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History of Confucianism

History of Confucianism

K'ung Fu Tzu or Confucius developed a Tao-Buddhist offshoot philosophy in ancient China. His teachings during the reign of the Chou Dynasty, an era known for moral laxity, redefined socio-political ethics and established an ecumenical way of life.
SpiritualRay Staff
Confucius or K'ung Fu Tzu was born in the ancient state of Lu (modern Shantung), in 551 BCE. He devoted most of his life to teaching individual morality and ethics to his small band of students. The teachings of Confucius were an amalgamation of the Buddhist and Taoist ideals. He imparted oral directives that are propounded in the six schools of Confucianism: Han Confucianism, Neo-Confucianism, Contemporary Neo-Confucianism, Japanese Confucianism, Korean Confucianism and Singapore Confucianism. Confucius died at the age of 72, in 479 BCE.

Defining Confucianism

Confucianism is a way of life that was propounded by Confucius or K'ung Fu Tzu, an ancient Chinese teacher. Confucius was a passionate learner and keen observer of the political turmoil during the rule of the Chou Dynasty. He traveled a lot, assimilating experience and formulating ideologies pertaining to ritual, archery, music, charioteering, math, calligraphy, poetry and history. He developed and propounded concepts in education, government and society. The history basically dates back to the reflective mode the Master entered, during his self-imposed exile of twelve years, at the age of 56. Deep contemplation on the behavior of the power holders of the time with the common man, distinctly different moral rectitude and experiences in a world rife with sensuous delights led to political frustration. Confucius returned to Lu and extensively documented cherished classical traditions and a new way of life.

The ideology breathed vitality and a contemplative structure into outmoded rituals. Confucius spoke of a 'path' that was shaded by antiquity and cultural commonalities. The cultural values and social norms not only redressed the Chou era, but also formed the core of essential education in ancient China. In time, the doctrine became synonymous with ethics related to moral fabric. Today, there are around 6 million Confucians worldwide, throughout Europe, America, China and Asia.

The Life of a Thinker

His childhood passed in poverty, as his father died when he was three years old. He was raised by his mother, who did whatever she could to teach the young lad. Confucius married Qi Guan when he was 19 and became father to Kong Li a year later. Confucius always showed a larger-than-normal thirst for learning. He would learn about politics and history for hours and days together. When he was 23, his mother passed away. Such was his dedication to rites and rituals that he mourned the loss for three years, as prescribed by ancient tradition. It was this act that stuck in the people's minds, and they themselves started paying more attention to rituals.

Confucius was heavily involved in politics wherever he went. In his home state of Lu, he started as a governor of a small town. He continued to teach people while trying to bring about reform. He eventually was promoted to the Minister of Crime in Lu. He then tried to settle the ongoing power struggle for the state by urging all the enemy powers to bring down the heavy walls that separated the cities and promote a centralized government. A few cities agreed, but the battle only grew worse as a result. Confucius ended up making more enemies than friends and his plan to reinstate the legitimate rule of the duke failed. He thus went into self-exile, but still managed to maintain the duke's status even though people realized he had quit.

During this time, Confucius traveled through many small kingdoms, mostly in central China. He gathered many followers through his teachings. He also tried to promote his beliefs through the lands, but failed at this most of the time. Yet he still kept his resolve and always practiced what he preached. This was what impressed some people who later became his ardent followers. He returned home when he was 68, spending the remainder of his life teaching his brightest students, while editing older scripts and adding his philosophy to them.

Even though Confucius firmly stated that he wasn't teaching anything new to his students, historians do believe that he did add a rather fair amount of new ideologies to the older ones that he taught.

One of the common ways he would teach his disciples was through his own practice and through subtle conversations. This is what set him apart from other scholars and philosophers. He was the perfect embodiment of his own words.

About Confucianism

His teachings, like most great philosophers of their times, was too ahead of its time. The Analects were composed by his students long after his death. His teachings were compiled and termed as Confucianism after that. It took roots during the Spring an Autumn periods, a time of intellectual revolution in China.

The Han dynasty saw Confucianism as more of a religion, complete with superior spiritual beings, rather than simply a teaching. It became linked to cosmology (observational astronomy) and so, Confucianism became a state religion. It lasted till the end of the Qing Dynasty (1911). The Maoist communism that followed later was famous for breeding anti-Confucian sentiments. Confucianism was replaced by the San-min Doctrine (Three People's Principles) in the pre-Maoist era, after which the Republic of China was replaced by the People's Republic of China during the Maoist era.

Confucian Beliefs

The belief system propounded in this philosophical profundity is best understood in the values within the following ethical genres:
  • Li or correct propriety, ritual and etiquette
  • Yi or the halo of righteousness
  • Hsiao or love among members of a family or society
  • Xin or the power of trustworthiness and honesty
  • Jen or inherent humaneness and benevolence
  • Chung or loyalty to ruling authorities
The beliefs gained new meaning during the rule of the Han dynasty (206 CE). The four passages of life; birth, sexual maturity, marriage and death, were recognized and regulated by propounded Confucian tradition. The doctrines were assimilated by Chu Hsi (1130-1200 CE) during the reign of the Sung rulers, in the Si Shu or 4 sacred books and Wu Jing or 5 classics. The four holy books are:
  • Chung Yung or the Doctrine of the Mean
  • Lun Yu or the Analects of Confucius
  • Meng Tzu or the writings of Meng Tzu (371-289 BCE)
  • Ta Hsueh or the Great Learning
The five classics are:
  • Shih Ching or Classic of Odes: 300 poems and songs
  • Shu Ching or Classic of History
  • I Ching or Classic of Changes
  • Li Ching or Classic of Rites
  • Ch'un Ch'iu or Spring and Autumn Annals
Confucianism has been followed and preached for more than two millennia. It has influenced spiritual and political life not only in China, but also in Japan, Korea and Vietnam.
Confucius