My speech today is my thought on a speech by Ms Zhongyun Zi four years ago, called the “Chinese Intellectual’s Inheritance and Relinquishment of Traditional Moral Values”. I tweaked her original title into “Chinese Intellectual’s Inheritance and Innovation of Traditional Moral Values” as my today’s topic, in which I would like to provoke some new understanding on what “shi”, or “scholar gentries” meant in ancient China and who are the new generation of “scholar gentry” in today’s China.
Confucianism represents the core of traditional Chinese culture, and in my eyes, Confucius has done a great secretary’s job to document and elaborate on the essence of Chinese culture in 2,500 years. If Confucius is the secretary, who’s his boss then? This question is actually asking who’s the master and leader of this country, someone who should deserve to have Confucius as secretary.
As someone working in the social innovation field, sometimes, I found it hard to explain to family and friend what kind of things we exactly do. In fact, over the years, I’ve also been thinking about this question a lot. Today, I want to put it this way: you’re working in Leping, because you want to make a difference in this country, turn it into a place you would enjoy, with as much contribution you can, in as creative and fun way as possible, because you’re the master of this country.
In this way, if you can enjoy yourself, appreciate yourself, everybody else and the whole society more, then you are not only improving your own life, but also the life of people around you. Maybe this thought will give you a new sense of citizenship and know your place in the society better.
The ancient Chinese thinking or the “orthodox moral values”, according to Zhongyun Zi’s speech, is a genuine patriotism sentiment and concern for its people, along with a devotion to improving one’s own integrity and humanity. In most discourse of Chinese culture, “shi” or the “scholar gentries” refer to “intellectuals”, therefore, Ms Zi’s speech mentions intellectuals’ responsibility, evolution and relinquishment during the development of the “orthodox moral values”. So, who’s are the new generation of intellectuals in today’s China?
Today, “shi” as most of us understand it, refers to experts, professional and the so-called “public intellectuals”. In Chinese context, “public intellectuals” are somewhat controversial. Mr. Qian Liqun called them “exquisite egoists”. If “shi” are really exquisite egoists, can you imagine them using their knowledge and talent, not primarily for their own interest, but for the public interest of the whole society?
Therefore, perhaps we should think twice, that in the 21st century, should we can still define “shi” narrowly as these intellectuals. To me, I think “shi” are definitely not exquisite or crude egoists, but someone who can sustain himself, care about society and shoulder social responsibility. If we’ve only attended primary or high school, but we have this noble aspiration and willing take our social obligations, why can’t we be the “shi”?
That is why I want to put this lofty title— “shi”—on all of you. People like you are the “shi” in Leping, and the backbones of the Chinese society. Who else is more fitting to be the master of China than you? If Chinese society has such good bosses, I believe in 100 years, we will have great secretaries just like Confucius, who will write down what the bosses did in the past 150 or 300 years. And in this way, we will truly pass down the “orthodox moral values” for generations to come.
Note: This article is an abridged version of the speech delivered by Mr. Jaff (Dongshu) Shen, CEO of Leping Social Entrepreneur Foundation, at Leping’s Annual Conference in 2015.