Confucius lost some face at his birthday party last week in Taipei. Mayor Ma Ying-jeou, the master of ceremonies, had trouble suppressing his yawns at an intricate pre-dawn ceremony at the Confucian temple, held every year to celebrate the sage's birthday. So did some of the pupils from a nearby elementary school who danced the ancient Yi dance in his honour. Later, their principal admitted that he was having trouble recruiting students to learn the dance. Parents preferred their youngsters to study more modern subjects like computers or English, he complained; the dance instructor has even requested a transfer to another school, out of frustration. But the principal hasn't given up: he wants to turn the Yi dance into a compulsory sport, like swimming, and a door to preferred admission into elite schools. Confucius, you see, has an image problem these days: young people think he is boring. So temple authorities in Taipei had to liven things up after the long-winded ceremony, with a performance by an all-girl honour guard in white skirts who twirled rifles and did precision marches. He is even more unpopular with women: in an infamous line in the Analects, Confucius says women are hard to deal with. Because students used to memorise large chunks of the book, that line is remembered all too well. Even Mr Ma, a staunch traditionalist who has presided over the annual ceremonies seven times, hinted at Confucius' increasing lack of relevance. He told the audience, which contained many foreign residents, that the annual birthday ceremonies should be an occasion to reflect on the master's contributions to Chinese civilisation, not just an empty formality or a tourist event. That subject arose during a recent lecture tour of the mainland by Taiwanese social gadfly Li Ao: he was repeatedly asked about the progress of 'de-Sinification' in Taiwan. This unwieldy term is used in Taiwan's cultural wars by traditionalists - who accuse the government of trying to strip Chinese culture from Taiwan. The Ministry of Education, for example, was charged with trying to de-Sinify Taiwan when it suggested reducing the amount of literary Chinese in secondary textbooks. Mr Li quite rightly told his audiences that it would be impossible to de-Sinify Taiwan. Except for the island's indigenous people, most Taiwanese are culturally Chinese. But it is also true that a kind of passive de-Sinification is operating within the government's more active efforts to de-emphasise high Chinese civilisation. People feel that this ancient tradition no longer speaks to them, and they do not see why their children should have to get up at 3am to dance for its most famous apostle.