Confucius say... learn Chinese and prosperity will follow

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The Independent Online

Confucius say ... spread Chinese culture around the world and teach Confucian philosophy at home. And don't be afraid to mention my name as branding while you're at it.

Confucius, the respectful name for the great thinker, philosopher, statesman and educator named Kongqiu, who lived from 551-479 BC, is undergoing a major revival in China and further afield.

His philosophy, which dominated Chinese society for centuries, and spread to Europe in the late 16th century, advocates achieving harmony through self-refinement in manners and taste.

In China he's particularly renowned for revolutionising the education system- and, with this in mind, the government hopes to build on growing international interest in Chinese language and culture by opening 80 Confucius Institutes in 39 countries. They will function as the equivalent of British Councils or Germany's Goethe Institutes around the globe.

With 30 million people already learning Chinese worldwide, including two million in Japan, the Confucius Institutes will hope to meet the huge demand for Chinese learning overseas, State Councillor Chen Zhili told 400 delegates at a Confucius Institute conference in the capital.

The number learning Chinese abroad is forecast to rise to 100 million by 2010 and the plan is to set up 100 Confucius Institutes by then. The US and Thailand already have 11 institutes each.

A further 99 institutions from 38 countries have applied to set up Confucius Institutes.

China is certainly growing more international. Last year, there were more than half a million foreign investment companies from 190-plus countries that were launched in China, while more than 30,000 Chinese companies branched out overseas.

Up to 120 million overseas visitors came to China last year, while state figures show that 31 million Chinese people journeyed overseas.

The rise in interest in Chinese language is immense - rich couples in the West are hiring Chinese nannies to make sure their toddlers learn Mandarin.

There are also political reasons for the rise in popularity of Confucianism. Burgeoning wealth and the rise of consumerism in the world's fastest growing economy has seen many traditional Confucian values of honour and decency slip away in favour of self-serving, money-grabbing behaviour, the leadership believes.

Scholars and, increasingly, the Communist Party believe that following some sound Confucian principles could help build the "harmonious society" President Hu Jintao refers to constantly.

Earlier this year, Mr Hu decided the only way to combat the eight pernicious "disgraces" creeping into society was for the masses to learn a "socialist sense of honour and shame" and analysts have noted the Confucian tone of his message.

The Beijing Institute of Genomics, part of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, has even started compiling a database of descendants of the great philosopher - which should put paid to charlatans surnamed Kong claiming to be distant relatives of the Master.

The problem is Confucius has more than three million descendants, with many concentrated around his birthplace of Qufu in Shandong province, but with many in other parts of China, Korea and further afield.

All they need to do is offer a hair for DNA testing - the institute started offering the service after DNA research identified Florida accountant Tom Robinson as a descendant of Genghis Khan.

As the Master said in the Analects of Confucius: "A youth is to be regarded with respect. How do we know that his future will not be equal to our present?"