Academia and cultural production: Yu Dan and her confucius from the heart: Ancient wisdom for today's world

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Sungkyun Journal of East Asian Studies Vol.15 No.1 © 2015 Academy of East Asian Studies. 89-108 email of the author: 89 Introduction Yu Dan (b. 1965), a media professor at Beijing Normal University, and her wellknown book, Yu Dan Lunyu xinde, (published in the West with the English title Confucius from the Heart: Ancient Wisdom for Today’s World, hereafter Confucius), have been controversial topics in cultural discussions of contemporary China. James Leibold notes that in mainland China today, “one cannot enter a bookstore without encountering Professor Yu Dan’s depoliticized, self-help musings on the Analects, which has sold ten million legitimate and another six million pirated copies, inviting comparisons with Mao’s little red book” (Leibold 2010, 18). Recently, Confucius was published in the West, and Yu’s total royalties for the book have reached 2.6 million RMB. Confucius is a collection of Yu’s lectures about the Analects, which were broadcast via the China Central Television Station’s (CCTV’s) prime time science and education programme Lecture Room (Baijia jiangtan) in October 2006. Due to its popularity, the programme’s lectures were collected into a book in November of the same year. With the combined success of the programme and the book, Yu Dan became known across China, enjoying popularity in academic circles as well as acquiring the status of a celebrity among the general Chinese professor Yu Dan and her book Yu Dan Lunyu xinde, (Confucius from the Heart: Ancient Wisdom for Today’s World), became an immediate cultural success, contributing to the promotion and the popularity of people’s interest in the Chinese classics and national studies. As a work which bears the marks of both Confucian ideology and popular Confucian cultural traits, the Yu Dan phenomenon captures the development of the national studies craze, in particular those areas relevant to Confucian ideas and principles in contemporary China. Yu Dan’s popularity indicates a recent revival of ancient Chinese cultural, philosophical, and moral traditions in their relationship with modern Chinese society, and their use by contemporary Chinese people. This article analyses the development of the Yu Dan phenomenon and the intense debate it has stimulated, reviewing its subtle collaboration with official discourse and propaganda, and its success as a cultural product. It also analyses the role the Yu Dan phenomenon plays in changing the social status and functions of intellectuals in the contemporary Chinese political-social-cultural milieu
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)89-108
Number of pages20
JournalSungkyun Journal of East Asian Studies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Academia
  • Confucianism
  • National studies craze
  • The analects
  • Yu Dan

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