(Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)

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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.)


(Critical Survey of Ethics and Literature)

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Confucius lived at a time when the ancient empire of China was being broken up into numerous feudal states, whose struggles for power or survival created an urgent need for able state officials. For the first time in Chinese history, it became possible for a commoner to attain high court position and to effect political changes. A new class of literati was thus formed in Chinese society. As one of the forerunners of that class, Confucius was greatly distressed by the chaotic situation of his time, which was characterized by corruption, conspiracy, and usurpation in courts; harsh measures of oppression carried out against the people; and aggressive wars between states. He believed that this was a result of the moral degeneration of the rulers and that the only way to correct it was to teach and to practice morality.

Unable to persuade the rulers of his time to listen to his morally oriented political advice, Confucius devoted his life to teaching a large number of private students, in order to foster a special group of elite scholars (junzi, or superior people) who would serve the needs of the time and realize his political ideals. His teaching was made authoritative by the Han emperors in the second century b.c.e. and became the official Chinese ideology until the beginning of the twentieth century. The earliest biography of Confucius was written by Sima Qian in his Shi-ji (Records of the Historian) at the beginning of the first century b.c.e.

The Analects is a collection that consists mainly of Confucius’ teachings, comments, and advice, along with some contributions from his main disciples. Also included are short records and descriptions of issues that concerned Confucius. The work was compiled and edited by the students of Confucius’ disciples a century or so after his death. It was beautifully written, and many of the sayings contained in it became proverbs and everyday maxims. It is one of the most reliable texts among the Chinese classics, and it provides the most accurate information about Confucius and his teachings. The primary text of Confucianism, the Analects was the most influential book in China until the early twentieth century.

Junzi and Self-cultivation

Junzi (or chün tzu) originally meant the son of a nobleman. Confucius used the term to mean a person with a noble character. It means an elite, superior man in a moral sense. The way to be a junzi is not by birth but by self-cultivation, which for Confucius is a synonym for learning. A junzi is a true scholar—that is, an elite scholar.

Confucius was famous for not discriminating on the basis of the social origins of his students. Anyone could choose to engage in learning, and thus to cultivate himself and become an elite scholar. It was not Confucius’ aim, however, to turn everybody into junzi. He...

(The entire section is 1210 words.)