Chinese Culture Updated: Sun, Jun 24, 2012 05:05 AM By HugChina
Confucius (Chinese: 孔子;or 孔夫子), literally ‘Master Kong’, was the most influential Chinese philosopher of ancient China. The philosophy of Confucius emphasized personal and governmental morality, correctness of social relationships, justice and sincerity.
Confucius' LifeConfucius, or Kung Fu Tzu, (born Kong Qiu, styled Zhong Ni) was born in the village of Zou in the country of Lu in 551 B.C., a poor descendant of a deposed noble family. Conficius (or Kung Fu Tzu)His original name was K'ung Ch'iu. His father, commander of a district in Lu, died three years after Confucius was born, leaving the family in poverty; but Confucius nevertheless received a fine education. He was married at the age of 19 and had one son and two daughters.As a child, he held make-believe temple rituals. Later on, he worked as a keeper of a market. Then he was a farm worker who took care of parks and farm animals. When he was 20, he worked for the governor of his district. As a young adult, he quickly earned a reputation for fairness, politeness and love of learning, and he was reputed to be quite tall. His mother died in 527 BC, and after a period of mourning he began his career as a teacher, usually traveling about and instructing the small body of disciples that had gathered around him. Living as he did in the second half of the Zhou (Chou) dynasty (1027-256 BC), when feudalism degenerated in China and intrigue and vice were rampant, Confucius deplored the contemporary disorder and lack of moral standards. He came to believe that the only remedy was to convert people once more to the principles and precepts of the sages of antiquity. He therefore lectured to his pupils on the ancient classics. His fame as a man of learning and character and his reverence for Chinese ideals and customs soon spread through the principality of Lu.Confucius is famous for his philosophy because he made many wise sayings in ancient China that helped many people learn about nature, the world, and the human behavior. He also helped the government and the emperor by teaching them lessons on how the emperor should rule his kingdom successfully. He traveled extensively and studied at the imperial capital, Zhou, where he met and spoke with Lao Tzu, the founder of Taoism.Upon his return to Lu, he gained renown as a teacher, but when he was 35, Duke Zhao of Lu led his country to war, was routed and fled to the neighboring country of Qi; in the disorder following the battle, Confucius followed. Duke Zhao frequently came to him for advice, but upon counsel of one of his ministers, he decided against granting land to Confucius and gradually stopped seeking his counsel. When other nobles began plotting against Confucius' position, Duke Zhao refused to intervene, and Confucius returned to Lu. But conditions there were no better than before, and Confucius retired from public life to concentrate on teaching and studying.At age 50, he was approached by the Baron of Qi to help defend against a rebellion, but he declined. He was later made a city magistrate by the new Duke of Lu, and under his administration the city flourished; he was promoted several times, eventually becoming Grand Secretary of Justice and, at age 56, Chief Minister of Lu. His administration was successful; reforms were introduced, justice was fairly dispensed, and crime was almost eliminated. Neighboring countries began to worry that Lu would become too powerful, and they sent messengers with gifts and dancers to distract the duke during a sacrifice holiday. When the duke abandoned his duties to receive the messengers, Confucius resigned and left the country. Confucius left his office in 496 BC, traveling about and teaching, vainly hoping that some other prince would allow him to undertake measures of reform. In 484 BC, after a fruitless search for an ideal ruler, he returned for the last time to Lu.Confucius spent the five years wandering China with his disciples, finding that his presence at royal courts was rarely tolerated for long before nobles would begin plotting to drive him out or have him killed. He was arrested once and jailed for five days, and at 62 he was pursued, along with his disciples, into the countryside by a band of soldiers sent by jealous nobles, until he was able to send a messenger to the sympathetic king of a nearby country, who sent his own soldiers to rescue them. Once again, Confucius was to be given land but was denied it upon counsel of another high minister. After further wanderings, he eventually returned to Lu at age 67. Although he was welcomed there and chose to remain, he was not offered public office again, nor did he seek it. Instead he spent the rest of his years teaching and, finally, writing. He died at 72.After Confucius died, he was buried in a grave in the city of Ch'uFu, Shandong. Today the site of his final resting place is the beautiful K'ung Forest.Yet, when the philosopher died, many people honored all of Confucius' work by building temples in every city in China to honor Confucius. Since Confucius' teachings and philosophy was so advanced, it was the education for China for 2,000 years. It is called Confucianism.Confucius did not put into writing the principles of his philosophy; these were handed down only through his disciples.The Lun Yü (Analects), a work compiled by some of his disciples, is considered the most reliable source of information about his life and teachings. One of the historical works that he is said to have compiled and edited, the Ch'un Ch'iu (Spring and Autumn Annals), is an annalistic account of Chinese history in the state of Lu from 722 to 481 BC. In learning he wished to be known as a transmitter rather than as a creator, and he therefore revived the study of the ancient books. His own teachings, together with those of his main disciples, are found in the Shih Shu (Four Books) of Confucian literature, which became the textbooks of later Chinese generations.
Confucius' Social PhilosophyConfucius' teachings and his conversations and exchanges with his disciples are recorded in the Lunyu or Analects, a collection that probably achieved something like its present form around the second century BCE. While Confucius believes that people live their lives within parameters firmly established by Heaven—which, often, for him means both a purposeful Supreme Being as well as ‘nature’ and its fixed cycles and patterns—he argues that men are responsible for their actions and especially for their treatment of others. We can do little or nothing to alter our fated span of existence but we determine what we accomplish and what we are remembered for.Confucius' social philosophy largely revolves around the concept of ren (仁), “compassion” or “loving others.” Cultivating or practicing such concern for others involved deprecating oneself. This meant being sure to avoid artful speech or an ingratiating manner that would create a false impression and lead to self-aggrandizement. (Lunyu 1.3) Those who have cultivated ren are, on the contrary, “simple in manner and slow of speech.” (Lunyu 13.27). For Confucius, such concern for others is demonstrated through the practice of forms of the Golden Rule: “What you do not wish for yourself, do not do to others;” “Since you yourself desire standing then help others achieve it, since you yourself desire success then help others attain it.” (Lunyu 12.2, 6.30). He regards devotion to parents and older siblings as the most basic form of promoting the interests of others before one's own and teaches that such altruism can be accomplished only by those who have learned self-discipline.Learning self-restraint involves studying and mastering li (礼), the ritual forms and rules of propriety through which one expresses respect for superiors and enacts his role in society in such a way that he himself is worthy of respect and admiration. A concern for propriety should inform everything that one says and does:
Look at nothing in defiance of ritual, listen to nothing in defiance of ritual, speak of nothing in defiance or ritual, never stir hand or foot in defiance of ritual. (Lunyu 12.1)Subjecting oneself to ritual does not, however, mean suppressing one's desires but instead learning how to reconcile one's own desires with the needs of one's family and community. Confucius and many of his followers teach that it is by experiencing desires that we learn the value of social strictures that make an ordered society possible (See Lunyu 2.4.). Nor does Confucius' emphasis on ritual mean that he was a punctilious ceremonialist who thought that the rites of worship and of social exchange had to be practiced correctly at all costs. Confucius taught, on the contrary, that if one did not possess a keen sense of the well-being and interests of others his ceremonial manners signified nothing. (Lunyu 3.3). Equally important was Confucius' insistence that the rites not be regarded as mere forms, but that they be practiced with complete devotion and sincerity. “He [i.e., Confucius] sacrificed to the dead as if they were present. He sacrificed to the spirits as if the spirits were present. The Master said, ‘I consider my not being present at the sacrifice as though there were no sacrifice.’” (Lunyu 3.12)While ritual forms often have to do with the more narrow relations of family and clan, ren, however, is to be practiced broadly and informs one's interactions with all people. Confucius warns those in power that they should not oppress or take for granted even the lowliest of their subjects. “You may rob the Three Armies of their commander, but you cannot deprive the humblest peasant of his opinion.” (Lunyu 9.26) Confucius regards loving others as a calling and a mission for which one should be ready to die (Lunyu 15.9).