Confucianism is a philosophy based on the ideas of the
Chinese philosopher Confucius. It originated about 500BC.
From the 100's BC to the AD 1900's, Confucianism was the
most important single force in Chinese life. It influenced
Chinese education, government, and attitudes toward correct
personal behavior and the individual's duty to society.
Many people consider Confucianism a religion, but it has no
clergymen and does not teach the worship of a god or gods
or the existence of a life after death. Confucianism can
more accurately be considered a guide to morality and good
The early Confucianists concerned themselves primarily with
the needs of society. Confucius believed his society could
be saved if it emphasized sincerity in personal and public
conduct. The key to orderly social life was the gentleman.
Confucius defined a gentleman not as a person of noble
birth, but as one of good moral character. He defined a
gentleman as one who was 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. Confucius believed that when gentlemen were
rulers, their moral example would inspire those beneath
them to lead good lives. Virtuous behavior by rulers, he
declared, had a greater effect in governing than did laws
and codes of punishment.
However, ideas from Taoism and other philosophers helped
shift the emphasis to additional areas of human experience.
For example, man's ability to live in harmony with nature
was a minor issue to Confucius, but it became an important
theme in Confucian thought during the 200's and 100's BC.
Confucianism continued to actively influence Chinese life
until it came into conflict with Western ideas, especially
Communism, in the 1900's. Today, the Chinese government
opposes Confucianism because the philosophy encourages
people to look to the past rather than to the future.
Confucian ideas remain widespread in other countries in