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China's Return of Confucius

“Avatar” was bumped off screens in China by a state-sponsored biopic on Confucius. We look at his teachings — and the rise of Confucianism in China today.

Promotional poster for the new Chinese film "Confucius."

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The 3-D blockbuster “Avatar” got the boot from 2,000 movie theaters in China this weekend. And “Avatar” was huge in China. But the Chinese government puts limits on foreign film runs — and it has other priorities.

Now running on all those big screens: a big-budget biopic on the ancient philosopher — China’s “Great Sage” — Confucius. [The New York Times has this update on the movie duel.]

The Chinese Communist Party has increasingly embraced Confucianism as a path to “harmony” and “order.” Admirers say it’s a natural return of the sage. Critics say it’s Chinese autocrats looking for cover.

This hour, On Point: The return of Confucius — and his new place in contemporary China.

Guests:

Joining us in our studio is Tu Weiming, professor of Chinese history and philosophy and of Confucian studies at Harvard University. He spent the last six months in China, where he is starting the Institute for Advanced Humanistic Studies at Peking University. He written extensively on Confucius.

From New York we’re joined by Xudong Zhang, professor of East Asian studies and comparative literature at New York University. He is author of “Postsocialism and Cultural Politics: The Last Decade of China’s Twentieth Century.”

And from Berkeley, Calif., we’re joined by Minxin Pei, senior associate in the China Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and director of the Keck Center for International and Strategic Studies at Claremont McKenna College, where he is also professor of government. He is author of “China’s Trapped Transition: The Limits of Developmental Autocracy.”

More links:

Update, 1/29: “China’s Zeal for ‘Avatar’ Crowds Out ‘Confucius’” — The New York Times reports that Chinese moviegoers preferred “Avatar” to “Confucius” in such numbers that “Chinese authorities appeared to have backpedaled this week on a decision to pull ‘Avatar’ from the nation’s 2-D movie screens in favor of ‘Confucius.’”

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