Confucianism was established over 2,500 years ago. It is still alive today and represents a very diverse mix of interpretation which is deeply linked to centuries of Chinese Historical development.
Confucius (or, K’ung Fu-tse, meaning “Master K’ung”) the founder of Confucianism, was born in 551 B.C.E. He was an official of the state of Lu (now known as Shangtung). He eventually left his government position to pursue the development of his philosophy further.
His primary interest was in politics and ethics rather than religion. He preached good behaviour and harmonious social interaction which was underpinned by personal moral development and adherence to proper action.
He has been called one of the most influential thinkers in human history.
Confucius purported that if people aim to be courteous; practice correct treatment of others and etiquette; offer others reverence, and practice human benevolence within each of the 5 human relationships (outlined below) harmony will exist on every level of society.
Confucius identified five human and ethical interactions which may be seen as part of the foundation of the philosophy. These “relationships” depend heavily on the concept of Jen (the compassion and humanity which arises from genuine love) and on the concept of Li (correct ritualistic and etiquette-based behaviour between individuals). The relationships outlined by Confucius were:
- Parent and child
- Ruler and minister
- Government officials
- Husband and wife
- Older sibling and young sibling
- Friend and friend
When Confucius died, his philosophy developed into two branches. One, lead by a man called Mencius, held the basic tenet that human intention is inherently good and should act as a guide in making choices and in action. The other school of thought was lead by a man called Hsun-tzu who believed that people are born with inherently evil natures and require ritual in order to cultivate true virtue.
Confucianism is still strong today and has been reinvigorated by a man called Hsiung Shih-li (1885-1968). Hsiung Shih-li was alive during the collapse of the Chinese monarchy (the early decades of the 20th century C.E.), a time in which Confucianism was regarded as decadent and reactionary. Hsiung Shih-li may be viewed as the inspiration for “New Confucianism”. This movement strived to make the Confucianist tradition a model for the development of a harmonious and tolerant world civilization.
During his lifetime, Confucius identified the Five Classic (Wu Jing) books (which were produced before his time) as important writings. The Five Classics were:
- The Book of Changes (I Ching)
- The Book of History (Shuh Ching)
- The Book of Poetry (Shih Ching)
- The Book of Rites (Lu Chi)
- Spring and Autumn Annals (Ch’un Chi)
The Four Books (Shi Shu) are another group of books which Confucians would regard as important. They incorporate the works Confucius and his followers. They are looked upon by many as the fundamental teachings of Confucianism. The Four Books are:
- Analects (Lu Yu)
- The Great Learning (Ta Hsueh)
- The Doctrine of the Mean (Chung Yung)
- The Book of Mencius (Meng-tzu)
“All things are within me, and on self-examination, I find no greater joy than to be true to myself. We should do our best to treat others as we wish to be treated. Nothing is more important than to seek after goodness.” (Meng-tzu)
“Be not ashamed of mistakes and thus make them crimes. ”
“Everything has its beauty but not everyone sees it. ”
“Forget injuries, never forget kindnesses. ”
“He who will not economize will have to agonize. ”
“I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand. ”
“Ignorance is the night of the mind, but a night without moon and star. ”
“It does not matter how slowly you go so long as you do not stop. ”
“Men’s natures are alike, it is their habits that carry them far apart. ”
“Respect yourself and others will respect you. ”
“Study the past if you would define the future. ”