Confucian quote open to interpretation

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 10 April, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 10 April, 2007, 12:00am

Confucius' words of wisdom are often cited by elders in Chinese society to expound on the virtues of an ideal man and how an individual should live and interact with society.

But that Premier Wen Jiabao quoted twice in two years from the same chapter of the Analects of Confucius, or 'Lun Yu' - a collection of Confucius' teachings and conversations with disciples - in meetings with Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen is certain to give rise to much interpretation.

'A scholar must not be without scope and perspective, for his task is arduous and the road ahead is long,' Mr Wen quoted from chapter eight of the Analects - which carries commentary by Zeng Zi , one of Confucius' most acclaimed students - when he handed Mr Tsang his letter of appointment for his first term as chief executive in June 2005.

The citation was seen at the time as a reminder to Mr Tsang - appointed after Tung Chee-hwa bowed out in the middle of his second five-year term - that he should be mindful of acting with 'scope and perspective'.

Two years on, the premier cited the second part of the teaching, which reads:

Benevolence is the responsibility he has taken upon himself: is it not heavy?

Only after his death does it end: is it not long?

The citation was taken as an affirmation of the size of the tasks facing Mr Tsang. One commentator suggested it was a reflection of the even greater expectations Beijing now has of him. But there could be another reason Mr Wen adhered to the commentary by Zeng Zi - Mr Tsang is said to be a 74th-generation descendant of the student.