Page 6, 9th April 1948

9th April 1948
Page 6
Page 6, 9th April 1948 — Where China Can Teach Us

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Where China Can Teach Us


TWICE in the long and marvel

lous history of China, golden opportunities came to the Church for the conversion oE this great people, and each time under conditions of stability and Imperial favour. Neither was followed up. And now opportunity has come again, this time under favour of a Republican Government, but it finds China locked in a gigantic struggle with atheistic Communism. But we need not despair. China has in historic times gone through great and bloody revolutions that make European upheavals look small affairs; yet throughout her history the spirit and culture of the race has remained strong and constant. The civilisation of four thousand years persists. What is the secret of this perennial vigour ? Some have sought for the cause in the unique character of the written language; others (including our author*) witn more convincing argument find the unifying element in the moral philosophy of Confucius.

In other words, what has survived revolutions, invasions and terrors, the blood-bath and the purge, century after century. is the family system.

The Cult of the Family The bed-rock of Chinese civilisation is to be found in the cult of the family. This, in a nutshell, is Confucianism: the family is the inviolable unit of human society, and the strong cement that binds it together is filial piety. And this filial piety is another name for that divinely implanted sense of the reality of the ties of kinship, which with the Chinese reaches backwards to remotest ancestors and blossoms anew in every new-born child. Has the Chinaman anything to teach the Westerner ? We would say: Yes, and it is the first lesson in the book of the Natural Law.

Dom Lou is a Confucian as he repeatedly reminds us; and within the narrow limits of 140 pages hr Sets out to tell us why, and to demonstrate that the ways of Confucius and of Christ are not in opposition. On the contrary, if Confucian teaching be faithfully followed it must inevitably lead to the true Church because it is based solidly on the Natural Law. Dom Lou therefore claims that his conversion was no conversioq, but a vocation, and that God had set his feet on the right road from the start..

The bare outline of Dom Lou's life is fascinating. Born in Shanghai in 1871, son of a Protestant catechist. " Protestantism," he writes, " has been for me a stage without which I should not have been able to reach Catholicism." Studied French from the age of thirteen and at twenty-one became fourth-class interpreter in the Chinese Legation in St. Petersburg where he married, in the Catholic church, a Belgian lady. "Our spirits and our hearts were made for one another," he writes. Eleven years later he became a Catholic. His wife had converted him, but not by speaking. "If she had spoken to me about it . . . I should have recoiled." The Confucian distrusts abstract arguments and prefers to go by the facts.

At thirty-five he was Minister Plenipotentiary at the Hague; at forty-one Foreign Minister in SunYat-Sen's new republican government. At fifty-six, after the death of his wife, he entered the, Benedictine Order in a Belgian monastery; at sixty-four he was ordained priest; at seventy-four Pope Pius XII made him an abbot, and now Cardinal Tien invites him to return to China to work for its conversion.

The Confucian Way

The Confucian way, as it is portrayed in these pages, provokes meditation upon our own. On the one hand we have the Confucian conception of the family as the basis of all culture and spirituality; and the elevation of the virtue of filial piety, which Confucius • refused to define lest anyone might infer that there were limits to its practice. On the other hand we have in our own country a gradual and. for the most part, quite peaceful transfer of parental authority to the State. How strange that any of us should imagine that after prising apart the family ties, removing parental responsibilities and rights, diverting filial allegiance and slackening the force of the marriage oath, the social sense, the conception of human solidarity of which these things arc expressions, the only true socialism, might take to itself wings and build itstlf a nest in the higher government departments.

As against the basic social sense which is forged in the Chinese

family we experience the diseased consciousness of the psyche which has become endemic in the Western world, sending out its morbid genius in such opposite directions as a 134guy and a James Joyce and calling for a Freud to cure both.

As against the positive and practical training that Confucianism confers we may set our preoccupation with the possible meanings of words.

Dom Lou illustrates this when he refers to the disputes over the rites: " Instead of discussing the Chinese rites, why did they not slzow to all Chinese the incomparable liturgy of the dead . . ."

To understand the Chinese (or any other nationality) we must like them. Books on national characteristics (and very especially Chinese characteristics) are of little use and generally serve only to cloud the judgment. The foreign missionary, too, expresses a view that is often no more than the measure of the difficulties and obstacles he has to overcome. To come to anything like a fair understanding of the Chinese we must acquaint ourselves with some of its best citizens in action. And here for your edification-yes, and cducation-Dom Lou speaks to you of his life's labours.

There is much fascinating information given by the way. One sees, for instance, how very like the modern rulers of Russia are to those of Czarist days. Here and there throughout the book there are miniature glimpses of characters and incidents that remind one of those circular moon-doorways that Chinese build in their gardens to frame a spray of blossom or the curve of a bough. If I ran a training college I should scrap the educational text-books and substitute for them this little work of a Chinese Benedictine. It is a pity it is so dear.

* Ways of Confucius and of Christ. By Dom Pierre-Cdiestin Lou Tseng-Tsiang. (Translated from the French). (Burns Oates. 10s. 6d.)

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