CONFUCIANISM AND CONFUCIUS
Confucius Confucianism is not really a religion. It is more of social and political philosophy, a code of conduct for gentlemen and way of life that has a strong influence on Chinese thought, relationships and family rituals.
Confucianism mainly addresses humanist concerns rather than things like God, revelation and the afterlife. It emphasizes tradition, respect for the elderly, hierarchal social order and rule by a benevolent leader who is supposed to look out for the well being of his people. Named after a Chinese sage named Confucius, it contains elements of ancestor worship, which is partly why it is sometime regarded as a religion. Traditionally, Chinese who have sought a mystical philosophy or religion turned to Taoism or Buddhism. This means that it is possible and even likely that someone who is regarded as a Confucian is also a Buddhist or a Taoist or even a Christian.
The term Confucianism was coined by Westerners. In China, Confucians call themselves ju, a word of uncertain origin that refers to their beliefs as the “way of the sages” or “the way of the ancients.” These beliefs are associated with the legendary founders and ancient sages of China and are thought to have existed from time immemorial. Confucius is regarded as the last of the great sages.
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
Confucius (551-479 B.C.) wrote historian Daniel Boorstin, "claimed no divine source for his teachings, nor any inspiration not open to everyone. Unlike Moses, the Buddha, Jesus, or Mohammed, he proclaimed no Commandments... Confucius was never crucified, never martyred. He never led a people out of a wilderness nor commanded forces in battle. He left little mark on the life of his time and aroused few disciples in his day." The religious scholar A.C. Graham wrote: “He was not the founder of a religion, nor was he a philosopher; he was a gentleman whose sense of what is done and what is not done has been taken as a standard.”
Confucius is a Latinization of Kongfuzi or Kong-fu-tzu (Deeply Revered Master Kong), Kong Qui, Kongzi or Kong-tze (Master Kong), the names by which he is known in China. Kong was his family name. His given name, Qui, means "hill," a reference to a bump on his head at birth. No one knows what he looked like. The images of him with a beard, gown and ceremonial hat were made 1,500 to 2,000 years after his death.
Confucius appears to have been devoted to the pursuit of knowledge, in his words, “for the sake of the self.” In the Analects, Confucius is recorded as saying: "At 15, I set my heart on learning; at 30, I firmly took my stand; at 40, I had no delusions; at 50, I knew the Mandate of Heaven; at 60, my ear was attuned to the truth; at 70, I followed my heart's desire without overstepping the boundaries of what was right." One similarity between Confucious and Jesus is that both offered an alterative lifestyle to greed and the pursuit of power.
Early Life of Confucius
Confucius was born and lived most of life on Qufu, a town in the coastal province of Shandong (east of present-day Beijing), an area sometimes regarded as China's Holy land. His descendants still live in Qufu today.
Confucius was the youngest of eleven children born to an impoverished nobleman. His father died when he was three and he was brought up by his mother. At the age of six, people commented about his fondness for rituals and sacrifices.
Confucius was educated in the aristocratic arts of archery, ritual, arithmetic, calligraphy, charioteering and music. He loved learning and purportedly memorized the whole Book of Poetry, the classic Chinese anthology of three hundred poems. He also reportedly liked to eat raw fish from the Yellow River.
Confucius was married at the age of 19 and fathered one son and several daughters. He also kept a cat. When his mother died when he was in his twenties, Confucius mourned and isolated himself for 27 months.
Confucius’s first job was as a clerk overseeing pastures of oxen and sheep. As a young man he made a name for himself by helping the poor and fighting against oppressive taxes. Later, he held several government positions, the highest of which was Chief Justice of the State, and was highly respected for his wisdom and knowledge. His disciples were very active in the government of the Chi family who had usurped power from the Lu family.
Confucius did not consider himself an original thinker. Instead he called himself a "transmitter," who tried to resurrect old customs and rituals that he felt had a place in reforming the turbulent world he lived in. On religion, he said. "Respect the gods, but have as little to do with them as possible."
Confucius could also be quite obsessive, he once described himself as “the sort of man who forgets to eat when he tries to a solve a problem that is driving him to distraction, who is so full of joy that he forgets his worries and who does not notice the onset of old age." He could also be fussy. It was said, “He did not sit, unless his mat was straight.”
Confucius had hoped to attain a high public office so that he could reorganize society with a bureaucracy set up on his beliefs, but because he was active in period of political and moral upheaval, he could never achieve the position he wnated and there were few opportunities for his reforms to be enacted during his lifetime. He rarely wrote anything and most of what has been attributed to him was written down by his followers and passed down from generation to generation.
Confucius talked about goodness and morality. He argued for a return to a mythical state of social harmony that existed in the past through filial and ceremonial piety, reverence towards authority and harmony with thought and consciousness. While his ideas weren't original, they caught on because they were packaged in such a way that people could understand, embrace and follow them.
Confucius urged people to think for themselves and stand up for what the thought was right. He told his disciples, “If I feel in my heart that I am wrong, I must stand in fear even though my opponent is the least formidable of men. But if my own heart tells me that I am right, I shall go forward even against thousands and tens of thousands.”
Many fables about Confucius have a political message. Once Confucius and his disciplines came across a woman crying at a recently dug grave. When asked why she was crying the woman said, "My husband's father was killed here by a tiger, and my husband also, and now my son have met the same fate." When asked why she didn’t want to leave the spot, she answered, "At least here there is no oppressive government." "Remember this my children, Confucius said, "oppressive government is fiercer and more feared that a tiger."
Famous Confucian Sayings
Confucian sayings were recorded in the Analects, which begin with the proverb: "Is it not a pleasure when friends visit from afar!" The sayings, aphorism, maxims, episodes and proverbs in the Analects were very useful in educating the illiterate masses. They were easy to remember and could be passed down orally from one generation to the next.
The most famous Confucian saying is Confucian version of the Golden Rule—"I wound not want to do to others what I do not want them to do to me"—which is much better put that Biblical and Talmudic proverbs that convey the same thought: "Therefore all things whatsoever ye would want men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law of the prophets" (Matthew 7:12); "What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow men. That is the entire Law; all the rest is commentary" (Shabbat, 31a).
Wisdom Confucius said was "when you know a thing, to recognize that you know it, and when you do not know a thing, to recognize that you do not know it...the mistakes of a gentleman may be compared to the eclipses of the sun or the moon. When he makes a mistake, all men see it; when he corrects it, all men look up to him...When you have faults do not fear to abandon them."
Confucius recognized the importance of the arts. "It is by poetry that one's mind is aroused; it is by ceremonials that one's character is regulated; it is by music that one becomes accomplished." On the nature versus nurture argument, Confucius said: "By nature, men are near alike; it is by custom and habit that they are set apart."
Many of the sayings convey a message of never-ending self improvement. "When walking with a party of three," Confucius said, "I always have teachers. I can select the good qualities of the one for imitation, and the bad ones of the other and correct them in myself." Some sayings are hard to figure out. One reads: “When the villagers were exorcizing evil spirits, he stood in his court robes on the eastern steps.”
Lesser Confucian sayings include: 1) "Be not ashamed of misstates and thus make them crime." 2) "Ignorance is the night of the mind, but a night without moon and stars." 3) "It does not matter how slowly you go so long as you do not stop.” 4) "Study without reflection is a waste of time; reflection without study is dangerous." 5) "He who rules by moral force is like the pole star, which remains in place while all the lesser stars do homage to it."
Later Life of Confucius
After perceiving his "divine mission" at the age of 50 Confucius retired from his administrative positions and spent the next 13 years wandering China and offering unsolicited advise to Chinese rulers, administrators and warlords. The last years of his life were spent in Qufu, teaching and editing classical literature. He lived there in a small cottage and preached under an apricot tree. Describing his methods, one of his students wrote: "When the master entered the Grand Temple he asked questions about everything."
Confucius died in 479 B.C. at the age of 72 an unrecognized itinerant teacher and a disappointed man. His last words reportedly were: "No intelligent monarch arises; there is not one in the kingdom that will make me his master. My time has come to die."
According to legend, the year after his death his cottage was turned into a temple; his disciples spent three whole years mourning; and Tzu-kung, his leading disciple, spent another three years at his grave. "From the birth of mankind until now," Tzu-kung declared, "there has never been the equal of Confucius."
Chow Yun-fat Plays Confucius
In 2010 a state-backed film about Confucius was released with Chow Yun-Fat, better known as a tough guy in Hong Kong gangster movies, playing the great master. Chow is best known for his role in the Oscar-winning Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, but he made his name in high-octane Hong Kong gangster fare such asHard Boiled and A Better Tomorrow. [Source: The Guardian]
The film was directed is Hu Mei, one of the best known female directors of China's vaunted fifth generation. Her a conductor for an army orchestra, was imprisoned by the Red Guards, while her grandfather died in custody.
The film is said to have had a budget of 150m yuan (£16m). Shot in Hebei province and at Hengdian studios in Zhejiang, it was is one of a number of films put together to celebrate 60 years of communist rule.
Image Sources: Brooklyn University, Amazon
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 February 2011