The Confucius Effect
02 Jun 2003
Yes, I’m back with more fun China “facts,” based on little more than what Chinese people say! Sure, maybe it’s “unscientific” to try to make one Chinese person’s opinion be representative of 1.3 billion people… Welcome to the magic of the internet!
Anyway, I just want to share what one guy said to me today. Extremely interesting, if you ask me.
You see, I have this student that I tutor on Sundays. Normally I don’t like tutoring, because there are plenty of schools around town that will pay over 100rmb an hour for teachers, but few prospective tutees are willing to shell out that kind of cash for tutoring. Even if they are, they often want to carve up tiny little pieces of your time throughout the week to meet in a place that’s inconvenient for you. With this big SARS nuisance, though, I lost my good-paying, 3-hour-block-at-a-time, convenient part-time teaching job. I’m missing the money. Then a friend introduced a motivated young Chinese man who wants to practice speaking and is willing to come to me and pay 100 per hour. So I took it.
This guy turned out to be pretty interesting. He’s not very excitable, nor does he tell great jokes. He’s interesting for what he is. He’s a single guy in his thirties, living at home. He has a cushy government job — the kind where his “work” is to show up, drink tea, and read the paper — and he’s not satisfied. He wants more. He has decided to go to England to earn an MBA. His mother has tried to dissuade him (such a cushy job is not easy to come by!), but he’s determined. He leaves China in less than a month. I admire his drive.
His English vocabulary is also quite good, and I was very surprised to discover that he has the /th/ sound down. Very few of my English major students pronounce /th/ right, and this guy — who has no business being good at English, considering his job and how he has done literally no speaking practice since college — has got it down. Unusual.
He has also turned out to be that rare kind of student that basically just wants to talk, and actually has interesting things to say. He just needs a little nudge. So once a week, I nudge him for two hours — making corrections here and there — and listen to his opinions. Today we talked mostly about child-rearing and education.
I just want to bring in a part of our discussion about Confucius. Confucius is more famous in the West than any Chinese emperor, and he’s definitely a great man in the eyes of the Chinese as well. I asked him what he thought about Confucianism’s influence on child-rearing and education in modern China. He said that Western methods have begun to displace Confucianism. I pressed him to give me some numbers (based purely on his own judgment, of course) corresponding to the years I gave him. I wanted him to make an estimation of Confucianism’s hold on Chinese child-rearing and education as a percentage. This is what he gave me:
> 1900 – 99.9%
> 1950 – 99%
> 1970 – 99.9% (Cultural Revolution)
> 1980 – 90% (enter: Deng Xiaoping)
> 1990 – 70%
> 2000 – 50%
> 2003 – 40%
He also appended that his figures applied to “big cities,” not the whole country.
The breakdown of morality in Chinese society is an old discussion (and frequently linked to Confucianism’s waning influence), but it was interesting to see numbers applied to it (which you basically just can’t really do). According to one Chinese man’s opinion, though, Confucius’s hold on Chinese society has not only weakened, but the Confucius Effect is in the midst of a very steep dive.