Sunday, December 21, 2014

376. Like Confucius Benjamin Franklin Would Live for Ages to Come

Seventeen years after Benjamin Franklin stated that Confucius was his example, Dr. Ezra Stiles (1717-1795) assured Franklin that he would live for ages to come. In the following I provide you with the quote from his letter to Benjamin Franklin dated February 26, 1766:

I have somtimes wished, after you had digested such of your Letters and other Writings as you would desire to accompany your Name through all american Ages, that I might be charged with the publication of them, prefixing them with the history of your Life. But this is an honor, to which among your numerous friends I can have no pretension. Confucius and his Posterity have been honored in China for Twenty Ages—the Electrical Philosopher, the American Inventor of the pointed Rods will live for Ages to come to live with him would please no one more than, my Dear Maecenas Your affectionate Friend and obedient Servant.

Ezra Stiles
Dr. Franklin London

Sent by Mr. Robt. Stevens Junior who saild March 9. 1766. on Board the ship America Capt. Osborn from Newport Rh. Isl. for Bristol in England, and Arrived at Bristol Apr. 17.

When Stiles wrote this letter he was  pastor of the Second Congregational Church in New Port, Rhode Island from 1755 until 1777. While in Newport, he also served as Librarian of the Redwood Library.

Monday, December 15, 2014

375. Confucius Institute and Benjamin Franklin's Junto

The Confucius Institutes, non-profit organization that promotes Chinese language and culture,  are all over the world today. People may wonder who started the first Confucius Institute in the world. No one is qualified to make the statement that he created the first Confucius institute but Benjamin Franklin, one of the great admirers of Confucius throughout the history.

Franklin founded his Confucius Institute, Junto, in 1727 after returning from England. Most scholars believe that Junto comes from a mistaken use of the Spanish noun “junta,” which means “a meeting.” This word derives from the Latin “iunct,” which means “to join.” However, I do not believe Franklin would commit such an error, since in his leisure moments, Franklin taught himself Spanish and Latin, as well as other languages.

Interestingly enough, Junto (君道) in Chinese means the “Way of a Gentleman” or the “Path Leading to a Virtuous Person.” This seems more accurately explain the purpose of the group. Franklin hoped to use his Junto as a means to cultivate more virtuous members for the society. For more information, one can read Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography, now available online.

Through Dr. Dave Wang's research, we have learned that Franklin avidly promoted Confucian moral philosophy among the colonists in the North American colonies. For instance, in 1737, Franklin published chapters from The Morals of Confucius in his widely circulated The Pennsylvania Gazette. A decade later, Franklin told George Whitefield that Confucian moral philosophy belonged to all human beings. It is evident that Franklin held Confucian philosophies in high regard. He regarded Confucius as his example. Since Franklin's statement is very significant I will quote in the following:

"I am glad to hear that you have frequent opportunities of preaching among the great. If you can gain them to a good and exemplary life, wonderful changes will follow in the manners of the lower ranks; for, ad Exemplum Regis, &c. On this principle Confucius, the famous eastern reformer, proceeded. When he saw his country sunk in vice, and wickedness of all kinds triumphant, he applied himself first to the grandees; and having by his doctrine won them to the cause of virtue, the commons followed in multitudes. The mode has a wonderful influence on mankind; and there are numbers that perhaps fear less the being in Hell, than out of the fashion! Our more western reformations began with the ignorant mob; and when numbers of them were gained, interest and party-views drew in the wise and great. Where both methods can be used, reformations are like to be more speedy. O that some method could be found to make them lasting! He that shall discover that, will, in my opinion, deserve more, ten thousand times, than the inventor of the longtitude." 

Finally, I should make it clear that Franklin's Junto aimed to improve its members' virtues following Confucian moral philosophy. In this point, Junto was different from contemporary Confucius institutes.