QUFU, Shandong, Sept. 28 (Xinhua) -- More than 10,000 people gathered Monday in east China to celebrate the anniversary of the birthday of Confucius (551-479 BC), the great thinker and philosopher, 2,560 years ago.
The ceremony started at 8:30 a.m. at the Confucius Temple in Qufu, his birthplace, when local people intoned his quotations.
Government officials in Shandong, as well as Confucius' descendants, scholars and representatives from foreign embassies in China and international organizations, placed flowers in front of the temple, before Jiang Daming, governor of Shandong, wearing a traditional yellow scarf delivered the elegiac address.
The ceremony was concluded after performances of traditional dances.
Kong Dejun, a teacher at the University of Cambridge, returned to China especially for the ceremony.
"I was touched to see my ancestor being revered by people from different countries and nations," she said.
The return was a far cry from her experience in 1978, when she first came back. On learning that her surname was "Kong", someone shouted "Down with Kong the Second," in a reference to Confucius, who was said to be the second boy among his siblings.
The experience scared her into concealing her family name. "But this time, I am proud of my surname," she said.
The newly compiled family tree, the fifth edition of the Confucius Genealogy, list more than 2 million descendants, including female members, those from ethnic minorities and those from overseas for the first time.
Kong Dejun returned with her daughter, Kong Weiqian, who was born in Switzerland and is studying in the University of Zurich, preparing a dissertation on Confucianism.
"I now feel that I must work hard, so as to be worthy of the surname," she said.
FROM CRITICISM TO WELCOME
Confucianism has been the mainstream philosophy in China since feudal times, and was used to reinforce sovereignty.
During the "May Fourth Movement" in 1919, Confucianism was seen as a symbol of outdated and backward feudal culture, like opium, foot-binding cloth and unconditional loyalty to the emperors.
In the Cultural Revolution, the reputation of Confucius dropped to its lowest point in China. Temples to the philosopher were torn down, while tombs of his descendants were destroyed -- a humiliation in China where ancestral worship was widely practiced.
"But the movement didn't really eradicate Confucianism among the public," said Kong Xianglin, a 75th generation descendant of Confucius and vice dean of the Confucius Research Institute.
Kong Lingshao, a 76th-generation descendant and deputy head of the publicity department of the Qufu City Committee of the Communist Party of China, said the core of Confucianism was harmony.
Such philosophy had been adopted by Chinese leaders as the basis for the "human-centeredness", "harmonious society" and "scientific outlook on development" concepts in governing the country, he added.
Confucius has also become an ambassador of Chinese culture. By July 2009, a total of 331 Confucius Institutes had been set up in 83 countries and regions, with plans to raise the number to 500 by2010.
Wu Jianmin, president of the China Foreign Affairs University, said the biggest world contribution of Chinese people in the 21st century "maybe not 'made in China', but Chinese culture."
He took an example of the philosophy of "seeking common ground while preserving differences". "The world is a place with diversity," he said. "We should learn from each other and co-exist in harmony."
RE-MOLDING THE IMAGE
On Monday, a cartoon series on Confucius debuted on TV, in which the thinker was a 10-year-old boy, rather than an old man.
"In the program, we tried to portray Confucius as an ordinary person without the utilitarian taint given to him by feudal rulers," said Liang Guodian, chief director of the China Confucius Foundation.
The blockbuster Confucius, starring Chow Yun-Fat, has just been finished. In the movie Confucius is no longer a serious man. He knows a little about martial arts, which triggered public controversy.
"Nowadays, we need an image of Confucius that suits everybody," said Yu Dan, a media scholar who gained overnight popularity with her televised lecture series about the Analects of Confucius, written by his disciples around 475 BC.
"Now advocating Confucianism again, looking at its positive side, shows that China is more confident than before," said Yang Chaoming, dean of the Institute of History and Culture of the Qufu Normal University.
With economic development, people had more spiritual needs, he said. "They want to seek self-identity in their traditional culture.
"Confucius needs to be understood by the people, just like China needs to be understood by the world.
"In the past, he was a saint out of reach. But now, he is closer to us."