings of Confucius. The male main character in a comedy portraying the lives of Mormons, who wore a flannel shirt and was rough in manner, was even named Confucius McKinley.

Confucius thus represented a contradictory image in the United States. "When commenting on U.S. affairs, Confucius is a learned sage. However, his image would became negative when he was associated with China or the Chinese people," Zhang said.

In the early days of China-U.S. relations, Confucius was regarded by the U.S. media as an obstacle to China's growth. The New York Times once commented that learning the teachings of Confucius and Mencius by rote was far from the best education system, and people should break into the Temple of Confucius.

More than a century later, Confucianism, which was criticized as outdated, is frequently used to comment on latest news, and even hailed as the secret of East Asia' economic liftoff. The Washington Post said that Confucian ethics were to East Asian economies what the Protestant ethic was to the Western world. The New York Times also considered Confucian ethics to be an Asian advantage.

The Christian Science Monitor said that the Chinese moral and political traditions established by Confucius in the 6th century BC were guiding the industrial development in today's East Asia.

Although many Americans still tend to associate China with "chopsticks, cricket cages, and cheap labor," Confucius has become a bridge for enhancing mutual understanding between Chinese and Americans. When talking about the long history of Chinese cuisine, the U.S. media would stress it is "as old as Confucius." Tourists who saw Chinese behave in a courteous manner would attribute it to the traditional code of conduct formulated by Confucius more than 2,000 years ago.

The U.S. media have called China a "Confucian country," Chinese literature "Confucian literature," and the Chinese people "the descendants of Confucius with small eyes."

Source:China Youth Daily , author: Fu Yannan.

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