Born late in the Chou dynasty, Confucius was reared in poverty by his mother. He studied ancient texts and learned the arts of a courtier. Early in his life he held minor public posts, but is best known for his teachings during his later life. The Chou Dynasty had fallen into a state of disintegration by the time Confucius was born, and the established authority and traditional rituals were violated daily. During this time of social upheaval Confucius emerged as a teacher who valued constancy, trustworthiness, and the reestablishment of the rational feudal order of previous times. Even though he was respected as a great teacher he never held a major government post. Late in his life he became a wandering philosopher-teacher. Like Socrates of Greece, Confucius became known as a teacher primarily through the preservation of his teachings by his disciples. From 206 b.c.e. until the twentieth century the philosophy of Confucius, known as Confucianism, dominated China and many other East Asian countries.
While Confucius and his philosophy enjoyed almost complete acceptance for more than two millennia, he did attract some objections. Confucius held a minor official position in the year 500 b.c.e., based mostly on his reputation as a teacher. Although he supported ritual as a form of moral improvement, he downplayed the spiritual aspects of it. He was forced to resign from his position because his denial of the spiritual was deemed improper. Due to this event and his ideas about ritual he was never again able to obtain a government position. Two hundred and fifty years after Confucius’ death the Chou Dynasty finally came to an end. The Ch’in Dynasty came to power in 211 b.c.e. and put an end to free philosophical thought. Confucianism in turn was outlawed and writings about it were burned. The Ch’in Dynasty was short lived, however. In 206 b.c.e. the new Han Dynasty instituted Confucianism as the...
(The entire section is 796 words.)