Both Sihai and Xiangtang are boarding schools and students only go back home during weekend and holidays. The curriculums in these two schools are very similar as they both strongly influenced by the Taiwanese educator Huang Caigui, who first initiated children scripture readings in Taiwan and continued his promotion to China. Mr. Zhao said that many parents who sent their children to his schools were seeking an alternative from the mainstream education system which is not fulfilling what they want. Many parents are planning to send their children overseas but would like their children to learn more about their own culture before they take off.
The Volunteer Groups
Every Sunday, Ms. Huang and her follow volunteers hike together in Xiangshan, one of the favorite outing spots for Beijingers during weekend. Halfway of their hike, they stop at the park and invite people to join their Confucian scripture public reading session. They distribute the reading materials, such as Confucian classics like Dizhigui, the Great Learning or the Three Character Script with hanyu pinyin. On average they attract 40-50 people to participate in readings with them, and the attentions of many others who are passing. This is one of the weekly activities organized by Yidan Xuetang. During my visit, they were planning on expanding their activities to more public parks across Beijing.
Yidan Xuetang is a voluntary group founded in 2001. The motto for this group is "youth + public welfare" and it recruits university students as volunteers to promote traditional culture through participating in community services. The group organizes volunteers to teach Confucian classics in primary and secondary schools as an extra curriculum course. It organizes morning reading sessions in university campuses across the country, which is also the key channel for the group to establish its national network and source of recruiting volunteers. Other activities organized by the group are including Guoxue seminars, training sessions for volunteers, and establishing the network of free Confucian schools in rural area.
The majority of the volunteers were highly educated. Many of them started to volunteer when they were college students and continued after they graduated. Some of them used their professional knowledge in developing the programs in the group. For instance, a group of Chinese medicine students organize free medical consultants every Saturday at the headquarter. The group was financed only by donations. The founder Mr. Pang explained that this is only way to remain independent and to be "authentic" in revitalizing traditional Chinese culture. He portrayed himself as the pioneer of "cultural public welfare enterprise of youth". This idealistic aura attracted many of the volunteers, and media reports on his personal story about his founding of the group were used in introductory sessions to recruit new volunteers.
In sum, Confucianism is having its comeback in contemporary China. However, this revival is not merely a reimplementation of the Confucian traditions or reinstallation of its institutions. New groups are formed in respond to the quest of traditional culture and there is a process of reinventing the new meaning of Confucianism in contemporary era. The rise of Confucian schools, such as the Sihai and Xiangtang Confucius schools, is more a response to the parents" request for an alternative education choice for their children. These Confucian schools are not a total imitation of the sishu that was prevailing in China when Confucianism was the state official ideology. The integration of new healthy living style (for instance, a vegetarian diet) and the study of English classics are the indicators for that. Moreover, a new manifestation of Confucianism that is incorporating with community and social services, and participation in public spaces by lay people is something totally new in Confucianism. All in all, Confucianism is reentering into the public space in China right now, and this time, it has a new image. We should be serious about the social implications of these changes, the creation of new meaning of traditional Chinese culture, which reflect part of the rapid social changes of the post-reform China.