Chinese Culture  Updated: Sun, Jun 24, 2012 05:46 AM   By HugChina


Confucianism is a Chinese ethical and philosophical system developed from the teachings of the Chinese philosopher Confucius (孔子). Confucianism might be considered a Chinese religion in most peoriod of Chinese history. Mencius and Xun Zi also contributed a lot to confucianism.

Confucianism is a Chinese ethical and philosophical system developed from the teachings of the Chinese philosopher Confucius (Kǒng Fūzǐ, or K'ung-fu-tzu, lit. "Master Kong", 551–478 BC). It is a complex system of moral, social, political, philosophical, and quasi-religious thought that influenced the culture and history of East Asia. It might be considered a state religion of some East Asian countries, because of state promotion of Confucian philosophies.

Cultures and countries strongly influenced by Confucianism include mainland China, Taiwan, Korea, Japan and Vietnam, as well as various territories settled predominantly by Chinese people, such as Singapore. It might be that as many as 1.5 billion people follow Confucian ideals, according to Rick Cornish.

In Confucianism, human beings are teachable, improvable and perfectible through personal and communal endeavour especially including self-cultivation and self-creation. A main idea of Confucianism is the cultivation of virtue and the development of moral perfection. Confucianism holds that one should give up one's life, if necessary, either passively or actively, for the sake of upholding the cardinal moral values of ren and yi.

Themes in Confucian thought

Humanity is core in Confucianism. A simple way to appreciate Confucian thought is to consider it as being based on varying levels of honesty, and a simple way to understand Confucian thought is to examine the world by using the logic of humanity. In practice, the elements of Confucianism accumulated over time. There is classical Wuchang (五常) consisting of five elements: Ren (仁, Humanity), Yi (義, Righteousness), Li (禮, Ritual), Zhi (智, Knowledge), Xin (信, Integrity), and there is also classical Sizi (四字) with four elements: Zhong (忠, Loyalty), Xiao (孝, Filial piety), Jie (節, Continency), Yi (義, Righteousness). There are still many other elements, such as Cheng (誠, honesty), Shu (恕, kindness and forgiveness), Lian (廉, honesty and cleanness), Chi (恥, shame, judge and sense of right and wrong), Yong (勇, bravery), Wen (溫, kind and gentle), Liang (良, good, kindhearted), Gong (恭, respectful, reverent), Jian(儉, frugal), Rang (讓, modestly, self-effacing). Among all elements, Ren (Humanity) and Yi (Righteousness) are fundamental. Sometimes morality is interpreted as the phantom of Humanity and Righteousness.

Background of Confucianism

Confucius lived in the Spring and Autumn Periods, a time when the established system could not meet the demand of development as the ruling classes of China experienced the transition from a slave to feudalist society. It was a time of "the collapse of etiquette and the deterioration of music", which implies the ethics and moralities of society were in decline. The intellectuals of the day were concerned about the future mode of society, hence the most brilliant contention of a hundred schools of thought, such as Legist, Taoist, thrived in a vibrant period in Chinese history. This is often regarded as the most exciting of times for Chinese intellectuals as no single doctrine dominated their lives.

Confucius' proposal was to discipline oneself and to revive the ethics of Zhou Dynasty. Therefore, he brought forward a series of norms, which step by step developed into Confucianism.

Confucianism Development History

Confucianism was further developed by Mencius (372B.C.-289B.C.) and Xun Zi. It was in the reign of Emperor Wu during the Han Dynasty that Confucianism was promoted to being the state ideology. Since then, Confucianism became the orthodox doctrine of Chinese society. And Confucius was glorified as a Saint instead of an ordinary man.

In the coming Wei and Jin Dynasties, Confucianism coexisted with Buddhism and Taoism. Up to the Sui and Tang Dynasties, the struggle for dominance between the three became heated. The Song Dynasty witnessed a vital period of the development of Confucianism. Featuring Confucian school of idealist philosophy of the Song and Ming dynasties, Confucianism restored its orthodox role for the following 700 years.

Waving the banner of science and democracy, the New Cultural Movement from 1915 attacked the feudal system, including its core ideological system of Confucianism. During the Cultural Revolution, Confucianism was once again under violent attack.

In recent years people can look at Confucianism with a more rational state of mind, some even suggest returning to Confucianism for wisdom while opponents hold that Confucianism should be held responsible for the backwardness of China's development and for that reason its dominance should not be revived. In any event, that would not be possible.

To our delight, many scholars devote themselves to the study of Confucianism and its application to modern society. Such study is important as the Chinese language has experienced considerable changes over the centuries and the lack of any punctuation in the ancient classics has made it difficult for us to fully comprehend Confucius' ideology.

Confucianism is succinct as well as intensive. Strictly speaking, it is not a religion but more a doctrine than belief, while the meaning behind the beautiful words renders wordy post-modernism pale and dull. Confucianism is part of world cultural heritage and an integral part of Chinese life.
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