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Confucianism is a philosophy developed in 6th-century BCE China, which is considered by some a secular-humanist belief system, by some a religion, and by others a social code. The broad range of subjects touched on by Confucianism lends itself to all three of these interpretations depending on which aspects one focuses on.

The philosophy is based on the belief that human beings are essentially good, that they engage in immoral behavior through lack of a strong moral standard, and that adherence to an ethical code, and rituals which encourage it, enabled one to live a productive and tranquil life of peace which would translate to a strong, ethical, and prosperous state.

It was founded by Confucius (K'ung-fu-Tze, Kong Fuzi, “Master Kong”, l. 551-479 BCE), a Chinese philosopher of the Spring and Autumn Period (c. 772-476 BCE). Confucius is considered among the greatest philosophers of the Hundred Schools of Thought (also given as the Contention of the Hundred Schools of Thought) which references the time during the Spring and Autumn Period and Warring States Period (c. 481-221 BCE) when various philosophical schools contended with each other for adherents. He is, without a doubt, the most influential philosopher in China's history whose views, precepts, and concepts have informed Chinese culture for over 2,000 years.

Confucius himself claimed to have written nothing and offered nothing new, insisting his views were taken from older works (known as the Five Classics) he was just popularizing through his school. The later Confucian philosopher and scholar Mencius (Mang-Tze, l. 372-289 BCE), however, attributed the Five Classics to Confucius, a view that continued to be held until the mid-20th century CE. These works, three others on Confucian thought, and one by Mencius make up The Four Books and Five Classics which have been the foundational texts of Chinese culture since the time of the Han Dynasty (202 BCE-220 CE) when Confucianism was made the state philosophy. The Four Books and Five Classics are:

  • The Book of Rites (also given as The Book of Great Learning)
  • The Doctrine of the Mean
  • The Analects of Confucius
  • The Works of Mencius
  • The I-Ching
  • The Classics of Poetry
  • The Classics of Rites
  • The Classics of History
  • The Spring and Autumn Annals

The Five Classics are attributed to writers of the Zhou Dynasty (1046-256 BCE) which was in a period of decline during Confucius' lifetime. It may be that he did edit or revise the Five Classics, as tradition has held, but, even if he did not, he certainly popularized their concepts. His Analects, Books of Rites, and Doctrine of the Mean were written by his students based on his lectures and class discussions.

Confucian thought would seamlessly blend with Chinese culture after the Han declared it the state philosophy.

The Warring States Period concluded with the victory of the state of Qin over the others and the establishment of the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BCE) which adopted the philosophy of Legalism and banned all others. Confucian works were outlawed and burned along with those of any other non-Legalist philosophers. Copies of the banned works only survived because they were hidden by intellectuals at great personal risk. The Han Dynasty, which succeeded the Qin, encouraged greater freedom of speech, established The Four Books and Five Classics as required reading for administrative positions which led to a wider dissemination of Confucian thought which would seamlessly blend with Chinese culture after the Han declared it the state philosophy.

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Historical Background & Career in Lu

Shortly after its founding, the Zhou Dynasty decentralized the Chinese government by sending lords, loyal to the king, to establish their own states throughout the vast territory. This policy worked well at first, but eventually, the states grew more powerful than the king, and the old loyalties were forgotten. By c. 771 BCE, the Zhou Dynasty was already weakened almost to the point of irrelevancy when barbarian invasions forced the government to move east for better defense. This was the end of the so-called Western Zhou period (1046-771 BCE) and the beginning of the Eastern Zhou period (771-256 BCE) which corresponds to the Spring and Autumn Period and early Warring States Period during which Confucius lived and taught.

Confucius was born in September 551 BCE in the village of Qufu, State of Lu (Shandong Province), the son of a military commander named Kong He who was of noble descent. Confucius' birth name was Kong Qui, but he would later be addressed as Master Kong (Kong Fuzi) which was Latinized by 16th-century CE Christian missionaries to Confucius. His father died when he was three years old and the resultant loss of income led to a life of poverty. He later attended school while working various jobs to support himself and his mother until she died when he was around 23 years old. By this time, he was already married and had at least one son and possibly two daughters.

He had been provided with basic education, as defined by the Zhou Dynasty, in the Six Arts – Rites, Music, Archery, Charioteering, Calligraphy, and Mathematics – but had taken it upon himself to improve on his knowledge in all of these through private study. Scholar Forrest E. Baird notes, “possessed of a deep love of learning by age fifteen, Confucius became one of the best-educated men of the day by his mid-twenties” (284). Married, and with a family to support, Confucius took the qualifying exam for government work as a teacher and, as Baird notes, pursued his goal of a meaningful life in a worthy profession:

His threefold professional goal crystalized early – to serve in government, to teach others, and to transmit to posterity the splendid culture of the Zhou Dynasty…He had a special fondness for poetry and music and was skilled in the performance of the latter. His reputation for excellent teaching was established by the age of thirty. As a teacher, Confucius rejected vocationalism while pioneering a liberal education that was strong in ethics, history, literature, and the fine arts. He admitted any student who could afford the token tuition – a bundle of dried meat. (284)

Confucius taught and also was involved in government at the local level, at one point serving as magistrate (or governor) of his town under the administration of the Duke of Lu. A political struggle among three of the leading families and the Duke of Lu's personal failings caused Confucius to lose interest in his work in Lu. He had attempted to teach the ruling class that they could live happier, more fulfilling lives by observing right conduct in accordance with a moral code which would result in effective and just government, but the upper class was not interested in following his advice. He resigned from his position and left the state of Lu to try making converts elsewhere.

This was a chaotic era in which the states fought each other for supremacy and many of the long-established aspects of government, including bureaucratic positions, lost cohesion. Administrators, advisers, scholars, and teachers who once held government posts, found themselves jobless and so established their own schools based on their personal philosophies. Some of these were actual schools in which students would enroll and attend classes while others were more “schools of thought” or movements but, collectively, their efforts to attract students to their system while discrediting others' would later become known as the time of the Hundred Schools of Thought.

Confucius & the Hundred Schools

The term Hundred Schools of Thought should be understood figuratively to mean “many”, not literally one hundred. Among the ones which were recorded by later historians, such as Sima Qian (l. 145-135-86 BCE), were:

  • Confucianism
  • Taoism
  • Legalism
  • Mohism
  • School of Names
  • Yin-Yang School
  • School of Minor Talks
  • School of Diplomacy
  • Agriculturalism
  • Syncretism
  • Yangism (Hedonist School)
  • Relativism
  • School of the Military
  • School of Medicine

At this time, then, Confucianism was only one of many establishing a philosophical belief system which, for the most part, they then tried to popularize. After Confucius left his position in Lu, he traveled through other states vying with proponents of the different schools for acceptance of his vision over theirs. Baird comments:

Confucius wandered through the neighboring states in the company of a small band of students, whom he continued to teach. He offered advice on government matters to local rulers and sometimes accepted temporary posts in their service. There were hardships to be endured – rejection, persecution, even attempted assassination. (284)

He had no more luck convincing the upper class of these other states of the value of his system than he had had in Lu and so returned home at the age of 68 and set up his own school. He based his curriculum on the Five Classics of the Zhou Dynasty and continued teaching until his death, of natural causes, five years later. His philosophy, at the time of his death, remained no more than one school of thought among many and was influenced, to greater or lesser degrees, by these others.

Taoism influenced Confucianism through its concept of the Tao, the creative and binding force of the universe; Legalism through its insistence on law and ritual as the means of maintaining order and controlling people's negative impulses; the School of Names through its focus on how closely the word for an object or concept corresponded to it (how well words represented the reality they referenced); the School of Medicine through its emphasis on the importance of diet in maintaining health and a clear mind. Confucius was influenced by all of these, and no doubt many others, but streamlined the thought, eliminating what he felt was non-essential or problematic, to develop a philosophical system which, if observed, could help people make better choices, lead more peaceful lives, and avoid the kind of suffering everyone at the time was enduring due to the wars between the states.


His philosophical vision was very simple: human beings were innately good, 'good' being defined as understanding the difference between right and wrong, and inclined naturally to choose what is right. This claim could be proven by how people reacted to others in times of trouble. The best-known example of this concept (given by the later Confucian Mencius) is a person coming across a young boy who has fallen into a well. One's first impulse is to save the boy – either by direct action or by running to find someone to help – even though one does not know the boy or his parents and might be risking one's own safety in trying to help him.

In cases where one did neither of these things – in other words, where one chose wrong over right – it was due to ignorance of what was right owing to a lack of a moral code and standard of conduct. Someone who would allow the boy to drown in the well would most likely have done so out of an overly developed sense of self-interest. If such a person were educated in right action and a proper understanding of the world and their place in it, they would choose right over wrong.

Confucius advocated a strict code of ethics one should adhere to in order to maintain the middle way in life of peace & prosperity.

This is where the theological aspect comes in which encourages some to interpret Confucianism as a religion. Confucius believed in the Chinese concept of Tian (Heaven) which should be understood in this case as something quite close to the Tao. Tian is the source of and sustainer of all life which created the ordered world out of chaos. One needed to recognize the existence of Tian, a constant flux of Yin and Yang (opposite) forces, in order to understand one's place in the world. Sacrifices made to the various gods made no difference to those gods, who were all aspects of Tian, but made a significant difference to the one offering the sacrifice because belief in a higher power, whatever form it took, helped to check one's concept of self-importance, reduced one's ego, and encouraged one to move from self-interest to consider the interests and welfare of others.

A belief in a higher power alone was not enough to encourage right action, however, nor to control one's baser instincts. Confucius advocated a strict code of ethics one should adhere to in order to maintain the middle way in life of peace and prosperity. These are known as the Five Constants and Four Virtues:

  • Ren – benevolence
  • Yi – righteousness
  • Li – ritual
  • Zhi – knowledge
  • Xin – integrity
  • Xiao – filial piety
  • Zhong – loyalty
  • Jie – contingency
  • Yi – justice/righteousness

All of these were equally important, but they began with filial piety. People were encouraged to honor and respect their parents and observe a hierarchy of authority where a son obeyed his father's wishes, a younger brother respected and deferred to his older brother, and women did the same with men. In this way, the family would live harmoniously and, if enough families embraced filial piety, one would soon have a whole community of contented people, then a state, and then an entire country. There would be no need of oppressive governments or laws because people would, essentially, be governing themselves through recognition of the benefits of virtuous behavior. Confucius writes:

If the people be led by laws, and uniformity sought to be given them by punishments, they will try to avoid the punishment, but have no sense of shame. If they be led by virtue, and uniformity sought to be given them by the rules of propriety, they will have the sense of shame and, moreover, will become good. (Analects, 2.3; Tamblyn, p. 3)

Let your evinced desires be for what is good, and the people will be good. The relation between superiors and inferiors is like that between the wind and the grass. The grass must bend, when the wind blows across it. (Analects 12.19; Tamblyn, p. 38)

Filial piety (and the rest) was informed by Ren which means not only 'benevolence' but that which makes a human truly human, one's basic humanity, which understands right from wrong and instinctively leans toward what is right. Expressed in behavior, Confucius coined the so-called Silver Rule, a much earlier version of the Golden Rule attributed to Jesus Christ ('silver' because the concept is expressed in the negative), when he said, "whatsoever you do not want done to you, do not do to another" (Analects 12:2) which appears in his response to a question on defining perfect virtue:

It is, when you go abroad, to behave to every one as if you were receiving a great guest; to employ the people as if you were assisting at a great sacrifice; not to do to others as you would not wish done to yourself; to have no murmuring against you in the country, and none in the family. (Analects 12:2; Tamblyn, p. 36)


Confucius' philosophy was reformed and popularized by the philosopher and Confucian scholar Mencius who, like Confucius himself, traveled state-to-state preaching Confucian ideals in an effort to end the chaos of the Warring States Period. His efforts at converting the ruling class were no more successful than those of Confucius but he did introduce Confucian precepts to a wider audience than it had at Confucius' death. Confucianism's cause was furthered by another scholar-philosopher, the last of the Five Great Sages of Confucianism, Xunzi (also given as Xun Kuang, l. c. 310 - c. 235 BCE) who reformed the system further, offering a much more pragmatic (or pessimistic) vision of the philosophy, closer in some aspects to Legalism, but still retaining the basic precepts, which he expressed in his work Xunzi.

Confucianism was rejected by the Qin Dynasty because it was critical of Qin policy. The first emperor of the Qin Dynasty, Shi Huangdi (r. 221-210 BCE), established a repressive regime, completely at odds with Confucian ideals, and adopted Legalism as the state philosophy in order to strictly control the populace. Confucianism was almost erased from history during the time known as the Burning of the Books and the Burying of Scholars c. 213-210 BCE, but the books were preserved by adherents who hid them from authorities.

The philosophy was revived by the Han Dynasty under its first emperor Gaozu (r. 202-195 BCE) who reestablished the values of the Zhou Dynasty. Confucianism was later made the national philosophy under Wu the Great. By the time of his reign, 141-87 BCE, Confucianism had already gained a substantial following, but Wu's decree would solidify and expand its influence.

For the next 2,000 years, Confucianism would be the dominant philosophy of China, even during periods – such as the Tang Dynasty (618-907 CE) – when Taoism was more popular. In the 20th century CE, Confucianism was rejected by Chinese cultural reformers who felt it was outdated and by the Chinese Communist Party because of its insistence on a social hierarchy at odds with the communist ideal. Mohism, with its vision of universal love regardless of social standing, was advocated instead.


Any effort to describe Confucianism (ru, literally "weakling" but conventionally glossed as "scholar") as an object of study requires one to acknowledge that it is a historically related symbolic complex made from the fateful conjunction of early modern European and Chinese curiosity. The greater weight of the scholarly output of this conjunction has been borne by Western interpreters. The reason for this is obvious: ru was never actually a subject of conscious investigation by the Chinese until around 1900, and Confucianism is, as Lewis Hodous declared in the 1911 edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, "a misleading general term for the teachings of the Chinese classics upon cosmology, the social order, government, morals and ethics." A celebrated case of metaphor as mistake yielded four centuries of analysis, commentary, and most importantly, translations through which Confucianism and the essential China it metonymically contained were exactingly documented for purposes of admiration or attack. Over this interval the figure of "Confucius" acquired global fame, while the native figure, Kongzi, was revered for millennia as Chinese culture's greatest sage and teacher. In the context of this great encounter, the meaning of which was slowly distilled through Confucianism, the place of China and Confucianism has shifted within Western cultural self-consciousness. China's value for the West has changed, and along with it the significance of Confucianism however, the one salient constant has been the global character of this complex.

The term Confucianism familiar to most early twenty-first century readers is the nominal equivalent of the expressions ru, rujia, ruxue, the meanings of which are scholar, classical tradition, and classical teaching, rather than the teaching of Confucius (Kongzi, 551 – 479 bce). Confucianism has meant, most notably: (1) a system of thought (2) a mechanism of social control or state ideology and (3) China's civil religion or ethos, in this sense being indistinguishable from China itself and thus a very worthy subject of study. Confucianism stands for a great number of things both enabling and disabling of any effort to compile a history of it as an object of study.

Prior to the eighteenth century and the intellectual debates between scholars of the new and old script traditions of Chinese classical scholarship, there was really no effective study of Confucianism. Instead, there were the manifold traditions of textual communities underwritten by exegesis and commentary on any of the jiujing, or nine classic works (Book of Documents, Book of Odes, Classic of Change, Spring and Autumn Annals, Record of Rites, Guliang Commentary, Gongyang Commentary, Zuo Commentary, and the Rites of Zhou) all believed to have been edited, inspired, or written by Kongzi. The work on these texts, the form of study about which one might write a history, is best understood as an inspired scholarly practice analogous to biblical hermeneutics in the West. The history of this engagement with texts in the interest of getting at the timeless truths of antiquity has been eloquently retold by John Henderson in Scripture, Canon and Commentary (1991) and Benjamin Elman in From Philosophy to Philology (1984), but it is not really about Confucianism per se.

Influence of Confucianism

Influence on China

Confucianism has been existed in China for several thousand years. It still has tremendous potential influence on all the aspects such as politics and economy in China. Confucian thoughts have been the most basic mainstream value of the common people of the Han nationality and other nationalities in China all through the ages. The basic values of Confucian thoughts of "rite, justice, honesty, shame, humanity, love, loyalty and filial piety" are the basic rules of conciousness for the daily conduct of most of Chinese people all the time. The courteous, friendly, gentle, honest, tolerant, earnest and industrious temperament of Chinese nation has also gradually developed under the education of Confucianism.

Influence on East Asia

The Confucian thoughts have a wide influence in all the nations of East Asia.
In Korea and Japan, ethic and etiquette have been under the influence of the Confucian viewpoints such as humanity, justice and etiquette, etc. The influence is still quite obvious up to the present. In Korea, there are many people that believe in all kinds of religion. But they give prominence to Confucianism in ethics and morals. After the invasion of western civilization into Korean society, all kinds of social problems have increased to some extent. However, the Korean government takes the ethics and morals of Confucian thoughts as a restrictive power for maintaining social stability and deepens Confucian thoughts in education.

Influence on Modern Education

Confucius had three thousand disciples and hence summarized many effective educational methods, such as "Look back to the old, if you would learn the new", "Among any three people walking, I will find something to learn for sure", and "Leaning without thinking you feel lost, thinking without learning you turn to indolent", etc. Confucius was respectfully called "a person of exemplary virtue of all ages" by posterity. Regions such as Taiwan fix the "birthday of the saint Confucius" as "the Teachers’ Festival". "Advocating literature" and placing an emphasis on education is the Confucian thought and also one of the basic values of Chinese people.

1. Origins and Varieties of Confucian Philosophy

Confucianism began with the teachings of Confucius, despite the fact that Confucius in no way saw himself as founding a school of philosophy. Arguably his foremost concern was to effect a restoration of the kind of socio-political order that had prevailed, at least in his mind, at the beginning of the Zhou dynasty (1027&ndash256 B.C.E.). In search of a position of influence that would enable him to contribute to a return to such order, Confucius traveled from realm to realm within the Zhou kingdom, hoping that his ideas about how government and society ought to be aligned would find an enthusiastic patron. Although Confucius never succeeded in this, along the way a group of interested students came to associate themselves with him. For his followers Confucius appears to have emerged as much as a teacher as he was a political figure. While Confucius never wrote any independent treatises or dialogues that were meant to serve as systematic expressions of his personal ideas, over time reports about his discussions with his disciples came to be recorded and edited into a work most commonly translated as the Analects. Some scholars have long questioned the extent to which the Analects actually represents a true and consistent expression of Confucius&rsquo thought. Nevertheless, the text has been accepted (perhaps naively) by sufficient numbers of followers over the centuries to make it, whether authentic or not, a work that must be read and understood by anyone hoping to develop more than a superficial appreciation of what have been received as Confucius&rsquo teachings.

Confucius set in motion the project of philosophy as a search for and love of wisdom in ancient China. Shortly after his passing, around 500 B.C.E., a variety of philosophical teachings emerged, including those associated with Daoism, Mohism, and Legalism. So many were the philosophical positions that commentators of the time noted, with hyperbole, that a &ldquohundred schools of thought&rdquo had appeared. Each of these new developments in classical philosophy, which interestingly enough appeared at about the same time as did the ideas of the ancient Greek philosophers, emerged at least in part as a pointed critique of the ideas associated with Confucius.

The most original philosophical notion attributed to Confucius was, first and foremost, that of humaneness (C: ren J: jin). Though never so much clearly and concisely explained as it was discussed and explored, the Analects suggests that the practice of humaneness consists in not treating others in a way that one would not want to be treated. Not surprisingly, this notion has been characterized as the Confucian &ldquogolden rule,&rdquo and likened as well to Kant&rsquos categorical imperative calling on people to act according to rules that they would be willing to deem universal laws. The Analects situates humaneness at the center of its moral philosophy, emphasizing it as the most universal ethical notion. Indicative of that quintessential nature, almost all thinkers in East Asian history who could in any way be considered &ldquoConfucian&rdquo had to address it in their own writings.

Equally significant in the Analects is the notion of the junzi (Japanese: kunshi), or the &ldquoprince.&rdquo The term literally refers to the &ldquoson of a ruler,&rdquo but the Analects emphasizes that anyone who cultivates himself to the extent that his virtue is worthy of a prince is indeed a &ldquoprince.&rdquo Conversely, it makes clear that those born to high standing who do not cultivate their virtue are not worthy of being deemed a prince. In effect, by developing this notion, the Analects was outlining an ethical perspective whereby even the highest levels of the socio-political hierarchy could be critically assessed.

Politically, the Analects suggests that rule by moral example is far more effective than rule by law and the threat of punishment. The latter might elicit compliance, but not a sense of moral conscience. Rule by virtue, on the other hand, not only brings forth compliance when the coercive power of the ruler is manifest, but also when it is not. Confucius also emphasized the primary importance of language and its correct use for rightly governing the realm. In one passage, Confucius suggests that making sure language and words are used correctly is the first step to good government (13/3). Without denying the importance of rule by law, Confucius rejected narrow-minded legalism. At one point, the Analects (13/18) even portrays Confucius affirming that it would be right for a father to conceal the crimes of a son rather than turn him over to the authorities. The Analects hardly meant to endorse evasion so much as the responsibility of family members to take care of their kin.

The Analects is also well known for what it does not discuss: metaphysics and spiritual matters. In particular, Confucius is known for asking students who wanted to hear about spiritual matters why they were interested in such topics when they had yet to master the moral way of humanity. In another context, the Analects suggests that Confucius revered spirits, even while keeping his distance from them. These passages imply that Confucius was not so much uninterested in metaphysical issues as he was in what he considered to be more fundamental and practical moral teachings.

Confucius&rsquo teachings were advanced by various disciples in the late-Zhou period, the most systematic being Mengzi (371&ndash289 B.C.E.), known most commonly in the west by his Latinized name, Mencius. A text by the same name conveys Mencius&rsquo most important elaborations of Confucian philosophy. Undoubtedly the most significant contribution Mencius made to Confucian thought was his unequivocal affirmation that human nature is, at birth, good. Confucius had observed that people are alike by birth, but differ in practice. However, it was not entirely clear how or in what sense people were actually alike. Mencius argued for the inborn goodness of humanity, noting how that goodness issued naturally from a mind endowed with the beginnings of humaneness, righteousness, propriety, and wisdom. Yet, Mencius also acknowledged that evil, all too evident in the world, resulted when people abandoned the beginnings of goodness they were born with. The project of Confucian learning as Mencius described it was to maintain this mind of goodness and recover it if lost.

Politically, Mencius defined a more aggressive and confrontational approach than evident in the Analects. In one passage, Mencius suggests that when a ruler forsakes ethical behavior and engages in extreme misrule, he can and should be removed, even executed, without such amounting to regicide. In another instance, Mencius defines a more people-centered understanding of legitimacy, suggesting that crucial to acquiring legitimate rule is the ability to win the hearts-and-minds of the people. Without that, a ruler might never hope for success. Equally important was Mencius&rsquo affirmation that legitimate government consists of ethical, humane government, or renzheng (J: jinsei).

Confucius was credited, according to traditional accounts, with editing the various classics of ancient Chinese writing that supposedly existed prior to his day. While there might be some truth to this attribution, the classics that were known to Chinese history have been shown to derive, as a matter of textual fact, from the early-Han dynasty (206 B.C.E.-220 C.E.). These classics, often referred to as six in number, only consisted of some five books by Han times: the Book of Changes (Yijing) the Book of History (Shujing) the Book of Poetry (Shijing) the Book of Rites (Liji) the Spring and Autumn Annals (Chunqiu). Whatever the truth of the matter, it was widely believed among later Confucians that the classics they studied had been in part edited by Confucius and so, in subtle ways, conveyed his understandings of history, literature, etiquette, and even change itself. In the Han dynasty, these texts came to be studied widely as part of the expanding &ldquoConfucian&rdquo curriculum. After a brief but brutal persecution of Confucian scholars and Confucian literature during the Qin dynasty (221&ndash206 B.C.E.), Confucius began to emerge, during the Han dynasty, as the much exalted and revered sage-philosopher of China, and Confucians as a more distinctly identifiable group of scholars.

It was also in the Han that another philosophical system, that of Buddhism, entered China. Following the fall of the Han, Buddhism gradually expanded, often in association with the ruling power of non-Chinese elites. While a conspicuous presence during the Sui and most of the Tang dynasties, Buddhism eventually fell victim to imperial persecution at the highest level and widespread ethnocentric reactions issuing from an increasing consciousness of the foreign nature of the teachings. In tandem with the reaction against Buddhism and all of its philosophical claims, Confucian teachings were variously reasserted. In many cases, these reassertions of Confucianism were made along such distinctively novel lines that western scholars have referred to them as expressions of Neo-Confucian philosophy. The term does have its counterparts in East Asian discourse in the form of designations such as Songxue, &ldquothe learning of the Song dynasty,&rdquo xinglixue, &ldquothe learning of human nature and principle,&rdquo xinxue, &ldquothe learning of the mind,&rdquo and lixue, &ldquothe learning of principle.&rdquo

Undoubtedly the newest thing about Neo-Confucianism was its metaphysics: while Confucius and Mencius had apparently assumed the reality of the world, they had not felt obliged to explain that assumption theoretically, even in passing. In the wake of Buddhism&rsquos sway during much of the Tang dynasty, Neo-Confucians of the Song and later dynasties explicitly accounted for the reality of the world by positing a generative substantial force, qi (: ki), capable of assuming a variety of forms: liquid, solid, and ethereal. This generative force was the Neo-Confucian response to Buddhist claims regarding the essential insubstantiality of the world. Providing a sort of intelligible order to the world of generative force was the Neo-Confucian conception of an essential rational principle (C: li J: ri) inhering in all things. Together, rational principle and generative force constituted the basic ingredients of a variety of expressions of the Neo-Confucian affirmation of the reality of the world. Theorists often differed regarding the priority of one notion in relation to the other, or whether there was in fact any priority between them at all, but rarely was it the case that later Confucian forays into metaphysical speculation abandoned either of the two metaphysical ingredients entirely.

Another novel area of philosophical speculation was that related to spiritual forces. Confucius said little about them, other than that people&rsquos proper concern should be how to live in the world of humanity. Yet following the Buddhist discourses on the afterlife, rebirth, and various heavens and hells, Neo-Confucians were compelled to articulate various understandings of the spirit world. One of the more commonly accepted positions defined ghosts and spirits (C: guishen J: kishin) in terms of the spontaneous activities of yin and yang in the world. Without denying that there were spiritual forces, this account provided for a kind of naturalistic understanding of spiritual phenomena.

Neo-Confucians were not always so innovative. Virtually all affirmed the Mencian line that human nature was at birth good. Furthermore, most acknowledged that the mind is endowed with the four beginnings of this goodness as expressed in humaneness, righteousness, propriety, and wisdom. Supplementing Mencius&rsquo claims, however, many Neo-Confucians added that human nature was rational principle, giving all of humanity a common bond with the rational structure of the world, and conversely giving the rational structure of reality common ground with the essential goodness that otherwise characterized humanity through human nature.

The interpenetration of the cosmos and the individual was pursued along several other lines as well, perhaps most notably in the new explanations of the ancient Confucian notion of humaneness in terms of forming one body with everything in the universe. This sort of mysticism, more characteristic of Daoism than classical Confucianism, was one of the more distinctive features of many expressions of Neo-Confucianism. Clearly the theoretical insights of the later Confucian scholars were not formulated simply to oppose Buddhism: not a few instances of Neo-Confucian philosophizing emerged as reformulations of appealing aspects of either Buddhism or Daoism. Such reformulations prompted many later critics of these innovative ideas to see in them offensive amounts of heterodox thinking that should have been given no harbor in Confucian thought.

One example of Neo-Confucians reformulating ideas and/or introspective practices from Buddhism took the form of the often practiced, albeit somewhat controversial method of meditation known as jingzuo (Japanese: seiza), or &ldquoquiet-sitting.&rdquo With this practice, Neo-Confucians developed an alternative to the popular Chan (Zen) form of meditation known as zuochan (Japanese: zazen). The latter was meant to help the practitioner intuit the essential emptiness of the ego, also understood as intuiting their Buddha nature, as well as the emptiness or insubstantiality of all things. Neo-Confucians, however, emphasized that the introspective moments achieved during quiet-sitting would lead to a comprehensive enlightenment wherein the person realized clearly the essential goodness of their original nature as moral principle and its simultaneous identity with the principle informing all things in the universe. This understanding of the ethical unity of the self and world was the ground, as Neo-Confucians understood quiet-sitting, not for withdrawal or inactivity but instead for a dynamic engagement with the world.


1 For example, modern New Confucian Mou Zongsan claims that traditional China had no political rule, only governance, because it was monarchy thus the politics of Confucianism would be fruitless to current politics. See Zongsan , Mou , Zhengdao yu Zhidao [Political rule and governance], ( Guilin : Guangxi Normal Teacher's University Press , 2006 ), 1 – 25 Google Scholar .

2 There have been written criticisms and responses between Confucians in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and mainland China since 2015. In 2016, there was the first dialogue between them in Chendu city of Sichuan Province. The main contents were published in Tianfu Xinlun, no. 2 (2016): 1–82.

3 For a concrete description, see Zhigang , Zhang , “ Rujiao zhi Zheng Fansi ” [Reflection on the controversy about Confucianism], Wen Shi Zhe , no. 3 ( 2015 ): 98 – 168 Google Scholar . Regarding the comprehensive controversy in mainland China, see Zhong , Ren and Ming , Liu , eds. Rujiao Chongjian: Zhuzhang yu Huiying [Rebuilding Confucianism: claims and responses] ( Beijing : Chinese Political and Law University Press , 2012 )Google Scholar .

4 See Xinzhong , Yao , “ Religion and Zongjiao: Zhongguo yu Youtai-jidujiao Youguan Zongjiao Gainian Lijie de Bijiao Yanjiu ” [A comparative study of the understanding of religion between China and Christian], Xuehai , no. 1 ( 2004 ): 87 – 95 Google Scholar .

5 Jian , Zhang , Zhongguo Gudai Zhengjiao Guanxishi [History of state-religion relations in ancient China] ( Beijing : Chinese Social Science Press , 2012 ), 23 – 49 Google Scholar .

6 Lai , Pan-Chiu , “ Subordination, Separation, and Autonomy: Chinese Protestant Approaches to the Relationship between Religion and State ,” Journal of Law and Religion 35 , no. 1 ( 2020 ) (this issue)CrossRefGoogle Scholar .

7 There are a great many forms of Confucianism found in history. The famous scholar Li Shen has argued that Confucianism has been understood as a distinct religion since Dong Zhongshu, while before that it was understood to be but one part of traditional religion. See Shen , Li , Rujiao Jianshi [A simple history of Confucianism] ( Guilin : Guangxi Normal Teacher's University Press , 2013 ), 1–2 , 37 – 58 Google Scholar .

8 See Zehou , Li , Lishi Bentilun [A theory of historical ontology] ( Beijing : Life, Reading and Knowledge Bookstore , 2002 ), 51 – 56 Google Scholar .

9 Qing , Jiang , A Confucian Constitutional Order: How China's Ancient Past Can Shape Its Political Future , trans. Ryden , Edmund , ed. Bell , Daniel A. and Fan , Ruiping ( Princeton : Princeton University Press , 2013 ), 134 –37 230–233Google Scholar .

5. Confucius and Politics

Confucius believed that the best way to make a government successful was for the ruler to be virtuous and lead by example. If the ruler is virtuous, then the people will automatically follow suit. If the king is competent and works ethically and no one is forced to do things against their will, then people will ultimately look up to their ruler. Confucius had very strong views on the practice of bribery. He believed that an inner sense of shame should stop people from doing wrong and lead them on the path of virtue.

What Is the Origin of Confucianism?

Confucianism originated with the teachings of Kong Qiu, or Confucius, a philosopher and statesman who tried to implement his teachings in government during his service within the Lu State during the Autumn and Spring period of Chinese history. The records commonly attributed to Confucius are second-hand accounts by his disciples written years after his death. Confucius' teachings gained widespread popularity due to subsequent philosophers such as Mencius and Xunzi.

Early in his adult life, Confucius spread his teachings while working as a teacher for the sons of noble families. Confucius firmly advocated the study of classic texts, asserting that an understanding of the moral and political problems of the past would help men in the present live virtuously. With the help of his disciples, Confucius complied and edited the Five Confucian Classics, collections of ancient texts that communicate the underlying doctrines of Confucianism, reverence for deceased ancestors, individual and civic virtue and altruism.

Confucius believed that there is only one legitimate system of government and that it is based on the principles of righteousness, compassion and justice. The philosopher began his political career as governor of a small town and went on to serve as Minister of Crime. This gave him ample opportunity to advise the ruling dynasty according to his political philosophy. However, he never saw reforms implemented to his satisfaction.

Following Confucius' death, Mencius and Xunzi became the greatest transmitters of his teachings. Confucianism spread during the Han Dynasty, when it became the official state ideology.

Facts about Confucianism 3: the six arts

Music, archery, calligraphy, arithmetic, ritual and charioteering were the six arts taught by Confucius. Poetry and history also caught the attention of Confucius.

Facts about Confucianism 4: the ideas of Confucius

Confucius had ideas about education, society, politics and morals. He tried to show the ideas to the government. But they were not interested with his ideas.

Legal Systems, Classification of

India and Hindu Law

As in China with Confucianism , Hinduism in India is an ancient system of thought, with religious, philosophical, and social underpinnings, that has served as a guiding force in society to control human conduct. The aim of Hinduism is to provide the individual with a moral compass to guide virtue and piety. Karma from good deeds in this life will permit the transmigration of the soul to a better existence in the next life, perhaps to a higher caste or, ultimately, the soul's release as a higher spiritual being. There is no record of efforts among classical Hindu legal scholars to classify or compare legal systems, but distinct schools of law in India developed in the eleventh and twelfth centuries that might have stimulated such interest.

Hindu law has passed through several periods of reconfiguration from Vedic times (1500 BCE) to the classical phase (500 BCE–1100 CE), the postclassical era, and English influence in India through the East India Company in the seventeenth century. Unlike Islam, scholars do not largely derive Hindu law from ancient religious scripture. Hindus do not need to hold specific religious beliefs. Rather, Hindu law is a kind of common law, continuously developed through customary practices and the historical records of Brahmin scholars until British officials took a greater interest in Hindu law after 1772. Since then, an Anglo-Hindu case law developed together with British statutory intervention in India, which today legal scholars distinguish from premodern Hindu law.

Two points are relevant here. First, Hindu law was less connected to central government activities than the situation with Confucianism in China. India did not have a similar series of imperial codes or imperial magistrates such as those in China. Second, Hindu law was more diverse than Chinese law with a large number of local variations. It also had a richer private law. It emphasized the practice of plurality and relative justice with little interest in uniformity of law. What the two systems shared was a de-emphasis of law in society compared to Western traditions. Hindu law today applies beyond India to Nepal and parts of Africa and Southeast Asia.

The ancient Hindu texts (in Sanskrit) related to law emphasize dharma, the obligation of every person to do the right thing at all times – to take the virtuous path. The pluralism of Hindu law lies in the diverse implementation of this principle in the infinite sociocultural circumstances of Indian life, by historical period, region, caste status, gender, age, and so on. The tension with modern Western law is obvious. Hindu law teaches that fixed rules might cause injustice. The endless distinctions treat every individual as separate units, linked all the same by a common conceptual bond in a macrocosmic order (rita) or secular truth (satya). Dharma, the appropriate action, must consider all the circumstances with a view to promote the common good. In one sense, the individual is the ultimate agent to determine the ‘law’ in any particular situation, consequently reducing the role for the state as lawmaker ( Glenn, 2010 , pp. 288–318 Menski, 2006 , pp. 193–278 Zweigert and Kötz, 1998 , pp. 313–319).

How Did Confucianism Impact China?

Confucianism impacted China by teaching social values and transcendent concepts, and by establishing institutions such as churches, schools and state buildings. Confucianism, in the most basic sense, classifies as a religion. However, historians consider Confucianism a civil religion, as its teachings and concepts touch on all aspects of society and life, carried out through rules, laws and codes.

Confucianism blended the typically separate spheres of education, government and church. This religion focused on the revival and interpretation of the ruling religion of the Zhou dynasty, which taught that by taking proactive measures, such as performing ceremonies and rituals, Chinese citizens honored the gods, who returned the appreciation with good luck and prosperity.

Watch the video: EASTERN PHILOSOPHY - Confucius (May 2022).


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