For centuries, Chinese women were discouraged from pursuing education so that they could be more "virtuous". Confucius, China's most famous thinker, educator and philosopher, would never have anticipated that 2,500 years later, his thought would be popularized among his Chinese descendants by a woman.
Yu Dan, a 41-year-old media scholar at Beijing Normal University, has attracted nationwide attention with her televised lecture series about the Analects of Confucius, written by his disciples around 475 BC.
Yu's popularity was visible for all to see at a book signing ceremony in Beijing. To her publisher's delight, the literature master stunned the public by selling more than 600,000 copies of her book about the Analects.
For over 2000 years, Confucius' doctrine of love, fidelity, politeness and self-discipline has been mainstream thought in the minds of the people of East Asia, including China, Japan and South Korea.
"I am not an expert in Confucian studies," Yu admitted. "I am just willing to share with people my understanding of these centuries-old pearls of wisdom."
"Confucianism contains some feudal ideas that we should abandon nowadays. For example, Confucius believed that 'women and base persons are hard to please'. In his time, women lacked foresight and used to worry about trivia in a patriarchical society."
Times have changed and women have long been emancipated from feudal ideas. They are better-educated and have a much better social position, Yu said.
Yu grew up reading Chinese classics including the ancient philosophy of Mencius, Chuang Tzu and Lao Tzu.
In her lectures and book, the short-haired fashionable-looking lady explained the abstruse maxims with lively stories. The deified Confucius was an amiable elderly teacher and his disciples were curious, sometimes cunning, students.
"As I see it, those philosophical, inspiring ideas and arguments about human existence and social life should not be regarded merely as interesting quotes, glistening with wisdom but of little use for day-to-day living. Instead, they are simple truths that can jump the barrier of time and space and shed new light for the future of every human being," she said.
Yu's lessons were treasured by many people.
82-year-old Wang Kuang queued for over an hour in a bookstore in Zhengzhou, capital city of central China's Henan Province, to get Yu Dan's signature. Wang was studying the Analects of Confucius in a private school when war broke out with Japan. The unfinished Analects became a regret.
"I am too old to be starstruck," said the silver-haired gentleman, "but Professor Yu's lectures awoke childhood memories and deepened my understanding of the masterpiece."
51-year-old Mrs. Chi in northeast China's Liaoning Province took notes each time she watched the televised lecture. "Professor Yu applied Confucius to modern society," she said. "She tells us how to work, how to get along with people and how to live a happy life, which are of practical use."
"I hate the way so-called experts rabbit on. We common people never understand what they're talking about. Yu gave me a fresh understanding of our ancient cultural heritage that I was ignorant of before," said Hai Mingwei, a young reporter in Chengdu, southwest China's Sichuan province.
There are nearly 10,000 posts on the bulletin board named after Yu Dan on the portal Baidu.com. White collar workers, college students, professors, migrant workers, community guards and retired grannies all had something to say.
But not everyone has been won over.
A playwright identified by his pen name as Saiwailiyue said that he found 14 errors in Yu's speech. "The Analects of Confucius record the thought of China's greatest philosopher, but Yu selected only a small part of the book, maybe one tenth, related to living a happy life. This is misleading to readers," he said.
"It is sheer hype," said a netizen named Huang Wenzhi, "what she really cares about is profit, even though she claims she is indifferent to fame and fortune."
Experts speculate that the popularity of Yu's lecture may signal a return by Chinese people to Confucianism, as many people have lost their bearings in China's rapidly developing economy and modernizing society.
"China is undergoing a transformation and people are struggling to fill a moral and ethical void," said Jiang Yihua, dean of the college of humanities at the renowned Fudan University. "We need a new ideological system," he said.
Confucius taught that a peaceful and prosperous society was possible if everyone from pauper to prince adhered to the same virtues of honesty, courtesy and loyalty.
For thousands of years after the school teacher, author and government adviser died in 479 B.C., his ethics guided all aspects of Chinese life, from raising children to ruling empires.
Although Yu's lectures embroider their own story from the Analects, she must be credited with transforming the classics from a dusty pile of paper to something relevant to people in an internet era.
"The program caught the interest of audiences and resurrected the glamour of Chinese history and traditional culture," said Yi Zhongtian, Professor of literature and history at Xiamen University in east China's Fujian Province, adding that in-depth study of the works is a job for historians.
But Chen Donghui, associate professor with the Chinese history research center at Zhejiang University warned people that Yu Dan's lessons could never replace the Analects of Confucius. "Yu Dan's lectures are a bit like fast food. If you want to reach the real kernel of Chinese culture and thought, you need to prepare an elaborate banquet," he said.
Even Yu Dan is little worried. "The temperature of the classics should be maintained at the same level as the body heat of human beings. Fever is not healthy."
Yu Dan's new series of lectures about Chuang Tzu screened to an expectant public during the Spring Festival holiday.