Friday, May 21, 2010

707 The Confucian Carnival

707 The Confucian Carnival

(TAIPEI) -- The Confucius Temple here is a confluence of two cultures. There's the 25-hundred year old philosophy of the greatly wise Ultimate Master Educator whose street name was Kongqiu or Qiu Kong, and the merciless and endless commercialism that pervades 21st century Taipei. Y'all want a Confucius notepad? How about a picture of what people think he looked like? Postcards, anyone?

And yet, the faithful come from all over the world to bring gifts of fruits and vegetables here. There are pieces of wood shaped like half moons, and maybe three inches, end to end. You ask questions, shake the pieces in your hands and drop them as you ask a question. Two heads or two tales equal "no," one each of heads and tails means "yes." They are much like the Runes of Scandinavia.

The deities in this complex are rough guys. Confucius is one of many. Down the street from his "house" is the Dalojngdong Baoan Temple, populated by what westerners would likely think of as "graven images." These are the men (and they're all men,) who answer the questions you ask with the wooden moons. What "ism" is this? No one has an answer. It's not an ism, it just is. How Chinese. How Confucian.

They burn sticks of what we New York kids used to call "punk," and wave them at statues and ask for stuff. And all this time, the Chinese sense of justice and humor perseveres. There are wooden beams and dragons and birds and statues. Some of the statues hold up beams that hold up roofs. Most of those statues look like white guys and they are. Specifically, they are Dutch. It was the Dutch who conquered this island hundreds of years ago. In the words of our guide they "did not treat the Taiwanese well." The euro statues are Dutchmen forced to hold the heavy canopies and overhangs in retaliation. Revenge is sweet.

But underneath all this barnumesque baloney, after you get past the jokes that start "Confucius say..." there's real wisdom here. Ideas like justice, fairness, morality (understood rather than defined) permeate his teachings.

What Confucius did was a great deal like what America's founding fathers did. More important than exactly what he said and what he didn't say, more important than what he advocated or opposed, more important than anything in writing, he brought us a key concept, a pivotal premise.

Without actually saying so, Confucius said there is a structure and a meaning to things. There is a place in the world for a correlator of accumulated knowledge, a condenser of wisdom. So is Kong Qiu the ultimate example of Reader's Digest? Yes. His work is a compression of wisdom and knowledge and thought that makes us realize who and what we are, and who and what we aren't.

Meantime, welcome to the Confucian Carnival. Step right up and getchyer wisdom from the bearded wizard, himself.

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you're welcome to them.®
©WJR 2010

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