A revival of interest in Confucius and other aspects of what Mao Zedong vilified as China’s noxious feudal past has been underway for years, spawning best-selling novels, television dramas and films set in the Imperial Era. The Communist Party, tapping into a deep vein of cultural nationalism, has encouraged the trend, in part as an antidote to Western ways.
Overseas, Confucius has become China’s standard-bearer, with dozens of state-sponsored Confucius Institutes, including one at the University of Maryland, promoting the study of Chinese language and culture.
But a Confucian revival sanctioned and initially steered by the party has grown into something more vibrant and also more unpredictable. It has become a quest for alternative ideas that challenge not only foreign imports such as democracy but also some of the homegrown results of China’s dash to modernity.
Confucianism, an elaborate system of moral philosophy and political theory, has always been a two-edged sword, both deeply conservative and potentially subversive.