Today, tradition has it, is Confucius’s birthday—his 2,568th. It is also Teachers Day in Taiwan. This is because Confucius was, after all, a teacher. He devoted his life to roaming about teaching anyone who would follow him.
Every year on September 28, in honor of teachers, I write something about Confucius. Often I write about the timelessness and relevance of his ideas to us ordinary, contemporary folks trying to make our way earnestly and virtuously in the world. I think about this a lot, particularly these days. So today, with your indulgence, on Teachers Day, I want to adopt the position of the teacher and share some of my recent thoughts about Confucius. Full disclosure: this piece is not about the Chinese American International School, it’s about Chinese and American culture.
First, a little background on Confucius in particular and Chinese philosophy in general. Classical Chinese philosophy—Confucianism, Daoism, Legalism—developed in violent and chaotic times over two millennia ago. At that time, what we now know as China was a collection of independent kingdoms that were constantly at war with one another, the strong swallowing the weak. Rulers worried about how to govern their populations and keep their kingdoms strong in order to avoid being swallowed by aggressive neighboring kingdoms. Not surprisingly, Chinese philosophy from this time reads like political science. Confucius roamed the kingdoms with his disciples in tow, trying to gain the ear of a ruler who would employ his ideas of good governance. In his day their were many such wandering philosophers, the so-called “hundred schools of thought” or zhū zǐ baǐ jiā 诸子百家.... » read more