Confucianism: Filial Piety, Perfectibility of Man, Responsible Government

Confucius was China?s first and most enduring moralist. His teachings have been the cornerstone of Chinese education for centuries, and they have greatly influenced all aspects of Chinese society.

The name Confucius is the latinized form of his Chinese name, Kong Fuzi. He was born around 550 B.C. in what is now Shandong (Shantung), a province in northeastern China.

Like most educated men at the time (and only men, with rare exceptions, were educated), Confucius aspired to work for the government.

During most of Chinese history, an appointment in the Chinese bureaucracy was the exclusive vehicle to wealth and prestige for the common man.

Confucius held minor government posts, but he became increasingly unsatisfied with his level of success.

Later in his life, he began to travel and devoted his life to teaching.

Confucius was much more successful as a teacher and had a large following of students. His teachings are recorded in the “Analects,” which was written by several generations of disciples. It is a collection of questions and answers in the form of “Confucius said.”

Although he had little influence on the government of his time, for the next 2,000 year and more, aspiring officials were tested on their thorough knowledge of Confucius? teachings as part of the grueling Chinese bureaucratic examination. This is partly because of Confucius? emphasis on responsible government.

Confucius stressed adherence to social roles and relationships. They should respect the authority of the ruler, who in turn must earn the respect of subjects by demonstrating virtue and morality. Good government should rule by example rather than by law and punishment.

Confucius believed that human nature is originally good and that man can be perfected. The virtues of the ideal man, or junzi, are inner integrity, righteousness, loyalty, altruism and human heartedness.

As a transmitter of ancient wisdom, Confucius preached filial piety and ancestral worship. The father-son relationship is second in importance only to that of the ruler-subject. A son must support and respect his parents, and he must perform sacrificial rituals regularly in devotion to his dead ancestors.

Filial piety became central to Chinese society for centuries and infiltrated other religions that have penetrated China.

Whereas followers of Daoism and Buddhism have deified their founders, most Chinese today continue to see Confucius as a great teacher. His philosophy is still highly regarded and influential.

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