Friday, October 07, 2016

Pleasant flush

I'm tempted to assign the mega-bestseller Confucius from the Heart for my course next semester. Based on a TV series by a Beijing professor of media studies named 于丹 Yu Dan in 2006, it engagingly likens the Analects to a hot spring known as the "Ask Sickness Spring": It is said that anyone who takes a comfortable soak in its water will at once understand the source of their illness: people with arthritis will get a tingling feeling in their joints, those with gastro-intestinal problems will experience a hot sensation in their gut, while people with skin complaints will feel a pleasant flush all over their skin, as if a layer of skin is being washed away, like the sloughed off skin of a cicada. (2-3) 
Yu Dan, Confucius from the Heart: Ancient Wisdom for Today's World,
 trans. Esther Tyldesley (London: Pan Books, 2010)
Later she contrasts the traditional approach of  'I explain the Six Classics' with her more modest 'The Six Classics explain me' (168), though the modesty of this approach falters in the book's final pages, after a discussion of Confucius' famous account of the stages of life:

At fifteen, I set my heart on learning; at thirty I took my stand; at forty I came to be free from doubts; at fifty I understood the Decree of Heaven; at sixty my ear was attuned; at seventy I followed my heart's desire without overstepping the line. (Analects II.4, qtd at 163)

Yu Dan:

If, at twenty or thirty, we can reach, ahead of schedule, the state we should be in at forty or fifty and have already built up a clear and lucid system of values, and are already able to transform the pressures of our society into a flexible strength that will allow us to bounce back, and if we are able to achieve a kind of calm, steady pursuit of our heart's desire without overstepping the line ... then we can safely say that we have lived a truly meaningful life. ... 
Faced with competition and pressure like today's, what reason do we have not to become mature ahead of time? The words of Chairman Mao's poem: 'Seize every moment, for ten thousand years are too long' could not be more appropriate today. If ten thousand years are too long, so too are seventy. (184-85, 186)

It might be fun to read her account of the warm, living water (3) of this companionable and can-do Confucianism, which interweaves folksy wisdom from sources well beyond Confucius (and China) with reflections on how to live happily in rapidly changing Chinese society, together with Harvard professor Michael Puett and Christine Gross-Loh's The Path: What Chinese Philosophers Can Teach Us About the Good Lifewhich promises to do the same for living in our own rapidly changing society.

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