04/23/2007, 00.00
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Hong Kong to celebrate Confucius in lieu of a holiday at Easter

For years now, China’s government has been rehabilitating the figure of the great philosopher as a cultural ‘bridge’ to the rest of the world but also as a mentor justifying obedience to authorities. Christians will have to give up one holiday at Easter in favour of Confucius’ birthday.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – A senior religious affairs official yesterday indicated for the first time that Beijing was in support of a plan in Hong Kong to make Confucius' birthday a public holiday, but on condition that it replace a public holiday on Easter.

For Qi Xiaofei, deputy director of the State Administration of Religious Affairs, the long-standing demand by Confucians was “a natural development.”

Speaking on the sidelines of a Taoist forum in Xian, Mr Qi said he was glad to hear that Confucians in the former British colony might soon have a public holiday to celebrate their figurehead's birthday—on par with the Territory’s Christians and Buddhists.

The Confucian Academy in Hong Kong, led by its president Tong Yun-kai, has been pushing the plan, which includes the proposed construction of a Confucian temple in Wong Tai Sin.

Last year, Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen said that he would not oppose the holiday plan as long as consensus was reached with other religious groups.

Indeed, any recognition for Confucius should not add an extra holiday. But this should not be a problem since both Catholics and Protestants have agreed that one public holiday at Easter could be swapped to commemorate the philosopher's birthday.

However, Mr Qi noted that the academy's long-standing campaign to lobby the central government to include Confucianism as the sixth official religion on the mainland was premature. At present, Buddhism, Taoism, Catholicism, Protestantism and Islam are officially recognised as the mainstream religions on the mainland with the two Christian denominations seen as separate religions.

In spite of this refusal Confucius is playing an increasingly important role in Communist China as a cultural “bridge” to the rest of the world.

For example, in 2002 Beijing launched a plan to open Confucius Institutes around the world which would offer “authoritative textbooks” and provide “quality teachers” thus broadening China’s cultural influence. The plan also included the dissemination of Confucian ideas at home. Altogether the government plans to spend US$ 10 billion on the project.

Faced with a moral crisis and a decline in spiritual values China’s rulers have chose to refurbish the image of the country’s best known international figure. At the same time, the 5th century BC philosopher offers them what they want, a philosophy that stresses obedience to authorities, making sacrifices for one’s clan or social group and filial piety.

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