Introduction to Confucianism

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Introduction to Confucianism

Confucianism is a mainly Chinese tradition or way of life propagated by Confucius during the 4th-5th century BCE. Throughout the history of the Chinese lineages, Confucianism changed and adapted itself to new social and political demands. Although transformed over time, it is the teachings of Confucius is still the foundation of learning, the origin of values, and the social regulations of the Chinese.

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Confucianism has influenced the Chinese attitude towards life and has set patterns of living and standards of social values, which have provided the background for Chinese political theories and institutions. Confucius’ teachings, which relate to ethics, honor, social responsibility, familial obligations, ancestor worship, and observation of rites and historical precedence, provide the glue that gives the Chinese civilization continuity and durability. Its influence has also extended to other countries in parts of Asia. Confucius lived in a time of division and instability in ancient China, during the Zhou dynasty.

Throughout the duration of the Zhou dynasty, China was divided into small independent warring states ruled over by feudal lords, whose authority was maintained through punishments, laws, and force rather than a genuine concern for the welfare of the people. Confucius sought to work in areas of advising governments and traveling around the states of China. Although he was largely unsuccessful in getting the lords to implement his ideas, in his final years spent as a teacher, his works were compiled into what was known as the Four Books and Five Classics. After his death, the Analects(Lunyu) a compilation of his teachings, was recorded by the succeeding generations of Confucius’s disciples.

The Analects were based primarily on the oral and written transmissions of the master’s sayings. It contains historical anecdotes, embodying the basic values of the Confucian tradition: learning, reciprocity (Shu), filial piety (xiao), gentleman(Junzi) and rituals (Li). These teachings have continued to guide the Chinese people to this very day, with many people still studying it as well. Filial piety (xiao) In the opinion of Confucius, children owed an obligation of loyalty and respect to their parents. Filial piety was a central value in traditional Chinese culture. Its importance went far beyond that of the biblical commandment, Honor thy mother and thy father. Filial piety was and still is a value based on strict principles of hierarchy, obligation, and obedience.

By correspondence, this concept was expanded to other family and social relationships. These bonds set out the duties and expectations that exist between the Ruler and the Ruled (Emperor and Subjects), Father and Son, Husband and Wife, Friend to Friend. Within these relationships, each individual had specific duties. Filial piety does not require absolute submissiveness to parental authority but that of recognition and reverence for the source of life. It determines the moral value of a person in his society. Because the family is the building block of society, this hierarchical system of respect is, by extension, applied to one’s country.

The logic behind this is that the family is the basic unit of the human community and those harmonious family relationships will inevitably lead to a harmonious society and a peaceful state. For those who belong to the ruling class, their virtues in family affairs are even more significant for the entire country: When a ruler feels profound affection for his parents, the common people will naturally become humane (Lunyu,8:2). Confucious realized that moral life begins in the family. Respecting those who gave us life and cared for us in our time of need is the least individuals could do.

The practice of filial piety, though not as stringent, is still present in Chinese culture today, as well as other Asian countries. Gentleman (Junzi) The model of an ideal person in Confucian philosophy is called ajunziin Chinese. In the English this word is translated in many ways; some prominent translations include gentleman, the superior man, exemplary man, and cultivated man. In its original meaning, jun means a sovereign, a ruler or a lord. During the time of Confucius, China was not a unified country or an empire but had multiple states and principalities. The head of each state is called ajun. Ziliterally means a son. Therefore, in its original meaning,junzi refers to a son of a lord or a prince. In Confucian texts, this term is used to refer not only to the princes but also ministers and aristocratic men whose duty is to govern the state and set an example for the people.

As time passes, this word is applied to anyone, regardless of birth orwealth, who follows the teachings of Confucius and cultivate himself/herself to become a better person, a better citizen, and a better ruler/official. Having a commanding personality and profundity of knowledge attracted many followers, which led to Confucius becoming the embodiment of Confucian virtues. He painted a picture of the gentleman (junzi) as an achievable possibility. These became the backbone of theConfucian Way’, painting a picture of how followers of Confucianism should behave in order to maintain an ideal society. Confucius encouraged men to be gentlemen, or “perfect men”, and to avoid being a “small person”. A gentleman was not shabby, gluttounous, superficial or capitalistic – a gentleman acted as a moral guide for society by improving himself morally, showing filial piety and loyalty where these are due and cultivating compassion and kindheartedness. The gentleman is the model towards which all Confucians strive. Becoming a junzi is the goal of all who practice such self-cultivation, regardless of their birth, social status, or their gender.

Rituals (Li) There is a multitude of rituals governing all aspects of life, the great moments of life: Birth, capping (which is a coming of age ceremony for boys), marriage, death. Li is a word used to signify ritual as in the rituals we perform, as well as etiquette, politeness, and propriety. Ritual propriety incorporates different rituals and forms of etiquette and interaction in social settings. Li is the mechanism by which all of life is ritualized and declared “sacred” in a sense. Through it, life is properly ordered, and harmony is established. Although the concept of li existed in ancient ritualized ancestor worship in a limited and singularly religious form, Confucius broadened it to apply to all activities in life so that all of life takes on the air of religiousity or seriousness.

Bowing in greeting someone, wearing certain colors of clothing on certain days, behaving in certain ways around elders, observing proper manners at a meal or meeting, and so much more – all these are examples of li in everyday life. The teachings of Confucius highlighted ritual in daily life as a guide for the ideal social norm. He stated: Respectfulness, without the Rites, becomes laborious bustle; carefulness, without the Rites, become timidity; boldness, without the Rites, becomes insubordination; straightforwardness, without the Rites, becomes rudeness. (Analects VIII, 2). Rituals governed how people interacted with each other and promote customs of politeness and behavior; in some ways, Confucius’s concept of ritual can be compared to a system of etiquette. Confucius perceived the necessity of li in promoting ethics and social harmony.

Regardless of the situation, li, in the sense of internalized models of appropriate behavior, was understood to discipline one’s conduct and channel it into the context where it would be most personally, socially, and (perhaps) spiritually beneficial. Reciprocity (Shu) Reciprocity is the foundation for all human relations in a Confucian society. Shu is a reciprocal relationship between oneself and the other. Do not do to others what you would not have them do to you (Analects: 15:23) is the famous Confucian ?silver rule’ in distinction to the golden rule’ in the Western World. In accordance with the principle of shu, one should treat others as oneself. One’s giving to others can be very comprehensive, covering not just material needs but also psychological or spiritual needs. Wishing to establish oneself, also establishes others; also wishing to be prominent, also helps others to be prominent.

Confucius taught his disciples this virtue not just by words but by deeds. According to the principle of shu, one should treat others as he treats himself. One’s giving to others can be very comprehensive, covering not just material needs but also psychological or spiritual needs. Conclusion Confucius’ teachings focused on cultural and peaceful pursuits and the characteristics of benevolent and culturally distinguished government.

He also discusses ancestor worship and other rites performed for the spirits of the dead. The single most influential philosophical work in all of Chinese history, The Analects of Confucius, has shaped the thought and customs of China and neighboring countries for centuries. Reflecting the model eras of Chinese antiquity, the Analects offers valuable insights into successful governance and the ideal organization of society. Filled with humor and sarcasm, it reads like a casual conversation between teacher and student, emphasizing the role of the individual in the atainment of knowledge and the value of using historical events and people to illuminate moral and political concepts. During the majority of Chinese history, Confucianism was seen as the sustenance of traditional Chinese values, the protector of Chinese civilization as such. After struggling during the multiple dynasties, Confucianism emerged as the final and permanent victor during the later Han period and would dominate Chinese thought ever after.

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Introduction to Confucianism. (2019, Jul 26). Retrieved March 21, 2023 , from

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