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Confucius

Confucius Confucius[1†]

Confucius, also known as Kong Fuzi, Kongzi, or Master Kong, was a renowned Chinese philosopher, teacher, and political theorist[1†]. Born as Kong Qiu around 551 BCE in the state of Lu (now in Shandong province, China), he is considered the paragon of Chinese sages[1†]. His teachings and philosophy, which later came to be known as Confucianism, have had a profound influence on the civilizations of China and other East Asian countries[1†][2†][1†].

Early Years and Education

Confucius was born as Kong Qiu around 551 BCE in the state of Lu, now in Shandong province, China[2†][3†]. His family, the Kongs, were common gentlemen (shi) who had relocated from the state of Song[2†]. They had lost most of their wealth and political standing, and by the time of Confucius’s birth, they had become poverty-stricken commoners[2†][3†].

Confucius’s father, Shu-liang He, had been a warrior and served as a district steward in Lu, but he was already an old man when Confucius was born[2†]. A previous marriage had given him nine daughters and a clubfooted son, and so it was with Confucius that he was finally granted a healthy heir[2†]. His father died when Confucius was only three years old[2†].

Despite these hardships, Confucius showed a zeal for academics early on[2†][3†]. “At 15, I set my heart on learning,” he later told his disciples[2†][3†]. He managed stables and worked as a bookkeeper while educating himself[2†][4†]. He studied music, mathematics, the classics, history, and more[2†][3†]. He was especially entranced by the early years of the Zhou dynasty (1046–256 B.C.), a peaceful period he perceived as a golden age to be emulated[2†][3†].

Mastery of the six arts—ritual, music, archery, charioteering, calligraphy, and arithmetic—and familiarity with history and poetry enabled him to begin a brilliant teaching career in his thirties[2†][4†]. His education laid the foundation for his philosophical ideas and teachings that would later influence the civilizations of China and other East Asian countries[2†][3†].

Career Development and Achievements

Confucius’s career was marked by his dedication to teaching and his efforts to instill moral values in society[2†][5†]. Despite his family’s loss of wealth and political standing, Confucius managed to educate himself in the six arts—ritual, music, archery, charioteering, writing, and arithmetic[2†]. This education laid the foundation for his philosophical ideas and teachings[2†].

Confucius began his teaching career in his thirties[2†]. He broke with tradition by believing that all human beings could benefit from education[2†][3†]. He espoused lifelong learning “for the sake of the self,” meaning self-knowledge and self-improvement[2†][3†]. During his life, about 3,000 students studied under his guidance[2†][6†]. He not only created some effective teaching methods but also proper studying techniques[2†][6†].

Despite not being successful in politics, Confucius used most of his life to teach and help students solve problems[2†][6†]. His philosophy, known as Confucianism, became hugely influential and had a great impact on Chinese history[2†][5†][7†]. Confucianism laid emphasis on family, kinship, loyalty, righteousness, and the encouragement of humanity and strengthening social bonds[2†][5†]. Confucius is credited for positively impacting the education system in China by making it focus on meritocracy rather than inherited status[2†][5†].

Confucius considered himself a transmitter of the values of earlier periods, which he claimed had been abandoned in his time[2†]. His teachings emerged among the leading philosophies of what is referred to as the “100 schools of thought”, a term used for philosophies and schools that flourished from the 6th century to 221 BC[2†][5†].

Confucius’s ideas didn’t become popular until years after his death when they became the basic philosophy of the Chinese culture for over two thousand years[2†][7†].

First Publication of His Main Works

Confucius is traditionally credited with having authored or edited many of the Chinese classic texts, including all of the Five Classics[1†]. However, modern scholars are cautious of attributing specific assertions to Confucius himself[1†]. At least some of the texts and philosophy he taught were already ancient[1†]. Here are some of his main works:

These works were written around 500 BCE[1†][8†] and have had a profound influence on Chinese history and thought. They form the basis of Confucianism and have shaped the social fabric and way of life in China[1†].

Analysis and Evaluation

Confucius’s philosophy emerged during a time of social upheaval, and he became a respected teacher who valued constancy, trustworthiness, and the reestablishment of the rational feudal order of previous times[9†]. His teachings, which focused on human interaction, moral behavior, and education, have been analyzed and applied in various contexts, from understanding historical values and ethics to considering contemporary ethical or social dilemmas[9†][10†].

Scholars often disagree about Confucianism, mainly because few seem to be clear about the social changes that took place in the age in which Confucius lived[9†][11†]. They argue about the social significance of Confucius’ philosophy[9†][11†]. His thought system, which consists of multiple overlapping factors, has continued to develop throughout Chinese history, forming a cultural-psychological structure that has had a far-reaching influence on the Chinese nation[9†][11†].

Confucius’ teachings, particularly those recorded in The Analects, have been subject to various interpretations and analyses. These analyses often focus on identifying key components of Confucian teaching and applying the concepts from The Analects to contemporary ethical or social dilemmas[9†][10†].

Despite his significant influence and respect as a great teacher, Confucius never held a major government post and spent the later part of his life as a wandering philosopher-teacher[9†]. This aspect of his life often forms a critical part of the analysis and evaluation of his work and its impact.

Personal Life

Confucius, originally named Kong Qiu, was born in the state of Lu (now Shandong Province) around 551 BCE[2†][12†]. His father, Shu-liang He, was an old man at the time of Confucius’s birth and had been a warrior who served as a district steward in Lu[2†]. Confucius’s father had been married previously and had nine daughters and a clubfooted son from that marriage[2†][12†]. He then married a fifteen-year-old girl from the Yen clan, who gave birth to Confucius[2†][12†]. Some accounts refer to this relationship as a “wild union,” possibly indicating that Confucius was an illegitimate child[2†][12†].

Despite the decline in his family’s fortunes, Confucius belonged to the aristocratic class known as the shih[2†][12†]. In his youth, he was poor and had to acquire many different skills[2†][12†]. His first occupation appears to have been as keeper of the Lu granary, and later he worked as a supervisor of the fields[2†][12†]. Both were low positions but consistent with his shih status[2†][12†].

Confucius began his teaching career around the age of thirty[2†][12†]. He gathered a large number of students around him, instructing them in the six arts of ritual, music, archery, charioteering, writing, and arithmetic[2†][12†].

Conclusion and Legacy

Confucius’s teachings and philosophy, known as Confucianism, have had a profound influence on the civilizations of China and other East Asian countries[2†][1†]. His ideas have become part of the Chinese social fabric and way of life[2†][1†]. His philosophy emphasized personal and governmental morality, correctness of social relationships, justice, kindness, and sincerity[2†][1†]. He also placed a significant emphasis on a ruler’s duty to their subjects[2†][1†].

Confucius considered himself a transmitter of the values of earlier periods, which he claimed had been abandoned in his time[2†][1†]. His ideas gained prominence during the Warring States period but experienced a setback immediately following the Qin conquest[2†][1†]. Under Emperor Wu of Han, Confucius’s ideas received official sanction, and affiliated works became required reading for one of the career paths to officialdom[2†][1†].

During the Tang and Song dynasties, Confucianism developed into a system known in the West as Neo-Confucianism, and later as New Confucianism[2†][1†]. Confucius is traditionally credited with having authored or edited many of the Chinese classic texts, including all of the Five Classics[2†][1†]. However, modern scholars are cautious of attributing specific assertions to Confucius himself[2†][1†].

His philosophy has influenced many other East Asian countries, including Japan, Korea, and Vietnam, and has also found resonance in the West, where his ideas on morality and ethics have been compared to those of ancient Greek philosophers such as Socrates and Aristotle[2†][13†].

Key Information

References and Citations:

  1. Wikipedia (English) - Confucius [website] - link
  2. Britannica - Confucius: Chinese philosopher [website] - link
  3. National Geographic - Confucius—facts and information [website] - link
  4. Britannica - Confucius and his views on education [website] - link
  5. Learnodo Newtonic - 10 Major Contributions of Chinese Philosopher Confucius [website] - link
  6. TravelChinaGuide.com - Confucius, Kong Zi: Great Educator, Founder of Confucianism [website] - link
  7. Ducksters - Ancient China: Confucius Biography [website] - link
  8. MIT - The Internet Classics Archive - Works by Confucius [website] - link
  9. eNotes - Confucius Analysis [website] - link
  10. Association for Asian Studies - Confucianism: Understanding and Applying the Analects of Confucius [website] - link
  11. Springer Link - Phenomenology of Life in a Dialogue Between Chinese and Occidental Philosophy - Chapter: A Reevaluation of Confucius [website] - link
  12. Encyclopedia of World Biography - Confucius Biography [website] - link
  13. History Chronicler - Understanding Confucius: His Life and Legacy [website] - link
  14. National Geographic Education - Confucianism [website] - link
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