Mencius — Great Philosopher of Confucianism and His Benevolent Ideas

Mencius (about 372 BC — 289 BC), named Meng Ke, respected as Meng Zi or Mencius, was one of the most influential philosophers, who further developed and enriched Confucianism.

Therefore, besides Confucius, Mencius has been respected as the second sage of Confucianism.

Portrait of Mencius, by Artist of the Yuan Dynasty (1271 — 1368) — Taipei Palace Museum

Brilliant Education of Mencius

Mencius was a descendent of a noble family of the Lu State during the Warring States Period (403 BC — 221 BC), but his father died when he was a toddler.

His mother, an insightful and decent woman, gave Mencius the best family education, which was widely documented and eulogized in historical documents.

 

She wisely chose neighbors with positive influences, constantly encouraged Mencius to study and work diligently, and taught him to be respectful to everyone around. 

Academically, Mencius had been learning Confucianism from Confucius' grandson named Kong Ji (courtesy name Zisi), or from one of Kong Ji's students.

Gradually, he became an exceptional scholar who had attracted many sincere disciples.

Dragon Shaped Ritual Jade (Bi) of the Warring States Period — Hubei Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Great Philosopher Mencius and His Unaccepted Ideas

In his 40s, Mencius led his students and started to travel to different kingdoms, trying to introduce his ideology to monarchs. 

As a well-established scholar, Mencius was highly respected. 

Those kings met with him, consulted him, debated with him, and well-provided him; however, no one appreciated his ideology, let alone implement it.

In the aggressive Warring States Period, most kings were aimed at expanding territory and defeating other regimes. 

 

Therefore, Mencius stopped traveling and came back to his hometown in his 60s, when he continued teaching and writing until he left the world peacefully.

Bronze Wine Container (He) of the Warring States Period — Palace Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Main Ideas of Mencius

  • People are born good.

Proper education and consistent self-introspection could maintain and improve the inner kindnesses, including benevolence, loyalty, politeness, and wisdom.

  • The best way to strengthen a kingdom is to implement benevolent policies to attract people, instead of expanding territory through annexation wars. 

 

Ritual Jade (Yu Bi) of State Lu During the Warring States Period — Shandong Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

  • Monarchs should behave as moral models, and take care of civilians as their own children. Most importantly, they need to always put civilians’ well being in front of everything. 

On the other side, civilians should respect and serve monarchs like parents. 

But if monarchs are cruel or incapable, civilians have the right to overthrow their reign, even through violent means.

  • Farmland and property are people’s source of security and the foundation of a stable kingdom. 

Therefore, monarchs need to make sure that civilians could obtain certain amounts of land and other resources so that everyone is able to live in stability and decency. 

That way, civilians would keep themselves from getting involved in violence and rebellion. 

Bronze Inlaying Gold Food Container (Dou) of the Warring States Period — Shanxi Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

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