Confucius descendent champions Chinese values in UK
Updated: 2012-03-21 22:57
By Cecily Liu (chinadaily.com.cn)
LONDON - Neatly displayed on the living-room bookshelf in the South-London house of James Kong are several volumes of ruby-red gold-embossed family tree books of the ancient Chinese philosopher Confucius.
James Kong, the the 79th direct descendent of Confucius (551-479 BC). [Zhou Chenchen/for China Daily]
The 18-year-old half-British Kong, known in China as "Kong Chuixu" says that people generally stare at him in amazement upon learning that he is the 79th direct descendent of Confucius (551-479 BC).
"So many people are skeptical, but my name is in the family tree," he said, showing me several carefully bookmarked pages in the thick volumes filled with names.
For Kong, the accident of his birth into the world's largest extended family gave him not just a slight Asian look, but moreover an amazing politeness and maturity unfamiliar to most British teenager.
At 12, he surprised his teacher by taking about the merits of self-cultivation and righteousness at a school camp in Barnes, London. At 16 he lectured younger students at local schools about Confucian values. He also dreams of writing a book about The Analects, recording his personal discovery of this seminal Confucian text, as a young Londoner.
Last year, Kong returned to China to act in the play Then They Came for Me, a story set during the holocaust with a key message coherent with the core Confucian idea of a peaceful and harmonious society. He recently also set up the charity Confucius Better World Foundation, raising money to help the less privileged.
"My mom always made it clear to me about who I am," he explained, "but I didn't quite understand how important it is until an event like our family tree ceremony or the Tomb-Sweeping ceremony".
In 2008, the 14-year-old Kong took time off his GCSE classes to attend a Tomb-Sweeping ceremony with more than 130 relatives in their ancestral home Qufu, to remember Confucius.
In the following year, he returned to Qufu with more than 1,000 Confucius descendents to attend the ceremony that unveiled the first complete edition of their family tree for more than 70 years.
Updating the Confucian family tree has been a major task for his grandfather Kong Deyong and his father Kong Weizhong. Research and compilation took 12 years, cost $6.16 million and was formally launched in September 2009, showing the location of 2 million descendants of Confucius across 17 countries.
Walking immediately behind his grandfather and father to the main temple of Qufu, he remembers looking back at the sea of relatives at the ceremony. "Even though I didn't understand what exactly was happening, I felt deeply moved."
The moment was one of self-discovery allowing him to realize his responsibility in the family, Kong said, explaining that he had earlier complained about spending his 16th birthday not with friends but on a plane to China.
In particular, the experience made him feel ever closer to his grandfather, who led the ceremony. "I was physically tired but he was an old man, and I saw him marching up and down the crowd, and just kept going."
Kong admits that to communicate with his grandfather is a key motivation for him to learn Chinese, a language he finds particularly difficult to master.
Apart from occasional language lessons taught by private tutors, he has once spent a month in Beijing learning Mandarin – not a very happy experience because the disparity between his speaking and writing skills made it impossible for him to find the right class.
But it did not discourage him, as he is determined to spend a year in China learning Mandarin after finishing his secondary school education at Harrodian School in London this year.
"I'm not the type to give up easily on something, so it will be done," he said, with an air of finality.
Indeed, Kong's mature face and manner of speech makes it easy to forget that he just a teenage boy.
An ardent lover of football and a fan of the British team Manchester United, Kong also plays guitar, writes songs, enjoys acting, watching TV, and hanging out with friends during his spare time. Although he is quick to point out that he doesn't "drink a drop of alcohol".
But being born into a family that highly values education, Kong admits that his weekly schedule is also rather busy. Singing lessons on Mondays, guitar lessons on Tuesdays, piano Wednesdays, sometimes chess during lunch, other times football and the list goes on.