Traditional Chinese Culture: The Great Way of Learning in Ancient China

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In 2011, a professor at a forum in Davos, Switzerland talked about why China's education system for the past several decades has been unsuccessful. He said that China's education system doesn't attach importance to creativity and one's moral character. One of the reasons he says is, “...because we have been educated to tell lies since elementary school. We have gradually walked that way step by step.” He went so far as to say, however, that if all schools in China were to shut down and knowledge decreased dramatically, Chinese moral standards would greatly increase.

The professor makes a valid point about China's failing education system. Higher education institutions and students can be found everywhere in China today, but no master-level talent emerges. On the contrary, academic cheating is common practice, many teachers are not virtuous, and students have high academic grades but without substance. What's the reason behind this? We will find the answer when we compare the education system of ancient China to today's China.

“Establishing a country or educating people, teaching comes first.” In traditional Chinese culture, virtue was the root of a country. Therefore, everyone including the emperor regarded cultivating oneself as the root for settling down or continuing with one's pursuit in life. Teaching meant educating people. The most important part of teaching was to cultivate noble virtues. As stated in The Analects of Confucius: “Learning knowledge is not the root of teaching. What comes first is to cultivate virtue such as filial piety and brotherly love, compassion, respect and sincerity. If time permitted, he may go to learn some knowledge afterwards.”

It also states in The Great Learning how ancient people followed their way of learning. The Great Learning was originally one chapter in the Ritual Records. It's said that it was written by Confucius' students. The Great Learning, The Doctrine of the Mean (also included in Ritual Records), The Analects of Confucius, and The Mencius together are called The Four Books by later scholars.

In ancient China, children went to school at the age of eight. They began learning the basic rituals and daily housework along with music, archery, Chinese characters and mathematics. At the age of 15, they went to college to study the ways of rectifying the heart, self-cultivation, managing the family and ruling the country in order to become well-cultivated individuals with noble character. They applied the principles of self-cultivation to dealing with personal relationships and issues between countries. They also applied the same principles to ruling the country.

The first sentence in The Great Learning states that the goal of learning is, “To cultivate the great virtue endowed by heaven and reach the realm of greatest compassion.” Once compassion is developed, it can be used to manage people. To manage people, one should be close to and love them. An emperor should be compassionate; an official should be respectful to the emperor; a son should be filial to his parents; a parent should be affectionate; and friends should be sincere to each other. Everyone tried to reach the realm of greatest compassion.

It also states in The Great Learning that, “Advocating virtue comes after ruling the country; ruling the country comes after managing the family; and managing the family comes after self-cultivation.”

Then, what is self-cultivation? Self-cultivation is focused on the cultivation of virtue and ethical values. Ancient people studied the principles of matter to obtain knowledge and seek the Tao (Way). During the process, they were enlightened to the ultimate regulations of matter's development and the great Way, which they used as their guiding philosophy in their behaviour. They rectified their mind, purified their heart and sincerely cultivated themselves. A person with great virtue, and righteous behaviour and knowledge will naturally have the ability to manage the family, rule the country and prevail over the world with peace.

Such an important Confucian classical work contains fewer than 2,000 Chinese characters, but it still mentions the fundamentals of education. The goal of teaching is to raise a child to become an independent and dignified adult of great virtue through self-cultivation. Judging a great person has nothing to do with his/her age, knowledge, strength, wealth, or nobility, but with a person's quality. The greatness of The Great Learning lies in its “advocating virtue”, requiring people to remove the negativity from their minds and constantly improve their moral standard. Thus, a great man stands between heaven and earth in a dignified manner. He is compassionate, wise and brave. How much responsibility a person can shoulder all depends on how broad his heart, how great his virtue and how refined his talent.

A family, country and the world, though different in size, follow the same principles as self-cultivation because the prosperity or decline and successful management or not of a family, country and world are all closely related to the cultivation of individuals. The methods of self-cultivation can be extended and applied to managing a family, ruling the country and presiding over the world with peace. For instance, self-cultivation leads a person to be filial to his parents. If he shows the same virtue to his emperor, he is a loyal official. Likewise, when a person with brotherly love shows the same virtue to his seniors, he is a respectful person. An affectionate person who shows the same virtue while managing people must be very compassionate. Therefore, a well-cultivated person can manage his family well. Then he can also rule the country well. He will definitely recruit talented people of great virtue and preside over the world with peace. Self-cultivation is the most fundamental thing. If everyone attaches importance to self-cultivation, shoulders his own responsibility and does well on his own, then the world will be peaceful. Not everyone can become a great individual like Yao or Shun. However, the virtue of a noble man is like the wind, and the virtue of an ordinary person is like the grass. The virtue of a noble man could affect that of an ordinary person, just as in the relationship between wind and grass.

On the contrary, if no one cultivates himself, but always thinks of how to control others, then no one can improve. As a consequence, officials at higher positions will have no virtue or talent and use suppression and torture to “manage” people. People at lower positions will have no choice and find it difficult to keep an upright mind. As a result, none among the emperor, officials, parents and children does well in his position. When conflicts intensify, the world will be in chaos. This results from taking the branch as the root. Therefore, the most fundamental element of all in ruling the country, managing the family or presiding over the world with peace, lies in self-cultivation of individuals.

Mr. Fan Zhongyan was a famous high official in the Northern Song Dynasty. With the emperor, he made straightforward suggestions. In the communities, he built water conservation projects, helped guide talented people, preserved the lands and settled people down in a peaceful life. His achievements have been praised in the centuries since.

Mr. Fan Zhongyan attached great importance to self-cultivation at a young age. He was born into a very poor family. During the period when he was studying, he made a pot of porridge every night. The next day, the porridge would solidify. Mr. Fan would cut it into four pieces with a knife and ate two pieces for breakfast and the other two for dinner. A son of a chief executive official in Nanjing saw Mr. Fan eat porridge every day and was very touched. That official told his son to send food to Mr. Fan. However, Mr. Fan declined the food after sincerely expressing his thanks. He said, “I really appreciate your father's help. I am accustomed to eating porridge every day, so I do not feel pain at all. If I am greedy with this delicious food, how will I endure any type of pain in the future?” Mr. Fan was very diligent even under difficult conditions. He was poor and frugal, but cultivated well. He eventually became a learned scholar and a famous top official at the court.

Mr. Fan taught his children by using his personal experiences and verbal instructions. All of his children became successful. His later generations inherited his good quality. His eldest son Mr. Fan Chunyou, at the age of 16, followed him to defend against the Western Xia and made a lot of contributions to the country. His second son, Mr. Fan Chunren, became a prime minister and was very responsible during his 50 years in power. His third son, Mr. Fan Chunli, became a chief minister. His fourth son, Mr. Fan Chuncui, became a financial minister. They were all righteous and were not afraid to speak up. They loved their people and were famous for being fair and honest while holding office at court. They donated most of their salaries to a charity village that Mr. Fan Zhongyan established for poor people.

In ancient China, there were many people like Mr. Fan Zhongyan. No matter how poor they were or how wealthy they became, they never changed their goal of self-cultivation. They attached great importance to virtue. They embraced the whole world, were concerned about their country and people, and pursued the great Way all their life.

Now, let's take a look at China's current education system. Since the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) came into power by means of deceit, it has distorted history, confused right from wrong and defamed traditional culture as “feudal garbage”. Schools, which should be places for spreading knowledge, have been used as war fields to fight against the righteous. History is like a magic mirror for revealing deceit. The CCP is afraid of people thinking independently. The magic mirror of history can reveal the CCP's corrupt morality, evil nature and cruelty. This is also the reason why the CCP destroyed traditional Chinese culture. During the past 60 years, the CCP has been deceiving the Chinese people and students. As a result, the essence of traditional Chinese culture that emphasized virtue and cultivating one's heart, has totally disappeared.

In today's China, students only learn of the CCP's culture and their false history. What they hear and read about are all of the CCP's lies and propaganda that boast of a false peacetime. From elementary school to college, any student who does not answer their exam questions using the CCP's standard answers cannot get high scores. Anyone who tells the truth is suppressed and attacked. When lies are everywhere, how can the truth be spread? If independent thinking doesn't exist, then how can creativity be advocated?

It is impossible for students to develop independent thinking and noble virtues at schools. Students only pursue academic scores and their goal of study is to stand above others. Then, how can they possess noble virtues? Not to mention cultivating themselves, managing the family, ruling the country and presiding over the world with peace. Under the CCP's control, education in China has become seriously industrialized and students have been turned into merchandise. Politicians who are neither learned nor have any ability thus create chaos. They turn schools into places to spread false theories and collect money. Thus, virtue can't be found in society. The majority of people only pursue money.

Therefore, under the CCP's control, it is impossible to nurture master-level talents. On the contrary, many people have been educated to be distorted in thinking. Many so-called “experts” make irresponsible remarks because they are paid by the CCP to serve its purpose. They stand on the CCP's side and suppress good people. As a result, righteous voices can't be heard and morality has been totally lost in Chinese society.

Fortunately, at this critical moment when morals are corrupted, Falun Dafa is being widely spread. In only a decade, more than 100 million people are practising Falun Dafa and following the principles of Truthfulness-Compassion-Forbearance. More people understand the principle of good is rewarded with goodness and evil receives retribution. People are beginning to reawaken to the traditional culture that has been lost for a long time and returning to cultivating their virtue.

Shen Yun Performing Arts, with its pure goodness and pure beauty, has revived the essence of Chinese civilization that was destroyed by the CCP. Shen Yun's successful performances in western society have given rise to a great interest in traditional Chinese culture. Perhaps in the near future, Chinese people who know the truth and reject the CCP's culture will pick up the precious cultural heritage that their ancestors left them. Furthermore, they may cultivate their hearts by following the principles of Truthfulness-Compassion-Forbearance. The splendid traditional Chinese culture will be reborn in the hands of awakened Chinese people and its magnificent colours will shine.

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