Confucius

Confucius (Chinese: pinyin: Kǒng zǐ; Wade-Giles: K’ung-tzu, or Chinese: 孔夫子; pinyin: Kǒng Fūzǐ; Wade-Giles: K’ung-fu-tzu), lit. “Master Kong,” (traditionally September 28, 551 B.C.E. – 479 B.C.E.) was a Chinese thinker and social philosopher, whose teachings and philosophy have deeply influenced Chinese, Korean, Japanese and Vietnamese thought and life.

His philosophy emphasized personal and governmental morality, correctness of social relationships, justice and sincerity. These values gained prominence in China over other doctrines, such as Legalism (法家) or Taoism (道家) during the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.E. – 220 C.E.). Confucius’ thoughts have been developed into a system of philosophy known as Confucianism (儒家). It was introduced to Europe by the Italian Jesuit Matteo Ricci, who was the first to Latinise the name as “Confucius.”

His teachings may be found in the Analects of Confucius (論語), a collection of “brief aphoristic fragments”, which was compiled many years after his death. For nearly 2,000 years he was thought to be the editor or author of all the Five Classics (五經) such as the Classic of Rites (禮記) (editor), and the Spring and Autumn Annals (春秋) (author).

The formal name of Confucius was Kong Qiu (孔丘), and he was also called Zhongni (仲尼). He was born in 551 B.C. in the Lu (鲁) State (This state was in the south of modern-day Shandong Province) in the later days of the Spring-Autumn Period. Confucius was from a warrior family. His father Shulianghe (叔梁紇) was a famous warrior who had military exploits in two battles and got a feoff. But Confucius lost his father when he was three years old, and then his mother Yan Zhengzai (顏徵在) took him and left the feoff because as a concubine (妾) she wanted to avoid the mistreatment of Shulianghe’s formal wife. So since childhood Confucius lived in poverty with his mother. With the support and encouragement of his mother, Confucius was very diligent in his studies. When Confucius was seventeen years old, his mother died of illness and overwork. Three years later, Confucius married a young woman who was from the Qiguan family (亓官氏) of Song (宋) State. Though he had a mild wife who loved him, he still left his family and strived for his ideals. Confucius wanted to revive the perfect virtue of Huaxia and the classical properties of the Western Zhou Dynasty for building a great harmonious and humanistic society.

Philosophy

  Although Confucianism is often followed in a religious manner by the Chinese, arguments continue over whether it is a religion. Confucianism does not lack an afterlife, the texts express simple views concerning Heaven, and is relatively unconcerned with some spiritual matters often considered essential to religious thought, such as the nature of the soul.

Confucius’ principles gained wide acceptance primarily because of their basis in common Chinese tradition and belief. He championed strong familial loyalty, ancestor worship, respect of elders by their children (and, according to later interpreters, of husbands by their wives), and the family as a basis for an ideal government. He expressed the well-known principle, “Do not do to others what you do not want done to yourself” (One of the earliest versions of the Golden Rule). He also looked nostalgically upon earlier days, and urged the Chinese, particularly those with political power, to model themselves on earlier examples.

Because no texts survive that are demonstrably authored by Confucius, and the ideas associated with him most closely were elaborated in writings that accrued over the period between his death and the foundation of the first Chinese empire in 221 BC, many scholars are very cautious about attributing specific assertions to Confucius himself.

Nevertheless some do believe that Confucianism was founded on a sound belief in the existence of God. Perhaps the religious expression was lost in the philosophical interpretation of his message which has striking similarities to so-called revealed religions.

Ethics

The Confucian theory of ethics as exemplified in (禮) is based on three important conceptual aspects of life: ceremonies associated with sacrifice to ancestors and deities of various types, social and political institutions, and the etiquette of daily behavior. It was believed by some that originated from the heavens. Confucius’s view was more nuanced. His approach stressed the development of through the actions of sage leaders in human history, with less emphasis on its connection with heaven. His discussions of seem to redefine the term to refer to all actions committed by a person to build the ideal society, rather than those simply conforming with canonical standards of ceremony. In the early Confucian tradition, , though still linked to traditional forms of action, came to point towards the balance between maintaining these norms so as to perpetuate an ethical social fabric, and violating them in order to accomplish ethical good. These concepts are about doing the proper thing at the proper time, and are connected to the belief that training in the that past sages have devised cultivates in people virtues that include ethical judgment about when must be adapted in light of situational contexts.

 

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