Confucius Reference

Confucius (Historic Lives: The Ancient World, Prehistory-476)

Article abstract: Chinese philosopher, ethicist, and teacher{$I[g]China;Confucius} Confucius’s teachings had little impact on his own times, but through his disciples and followers, Confucianism became China’s official state philosophy in the second century b.c.e., and its texts became the basis of formal education. Confucianism remained the dominant philosophy of China until the early twentieth century and still has a major influence on people throughout East Asia.

Early Life

The name Confucius (kuhn-FYEW-shuhs) is the latinized version of a formal title, Kongfuzi, meaning “The Master Kong.” He was born as Kong Qiu somewhere in the state of Lu (in the present-day province of Shandong), into a family that was part of the official class but had fallen on hard times. It is said that his great-grandparents had emigrated from the neighboring state of Song. Confucius is believed to have lost his father when still a small child and to have been raised in poverty by his mother.

Nevertheless, Confucius learned the arts of a courtier, including archery and charioteering; at age fifteen, he began to study ancient texts. In his mid-twenties, Confucius held minor posts in Lu, first as a bookkeeper and later as a supervisor of royal herds. His approach to the problems of statecraft may have begun in his thirties, but he is best known for the period after the age of fifty when he was an established teacher or philosopher-master to young men. The actual teachings that have been handed down are contained in epigraphic and somewhat disjointed form in the Lunyu (late sixth or early fifth century b.c.e.; The Analects, 1861). The book is a compilation of moral teachings, usually in the form of brief dialogues between Confucius and a questioner, who might be either a high feudal lord or one of Confucius’s own disciples. Tradition holds that Confucius had an ungainly personal appearance, but nothing is actually known about his looks. He was married and had a son.

During Confucius’s lifetime, China was divided into contending states under the nominal rule of the Zhou (Chou) Dynasty. By the eighth century b.c.e., the Zhou rulers had lost all effective control over their subordinate lords, who became independent rulers. By Confucius’s day, these rulers often were themselves figureheads, controlled by powerful individuals or families close to the throne. Murder, intrigue, and double-dealing had become the common coin of political exchange. Moreover, established authority and traditional social distinctions were violated in daily life. In this atmosphere of treachery and uncertainty, Confucius emerged as a teacher who valued constancy, trustworthiness, and the reestablishment of the rational feudal order contained in the codes of the Zhou Dynasty.

Life’s Work

Confucius was already known as a teacher, but he desired to become an adviser or government minister when, sometime before his fiftieth year, he went to live in the powerful neighboring state of Qi. The duke of Qi honored Confucius as a moral teacher but did not give him an important position in the government; eventually, Confucius returned to Lu.

When the ruler of Qi asked Confucius the best way to govern, he replied, “Let the ruler be a ruler, the subject a subject, the father a father, and the son a son.” The ideas contained in this moral maxim are central to Confucius’s teaching. He taught that social order and stability could be achieved at societal and personal levels if individuals studied and followed the proper standards of behavior. Confucius taught that if one acted properly in terms of one’s own social role, others would be influenced positively by the good example. That worked for a ruler in state and for an individual in his or her daily life. Thus, Confucianism, from its earliest teachings, contained an approach useful for both practical living and governing.

Virtue (de) displayed by living properly brought one into harmony with the correct human order, called “the Way” (dao). Confucius acknowledged the existence of an overarching force in life called Heaven (tian) but did not accept any concept of a God or gods. He specifically opposed the belief in spirits and was not interested in the immortality of the soul. For Confucius, the human order and human character are fundamentally good, but there is a tendency to slip away from proper behavior through laxity and lack of understanding. A primary responsibility of leaders and elders is to uphold the social ideals through positive demonstration in their own lives. In Confucianism, the most complete statement of this approach is called the doctrine of the Rectification of Names (zhengming). One begins with study to establish the original meaning of the Zhou feudal order. Once that understanding is gained, individuals should alter their behavior in order to fulfill completely and sincerely the social roles they are assigned, such as those of minister, father, or brother. This entire process constitutes the Rectification of Names, which Confucius believed would restore the ideal social order.

On his return to Lu around the year 500, Confucius took up an official position under the sponsorship of Ji Huanzi, the head of the Ji clan, who were the real power holders. His post was not an important one, and Confucius resigned shortly over a question of...

(The entire section is 2225 words.)

Confucius (Survey of World Philosophers)

0111203451-Confucius.jpgStatue of Confucius. (Library of Congress) Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Article abstract: Through Confucius’s disciples and followers, Confucianism became China’s official state philosophy in the second century b.c.e., and its texts became the basis of formal education. Confucianism remained the dominant philosophy of China until the early twentieth century and still has a major influence on people throughout East Asia.

Early Life

The name Confucius is the latinized version of a formal title, Kong Fuzi, meaning the Master Kong. He was born as Kong Qiu (styled Zhong Ni) somewhere in the state of Lu (in the present-day province of Shandong), into a family that was part of the official class but had fallen on hard times. His great-grandparents are thought to have emigrated from the neighboring state of Song. Confucius is believed to have lost his father when still a small child and to have been reared in poverty by his mother.

Nevertheless, Confucius learned the arts of a courtier, including archery and charioteering; at age fifteen, he began to study ancient texts. In his mid-twenties, Confucius held minor posts in Lu, first as a bookkeeper and later as a supervisor of royal herds. His approach to the problems of statecraft may have begun in his thirties, but he is best known for the period after the age of fifty when he was an established teacher or philosopher-master to young men. The actual teachings that have been handed down are contained in epigraphic and somewhat disjointed form in the Analects. The work is a compilation of moral teachings, usually in the form of brief dialogues between Confucius and a questioner, who might be either a high feudal lord or one of Confucius’s own disciples. Tradition holds that Confucius had an ungainly personal appearance, but nothing is actually known about his looks. He was married and had a son.

During Confucius’s lifetime, China was divided into contending states under the nominal rule of the Zhou Dynasty (1122-221 b.c.e.). By the eighth century b.c.e., the Zhou rulers had lost all effective control over their subordinate lords, who became independent rulers. By Confucius’s day, these rulers often were themselves figureheads, controlled by powerful individuals or families close to the throne. Murder, intrigue, and double-dealing had become the common coin of political exchange. Moreover, established authority and traditional social distinctions were violated in daily life. In this atmosphere of treachery and uncertainty, Confucius emerged as a teacher who valued constancy, trustworthiness, and the reestablishment of the rational feudal order contained in the codes of the Zhou Dynasty.

Life’s Work

Confucius was already known as a teacher but desired to become an adviser or government minister when, sometime before his fiftieth year, he went to live in the powerful neighboring state of Qi. The duke of Qi honored Confucius as a moral teacher but did not give him an important position in the government; eventually, Confucius returned to Lu.

When the ruler of Qi asked Confucius the best way to govern, he replied, “Let the ruler be a ruler, the subject a subject, the father a father, and the son a son.” The ideas contained in this moral maxim are central to Confucius’s teaching. He taught that social order and stability could be achieved at a societal and a personal level if individuals studied and followed the proper standards of behavior. Confucius taught that if one acted properly in terms of one’s own social role, others would be influenced positively by the good example. That worked for a ruler in state and for an individual in his or her daily life. Thus, Confucianism, from its earliest teachings, contained an approach useful for both practical living and governing.

Virtue (de) displayed by living properly brought one into harmony with the correct human order, called “the Way” (dao, or tao). Confucius acknowledged the existence of an overarching force in life called Heaven (tian) but did not accept any concept of a god or gods. He specifically opposed belief in spirits and was not interested in the immortality of the soul.

For Confucius, the human order and human character are fundamentally good, but there is a tendency to slip away from proper behavior through laxity and lack of understanding. A primary responsibility of leaders and elders is to uphold the social ideals through positive demonstration in their own lives. In Confucianism, the most complete statement of this approach is called the doctrine of the rectification of names (zhengming). One begins with study to establish the original meaning of the Zhou feudal order. Once that understanding is gained, individuals should alter their behavior in order to fulfill completely and sincerely the social roles they are assigned, such as minister, father, or brother. This entire process constitutes the rectification of names, which Confucius believed would restore the ideal social order.

Upon his return to Lu around the year 500 b.c.e., Confucius took up an official position under the sponsorship of Ji Huanzi, the head of the Ji clan, who were the real power holders. His post was not an important one, and Confucius resigned shortly over a question of improper conduct of ritual sacrifices. Ritual (li) plays a central role in Confucius’s teachings. He downplayed the supernatural or religious aspects of ritual but taught that meticulous and sincere observance of rituals imparted moral improvement.

The state of Lu, where Confucius lived, derived from a collateral line of the Zhou Dynasty and was known for careful preservation of Zhou ritual practices. Confucius used this tradition as a proof of the importance of rituals. In addition to the moral training acquired by the mastery of ritual, Confucius taught ritual as a means to acquire the practical skills needed to carry out the functions of high office.

In 497 b.c.e., after his resignation...

(The entire section is 2458 words.)