This message was sent to the CAIS community on September 28, 2011 on the occasion of Confucius's 2,562nd birthday
Today, September 28, is generally recognized as the birthday of the great Chinese thinker and teacher Confucius (Kǒng Zǐ 孔子, literally, Master Kong). Confucius, legend has it, was born in 551 BCE, which would make him 2,562-years-old today. CAIS, on the other hand, is 30-years old this year; our 30th anniversary logo at the top of this letter (and displayed around the school on banners of all sizes) announces this milestone. But did you know that the Chinese words on the logo “sānshí ěr lì 三十而立” and their English rendition “30, standing strong” were taken from the Confucian Analects (Lún yǔ 《论语》), a collection of Confucius’s sayings compiled by his disciples? The occasion of Confucius’s birthday, then, provides an opportunity to talk about the Confucian Analects while reflecting on CAIS’s own 30th birthday. In China this is called “gǔ wéi jīn yòng” 古为今用 or “using history to serve the present.”
The full Analects passage from which our 30th anniversary tag line is derived, reads as follows:
The Master said:
At 15 my heart was set on learning;
At 30 I stood strong;
At 40 I had no doubts;
At 50 I knew the will of Heaven;
At 60 My ear was attuned to the truth;
At 70 I follow my heart’s desires without transgressing what is right.
This passage lends itself to the celebration of our 30th anniversary, for at 30 we are surely standing strong. For me, It is remarkable to think that 30 years ago a small group of risk-taking individuals embraced Chinese and made a commitment to start the nation’s first Chinese-English dual language immersion school. In 1981 there were just 10 students at CAIS. Could the founders have known that 30 years later China’s meteoric rise would have the attention of the entire world or that their little school would have upwards of 500 students and be at the forefront of a growing educational trend? All schools celebrate anniversaries. But I think we are different—we are celebrating 30 years of Chinese-English dual language immersion. What other school is founded on such vision? It is fitting of the Chinese American International School that as we look forward to the opportunities and innovation that the next 30 years offer our children and our school, that we also remain mindful and take our inspiration from our founders’ spirit of innovation and risk-taking. And it is also important that we reiterate our commitment to CAIS’s mission of keeping Chinese language and culture at the core of our school program.
The Analects passage above contains many ideas from which we ought to draw inspiration as a school. For instance, most of our students graduate at age 14. Confucius said, “At 15 my heart was set on learning.” Taking Confucius as a model, then CAIS ought to graduate eighth graders whose curiosity has been piqued and who have the skills to pursue their interests in high school, college and beyond. Schools often refer to this as “life long learning.” Although the phrase is perhaps overused, the idea ought to be the goal of all teaching—to light a fire in kids that makes them curious and to establish a foundation that enables them to keep on learning. So far as I know, the locus classicus (or chūchù 出处) of “life long learning” in Chinese culture is this passage from the Analects. Confucius describes his life from 15 to 70 as a journey of continuous learning. I love the humility that this implies; Confucius, despite (or perhaps because of) a life dedicated to learning, always thought he could learn more, always strived to become his best self.
At age thirty, we at CAIS are standing strong, and like Confucius we are looking forward humbly yet resolutely to learning more and creating our place in the world. Happy birthday Confucius, and happy birthday CAIS!