Confucius was believed to have been born in 551 BC., in the state of Lu, known today as
the Shandong province. His parents, who died while he was a child, named him Kong Qui.
Confucius was derived from the Latin word Kongfuzi which means Great Master Kong.
Confucius was the most influential and respected philosopher in Chinese history. His ideas
were the single strongest influence on Chinese society from around 100 BC. to the AD.
1900's. The Chinese government made his ideas the official state philosophy and many
nearby countries honored his beliefs.
Confucius wanted to gain the position as an adviser to a wise ruler, but he failed. He
hoped to do this in order to be able to employ his ideas for reforming society. If it
wasn't for the disciples of Confucius his teachings would have never been spread around
China, and he would have never been made known. His teachings were never written down by
him, but his conversations and sayings were written down by his disciples in the analects.
Confucianism was the single most important thing in Chinese life. It affected
everything in China; education, government, and attitudes toward behavior in public and
private life. Confucianism is not a religion, but it is more a philosophy and a guide to
morality and good government. At the time Confucius was born, China was in a constant
state of war, and rapid political change altered the structure of Chinese society so much
that people no longer respected the established behavioral guidelines. Confucius stated
that the ideal person was one of good moral character. The ideal person was also truly
reverent in worship and sincerely respected his father and his ruler. He was expected to
think for himself, guided by definite rules of conduct. As Confucius said, he was expected
to take "as much trouble to discover what was right as lesser men take to discover
what will pay". Confucius believed that this type of behavior by rulers had a
greater effect on the people than did laws or codes of punishment. So when these types of
people were rulers, their moral example would inspire the people to lead good lives.
Confucius died sometime around 479 B.C., and his philosophy was not very well known. If
it weren't for his disciples his ideas would probably still be unknown. Confucius never
wrote anything down himself; his disciples wrote all of his sayings down in a collection
of books called the Analects. These contain all that modern day man knows about Confucius.
There existed two important Confucian philosophers- Mencius (390-305 BC) and Xunzi (mid
200's B.C.). They held beliefs similar to Confucius but they were somewhat different.
Mencius's viewpoint was that people were born good, and that they had to "preserve
the natural compassion of the heart". Xunzi opposed this by saying that people could
be good and live peacefully only if their minds were shaped by education and conduct. Both
of these ideas parallel Confucius's, in that they both state that people can be good.
Confucianism was concerned primarily with the needs of society, and unlike Buddhism and
Taoism, not the ability for a person to live in harmony with nature. Beginning in the
200's B.C. Buddhism and Taoism began to affect and reshape the standards of Confucianism,
and things such as nature came into play. Around A.D. 200 to 600, there was a rapid
decline in the Confucian Beliefs in China. This was partly because Confucianism now had to
compete with Buddhism and Taoism, which were developed around this time. These religions
were to Confucianism as night is to day, in other words, they were exact opposites.
Buddhism and Taoism were largely concerned with the meaning of suffering and death, while
Confucianism largely ignored these. The revival of Confucianism began around the 600's and
was fully revived by the 700's. In the 1100's, there was a movement lead by Zhu-Xi called
the Neo-Confucianism movement. He developed a branch of this movement known as the
rational-wing, it dealt with the study of Li, the relationship between humans and nature.
Another branch was called the intuitional-wing and it dealt mostly with enlightenment by a
combination of meditation and moral action.
In the 1900's there was a clash between Confucianism and Western beliefs such as
Communism. For many years after the Communist change in China, the Government greatly
opposed Confucianism because it tended to look into the past rather than to the future.
However, all government opposition ended in 1977.