Ian Johnson

Mao Zedong and his followers have tried to eradicate cultural icon Confucius, from China’s history. But with some help from current president Xi Jinping, Confucius is making a comeback, reports journalist Ian Johnson, author or The Souls of China: The Return of Religion After Mao for the New York Times.

Ian Johnson:

Promoting these old ideas has been a priority for President Xi Jinping, who has rekindled enthusiasm for traditional culture as part of a broader push to fill what many Chinese see as their country’s biggest problem: a spiritual void caused by its headlong pursuit of prosperity.

And when China’s most powerful leader in 40 years endorses a philosopher, even a long-dead Confucian one, people rush to take action.

The epicenter of Wang’s revival has been this city of four million people perched on a plateau in China’s mountainous south. When (Confucius-promoter) Wang (Yangming) spent three years in exile here in the early 16th century, Guiyang was a remote outpost on imperial China’s southern border.

Today, as the capital of one of China’s poorest provinces, it has high-speed rail service to the coast and is trying to position itself as a center of big data— and traditional culture.

Since Mr. Xi began promoting the philosopher three years ago, officials in and around Guiyang have built a Wang Yangming-themed park, constructed a museum to showcase his achievements, turned a small cave into a shrine in his honor and, yes, commissioned a robot to bring him to life.

More in the New York Times.

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