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Special> Video> Beijing Review Exclusive
UPDATED: March 2, 2011 Web Exclusive
Dispute Over Confucius Statue
Edited by CHEN RAN


On January 11 this year, a 7.9-meter-tall bronze statue of Confucius was unveiled in front of the renovated National Museum of China in Beijing.

Placing this statue in such a prominent position has triggered a dispute over whether it is appropriate to have a statue of Confucius in front of the National Museum.

For generations, Confucius (551-479 B.C.) has been a target of criticism in China as a spiritual spokesman for feudalism. Although traditional Chinese culture has enjoyed a resurgence in recent years, there is still lack of a consensus on how to read and treat Confucius and Confucianism.

Meanwhile, Confucius has been promoted as a symbol of Chinese traditional culture to the rest of the world, with the establishment of Confucius Institutes—educational institutions devoted to spreading knowledge about Chinese language and culture around the world.

In a survey conducted by People.com.cn, 70 percent of the 220,000 people surveyed said that it is wrong to put the statue in front of the museum, since not everyone is interested in Confucianism.

In an article published by the Shenzhen Economic Daily, Li Qing said Confucius was a great thinker and also a major symbol of Chinese culture, but this does not mean that a statue of Confucius is the most suitable choice.

"It's undeniable that museums also have educational functions, and Confucius is undoubtedly a famous figure in education, but these reasons are not strong enough to justify placing the statue in front of the National Museum," Li said.

Li's view was echoed by critic Deng Qingbo.

"If there must be a statue in front of the National Museum, I would prefer a group of great thinkers rather than only Confucius, because he alone cannot meet the public's demands for dynamic thinking," Deng said.

People.com.cn's Zhu Yongxin believes Confucius deserves the honor, as his ideas and concepts have influenced Chinese society for thousands of years. Confucius's teachings are also a significant part of the foundation of Chinese culture.

"The move means more than the statue itself. It marks China's rising awareness of its own culture. The Chinese have realized the importance of respecting and learning from the country's history, its great people and its traditional culture," Zhu said.

Sculptor Wu Weishan, who took part in the statue's creation, agreed with Zhu's view.

"The statue not only represents Confucius, but is also a cultural milestone in itself, which is represented by the great thinker," Wu said.

No matter where the statue is located, it is perhaps more important to see whether or not people can review and renew their understanding of Confucius and his teachings.


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