Shenzhen’s neoconfucian movement seeps into official discourse, again

Last night at a bus stop, happened upon Shenzhen’s latest universiade campaign and yes, its Confucian quotes about welcoming guests and behaving in civilized fashion. The neoconfucian quotes are part of a larger campaign that is using the universiade to teach Shenzhen residents how to properly inhabit the city. In the subway, for example, posters show event mascot UU lining up and waiting his turn to get onto the subway. Elementary schools are teaching students to smile openly “in a western way” to great foreign guests in a friendly manners; indeed, in one of my favorite news stories, the Binhe Elementary principal explained the creation of the schools’ Smile Angels and then winning angels analyzed the characteristic that made their smile uniquely welcoming – sweet, like a bow, and so open I end up squinting.

This campaign deepens and expands upon popular neoconfucianism throughout Shenzhen. As mentioned in an earlier post, for example, some schools and many families require children to memorize the three character jing in order to cultivate filial and more intelligent children. The SEZ’s 30th Anniversary was also celebrated with Confucian quotes. I’ve also noticed that recent advertising campaigns have stepped up the filial piety quotient, moving from generalized “care for your parents by using our product” formulae to the following structure – a mother tries to help a son, the son rejects her help, and then discovers his mistake. Product placement underscores the twin moments of maternal care and the son’s enlightenment.

The Confucian Merchant (儒商) has long figured in Shenzhen public discourse about how the newly wealthy should behave, focusing on business ethics and philanthropic responsibility. Then came a grassroots movement among the middle class to teach children Confucian classics. However, the Universiade campaign underscores that the Municipality’s public discourse is growing even more explicitly neoconfucian, which in turn, points to the flexible soft side of municipal ideology and its intersections with culture and commerce – hegemony in the sense of unquestioned common sense.

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