If we were to characterize in one word the Chinese way of life for the last 2,000 years, the word would be "Confucian". No other individual in Chinese history has so deeply influenced the life and thought of his people, as a transmitter, teacher, a creative interpreter of the ancient culture and literature, and as a molder of the Chinese mind and character.

In the early years of the 17th century, when Western missionaries came to china, they were confused that how China, a vast empire, containing lots of ethnic groups could coexist so harmoniously. The key to this impressive imperial stability, the ideology that supported this magnificent country was provided by the life and teachings of that Oriental cultural giant, Confucius, the founder of the school of Confucianism.

The Life of Confucius

Confucius was born in 551 B.C. in the small state of Lu in modern Shandong Province. Confucius' surname Kong (which means literally an utterance of thankfulness when prayers have been answered), his tabooed given name Qiu, and his social name Zhongni, all appear connected to the miraculous circumstances of his birth. Early accounts say that he was born into a poor but noble family that had fallen on hard times. Sadly, his father died when Confucius was very young but despite a hard life, he dedicated himself to study at the age of 15. though very fond of learning, when he was young, Confucius had to learn a living minding cattle and looking after warehouses. Later he was a clerk in charge of marriage and funeral arrangements for wealthy families. Thus he became familiar not only with the hard life of ordinary people, but also with many upper-class rites and ceremonies of the day.

Patriotism was the driving force for the young Confucius and he set his sights on an official career as a means to apply his political ideals. He had gained some fame by the time he was 30 but it was not until he was 51 that his official life really assumed great importance. When Duke Ding of Lu was on the throne, Confucius' talents were recognized and he was appointed Minister of Public Works and then Minister of Crime. But Confucius apparently offended members of the Lu nobility who were vying with Duke Ding for power and he was subsequently forced to leave office and go into exile. At the age of 68 he was welcomed back to Lu but he was set up as a respected gentleman without any authority. He died of illness at the age of 73. Confucius could never have dreamed that his lonely tomb would develop into the large Cemetery of Confucius and that his ideological system would become the norm for Chinese society.

Confucius and Education
Compared to his frustrated political career, Confucius' career as a teacher and philosopher was brilliant and full of achievements.

The great contribution Confucius made to Chinese culture is in the field of education. Study, for Confucius, means finding a good teacher and imitating his words and deeds. A good teacher is someone older who is familiar with the ways of the past and the practices of the ancients. Much of his approach to education was abate grade as he promoted the ideas "to educate all despite their social status" and "to teach according to the students' characteristics". The first of these broke with tradition as only the aristocracy had the privilege of education. Confucius is willing to teach anyone, whatever their social standing, as long as they are eager and tireless. He taught his students morality, proper speech, government, and the refined arts. Confucius also proposed a complete set of principles concerning study. He said, "Studying without thinking leads to confusion; thinking without studying leads to laziness." Today's quality-education was nothing new to Confucius.

He taught his students morality, proper speech, government, and the refined arts. While he also emphasizes the “Six Arts” -- ritual, music, archery, chariot-riding, calligraphy, and computation -- it is clear that he regards morality the most important subject. Confucius' pedagogical methods are striking. He never discourses at length on a subject. Instead he poses questions, cites passages from the classics, or uses apt analogies, and waits for his students to arrive at the right answers.

Confucius is revered as “the Foremost Teacher of China,” because basically he had a deep conviction in the native integrity and dignity as well as the equality and educability of all men. He saw abundant potential in each of the students, and in each he sought to develop the total man. The objective was to help each student to develop his virtue and talent to the full, and to provide society and government with leaders.

Influenced by Confucianism, in Chinese culture, an intellectual is not limited in study alone. He should be successful in being a human and in his bearing of himself. A key objective of an intellectual should be to make full use of his ability, personality and intelligence to do good for the state, society and the world at large. This idea is so precious.

The Philosophy of Confucius

Confucius' social philosophy largely revolves around the concept of Ren, "compassion" or "loving others". Cultivating or practicing such concern for others involved deprecating oneself. This meant be sure to avoid artful speech or an ingratiating manner that would create a false impression and lead to self-aggrandizement. Those who have cultivated Ren are, on the contrary, “simple in manner and slow of speech.” .For Confucius, such concern for others is demonstrated through the practice of forms of the Golden Rule: "Do not do to others as you wouldn't wish done to yourself"; "Since you yourself desire standing then help others achieve it, since you yourself desire success then help others attain it". He regards devotion to parents and older siblings as the most basic form of promoting the interests of others before one's own and teaches that such altruism can be accomplished only by those who have learned self-discipline. Jen found its expression through the performance of li, a term usually translated as rites, but which actually encompassed a great deal more: not just rituals but the social and political structure, the etiquette of behavior between human beings.

Confucius lived in one of the most chaotic periods in Chinese history. He idealized the early Zhou times, believing them to be times of order and prosperity. He felt the anarchy of his own day could be corrected if men would return to the political and social order supposedly created by the founders of the Zhou Dynasty. To return to the ancient way, men must play their proper assigned roles in the society. This philosophy is best expressed in his famous statement: "Let the rulers be a ruler , the subject a subject, the father a father, and the son a son", and "The Three Cardinal Guides”—“rulers guide subjects; fathers guide sons; husbands guide wives".

For Confucius, what characterized superior rulership was the possession of de or 'virtue'. Confucius said, "Lead the people by laws and regulate them by penalties, and the people will try to keep out of jail but will have no sense of shame. Lead the people by virtue and restrain them by the usage of decorum, and the people will have a sense of shame, and moreover become good". Confucius believed that government was basically an ethical problem. He did not question the hereditary right of the rulers to govern, but the insisted that their first duty was to set a proper example of sound ethical conduct. He argued that the ruler's virtues and the contentment of the people rather than power should be the true measures of political success. Governments were formed not for the comfort and enjoyment of the rulers, but for the happiness and enlightenment of the people. Thus government became inseparable from education, and the state could be compared with a schoolhouse, and the ruler with a schoolmaster. And the most effective type of instruction came from the personal example on the part of the ruler.


Confucianism was further developed by Mencius (372B.C.-289B.C.) and Xun Zi. It was in the reign of Emperor Wu during the Han Dynasty that Confucianism was promoted to being the state ideology. Since then, Confucianism became the orthodox doctrine of Chinese society. And Confucius was glorified as a Saint instead of an ordinary man.

In recent years people can look at Confucianism with a more rational state of mind, some even suggest returning to Confucianism for wisdom while opponents hold that Confucianism should be held responsible for the backwardness of China's development and for that reason its dominance should not be revived. In any event, that would not be possible.

The Classics of Confucius

Lunyu (Analects) 

Analects is a collection of sayings of Confucius, recorded by his disciples. As a result, the Analects is not a comprehensive manifesto of Confucianism. Rather, it is a collection of quotations and anecdotes. Because of this, Confucianism according to Confucius is open to interpretation. Adding to the confusion is the fact that many scholars consider certain parts of the Analects to be inauthentic.

However, the Analects are interesting in that we are given a direct window into the thoughts of Confucius himself. Also, even though the Analects are a bundle of quotes and anecdotes, they have been worked into a coherent, organized whole.  

The Five Classics:
The Five Classics of Confucianism were works from the Zhou Dynasty which preceded the Warring States Period. They were collected and edited by members of the original Confucian school. These are the Classics which would be studied by centuries of Chinese scholars--after Confucianism became the official state philosophy; one had to know the Classics well to gain the coveted position of government official.

Yi Jing or The Book of Changes is a manual of divination; it refers to hunting and fishing, agriculture, husbandry, war, marriage, food, drink and clothing. Shi Jing or The Classic of Poetry is a collection of over 300poems composed during the Zhou period; the poems frequently give vivid accounts of the everyday life of the people. Shu Jing or The Classic of History is a collection of documents which claim to go back to the Shang Dynasty, which was the first historical dynasty of China (c. 1500 B.C.) Whether this is true can be disputed, but the Shu Jing is more important for the fact that it is the earliest work of history and political science in Chinese history. Chunqiu or The Spring and Autumn Annals is the classic most associated with Confucius. It consists of records of the events in Confucius' home state of Lu between the years of 782 BC and 481 BC. The authors were making use of "praise and blame" history, imposing their values on the events they recorded. Li Ji or the Classic of Rites is a description of the ceremonies and ritual associated with the everyday life in ancient China.

The Four Books

During the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279), Zhu Xi, a Neo-Confucianist, brought together The Analects, The Mencius, and two chapters from The Classic of Rites-The Da Xue, or The Doctrine of the Mean. He named the collection of The Four Books. The Four Books and The Five Classics are the Confucian texts and have for centuries served as the syllabus for education in China.

Temple of Confucius (Kong Miao) and Cemetery of Confucius (Kong Lin) 

A Temple of Confucius or Confucian temple is a temple devoted to the memory of Confucius and the sages and philosophers of Confucianism. The largest and oldest Temple of Confucius is found in Confucius's hometown, present-day Qufu in Shandong Province. Together with the Summer Palace in Beijing and the Mountain Resort of Chengde , the Temple of Confucius in Qufu is one of the three largest ancient architectural complexes in China. At a location 1 km (0.62miles) north of Qufu, Shandong, one can visit the Cemetery of Confucius where the family and descendants of Confucianism are buried. This cemetery has the longest line of descendants in the world.