Confucius was educated at schools for commoners, where he studied and learned the Six Arts. Confucius was born into the class of shi (士), between the aristocracy and the common people. He is said to have worked in various government jobs during his early 20s, and as a bookkeeper and a caretaker of sheep and horses, using the proceeds to give ...
- Confucius as Chinese Philosopher and Symbol of Traditional Culture
- Sources For Confucius’s Life and Thought
- Ritual Psychology and Social Values
- Virtues and Character Formation
- The Family and The State
Because of the wide range of texts and traditions identified with him,choices about which version of Confucius is authoritative have changedover time, reflecting particular political and social priorities. Theportrait of Confucius as philosopher is, in part, the product of aseries of modern cross-cultural interactions. In Imperial China,Confucius was identified with interpretations of the classics andmoral guidelines for administrators, and therefore also with trainingthe scholar-officials that populated the bureaucracy. At the sametime, he was closely associated with the transmission of the ancientsacrificial system, and he himself received ritual offerings intemples found in all major cities. By the Han (202 BCE–220 CE),Confucius was already an authoritative figure in a number of differentcultural domains, and the early commentaries show that reading textsassociated with him about history, ritual, and proper behavior wasimportant to rulers. The first commentaries to the Analectswe...
Biographical treatments of Confucius, beginning with the“Hereditary House of Confucius” (Kongzi shijia孔子世家), a chapter of Sima Qian’s司馬遷 (c.145–c.86 BCE) Records of theGrand Historian (Shiji史記), were initiallybased on information from compilations of independently circulatingdialogues and prose accounts. Tying particular elements of hisphilosophy to the life experiences of Confucius is a risky andpotentially circular exercise, since many of the details of hisbiography were first recorded in instructive anecdotes linked to theexpression of didactic messages. Nevertheless, since Sima Qian’stime, the biography of Confucius has been intimately linked with theinterpretation of his philosophy, and so this section begins with abrief treatment of traditional tropes about his family background,official career, and teaching of 72 disciples, before turning to thedialogue and prose accounts upon which early biographers like SimaQian drew. Confucius was born in the domain of Zou, in modern Shand...
The Records of Ritual, the Analects, and numerousHan collections portray Confucius as being deeplyconcerned with the proper performance of ritual and music. In such works, the description of the attitudes and affect of the performer became the foundation of aritual psychology in which proper performance was key to reformingdesires and beginning to develop moral dispositions. Confucius soughtto preserve the Zhou ritual system, and theorized about how ritual andmusic inculcated social roles, limited desires and transformedcharacter. Many biographies begin their description of his life with a story ofConfucius at an early age performing rituals, reflecting accounts andstatements that demonstrate his prodigious mastery of ritual andmusic. The archaeological record shows that one legacy of the Zhouperiod into which Confucius was born was a system of sumptuaryregulations that encoded social status. Another of these legacies wasancestral sacrifice, a means to demonstrate people’s reverence...
Many of the short passages from the Analects, and the“Thicket of Sayings” passages excavated at Guodian,describe the development of set of ideal behaviors associated with themoral ideal of the “way” (dao 道) of the“gentleman” (junzi 君子). Based onthe analogy between the way of Confucius and character ethics systemsderiving from Aristotle, these patterns of behavior are today oftendescribed using the Latinate term “virtue”. In the secondpassage in theAnalects, the disciple You Ruo 有若 says a person who behaves withfilial piety to parents and siblings (xiao and di 弟),and who avoids going against superiors, will rarely disorder society.It relates this correlation to a more general picture of how patternsof good behavior effectively open up the possibility of following theway of the gentleman: “The gentleman works at the roots. Oncethe roots are established, the way comes to life” (1.2). The wayof the gentleman is a distillation of the exemplary behaviors of theselfless culture heroes of t...
Early Zhou political philosophy as represented in the Classic ofOdes and the Classic of Documents centered on moraljustification for political authority based on the doctrine of the“Mandate of Heaven” (tianming天命). This view was that the sage’s virtue(de) attracted the attention of the anthropomorphized cosmicpower usually translated as “Heaven” (tian天), which supported the sage’s rise to politicalauthority. These canonical texts argued that political success orfailure is a function of moral quality, evidenced by actions such asproper ritual performance, on the part of the ruler. Confucius drew onthese classics and adapted the classical view of moral authority inimportant ways, connecting it to a normative picture ofsociety. Positing a parallel between the nature of reciprocalresponsibilities of individuals in different roles in two domains ofsocial organization, in the AnalectsConfucius linked filial piety in the family toloyalty in the political realm: This section examines Confuc...
- Who Was Confucius?
- Early Life and Family
- Confucius’ Beliefs, Philosophy and Teachings
- Books by Confucius
Confucius, also known as Kong Qiu or K’ung Fu-tzu, was a Chinese philosopher, teacher and political figure. His teachings, preserved in the Analects, focused on creating ethical models of family and public interaction and setting educational standards. After his death, Confucius became the official imperial philosophy of China, which was extremely influential during the Han, Tang and Song dynasties.
Confucius was born probably in 551 B.C. (lunar calendar) in present-day Qufu, Shandong Province, China. Little is known of Confucius’ childhood. Records of the Historian, written by Ssu-ma Chi’en (born 145 B.C.; died 86 B.C.) offers the most detailed account of Confucius’ life. However, some contemporary historians are skeptical as to the record’s accuracy, regarding it as myth, not fact. According to Records of the Historian, Confucius was born into a royal family of the Chou Dynasty. Other accounts describe him as being born into poverty. What is undisputed about Confucius’ life is that he existed during a time of ideological crisis in China.
Confucianism is the worldview on politics, education and ethics taught by Confucius and his followers in the fifth and sixth centuries B.C. Although Confucianism is not an organized religion, it does provide rules for thinking and living that focus on love for humanity, worship of ancestors, respect for elders, self-discipline and conformity to rituals. As of the fourth century B.C., Confucius was regarded as a sage who had deserved greater recognition in his time. By the second century B.C., during China’s first Han Dynasty, his ideas became the foundation of the state ideology. Today Confucius is widely considered one of the most influential teachers in Chinese history. The philosophies are still followed by many people living in China today and has influenced thinking in Japan, Korea and Vietnam.
During the sixth century B.C., competing Chinese states undermined the authority of the Chou Empire, which had held supreme rule for over 500 years. Traditional Chinese principles began to deteriorate, resulting in a period of moral decline. Confucius recognized an opportunity — and an obligation — to reinforce the societal values of compassion and tradition.
Confucius is credited with writing and editing some of the most influential traditional Chinese classics.
Confucius died on November 21, 479 B.C. in Qufu, China, a year after losing his son, Tzu-lu, in battle. At the time of his death, Confucius was convinced that his teachings had not made a significant impact on Chinese culture, even though his teachings would go on to become the official imperial philosophy of China. His followers held a funeral and established a mourning period in his honor. Watch "Confucius: Words of Wisdom" on HISTORY Vault
- Later years
The historical Confucius, born in the small state of Lu on the Shandong peninsula in northeastern China, was a product of the \\"Spring and Autumn Period\\" (770-481 BCE). We know him mostly from texts that date to the \\"Warring States Period\\" (403-221 BCE). During these eras, China enjoyed no political unity and suffered from the internecine warfare of small states, remnants of the once-great Zhou polity that collapsed after \\"barbarian\\" invasions in 771 BCE. For more than three hundred years after the alleged year of Confucius' birth, the Chinese would fight each other for mastery of the empire lost by the Zhou. In the process, life became difficult, especially for the shi (\\"retainer\\" or knight) class, from which Confucius himself arose. As feudal lords were defeated and disenfranchised in battle and the kings of the various warring states began to rely on appointed administrators rather than vassals to govern their territories, these shi became lordless anachronisms and fell into genteel poverty and itinerancy. Their knowledge of aristocratic traditions, however, helped them remain valuable to competing kings, who wished to learn how to regain the unity imposed by the Zhou and who sought to emulate the Zhou by patterning court rituals and other institutions after those of the fallen dynasty.
Thus, a new role for shi as itinerant antiquarians emerged. In such roles, shi found themselves in and out of office as the fortunes of various patron states ebbed and flowed. Confucius is said to have held office for only a short time before withdrawing into scholarly retirement. While out of office, veteran shi might gather small circles of disciples - young men from shi backgrounds who wished to succeed in public life. It is precisely such master-and-disciple exchanges between Confucius and his students that the Analects claims to record.
Above all else, the Analects depicts Confucius as someone who \\"transmits, but does not innovate\\" (7.1). What Confucius claimed to transmit was the Dao (Way) of the sages of Zhou antiquity; in the Analects, he is the erudite guardian of tradition who challenges his disciples to emulate the sages of the past and restore the moral integrity of the state. Although readers of the Analects often assume that Confucius' views are presented as a coherent and consistent system within the text, a careful reading reveals several different sets of philosophical concerns which do not conflict so much as they complement one another. These complimentary sets of concerns can be categorized into four groups: Those familiar with Enlightenment-influenced presentations of Confucius as an austere humanist who did not discuss the supernatural may be surprised to encounter the term \\"theodicy\\" as a framework for understanding Confucius' philosophical concerns. Confucius record of silence on the subject of the divine is attested by the Analects (5.13, 7.21, 11.12). In fact, as a child of the late Zhou world, Confucius inherited a great many religious sensibilities, including theistic ones. For the early Chinese (c. 16th century BCE), the world was controlled by an all-powerful deity, \\"The Lord on High\\" (Shangdi), to whom entreaties were made in the first known Chinese texts, inscriptions found on animal bones offered in divinatory sacrifice. As the Zhou polity emerged and triumphed over the previous Shang tribal rule, Zhou apologists began to regard their deity, Tian (\\"Sky\\" or Heaven) as synonymous with Shangdi, the deity of the deposed Shang kings, and explained the decline of Shang and the rise of Zhou as a consequence of a change in Tianming (\\"the mandate of Heaven\\"). Thus, theistic justifications for conquest and rulership were present very early in Chinese history.By the time of Confucius, the concept of Tian appears to have changed slightly. For one thing, the ritual complex of Zhou diviners, which served to ascertain the will of Tian for the benefit of the king, had collapsed with Zhou rule itself. At the same time, the network of religious obligations to manifold divinities, local spirits, and ancestors does not seem to have ceased with the fall of the Zhou, and Confucius appears to uphold sacrifices to \\"gods and ghosts\\" as consistent with transmitting noble tradition. Yet, in the Analects, a new aspect of Tian emerges. For the Confucius of the Analects, discerning the will of Tian and reconciling it with his own moral compass sometimes proves to be a troubling exercise: As A. C. Graham has noted, Confucius seems to be of two minds about Tian. At times, he is convinced that he enjoys the personal protection and sanction of Tian, and thus defies his mortal opponents as he wages his campaign of moral instruction and reform. At other moments, however, he seems caught in the throes of existential despair, wondering if he has lost his divine backer at last. Tian seems to participate in functions of \\"fate\\" and nature as well as those of deity. What remains consistent throughout Confucius' discourses on Tian is his threefold assumption about this extrahuman, absolute power in the universe: (1) its alignment with moral goodness, (2) its dependence on human agents to actualize its will, and (3) the variable, unpredictable nature of its associations with mortal actors. Thus, to the extent that the Confucius of the Analects is concerned with justifying the ways of Tian to humanity, he tends to do so without questioning these three assumptions about the nature of Tian, which are rooted deeply in the Chinese past. The dependence of Tian upon human agents to put its will into practice helps account for Confucius' insistence on moral, political, social, and even religious activism. In one passage (17.19), Confucius seems to believe that, just as Tian does not speak but yet accomplishes its will for the cosmos, so too can he remain \\"silent\\" (in the sense of being out of office, perhaps) and yet effective in promoting his principles, possibly through the many disciples he trained for government service. At any rate, much of Confucius' teaching is directed toward the maintenance of three interlocking kinds of order: (1) aesthetic, (2) moral, and (3) social. The instrument for effecting and emulating all three is li (ritual propriety).
In this passage, Confucius underscores the crucial importance of rigorous attention to li as a kind of self-replicating blueprint for good manners and taste, morality, and social order. In his view, the appropriate use of a quotation from the Classic of Poetry (Shijing), the perfect execution of guest-host etiquette, and the correct performance of court ritual all serve a common end: they regulate and maintain order. The nature of this order is, as mentioned above, threefold. It is aesthetic -- quoting the Shijing upholds the cultural hegemony of Zhou literature and the conventions of elite good taste. Moreover, it is moral -- good manners demonstrate both concern for others and a sense of one's place. Finally, it is social -- rituals properly performed duplicate ideal hierarchies of power, whether between ruler and subject, parent and child, or husband and wife. For Confucius, the paramount example of harmonious social order seems to be xiao (filial piety), of which jing (reverence) is the key quality:
The character of this threefold order is deeper than mere conventions such as taste and decorum, as the above quotations demonstrate. Labeling it \\"aesthetic\\" might appear to demean or trivialize it, but to draw this conclusion is to fail to reflect on the peculiar way in which many Western thinkers tend to devalue the aesthetic. As David Hall and Roger Ames have argued, this \\"aesthetic\\" Confucian order is understood to be both intrinsically moral and profoundly harmonious, whether for a shi household, the court of a Warring States king, or the cosmos at large. When persons and things are in their proper places - and here tradition is the measure of propriety relations are smooth, operations are effortless, and the good is sought and done voluntarily. In the hierarchical political and social conception of Confucius (and all of his Chinese contemporaries), what is below takes its cues from what is above. A moral ruler will diffuse morality to those under his sway; a moral parent will raise a moral child:
In the Analects, two types of persons are opposed to one another - not in terms of basic potential (for, in 17.2, Confucius says all human beings are alike at birth), but in terms of developed potential. These are the junzi (literally, \\"lord's son\\" or gentleman; Tu Wei-ming has originated the useful translation \\"profound person,\\" which will be used here) and the xiaoren (\\"small person\\"):
The junzi is the person who always manifests the quality of ren (jen) in his person and the displays the quality of yi (i) in his actions (4.5). The character for ren is composed of two graphic elements, one representing a human being and the other representing the number two. Based on this, one often hears that ren means \\"how two people should treat one another.\\" While such folk etymologies are common in discussions of Chinese characters, they often are as misleading as they are entertaining. In the case of ren - usually translated as \\"benevolence\\" or \\"humaneness\\" - the graphic elements of a human being and the number two really are instructive, so much so that Peter Boodberg suggested an evocative translation of ren as \\"co-humanity.\\" The way in which the junzi relates to his fellow human beings, however, highlights Confucius' fundamentally hierarchical model of relations:
D. C. Lau has pointed out that ren is an attribute of agents, while yi (literally, \\"what is fitting\\" -- rightness, \\"righteousness\\") is an attribute of actions. This helps to make clear the conceptual links between li, de, and the junzi. The junzi qua junzi exerts de, moral force, according to what is yi, fitting (that is, what is aesthetically, morally, and socially proper), and thus manifests ren, or the virtue of co-humanity in an interdependent, hierarchical universe over which Tian presides.
Two passages from the Analects go a long way in indicating the path toward self-cultivation that Confucius taught would-be junzi in fifth century BCE China:
The first passage illustrates the gradual and long-term scale of the process of self-cultivation. It begins during one's teenaged years, and extends well into old age; it proceeds incrementally from intention (zhi) to learning (xue), from knowing the mandate of Heaven (Tianming) to doing both what is desired (yu) and what is right (yi). In his disciple Zengzi (Tseng-tzu)'s summary of his \\"Way\\" (Dao), Confucius teaches only \\"other-regard\\" (zhong) and self-reflection (shu). These terms merit their own discussion.
The conventional meaning of \\"other-regard\\" (zhong) in classical Chinese is \\"loyalty,\\" especially loyalty to a ruler on the part of a minister. In the Analects, Confucius extends the meaning of the term to include exercising oneself to the fullest in all relationships, including relationships with those below oneself as well as with one's betters. \\"Self-reflection\\" (shu) is explained by Confucius as a negatively-phrased version of the \\"Golden Rule\\": What you do not desire for yourself, do not do to others. (15.24) When one reflects upon oneself, one realizes the necessity of concern for others. The self as conceptualized by Confucius is a deeply relational self that responds to inner reflection with outer virtue.
After the restoration of unified imperial government with the Tang dynasty (618-907 CE), however, the future of Confucius as a symbol of the Chinese cultural and political establishment became increasingly secure. State-sponsored sacrifices to him formed part of the official religious complex of temple rituals, from the national to the local level, and orthodox hagiography and history cemented his reputation as cultural hero among the masses. The Song dynasty (969-1279 CE) Confucian scholar Zhu Xi (Chu Hsi, 1130-1200 CE) institutionalized the study of the Analects as one of \\"Four Books\\" required for the redesigned imperial civil service examinations, and aspiring officials continued to memorize the text and orthodox commentaries on it until the early twentieth century.
With the fall of the last Chinese imperial government in 1911, Confucius also fell from his position of state-imposed grandeur - but not for long. Within a short time of the abdication of the last emperor, monarchists were plotting to restore a Confucian ruler to the throne. Although these plans did not materialize, the Nationalist regime in mainland China and later in Taiwan has promoted Confucius and Confucianism in a variety of ways in order to distinguish itself from the iconoclastic Communists who followed Mao to victory and control over most of China in 1949. Even the Communist regime in China has bowed reverentially to Confucius on occasion, although not without vilifying him first, especially during the anti-traditional \\"Cultural Revolution\\" campaigns of the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Detailed discussion of Confucius' key interpreters is best reserved for an article on Confucian philosophy. Nonetheless, an outline of the most important commentators and their philosophical trajectories is worth including here. The two best known early interpreters of Confucius' thought - besides the compilers of the Analects themselves, who worked gradually from the time of Confucius' death until sometime during the former Han dynasty - are the Warring States philosophers \\"Mencius\\" or Mengzi (Meng-tzu, 372-289 BCE) and Xunzi (Hsun-tzu, 310-220 BCE). Neither knew Confucius personally, nor did they know one another, except retrospectively, as in the case of Xunzi commenting on Mencius. The two usually are cast as being opposed to one another because of their disagreement over human nature - a subject on which Confucius was notably silent (Analects 5.13).
Mar 26, 2019 · Confucius was a Chinese philosopher, politician, and teacher whose message of knowledge, benevolence, loyalty, and virtue were the main guiding philosophy of China for thousands of years.
Nov 29, 2012 · Confucius (Kongzi) was a 6th century BCE Chinese philosopher. His thoughts, expressed in the philosophy of Confucianism, have influenced Chinese culture right up to the present day. Confucius is a larger than life figure and it is difficult to separate reality from myth. Considered the first teacher, his teachings are expressed in short phrases ...
- Mark Cartwright
Confucius, China’s most famous teacher, philosopher, and political theorist, whose ideas have profoundly influenced the civilization of East Asia. Confucius’s life and teachings were an expression of self-cultivation, of the ability of human effort to shape its own destiny.