President Xi Jinping has made no secret of his love for traditional Chinese culture by frequently quoting classic Chinese literature, most recently urging that Chinese classic poems and essays be kept in high school textbooks.
On Wednesday, he became the first Chinese president to address an international meeting on the ancient Chinese philosopher Confucius (551-479 BC), Xi's latest high-profile effort to promote a culture observers said could be an answer to problems in a rising China, particularly in governance and morality.
Xi cites Confucius as positive example for modern nation
China must preserve and develop its culture and promote exchanges between civilizations to make the world a better place, Xi said.
"Culture is the soul of a nation," Xi told hundreds of participants from home and abroad at the opening of an international conference to commemorate the 2,565th anniversary of Confucius' birth, which fall on Sunday.
"If a country does not cherish its own thinking and culture, if its people lose their soul, no matter which country or which nation, it will not be able to stand."
Observers said the new leadership's endorsement of traditional culture has reached an unprecedented level since the establishment of New China in 1949, and Confucianism, the doctrine of the much-revered thinker, obviously resonates with Chinese today.
Confucianism emphasized openness and harmony, and Xi underscored such thoughts to assure the world that a growing China would not seek expansion or confrontation, said Zhang Jian, an expert from the International Confucian Association and professor at Renmin University of China.
Amid strained ties between China and some of its neighbors over territorial disputes, Xi highlighted on Wednesday China's need for and commitment to peace.
Zhang said Confucianism, which ancient Chinese officials believed, could also help today's campaign to fight corruption and eliminate bureaucracy and lavish spending of public funds.
Yan Binggang, deputy chief of the Advanced Institute of Confucian Studies at Shandong University, said Confucianism could be the best-received way to help Chinese rebuild values that were undermined during China's three decades of turbo-charged economic growth.
But Yan said the road would be bumpy as most Chinese aged 40 to 60 were raised to disregard the traditional culture.
Preaching moral righteousness, harmony and peace, Confucian doctrines were generally worshiped by ancient monarchs, but denounced a century ago by some intellectuals who blamed Confucian thought for China's decline at the time.
Xing Yi and Zhao Ruixue contributed to this story.