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Virtue academy fortifies modern officials' morals

China Daily| Updated: August 31, 2023


Tourists visit the Temple of Confucius in Qufu, Shandong province. [Photo/China Daily]

JINAN — In the sunlit lands to the south of Mount Tai, nestled along the banks of the ancient Zhu and Si rivers, lies the city of Qufu.

It was in this city — found in modern-day Jining in Shandong province — that the Duke of Zhou established the state of Lu more than 3,000 years ago. It was the dawn of a new culturally rich era, including the birth of Confucius and other ancient sages.

"Governance based on virtue is like the North Star taking its place in the sky, while all the other stars revolve around it," Confucius once said. This philosophy of "governance virtue" as a cornerstone of Chinese traditional political culture continues to this day, and Jining has developed a distinctive model of education to cultivate moral excellence in officials.

Under the theme of "promoting excellent traditional culture and cultivating virtuous leaders", the city established the Jining Executive Leadership Academy for Governance Virtue Education, the country's first academy dedicated to the governance virtue of officials, in April 2016.

The academy runs on-site classes at cultural heritage sites such as the Temple of Confucius, the Kong Family Mansion — the official residence of the direct descendants of Confucius — and the Cemetery of Confucius. It explains the contemporary value of traditional governance virtue ideology and attracts officials from all over the country.

Chen Chong, secretary of the academy's Communist Party of China committee, said the institution focuses on the political and contemporary relevance of its teaching content. Elucidating on the importance of "building public commitment to the greater good, public morality, and personal integrity" is its core task, Chen added.

At the Temple of Confucius, on-site teaching stresses the promotion of moral excellence. At the Mencius Temple in Zoucheng, the focus is on people-oriented governance ideals, while at the Kong Family Mansion traditional thoughts on clean governance are the focal point.

The lecture on fighting greed given to officials at the Kong Family Mansion is just eight minutes long, yet it leaves a lasting impression. On an interior wall of the residence is a vivid image — a ferocious beast with a gaping mouth and glaring, greedy eyes. It eagerly devours treasures, even having the audacity to try to swallow the sun, leading to its fall into the sea.

"During the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), Duke Yansheng commissioned this painting to warn himself and future generations to be wary of greed," explained Professor Chong Shuxian from the academy.

Greed prevention

How do we guard against greed? Confucianism offers valuable insights.

First, one must establish a correct view of justice and benefits. Second, one must maintain a keen moral rationality. Lastly, the role of institutions cannot be overlooked.

Confucianism stresses the importance of following rites, stating that without a profound grasp of them, individuals will find it challenging to establish themselves in society. The term "rites" in ancient times referred to both moral principles as well as laws and rules.

Greed prevention is an ancient subject that continues to be widely discussed today. "When faced with temptation, we must be aware of the harm that corruption poses to us. We must resist temptation, abide by regulations and uphold the purpose of serving the people. With this spirit, we can make correct judgments and choices in many aspects of our lives," Chong explained.

Jining's innovation in governance virtue education also lies in its teaching methods. Integrating classroom teaching, on-site teaching, experiential learning and ceremonial music education are methods that help the virtues deeply resonate with officials.

In addition to on-site teaching at cultural heritage sites such as the Temple of Confucius, the academy has also introduced experiential projects such as woodblock printing and bronze rubbing at places including the official residence of the direct descendants of Yan Hui, a revered disciple of Confucius.

Experiential learning programs are also offered at rural homes to showcase how the traditional values of integrity and filial piety have helped enhance social governance.

Operas have even been created to help nourish officials' governance virtue. Among them is Guan Zhen Bei, which is dedicated to a Ming Dynasty four-sided stone tablet that bears inscriptions of four themes — benevolence, integrity, justice, and diligence — and is kept at the Mencius Temple.

Liu Xubing, deputy head of the Confucius Research Institute, said the way to innovation, whatever its form, starts with self-awareness.

"Only by knowing our own culture can we have confidence," he said.

Many participants attending governance virtue education programs have personally witnessed the vibrant traditional culture in Jining, and gained a higher level of cultural confidence as a result.

The academy has hosted more than 1,800 sessions, training over 100,000 students from national ministries, and 31 provincial-level regions, as well as the Hong Kong and Macao special administrative regions.

They even include some senior public servants from countries participating in the Belt and Road Initiative. Kong Hong'en, a lecturer at the academy, wants to sow the seeds of interest in fine Chinese traditional culture among the students through his lectures.

"I am delighted to see that students often contact me to schedule visits with their families and children, and even organize trips for their kids' classmates to come and learn about traditional culture at the Confucius Temple in Qufu," he said.

"Some students return after completing their own studies and bring their colleagues here to receive governance virtue education, too."