Adam Ash

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Monday, April 02, 2007

Bookplanet: in China, a new book about Confucius (trashed by Maoism) outsells Harry Potter

Confucius topples Harry

IT TOOK Yu Dan only six weeks to topple JK Rowling and become the most successful author in Chinese history.

But it wasn't tales of wizards and magic that sparked hysteria in the world's most populous country. The Beijing academic has managed to make the 2500-year-old words of Confucius, China's most famous thinker, relevant in the 21st century.

Her colloquial commentary on the works of the philosopher has taken the country by storm, selling a record 3.5 million copies since its release in November.

Ms Yu's public appearances since then have been characterised by a feverish and even tearful mood more fitting a rock star than a university professor. She recently signed 10,000 copies of her book in only eight hours at a Beijing bookshop.

Fans ranging from teenagers to those as old as 85 - who were denied the chance to benefit from the sage's wisdom after their education was cut short by the Cultural Revolution - queued for hours outside in freezing smog. Some unrolled banners proclaiming: "China needs Confucius! China needs Yu Dan!"

The Analects of Confucius is often called "the Bible of China", although most Chinese struggle to understand the archaic language in which it was written in about 500BC.

Previous commentaries have been dry, scholarly affairs. Ms Yu's secret has been her ability to relay his wisdom in everyday language, using practical themes that can easily be related to.

In one chapter, she explains to the Chinese why they are getting richer but often don't seem to be any happier for it. In another, she presents Confucius's homilies on how to cope with life's setbacks and sorrows.

Her publisher, Li Yan, recalled his joy when sales of the book exceeded 1.5 million - the record held by Rowling's Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone.

He said: "I thought, 'At last, someone has found a way to mine the gold in our tradition'. With so much foreign media coming into China now, it often feels like we can't hold our own in the world. Yu Dan has given us back our pride."

His sentiments are in stark contrast to the official line of three decades ago when Mao Zedong attempted to purge Confucianism from Chinese culture.

All schoolchildren were taught to see Confucianism as the root cause of imperial China's backwardness, as well as national humiliation at the hands of Britain and other colonial powers.

But the publishing phenomenon that is Ms Yu, 41, has now completed the philosopher's remarkable comeback.

A near-riot ensued after she spoke at a school in Tianjin last month as followers fought to gain access to the author.

"When I was young, the only time we heard about Confucius was in the slogans we chanted to condemn him," said Yang Xiaopei, a retired office manager, as he emerged from the scrum with his autographed copy of the book. "I was 16 when my education stopped because of the Cultural Revolution. I never got a chance to study Confucius. Yu Dan has given me the chance to start again."

Ms Yu is unsure what Confucius would make of 21st-century China. She said: "I'm not presenting all of his ideas because I don't think all of them are still relevant.

" I'm only interested in the things that have remained exactly the same, like basic human values and the best way to manage relationships. These are areas where he still has enormous power to inspire."

The danger of negative thinking explained


Si Maniu, full of anxiety, said : "Other men all have their brothers, I alone have not."

Zi Xia said to him: "There is the following saying which I have heard; 'Death and life have their determined appointment; riches and honours depend upon Heaven.'

"Let the superior man never fail reverentially to order his own conduct, and let him be respectful to others and observant of propriety. Then all within the four seas will be his brothers. What has the superior man to do with being distressed because he has no brothers?"


"A little girl watched her mother die in the dentist's chair. She carried this trauma around in her mind for 30 years. It became so powerful that she would never go to the dentist.

"Eventually she had no choice, and once there her fears were so terrible that when she saw the dentist's tools she died.

"This illustrates the power of negative thinking. A regret, if allowed to become big enough, can influence your whole life and even cause your death."


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