Filial piety scene The realist, down- to-earth nature of Confucianism is highlighted in a discourse on the shortcomings of Buddhism by the Confucian scholar Hu Yin (1098-1156): “Man is a living thing; the Buddhists speak not of life but of death. Human affairs are all visible; the Buddhists speak not of the manifest but of the hidden. After a man dies he is called a ghost; the Buddhists speak not of men but of ghosts. What man cannot avoid is the conduct or ordinary life; the Buddhists speak not of the ordinary but of the marvelous.”
“What determines how we should live an ordinary life is moral principal; the Buddhists speak not of moral principal but of illusoriness and sense-perception," Hu continued. "It is to what follows birth and precedes death that we should devote our minds; the Buddhists speak not of this life but of past and future lives. Seeing and hearing, thought and discussion, are real evidence; the Buddhists do not treat them as real, but speak of what the ear and eye cannot attain, thought and discussion cannot reach.”
According to a Library of Congress description: “Confucianism is not a religion, although some have tried to imbue it with rituals and religious qualities, but rather a philosophy and system of ethical conduct that since the fifth century B.C. has guided China’s society. Kong Fuzi (Confucius in Latinized form) is honored in China as a great sage of antiquity whose writings promoted peace and harmony and good morals in family life and society in general. Ritualized reverence for one’s ancestors, sometimes referred to as ancestor worship, has been a tradition in China since at least the Shang Dynasty (1750–1040 B.C.). [Source: Library of Congress]
Confucianism stresses the importance of avoiding conflict and emphasizes correct behavior. Desire is suppressed and people are expected to live by a elevated moral code. In many cases no justification or reason is given for Confucian beliefs or morality other than “This is how it has always been done” or “This is how it was done in the Golden Age.”
Confucian and Taoism basically contradict and are in conflict with one another. Confucianism, emphasizes achievement and propriety while Taoism stresses unseen strengths in being humble and in some cases, being perceived as average.
Good Websites and Sources: Confucianism religioustolerance.org ; Confucius.org confucius.org ; Confucianism philtar.ucsm.ac.uk ; Confucius .friesian.com ; Confucian Texts Chinese Text Project ; Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy plato.stanford.edu ; Analects of Confucius eawc.evansville.edu ; Cult of Confucius /academics.hamilton.edu ; Chinese Classics China Page ; Confucian Temple China Vista ; Virtual Temple tour drben.net/ChinaReport
Links in this Website: CONFUCIANISM AND CONFUCIUS Factsanddetails.com/China ; CONFUCIAN BELIEFS Factsanddetails.com/China ; HISTORY OF CONFUCIANISM Factsanddetails.com/China ; ORGANIZED CONFUCIANISM Factsanddetails.com/China ; Qufu Wikipedia Wikipedia Travel China Guide Travel China Guide ; Lonely Planet Lonely Planet ; UNESCO World Heritage Site : (click 1001wonders.org at the bottom): UNESCO ; UNESCO World Heritage Site Web site (click the site you want) World Heritage Site
Links in this Website to Different Religions in China: RELIGION IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; FOLK RELIGION IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; TAOISM Factsanddetails.com/China ; TAOIST BELIEFS Factsanddetails.com/China ; BUDDHISM IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ;HISTORY OF BUDDHISM IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; HISTORY OF TIBETAN BUDDHISM Factsanddetails.com/China ; TIBETAN BUDDHISM BELIEFS Factsanddetails.com/China ; CHRISTIANITY IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; MUSLIMS AND JEWS IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; MYSTICISM AND SUPERSTITION IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; FENG SHUI AND QI QONG Factsanddetails.com/China ; IDEAS ABOUT DEATH IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China
Song-era texts The are five Confucian classics— 1) Book of History, a collection of documents ascribed to ancient Emperors and officials; 2) Book of Songs (“Shijing”), an anthology of early poems also known as Book of Poem ; 3) Book of Changes (“I Ching”), a manual of divination and philosophical appendices; 4) Rites (“Li Chi”), a compendium of rituals; and 5) The Spring, Autumn Annals, a chronicle of the state of Lu; and the attached Zuo Commentary.
In Confucius’s time there was an additional classic, Music, but it has been lost. The oldest versions of the I-Ching and Confucius' Discourse on the Book of Poetry are on chop-stick-like bamboo slips in the Shanghai Museum. They are believed to be more than 2,200 years old.
The Four Books—The Analects, (“Conversations,” or "Classics"), The Doctrine of the Mean, The Great Learning and Mencius—form the basis of Confucian education and training for imperial officials. The Analects has been described as "the most influential book in the history of the human race" and a "modern book" with "the oldest intellectual and spiritual portrait of a man." One Confucian told the New York Times, "All human knowledge is contained in this book. If you read this book carefully, you don't need another."
Confucius reportedly compiled the sayings, aphorism, maxims and episodes that make up The Analects during his retirement. But this seems unlikely. The 20 chapters and 497 verses of The Analects were unknown until 300 years after his death. More likely they were compiled by his disciples and written down by other people. Confucius himself once said he merely "transmitted" what was taught to him "without making anything up" on his own.
The first half of The Analects is stylistically and thematically very different rom the second half. University of Southern California historian John Wills Jr. told Atlantic Monthly, "We have known for a long time that some of the later parts of the book are suspect. After Chapter Ten or Twelve you get a lot of fishy Taoist stuff."
Basic Tenets of Confucianism
Confucianism stresses the importance of precedent and universal truths articulated by sages of the past and emphasizes self improvement. The two major doctrines of Confucianism are: 1) zhong, based on the Chinese character that combines "heart” and "middle," meaning fidelity to oneself and humanity within; and 2) shu, meaning cherish the heart as if it were one’s owner.
Confucianism is a social code based on morality rather than laws. Confucius said: “If you govern by regulations and keep them in order by punishment, the people will avoid trouble but have no sense of shame. If you govern them by moral influence, and keep them in order by a code of manners, they will have a sense of shame and will come to you of their own accord.”
Confucius believed people should look to the past to gain insight into how to behave and said virtuous men should follow the examples of the great ancestors. The Analects outlined the four basic concepts of Confucian thought: 1) benevolence, love of humanity and the virtues of the superior man (jen); 2) moderation in all things (chung yung) and harmony with nature (T'ien): 3) filial propriety, duty and the rules that define good social relationships (li); 4) the "rectification of names" or recognizing the nature of things by giving them their right names (cheng ming).
Unlike Taoism, which emphasizes the natural way, Confucianism emphasizes the social way. It assumes that the natural world—i.e the seasons, day and night and the agriculture cycle—follow the same code as mankind; that all events on earth are the due to the “decree of heaven”; and the natural course of events, whether they be related to society or nature, is a reflection of the “Way of Heaven.”
Confucianism recognizes five cardinal virtues: 1) benevolence in terms of sympathy for others (jen); 2) duty reflected in the shame felt after doing something wrong (yi); 3) manners, propriety and feelings of deference (li); 4) wisdom, in terms of discerning right and wrong (chih;) and 5) loyalty and good faith (hsin).
Benevolence is regarded as the most important of the virtues, and some effort is made to define it, with the Golden Rule being only one attempt. Manners are also given a lot of attention and means both the outward actions and inner feelings of respect. The concept embraces not only etiquette but also customs, rituals and conventions of all kinds.
Early Confucian focused a lot of attention on the relationship between morality and human nature and the whole idea that they are dovetailing and conflicting forces. Almost every side and view was taken on the subject. One prevailing idea was that human nature was a mixture of good and bad and the amounts of each could vary a great deal from individual to individual. Another important concept was that human nature was something that was evil Yet another view was that human nature was something that was in tune with the forces of heaven.
In the end the view expressed in The Book of Rites—“That in man which is decreed by heaven is what is meant by ‘nature’; to follow his nature is meant by the ‘Way’; cultivation of the Way is what is meant by education”—became the prevailing view.
Confucian Beliefs About Social Relationships
Confucius was not interested in individual salvation or individual rights. What he cared about most was the collective well being of society. He promoted virtues such as courtesy, selflessness, obedience, respect, diligence, communal obligation, working for a common good, social harmony, and empathy. The code of behavior he described was based on a system of harmonious, subordinate relationships based on the notions of filial piety, a well-ordered family, a well-ordered-state and a well-ordered world.
Confucians stress that a person’s worth is determined by public actions. The concept of li defines a set of social relationships and clearly described how people are supposed to behave towards one another. Fealty in Confucian terms takes five forms: 1) subject to ruler, 2) son to father, 3) younger brother to older brother, 4) wife to husband (woman to man), and 5) younger person to older person. Under the concept the li, the dominate person receives respect and obedience from the subordinate person but is by no means a dictator. He is supposed to reciprocate with love, goodwill, support and affection towards the subordinate person.
The Confucian code of subordinate relationships also extended to professions, with scholars at the top; peasant farmers in the middle; and artisans and merchants at the bottom. Confucian scholars grew their fingernails long to show they didn't do physical labor. Under Confucian leadership, crimes were often dealt with by ostracism and humiliation rather than physical punishment.
Confucianism and Families
Under Confucianism, the oldest male and the father are regarded as the unchallengeable authorities. They set rules, and the "duty and virtue" of everyone else is to follow them. The oldest male and father, in turn, are supposed to reciprocate this reverence by supporting and looking out for the best interest of the people subordinate to them. Love and respect are principals that are practiced in the context of the family. Confucians do not ascribe to the idea of loving all people equally.
Confucius promoted the concept that it was important to worship one's parents while they are still living and old people should be venerated because even though they are weak physically they at the peak of their knowledge and wisdom. This sentiment is best expressed during the "elders first" rite, the central ritual of the Chinese New Year, in which family members kneel and bow on the ground to everyone older than them: first grandparents, then parents, siblings and relatives, even elderly neighbors. In the old days a son was expected to honor his deceased father by occupying a hut by his grave and abstaining from meat, wine and sex for 25 months.
Filial piety is regarded as the most important Confucian duty. Confucian filial piety encourages the younger generation to follow the teachings of elders and for elders to teach the young their duties and manners. Both children and adults are taught to honor their parents no matter what age they are and obey their commands and not do anything that would bring suffering or pain to them.
Sons have traditionally been taught to give whatever money they make to their parents. To do otherwise would incur a loss of face. This unquestioning acquiescence was expected to be maintained regardless of how their parents respond. "In early times," one Chinese man told National Geographic, "even if your parents were not nice to you, you were still responsible to them in their old age."
Sometimes family comes before conventional morality. In The Analects, after being told about a man who bore witness against his father for stealing sheep, Confucius said: “The honest men of my country are different from this. The father covers up for his son, the son covers up for his father...and there is honesty in that too.”
Another filial piety scene
Confucianism, Men and Women
In a traditional male-dominated Confucian family, the eldest son is held in the highest esteem and is responsible for carrying on the family name and lineage, keeping property in the family and presiding over ancestral rites.
The preference for boy babies over girls in Asian society is tied up in part in the Confucian belief that a male heir is necessary to carry on the family name, provide leadership for the family, and take care of the family ancestors. Chinese parents worry that if they don't produce a male heir no one will take care of them in their old age and no one will keep them company or look after them in the afterlife.
Confucius said: ‘Women and people of low birth are hard to handle, if you let them get close, they presume and if you keep them at a distance, they resent it." He also said that a good woman is an illiterate one. Women often suffered under the Confucian system. Not only are they ordered around by men, they are often ordered around by each other in very vicious or mean ways. Older sisters have traditionally pushed their younger sisters around with impunity, and mothers of sons are notorious for treating their daughters-in-law like servants.
"Just as Hinduism is a name for the religions of India, so Confucianism is a name for the traditional beliefs of the Chinese family," historian Daniel Boorstin wrote. "Their 'religious' rituals or sacrifices were presided over not by a professional priest but by the head of the family and state sacrifices were led by the head of the state."
Confucianism and Character
Confucianism puts a strong emphasis and following teachers, superiors, family members and elders. Liu Heung-shin, the editor of a Hong Kong magazine, wrote Chinese identity is "connected to Confucianism, built around families and connections. It's something Chinese people can feel, even if the don't describe it in words."
Love and respect are principals that were practiced more in the context of the family than in society and humanity as a whole and equality was not necessarily the goal of a just society. These ideas help explain why nepotism is so rampant, why Chinese are so horrified by the way Westerners treat the elderly and why the Chinese are more likely to mind their own business if they witness a great injustice being inflicted on a stranger.
Confucian values were displaced somewhat by Communism and Maoism. Since Mao's death and the launching of the Deng economic reforms, Confucianism has made a comeback only to be displaced somewhat by materialism, money and superficial success.
Confucianism, Spirituality and Salvation
The traditional Confucian view on spirituality is that one should perform the necessary rituals and sacrifices to pay one's respect to the spirits and the forces in heaven. And that’s that. There is nothing more that can be done. Attention should be focused on social matters and living in the here and now.
In The Analects Confucius said “Devotion to one’s duties is a subject and respect for the spirits while keeping them at a distance, may be called wisdom.” Mencius said: “The people are the most important; the spirits of the soil and grain come next.”
Confucius was not interested in religious salvation and the afterlife. On the list of things "about which the master never spoke" were "weird things, physical exploits, disorders and spirits." He had little patience for gods. "We do not yet know how to serve man," he said, "how can we know about the spirits?...We don't know yet about life, how can we know about death?" People's problems, he argued, could not be solved by supernatural powers but by rather their own efforts and knowledge learned from the ancestor's experience.
Confucius believed that praying was a waste of time. The "will of Heaven," he said, was not discovered in theology but in "the collective experience of the ancestors." Confucians looked down in the Buddhist view of reward and punishment after death as an attempt to cloak morality as self-interest and viewed the Taoist quest of immortality as selfish and a denial of the natural order of things. Among Confucians there was a preveailing belief that when a person died his spirit simply dispersed.
Heaven was seen as a source of correct conduct and human potential for goodness. Confucius called it the "natural cosmic order that matched the ethical sense in every man." The idea of being a recluse and communing with nature, which are central to Buddhism and Taoism, were fine but only after one performed his social duties first.
Confucianism and Religion
Confucian ancestor worship Although Confucianism is sometimes described as a religion because of it allusions to ancestor worship Confucius himself never endorsed ancestor worship. He stressed devotion to ancestors out of reverence to their wisdom and moral leadership not as a means of worshiping their spirits. Nevertheless, over the years the term Confucianism has come to include ancestor worship, which has been around much longer than Confucianism.
Some scholars even claim that Confucianism is anti-religion because it has no gods, priest, churches or concept of afterlife. But not everyone agrees. Historian Geoffrey Parrinder argued that even though Confucius's principals were largely pragmatic, the power behind them was spiritual and there is a lot of emphasis on rituals.
Confucius's tenants, Parrinder wrote "were not based on moral good and evil" but rather on "the ritual manipulation of powers to ensure good luck and to avert bad luck...By interpreting...archaic language in a contemporary sense, he evolved an ethical and moral system...dominated by magic and [immortality]...It was the genius of Confucius to have converted much of the language of primitive religion into a vocabulary for ethics." ["World Religions" edited by Geoffrey Parrinder, Facts on File Publications, New York]
Confucianism, Education, Government and Administration
Confucius is credited with organizing China's first educational system and setting up an efficient administration system, based on the careful selection of a bureaucracy that helped the emperor and other leaders rule. Members of the bureaucracy were trained in special schools and chosen for their jobs based on their the proficiency on a civil service exam that tested their knowledge of Confucian texts. Before Confucius's time the only schools in China were ones that taught archery.
Peter Mattis wrote in China Brief: Although forms of filial piety in state-led Confucianism have been used to justify subordination to the government for hundreds of years, Confucius’ emphasis on virtue far outweighs obedience: “in the face of a wrong or unrighteousness, it is the duty of the son to oppose his father, and the duty of the servant to oppose his superior.” In an explicitly political context, Confucius was even more clear, pointing out “tyrannical government is more dangerous than man-eating tigers.” Mencius combined these ideas into the Mandate of Heaven, which justified rebellion against incompetent or malignant governments. He wrote “when a ruler treats his subjects like grass and dirt, then the subjects should treat him as a bandit and an enemy.” Mao, a thorough student of the power of principles, understood this, which is why he sought to destroy Confucianism as a Chinese challenger to the foreign-born Marxist-Leninist ideology he espoused. Due to Chinese disenchantment with foreign rule after the Qing Dynasty, Confucian thought in the hands of nationalists would have been dangerous to the revolution. [Source: Peter Mattis, China Brief (Jamestown Foundation), March 2012]
Confucius regarded government and education as inseparable. Without good education, he reasoned, it was impossible to find leaders who possess the virtues to run a government. "What has one who is not able to govern himself, to do with governing others?" Confucius asked.
The basic principal behind Confucian education is that if you work hard, endure and suffer as a young person you will reap rewards later in life. The strategy of Confucian education, used in China for centuries, is to memorize the moral precepts in the hopes that they will rub off and improve the character of the person who memorizes them and make him or her more moral.
Under Confucianism, teachers and scholars were regarded, like oldest males and fathers, as unquestioned authorities. They have traditionally been held in high esteem and their power and control has been regarded as almost absolute.
The I Ching (or "Book of Changes") is a book of divination that first appeared during the Age of Philosophers. It has been attributed to Confucius and is regarded as a Confucian text but in reality it predates Confucius and was incorporated into Confucianism when it became more mystical.
I Ching divinations involve reading 64 hexagrams made of divided lines (yin) and undivided lines (yang) in accordance with sticks thrown by a fortuneteller. The 64 hexagrams are created by combining two groups of trigrams—each composed of eight trigrams, which in turn are each composed of combinations of three divided lines and undivided lines. Each hexagram has a description and symbolic meaning, which are revealed using interpretations written hundreds of years before the Book of Changes appeared.
In the old days the solid lines meant yes and a broken lines meant no. These days the interpretations are not so black and white. Four broken lines over two solid lines can mean "Approach has supreme success. Perseverance further. When the eighth month comes there will further misfortune."
I Ching is also regarded as a major treatise of the Chinese belief that philosophy and aesthetic theory is based on intuitive insight. The translation of I Chingby Princeton University Press is 740 pages.
Shortcomings of Confucianism
Confucianism was supposed to set up a society that was administered through a system that rewarded virtue, wisdom and merit. But, in practice it created a monopoly of power ruled by a scholar class that was able to pass down power from generation to generation by providing their offspring with the best education in the Confucian classics.
A fair legal system was never set up in China partly because Confucianism frowned upon legal action and supported negotiation. This idea sounded good in theory but in practice it helped foster corruption, nepotism and arbitrary decision-making. What was particularly unfortunate is that this system was not reformed for over 2,000 years.
Confucianism is inherently conservative. Confucians have been taught that it is immoral and bad manners to question the judgment of superiors and elders. Changes and adaptions to changing times were slow.
Boorstin wrote: "The Confucian consulted the past not to learn how institutions could be changed but, rather, to find the ideal to which they should be restored and for models of virtue to imitated." This kind of thought helped hold China together over the centuries but it also encouraged isolationism and retarded China's development during the 19th and 20th century, when it was ruthlessly exploited by foreign powers with superior technology." [Source: "The Creators" by Daniel Boorstin]
Women have been badly neglected.Confucianism encourages a paternal “father knows best” mentality, justifies a gender bias in favor of males.
Confucianism Versus Western Thought
While the Romans and the Western cultures that followed them put their trust in written laws, Confucius and his disciples and Eastern cultures that followed them distrusted written laws and put their trust in people and innate human goodness. The Confusions developed a code of conduct that defined how human beings interacted. This code of conduct was the basis of civil society rather than a written set of laws.
Even today the concept of written laws and written contacts is fairly weak in China and the nations of the East. The 20th-century Chinese historian Hsiao Kung-chuan wrote that if the early Chinese emperors had been exposed to Roman law "the Chinese out of necessity would have undergone an absolutely different course of development in the thousand or more years thereafter."
Asian behavior sometimes strikes Westerners as illogical. One reason for this, some argue, is that Asians have unquestioningly put their trust in Confucianism rules and traditions, some of which date back thousands of years, while Westerners have put their trust in modern science.
Confucian societies, some say, adapt to new technology because they tackle problems as a group working together but are less innovative, they say, because Confucianism stifles creativity and reform.
Confucian Thought and Modern China
Maintaining a tradition that despises money making and encourages adherence to the old practices seems out of place in modern China."China is in a values crisis. Marxism doesn't service as a restraint on the natural pursuit of self-interest, so where else can China turn to for a sense of social responsibility?" said Daniel Bell, a professor of political philosophy at Beijing's Tsinghua University and author of a book about the revival of Confucianism in China. [Source: Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times, March 25, 2011]
But Kong Xinfeng, a Qufu native who lectures in political science at Beijing's Chinese Academy of Governance, believes that the revival of Confucianism will be limited because of its inherent contradictions with communist ideology. "It is true that Confucius teaches about how to be a righteous, responsible and peaceful, but he doesn't speak to how to establish a truly equal society," said Kong, a 76th generation descendant. "Confucianism has a predisposition for an elite class of gentry, scholars and officials." Kong noted that the philosopher's popularity has gone in and out of fashion repeatedly with the changing of the dynasties. "When the dynasty is prosperous," he said, "Confucius is in."
Image Sources: 1) Filial piety scene, Ma Hezhi, Columbia University; 2) Texts, Palace Museum, Taipei ; 3) Moral Sayings, Yale University Library ; 4) Filial piety scene,Li Kung, Richard Barnhart; 5) Ancestor worship, Columbia University.
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
© 2008 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated December 2012