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Confucius - A Short Historical Introduction

Born during The Spring and Autumn Period of the Zhou Empire, (traditionally September 28, 551 BC – 479 BC), Confucius was a Chinese thinker and social philosopher, whose teachings and philosophy have deeply influenced Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Taiwanese and Vietnamese thought and life.

His philosophy emphasized personal and governmental morality, correctness of social relationships, justice and sincerity. These values gained prominence in China over other doctrines, such as Legalism and Taoism during the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD). Confucius' thoughts have been developed into a system of philosophy known as Confucianism. It was introduced to Europe by the Jesuit Matteo Ricci, who was the first to Latinise the name as "Confucius."

His teachings may be found in the Analects of Confucius, a collection of "brief aphoristic fragments", which was compiled many years after his death. Modern historians do not believe that any specific documents can be said to have been written by Confucius, but for nearly 2,000 years he was thought to be the editor or author of all the Five Classics such as the Classic of Rites (editor), and the Spring and Autumn Annals (author).

Early Years

Confucius was born near the City of Qufu in the State of Lu, which is now located in Shandong Province. He is said to be born to a Noble Household who had fallen on hard times. He was a Shepherd, Cowherd, Clerk, and Bookkeeper. He married at age 19, to a local girl called Qi Quan, who soon gave birth to their first son, Kong Lu.

Details of his daily life remain obscure, but it is noted that by age 53, he had risen to the position of Justice Minister. Therefore we presume much of his daily work was for the Lu Government. During this time he also pursued his own teachings and doctrine, which were adopted (In part) by the Ruling Family of Lu. Following a gift of 80 horses and dancing girls from the Kingdom of Wei = political shenanigans, Confucius sort an escape from disillusionment with the Rulers indulgent behaviour, and left service. He spent many years wandering the Northeastern and Central Kingdoms of China (Including Wei, Song, Chen and Cai), fostering his ideologies on all that would listen. His teachings were very popular, but their implementation was only sporadically supported by local Rulers

Aged 68 and disillusioned, he returned to his home roots, where he spent his last years teaching disciples and transmitting the old wisdom via a set of texts called the Five Classics. Burdened by the loss of both his son and his favourite disciples, he died at the age of 72 or 73

Confucius - Buddhism and Kung Fu

Buddhism in China is usually traced back to Confucius (551–479 BC), who is one of the Country's most renowned philosophers. Image: Statue of Confucius
Statue of Confucius
However, please do not confuse Confucianism with Buddhism, they are separate ideologies (Albeit with very much in common).

Contrarily: Confucianism can be synonymous with Kung Fu, especially specific doctrines and disciplines
The name Confucius is actually a corruption of Master Kong, and correctly rendered as 'Kung fu zi'. Having spelt his name correctly you will immediately be struck by the similarity to another world famous Chinese art: Kung Fu. This is no mistake, as Confucius was The Kung Fu Grand Master that his name implies
Kung Fu has many forms and disciplines, and the well known martial art is but one aspect of this interesting subject. Kung Fu is also about medicine - essentially Chinese Medicine, (Healthy body, soul and mind); peace and harmony with body, mind and environment; and self-discipline. It also embodies 'The Ancient Arts' such as Calligraphy - where wielding pen and sword are regarded as requiring the same skills. You may not appreciate the similarities until you witness a Master writing Chinese characters in a bed of sand using a sword
The basic teachings of Confucianism stress the importance of education for moral development of the individual so that the state can be governed by moral virtue rather than by the use of coercive laws. It focuses on human morality and wrong action. It is a complex system of moral, social, political, philosophical, and quasi-religious thought that has had tremendous influence on the culture and history of East Asia.

Other related topics include Daoism (Taoism = same thing, different 'Anglicisation') meaning "path" or "way", although in Chinese folk religion and philosophy it has taken on more abstract meanings. Daoist propriety and ethics emphasize the Three Jewels of the Dao: compassion, moderation, and humility. Mohism is best known for the concept of "impartial care" or "universal love", whilst Legalism (A pragmatic political philosophy that does not address higher questions like the nature and purpose of life).

Confucianism in China

Without going into a long list of names and dates, the short answer is that Confucianism is largely supported by the majority of Chinese rulers - including up to the present day

However, at times his political thought has been at odds with subsequent Rulers. Lets examine his Mission Statement again:

"The basic teachings of Confucianism stress the importance of education for moral development of the individual so that the state can be governed by moral virtue rather than by the use of coercive laws"

Obviously this came to be at odds with specific Emperors, who had no qualms about putting Confucians to death - The Emperor is The Son of Heaven after all! These tirades often included burning of books, destruction of Monasteries, etc. Remnants would be cosseted and revived by succeeding Emperors. Here is China!

Main Philosophy

Confucius' life works are passed down to us as embodied in several schools of thought. These are arbitrarily: Philosophy, Moral Codes, Ethics, Teachings, and Politics. These are supported by his literary works and disciples

As this page is merely a simple introduction, we will list the main attributes below. Please find further information at Wikipedia or similar sources

• Moral teachings emphasise self-cultivation, emulation of moral exemplars, and the attainment of skilled judgment rather than knowledge of rules
• Confucius demonstrated that a sage values human beings over property
• Perhaps his most famous teaching was the Golden Rule stated in the negative form, often called the silver rule:
Adept Kung asked: "Is there any one word that could guide a person throughout life?"
The Master replied: "How about 'shu' [reciprocity]: never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself?"
• Confucius' principles gained wide acceptance primarily because of their basis in common Chinese tradition and belief. He championed strong familial loyalty, ancestor worship, respect of elders by their children (and, according to later interpreters, of husbands by their wives), and the family as a basis for an ideal government. He expressed the well-known principle, "Do not do to others what you do not want done to yourself" (similar to the Golden Rule)
• The Confucian theory of ethics as exemplified in Li is based on three important conceptual aspects of life: ceremonies associated with sacrifice to ancestors and deities of various types, social and political institutions, and the etiquette of daily behaviour
• "What one does not wish for oneself, one ought not to do to anyone else; what one recognises as desirable for oneself, one ought to be willing to grant to others." (Confucius and Confucianism, Richard Wilhelm)
• Some well known Confucian quotes:
    • "When you have faults, do not fear to abandon them."
    • " What you do not wish for yourself, do not do to others"
    • "With coarse rice to eat, with water to drink, and my crooked arm for a pillow - is not joy to be found therein? Riches and honours acquired through unrighteousness are to me as the floating clouds"

Further Reading

We look forward to taking this discourse further, so see posts in our Forum for the latest comments, views and information

Image: Bhudda Twang
Buddha Twang

Related Pages
Bon Culture
• Confucius - This Page
Taoism / Daoism
The Swastika
Buddhist Breaks in China
Kung Fu Breaks in China
This information is as supplied by Wikipedia, as dated March 2009 or later, and/or other reliable sources.

Maps (Unless stated otherwise) are provided in association with Thomas Lessman

Please check this information yourself as it may alter without notice, and whilst we try our best to ensure it is correct, please do not hold us responsible for any errors - this is intended as a simple guide only
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