Confucian Studies Summer Institute Elena Syvokaite
The one-month study programme in China was truly one of a kind experience. Every single day I learnt a ton of new things, from Chinese philosophy to politics, culture, language, food, customs, and lots more. The people participating were all of incredible skill and were keen to learn and share thoughts on Chinese culture, which made the programme an interesting and inquisitive space because everybody was involved.
Weekdays lessons started at 9am following breakfast and morning exercise with a Tai chi master. Each lesson posed a discussion on different aspects of Chinese philosophy. For instance, in the first week Professor Robin Wang posed questions about Chinese philosophy in relation to gender equality and Professor Hans-Georg Moeller discussed Confucian ideas of the self and shame in comparison to equivalent Western concepts. The first week was a challenge because I have not studied any Chinese philosophy before and most things that were being discussed in lessons were unfamiliar, but the professors explained and described difficult concepts in a clear manner so it was not hard to catch up. Nonetheless most discussion consisted of current events in China or Western philosophy in comparison to that of China, which I am more than familiar with and could easily participate without much background knowledge of Confucian philosophy.
In the evenings we would have cultural activities such as learning about Beijing opera or Chinese painting. These were always a lot of fun because they would involve an equal amount of speaking from the expert and participation from everyone else. One cultural activity that was particularly interesting to me was translating a passage from one of key Confucian texts. Even though my Chinese language skills were absolutely minimal it was interesting to attempt to translate and interpret the Chinese characters.
The weekends were also packed with activities, for instance, visiting Confucius and Mencius’ houses and the Confucius temples in Qufu, climbing Tai Mountain and Ni Mountain, visiting cities around Qufu and experiencing Chinese calligraphy at a local village. Another challenge that I faced was the language barrier. The town we were residing in was not accustomed to tourists so sometimes I would struggle to communicate with the residents. However my fellow Chinese students would help out and translate for me and after a couple weeks I learnt to say basic Chinese sentences. During some free time the students working for the programme would offer to teach me basic Mandarin, which definitely proved to be useful.
During free time social events were organised that related to Chinese culture, such as karaoke nights or film nights screening documentaries on China’s wild life and the like. This was fun because everyone got involved and it was a break from the intense studying of the day.
The last weeks of the programme were special because we had the opportunity to meet and spend time with Professor Roger T. Ames, the leading scholar on Confucian philosophy and his former students Professors Ian Sullivan and Jim Behuniak. The closing ceremony of the programme in Beijing provided us the opportunity to meet founders of the programme and people who support it. I was also chosen to read out my essay on Confucianism and gender, which was really amazing and delightful.
Overall this programme provided me with an opportunity to experience Chinese life first hand and intensely learn Chinese philosophy, which I believe I achieved very well. I also met incredible people who I still stay in touch with, and it has left me with a strong lingering desire to go back again in the future.