A Chinese prison is seeing surprising results in the rehabilitation of inmates by sending them to classes based on the teachings of Confucius. Confucianism is a blend of philosophy and religion
established in the 6th–5th century BCE. Although there is no official religion in China, the Chinese have followed these tenets for thousands of years. Many people in Korea, Japan and other Asian countries also derive wisdom from the teachings.
A prison in Shandong province started Distance Learning College in the 1990s. More than 3,000 inmates have graduated from the school. They learn concepts that are meant to help them live successfully once they are released from prison. Around 1,000 of the former inmates were able to obtain jobs in the China’s booming technology sector.
The program is divided into 14 classes, each dedicated to one of the works of Confucius. The purpose of the two-year study is to imbue the inmates with a moral balance so they clearly define right from wrong. Some of China’s top Confucius scholars are visiting teachers in the classes, which give prisoners a sense of ownership over the way they serve their sentences.
The school also worked with scholars to develop simplified versions of the texts so the principles could be easily absorbed by inmates. Of the precepts which have major impact on the inmates’ outlook, the idea of developing trustworthiness and loyalty have been the most instrumental in restoring their sense of self. They also emphasize the concepts of piety, benevolence and righteousness.
One inmate, who prefers to remain nameless, said that the lectures had stuck with him. He said the idea that a man only becomes great by learning to rectify his mistakes was a key turning point in his life.
Other important ideas promoted by Confucianism include having positive relationships between family members, friends and the community. Confucianism is a remarkably optimistic philosophy which believes that people are inherently good. In recent years, there has been an increase in interest and practice of Confucianism by the Chinese people. As a result, other prisons are now open to adding the courses as well.
The Chinese prison system was able to obtain approval for the students to take a formal test that certifies them as ready for reentry into society. When they pass, the test results are used as proof that the person has changed. In some cases, the tests are even evidence that judges review to determine whether to let the men out early.
The Confucius program has been so successful in its 24 years that it is now being expanded to other places where people receive rehabilitation and therapy. Luzhong prison, located in central Shandong, is the most recent prison to establish a college. The program is so successful because rather than emphasizing rules, it hews close to the original teachings of Confucius, which focused extensively on respect for other human beings, particularly parents and elders. Since many Chinese sociologists believe that a breakdown in respect and empathy for others causes crime, the classes fit with the ideas Chinese culture wants to cultivate.