礼貌 and 文明, thoughts

The difference between 礼貌 and 文明 matters because I bumped into a group in the Shekou Sihai park. They were members of 格 (RGLove). the charitable fund of the Shenzhen based high-tech company, 荣格科技集团. RGLove had brought in people from all over the country to explore and develop their civilization levels through Confucian studies. The goal, of course, is to intervene in the world by expressing correct relationships, that of course included 礼 which maybe 礼貌, but I’m not for sure. Meanwhile, inquiring minds want to know: just what does all this mean? The two answers I’ve heard (because anthropological interlocutors are self selected) :

When I think about how the two words are used, it seems to me that 礼貌 describes behaviour to a specific person, while 文明 is the behaviour to society in general? 用礼貌的时候一般会说“对某某要礼貌”,或者“某某真有礼貌”,there’s another, specific person involved..

Someone else replied that it’s a continuum: 没有脸 means you basically don’t know how to behave; 给面子 and 游礼貌 are synonymous, and; 有文明 is abstract because it’s a general behavior no matter if your interlocutor 不要脸, 不给面子, or 没有礼貌, the civilized person still behaves correctly.

Importantly, the Sihai Park example reminds us that these technologies are being deployed not only through official venues, especially Xi JInpings’s attempt to civilize contemporary China, but also by 民间, or ordinary people. And yes, members of the RGLove group that I bumped into wear red vests, just like the Shenzhen Volunteers, who are organized by the government.

Several days ago, I ate lunch with a Buddhist practitioner, who had chosen to school her two children and four adopted children in the classics via one of the proliferating classical academies (书院).  Proponents agree that classical education creates a more civilized and smarter elite. Academy education programs involve memorization of the classics, as well as traditional arts, martial arts, and updated science. The programs are more comprehensive that the classic education (经典教育) currently recommended by the state. Like RGLove, the academies represent the ongoing Confucianization of 民间 and its values.

In contrast, international schools emphasize English language and direct immersion in Western forms of knowledge and culture. The success of both Neoconfucian and international private schools suggest that more and more people opt out of the public school system.  As the academies are a Chinese alternative to the gaokao system, most academies include international sections, which direct students toward study in the US, as at the 康桥学院 in Bao’an.

The prevalence of 礼貌 and 文明 not only in state sponsored campaigns, but also in 民间 private companies and schools speaks to how pervasive Neoconfucian technologies of the self have become in Shenzhen. Importantly, proponents use the expression国学 (national education) instead of 儒教 (Confucianism) to describe what  they are doing. Indeed, one of my friends told me that it would only take 4 generations of Confucian education to shape the elite that China needs; so yes, at stake in all this 民间 activity is the reshaping of the nation, if not the state apparatus.

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