Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Confucius Peace Prize (?!?!!)

As reported in the New York Times:
"Beijing has pressed for a boycott of the Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony, which will recognize the imprisoned Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo... At the same time, China announced that it would create its own prize for peace named for the ancient Chinese philosopher Confucius."
Hm ... peacefully remonstrating with the government. Seeking an end to corruption, a greater respect for basic rights, and just outcomes for all citizens. Speaking truth to power. Who's acting in a Confucian manner again?

Sigh, this is why prizes should be awarded by independent institutes and NGOs. They may as well call this the CCP's-Favorite-Foreigner-of-the-Year Award. I wonder who future recipients will be? It's just shameless -- his misappropriation of Confucius's title in an attempt to render harm to others and silence criticism (in other words, to settle a political score).

However, it's very, very interesting that the PRC is using the name of Confucius, if not actually his ethical teachings, as a form of international legitimation. How the fortunes of Confucianism have changed! Naming a national prize after the great teacher and philosopher? This implicitly recognizes the timeless and universal character of his teachings, insofar as they can appeal to the whole world (天下, right?), as well as the kind of hold his school of thought has on the public imagination. (Though in this case, the moniker is being blatantly abused as a political tool).

At the very least, the deliberations should be carried out by scholars, not politicians*, though I doubt Confucians would smile upon such ostentation in the first place. Moreover, it's all well and good to reward people for acting in a benevolent manner -- but perhaps this could be more effectively accomplished by having awards for specific virtues that should be cultivated, rather than lauding public figures "in the name of Confucius"? That way it would be more focused on matters of substance. For instance, you can issue proclamations for acts of great filial piety, or laud people who demonstrate perseverance and chastity. Maybe build a couple of 牌樓 (memorial archways) to commemorate them. =D

P.S. To be more Confucian, the award recipient should use this as a teaching moment -- a lectern from which to exhort the ruler of the state and the common people to live virtuously. He/she ought to write a good speech or publish an essay for the occasion. (Maybe even in the eight-legged style, ha ha? Just kidding).

The theme of the talk could also change from year to year, to be relevant to the nation's spiritual and social needs. It might also be important for the teaching to be made applicable to daily life. After all, we don't need more perfunctory talk about "peaceful relations" year after year, filled with diplomatic platitudes and geopolitical blather. (Unless you're actually going to chat about the ethical basis for foreign policy. Some governments could use that lesson.)

But if we focus back on domestic issues, instead of an annual prize, perhaps this sort of moral discourse could be even more valuable if it came on a daily or weekly basis. Society can always benefit from time spent considering ethical issues; and hopefully an increasing number of teachers, scholars and public intellectuals will arise to fill that need.

Tan Changliu, the leader of the Confucius prize committee "told the Associated Press that his group was not a government organization, though it worked closely with the Ministry of Culture."

According to The Guardian, the people who handed out the award claimed "they had worked closely with the ministry of culture" but then "they later said it was nothing to do with the government." Hm ... doubtful that you could make this big fuss and also hand out an award to a former Taiwanese president without government approval. So the claim is that it's NGO-based ... but somehow it still smacks of political leaders shaping the agenda, especially when the "invitation to the award ceremony was apparently issued by a section of the culture ministry." Ah well.

No comments: