It seems hard to believe that a philosophy that began 2500 years ago is still the dominant influence on a major modern power. Nevertheless, that is the role that Confucianism has played in China.
Confucianism affects individual morality, the roles of family members, the roles of individual in society, as well as the manner in which government must act. In short, this ancient teaching dominates almost every aspect of daily Chinese life.Confucius was born in 551 BC, during the Zhou dynasty.
His family could be traced to noble descendants but was poor because his father died, leaving only his mother to raise him. His state, Lu, was the cultural center of China. He grew up while Lu was in a period of peace. The affairs in his state greatly influenced him and his teachings. Before beginning to teach, Confucius had many governmental roles.
In 528 BC, his mother died. Following her death, he observed a three-year period of mourning, which is customary in China. During the period in which he was mourning, he began to study ancient history and literature. After this time, he began to teach and gained many followers. Confucius would teach only those who were eager to learn and who could learn from their own thoughts. He chose students who were known for their virtue, who were gifted in art or speech, who were distinguished in government, or those who were eminent in literature. Confucius ultimately achieved high rank in government.
He became Chief Magistrate of a town and was quickly promoted to Minister of Justice. At the age of 56, he left the state of Lu, expressing his concern over the rulers’ lack of seriousness and their lack of concern for doing the right thing for the people they ruled. Before Confucius, China had had some philosophical literature; but Confucius took the best points of what existed and incorporated his own ideas to create the basis for his philosophy, Confucianism.
In his time, books were not written on a private level; and there is no proof that Confucius himself wrote anything. The main record of his philosophy was in the Analects, which are believed to have been written by disciples of his disciples who accompanied him during his thirteen-year period of wandering. Analects include a variety of Confucius’ sayings. Twenty-two of his approximately seventy disciples are mentioned in the Analects. Another sets of writings, the Six Classics, are commonly mistaken as Confucian writings. However, it is now believed that Confucius just made these works prominent through the teaching of them. Confucianism is not a religion.
This is reflected in the fact that Confucius did not comment on god or religion. Instead, the principle points of his philosophy centered on striving for perfection individually, within the family, within the larger society, and in government.These were so called moral values relating to the state of man. When Confucius was still under the age of 50, he was conscious of ordinary moral values. It was not until he was 50 or 60 that he even became aware of super-moral values, those that deal with the ideas of heaven and spirituality outside of what one experiences on earth. In order to achieve these moral values – this perfection of human kindness – Confucius offered one main teaching, jen. Jen symbolizes love and is the virtue to make things improve by doing what one ought to.
“Jen expresses the Confucian ideal of cultivating humanity, developing human faculties, sublimating one’s personality, and upholding human rights.” Confucius believed, however, that individual efforts alone were insufficient and devised roles and duties within the Chinese family, as well as in larger society. The roles were known as the five relationships and consisted of: father – son, elder brother – younger brother, husband – wife, elder – junior, and ruler – subjects.
In all of these relationships, the first mentioned is to take his special role and perform his helpful and encouraging duties to help the latter mentioned. Confucius divided society into four classes based on their importance in his teaching. The first class was the scholar-official class.
They were the most important because they were in charge of running the government, which Confucius believed to be the most important part of a strong society. The next class was the peasants because they were the ones to provide food and pay the taxes for the society. The third class was the artisans who would make useful objects. The lowest class was the merchants. Confucius believed that these people, who did things for profit, were a necessary evil but were not desirable.From his view of the quest for individual perfection and familial and societal relationships, as well as the way in which he taught, came his view of how government should function.
He believed that only those who were educated should hold governmental roles and that everyone in a community should have an assigned role. He believed that some men simply had better qualities to become governmental officials. The three things that he thought vital to all governments were an abundance of food, adequate armaments, and the confidence of the people.
He believed the most important of these was having the full confidence of the people; otherwise there would be no government. Confucius central beliefs on government tie directly into the traditional Chinese belief in the Mandate of Heaven. When a new dynasty claimed power, it was said to have claimed the Mandate of Heaven – the power from god to rule. The Mandate of Heaven required the dynasty to establish a strong government, keep the peace, redistribute the land to the peasants, provide defense for the empire, and most importantly to obtain the support and confidence of the people. The government resulting from the Mandate of Heaven was the same kind of government envisioned by Confucius.
A dynasty lost the Mandate of Heaven when it no longer provided the necessary food, defense, and lost the confidence of the people, eventually collapsing, as Confucius would have thought proper for such undeserving rulers.At Confucius death, many Chinese fought for the adoption of Confucianism as the basis for ruling China. During the Han Dynasty (202 B.
C.-220 AD), a Golden Age in Chinese history, the importance of Confucianism soared. During this time, Confucianism became almost a religion with Confucius as a living god.
The Han was not the only dynasty in which the impact of Confucius was of great importance. One of the greatest revivals of Confucianism, known as Neo-Confucianism, came about in the Song Dynasty between the years of 960-1279 AD:”The Neo-Confucianism movement was characterized by a reaffirmation and a revitalization of Classical Confucian ethics, the advocacy of political and social reforms, a new historical conscience, and a heightened awareness of the political role of bureaucracy and its moral responsibilities.” . Later in the Song Dynasty and into the Ming (1368-1644 AD), Neo-Confucianists altered traditional Confucianism to make it less realistic and humanistic and more subjective. The Ming dynasty also followed Confucian philosophy as to the four classes in society. As a result of disdain for the parasitic merchant class, the Ming Dynasty chose not to develop trade relationships with other countries.
One of the most revolutionary steps in Chinese government, the Imperial Examination System, was first started during the Han Dynasty and later evolved under the Song Dynasty and continued into the twentieth century. The Imperial Examination System required government officials to be chosen on merit rather than riches and social class. In order to pass the exams, one had to know the volumes of Confucian classics. People would spend ten years studying. Although Confucian philosophy has been criticized as being too humanistic and too rooted in the practical as opposed to the spiritual, Confucianism has lived and, for the most part, dominated Chinese culture since his death. His philosophy has become a classic that has been generally studied throughout Chinese history.
It continues today to shape every aspect of human interaction in China.Bibliography:BIBLIOGRAPHYChai, Ch’u, and Winberg Chai. The story of Chinese Philosophy. Westport: GreewoodPress, 1961..
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