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Confucianism and Chinese Civilization
by Arthur F. Wright

Confucianism book cover

We may despise them or admire them, but these fascinating pivotal people are part of the story in history.

Extraordinary HistoryMaker: Confucius

Confucius (Kong Fu Zi), a humble man from poor beginnings, became so influential that his teachings inspired a philosophy, a religion, and a way of life that has lasted until today.

From his basic "sayings" in The Analects, or discussions, there developed a philosophy, a social system and a political system which was based on harmony, tolerance, and merit.

Confucius was born in answer to his parents' prayers at a sacred hill called Ni. Confucius' surname Kong means literally an utterance of thankfulness when prayers have been answered.

At the age of fifty, when Duke Ding of Lu was on the throne of Lu, Confucius' talents were recognized and he was appointed Minister of Public Works and then Minister of Crime. It seemed that Confucius’ dream of a position of influence in government had come true. But Confucius apparently offended members of the Lu nobility and he was forced to leave office and go into exile. He returned to Lu in 484 BCE and spent the remainder of his life teaching, putting in order the Book of Songs, the Book of Documents, and other ancient classics.

He gathered students around him and taught the basics of what is today called Confucianism. He taught decorous, courtly behavior, duty to rulers, parents, and older brothers. He taught that you should not do to others, what you would not want done to yourself.

Confucian Philosophy

Confucian philosophy seeks a harmonious society, not dependent on feudal or financial merit but based on the ultimate goodness and moral equality of all mankind.

The heart of the Confucian teaching is 'morality'. Rin is the key. Rin means the qualities of benevolence, humanity and love. It is the duty of governments, parents and teachers to cultivate Rin in all its aspects.

Also important is Li, meaning rituals, ceremonies and how to behave. Then there is Yi, meaning duty or righteous behavior. There is also Chi, which means wisdom, derived from both history and experience. Another virtue is Chung, meaning reciprocity: 'Do not do unto others what you would not have them do unto you'.

Many consider Confucianism to be a religion also. Confucianism is not a clear-cut belief in the same way as Christianity, Islam or Judaism. It does not answer questions about God and the afterlife. But there are the religious principles of Tien and Tao, Heaven and the Way. It is tolerant of the other faiths of China, Taoism and Buddhism.

Confucian System of Government

Confucius said it best "...those who preside over the people should cherish the dearest aims and give the most correct lessons, honoring the requirements of humanity by loving the people as their sons; then the people will use their utmost efforts to please their superiors." Analects

Children owed a duty of obedience to their fathers, and men to their rulers. But this was a reciprocal obligation. The father had a responsibility to his children, and the ruler to his subjects. He must put their interests first.

The Confucian formula is 'sageliness within, kingliness without'. Each person should be both a 'sage', achieving equilibrium and content by meditation, and a 'king' in the management of public affairs.

After the fall of imperial China, Confucianism lost much of its power. But in spite of pressures from the west, and the communist government in China, it continues to be a important force, not only in China, but also in Japan and other parts of Asia.

The Analects of Confucius, a philosophical translation
by Roger Ames

Thinking Through Confucius
by Roger Ames and David Hall



Following up on his groundbreaking work with David Hall in Thinking Through Confucius, Roger Ames has teamed up with Henry Rosemont to put theory into practice, portraying Confucius in light of his communitarian leanings. In a translation that comes off as surprisingly relaxed and colloquial, gone are the adherence to strict rules of propriety and righteous moralizing. Confucius has long been the victim of a certain unwitting Christianization, having been interpreted through the lens of Western philosophical assumptions. Ames and Rosemont scale away these assumptions, revealing a flexible and subtle thinker whose ideas of how to live well in a harmonious community have much to offer a fragmented society tied to reductive atomism and the exclusive exaltation of the individual.

Thinking Through Confucius is probably the best examination of Confucius available today.



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