Confucius' PopularityWhat has made Confucius's teachings so enduring?

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sagesource's profile pic

sagesource | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

Posted on

His wisdom, common sense, and spirituality make him popular then and today.

Confucian spirituality is a tad tricky. It changes, even between the time of Confucius and that of his immediate disciples.

One thing to keep in mind is that the notion of original sin is utterly alien to Confucian, and indeed Chinese, thought. A person may be bad because he or she is ignorant or deluded, or just plain stupid, but no one has to be bad. The bad in some way choose to be bad, or are deluded into error by the choices and influence of superiors.

The sole cause of evil in the universe (even such things as natural disasters) is the incorrect use of the free will unique to human beings. Thus everything turns around the human realm, the one "squeaky wheel" in the universal mechanism. Everything else, lacking free will, behaves in a naturally good way and so by definition cannot be part of the problem.

Some Confucians, the most pessimistic, felt that goodness was something humans constructed as part of their duty to the universal order; others, usually in the majority, considered it to be nurtured from inborn sources. But literally nobody in China thought that people had an overwhelming drive to do what was objectively evil. A this-worldly utopia was thus very possible. Even the Legalist school, legendary for its advocacy of fierce laws and savage punishments, looked forward to a day when people would understand the law perfectly and so no one would be punished in any way any more: "using law to abolish law."

More next week..... 

kwoo1213's profile pic

kwoo1213 | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator

Posted on

I hope that will become clearer with detailed discussion of his ideas. However, just as a brief preview, I think that Confucius was the leaven in the loaf, so to speak.

Confucius did not "invent" Chinese civilization. He was not responsible for the basic family and social virtues in China or for the coherence and unity of Chinese civilization -- if we look at the accomplishments of the Shang and early Zhou dynasties, all these qualities were developed long before his time, as Confucius himself would have agreed. 

What Confucius did do was to establish a method and a rationale for Chinese civilization to question and renew itself, and so contribute immeasurably to its long-term health. In the name of obedience to ideals, he made it possible to refuse to obey the real. He forced the rulers to confront the full implications of the positions they claimed: if you are "father and mother of the people," then YOU are responsible if the people misbehave, just as parents are responsible when their young children do something wrong. He reinforced the family as the sole power center that could stand against an overwhelmingly huge and powerful state. And, by his emphasis on education and teaching tradition, he both won his followers a secure place in the social order and made it possible for any talented male to improve his position in that order.

There's a lot more of course, but that will do to begin with.

Thank you.  This helps very much!

amy-lepore's profile pic

amy-lepore | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

His wisdom, common sense, and spirituality make him popular then and today.

sagesource's profile pic

sagesource | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

Posted on

I hope that will become clearer with detailed discussion of his ideas. However, just as a brief preview, I think that Confucius was the leaven in the loaf, so to speak.

Confucius did not "invent" Chinese civilization. He was not responsible for the basic family and social virtues in China or for the coherence and unity of Chinese civilization -- if we look at the accomplishments of the Shang and early Zhou dynasties, all these qualities were developed long before his time, as Confucius himself would have agreed. 

What Confucius did do was to establish a method and a rationale for Chinese civilization to question and renew itself, and so contribute immeasurably to its long-term health. In the name of obedience to ideals, he made it possible to refuse to obey the real. He forced the rulers to confront the full implications of the positions they claimed: if you are "father and mother of the people," then YOU are responsible if the people misbehave, just as parents are responsible when their young children do something wrong. He reinforced the family as the sole power center that could stand against an overwhelmingly huge and powerful state. And, by his emphasis on education and teaching tradition, he both won his followers a secure place in the social order and made it possible for any talented male to improve his position in that order.

There's a lot more of course, but that will do to begin with.

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