Confucius — Great Philosopher and the Founder of Confucianism

Kong Qiu (551 BC — 479 BC), honorific name as Zhongni, was respected as Confucius or Kong Zi.

Confucius was a great philosopher that founded Confucianism, and a benevolent educationist that brought education from noble to civilians.

Portrait of Confucius, By Artist Qiu Ying (about 1497 — 1552).

Confucius' Poor and Hard Working Early Life

Confucius was a descendant of the royal of the Shang Dynasty (1600 BC — 1046 BC), but his noble family name didn’t provide him a wealthy and comfortable life.

He was born in Lu State, one of the regimes in the east of China during the Spring and Autumn Period (770 BC — 476 BC).

Because his mother was a low-status concubine, and his father passed away when he was little, Confucius lived a poverty life in his childhood and did many farm works for nobles to support his family.

But he never stopped studying. 

When was grown up, he did some official works, and got married and had a son, like most people.

Bronze Wine Container (Lei) of the Spring and Autumn Period — Confucius Museum in Qufu

Great Educationist and Excellent Politician 

In his mid 20s, Confucius opened a private school and started teaching there. 

He was a pioneer that brought education from noble to civilians and believed everyone is teachable. 

Gradually, Confucius gained a respectable reputation and over three thousand students, rich and poor, noble and humble.  

He had visited another state for a short while, but most time, he was teaching and compiling books with his students.

Stone Relief of the Han Dynasty (202 BC – 220 AD), Portrayed Confucius' Consulting to Great Philosopher Lao Zi — Beilin Museum of Xi'an (Photo by Dongmaiying)

In his 50s, Confucius was assigned a political position, and soon got promoted for several times.

In the next few years, he did a good job as a politician, who brought civilians better lives but also displeased the ruling class, including the Lord of Lu State.

Afterward, 54-year-old Confucius was forced to resign and started to travel to other states, hoping to find another lord to implement his ideology.

Unappreciated Confucius and His Legendary Travels

In the next 14 years, Confucius led his students and traveled over a dozen states and tried to introduce his ideology to those feudal lords.

However, this was the Spring and Autumn Period, an era that several states kept competing and fighting over hegemony and power. Therefore, his benevolence theory seemed not appealing.

Confucius was respected by some lords, but was sometimes considered as a threat to local powerful aristocrats. 

During his trips, Confucius had suffered rejections, robberies, starvation, and some life-and-death moments.  

Still, he had never found a benevolent lord who appreciated his political ideology.   

Later, one of his students became a powerful official of Lu State and suggested the new Lord of Lu welcome Confucius back.

Unearthed Jade Dragons (Yu Jue) of the Spring and Autumn Period— Nanyang Antique Archaeology Institute (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Legacy of Confucius

Confucius then ended his traveling and came back to his hometown, when his beloved wife already passed away.

However, soon after his returning, his beloved only son, and favorite disciples all died.

Those beloved ones' death heavily grief Confucius, who afterward paid attention to editing and writing books, most of which became masterpieces of Confucianism in Chinese culture.

A few years later, he passed away in his hometown, old and sick. 

A temple then was built to commemorate him, which was expanded and rebuilt several times in the next centuries. 

Now, the ancient Temple and Cemetery of Confucius and the Kong Family Mansion in Qufu are an important World Heritage Site.

Temple and Cemetery of Confucius and the Kong Family Mansion in Qufu

Confucius grew up in poverty, but he has the most honorable and moral standard and ambition.

He had suffered countless disappointments and adversities, but he never gave up on his dream.

He had witnessed numberless cruel slaughters and wars, but the main essence concept of his ideology was benevolence.

In the year 134 BC, Emperor Wu of Han respected Confucianism as the dominant ideology. Since then, Confucius had been awarded as a saint and honorable king by many successive emperors in history.  

And his philosophical ideas had been studied, developed, and inherited in Chinese culture for thousands of years.

Debris (Xi Ping Shi Jing) of Official Confucianism Classics Carved on Stone (175 — 183) — National Museum of China (Photo by Ayelie)

 

Main Ideas of Confucius

 

Education 

  • Everyone has the right to be educated. 

 

Confucius was the first person in the history of China who started private school and lectures. Since then, education was no longer the privilege of royal and noble families.  
  

  • Education methodology should be different, based on individuals.

 

Every student could be taught well, as long as pedagogy is good enough and proper. Enlightenment is the essential part, and it’s never too late to learn.

  • The most important subject of teaching is moral cultivation, which includes benevolence and loyalty.

  • Education contents include Etiquette (Li), Music (Yue), Archery (She), Equestrianism (Yu), Calligraphy (Shu), and Mathematics (Shu), based on important skills that taught to nobles in the Western Zhou Dynasty (1046 BC — 771 BC).

Six Arts (Liu Yi) of Confucianism and Aristocratic Education in Ancient China 

Politic

  • Adhering to a strict hierarchy and decent etiquette are the essence of a well-organized kingdom. 

  • Monarchs should apply benevolence ideology, in which they take civilians’ interests as a priority.

 

Ministers and generals should be loyal, intelligent, and brave, while civilians stay diligent and behave with virtue. 

  • Ordinary people should be decent, honest, and do their jobs diligently, while accomplished and intelligent people should participate in politics.

Ritual Bronze Tripod (Ding) of the Western Zhou Dynasty — Shandong Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Moral 

  • People are born good, and the postnatal environment may change their behaviors and concepts.

 

Therefore, to enlighten, inspire, and maintain human beings’ kind nature is the solid foundation of a stable and harmonious society. 

  • Decent people should put loyalty and faith before financial benefits, and follow the doctrine of the mean. 

Tiger Shaped Jade Decoration (Yu Yuan) of the Spring and Autumn Period — Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art (Photo by Dongmaiying)

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