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Do not confuse Confucious with Christian Saint Nicholas

By Thorsten Pattberg   (Shanghai Daily)

08:06, December 20, 2012

Few people know what Confucius is - not who but what.

The ancient teacher is known by many names; he's King Kung, Master Kong or just K'ung Fu-tzu. But unlike the biblical Saint Nicholas, alias Santa Claus, Confucius isn't a Christian saint but a Chinese sage; more correctly: Confucius a shengren.

The shengren of Confucianism (there are hundreds of them) - like the buddhas of Buddhism - are un-European. They cultivate the ideal personality and become the highest members in the family-based Chinese value tradition.

Yet, even in China, there are only a handful of scholars who know about shengren. That's because shengren, this word and concept, has been carefully removed from the history of thought. To the Western missionaries in the 17th century and thereafter, Confucius was erroneously believed to idolize the Christian God, and thus ought to be a true "saint," just like, say, our Western Saint Jerome or Saint Benedict.

In the year 1688 of our Lord, Jesus Christ, Randal Taylor wrote that "the origin of the Chinese nation was not long after the Flood [...] This being so, it must necessarily follow that the first inhabitants of China had likewise the true knowledge of GOD and of the creation of the world."

This was the beginning of the seemingly total Christianization of China. And, today, yes, Beijing lives in the year 2012 of our Lord, and China celebrates a Christmas. In contrast, who in Europe knows, for example, that this year is also the 2,563rd anniversary of the birth of Confucius?

Lost in translation

How could China lose its shengren to Western cultural imperialism? The Chinese term sheng appears 260 times in the Huainanzi, 48 times in Mengzi, 132 times in the Chun Qiu Fan Lu, 157 times in Xunzi, 33 times in Laozi, 149 times in Zhuangzi, 40 times in the Yi Qing, and a whopping 185 times in The Records of the Grand Historian. Yet, despite its omnipresence, Western scholars obviously never read those books nor used that term. Why?

As the historian Howard Zinn once wrote: "If something is omitted from history, you have no way of knowing it is omitted." Western efforts to distort China's originality by translation knew no restraint: the British, the French, and the German philosophers, the theologicians and storytellers, they all called K'ung Fu-tzu everything but by his true term; they called him, fashion-wise, a philosopher, a saint, a magus, a teacher, or a sage, whatever floated their theory at that time.

Tens of thousands of other Chinese (and other foreign) key concepts were excluded from world history this way. In effect, translations made China drop out of the humanist project and made her look as if she had no originality at all.

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