Marc writes on the life and work of Confucius whose concepts remain influential to this day, particularly in China.


It is thought that Confucius was born on September 28, 551 BCE, in the district of Zou near present-day Qufu, China. The area was notionally controlled by the kings of Zhou but effectively independent under the local lords of Lu. His father Kong He was an elderly commandant of the local Lu garrison. His ancestry traced back through the dukes of Song to the Shang dynasty which had preceded the Zhou. Traditional accounts of his life relate that Kong He’s grandfather had migrated with the family from Song to Lu.

Kong He died when Confucius was three years old, and Confucius was raised by his mother Yan Zhengzai in poverty. His mother died barely 40 years old. At age 19 he married Qiguan, and a year later the couple had their first child, Kong Li. Qiguan and Confucius would later also have two daughters, one of whom is thought to have died as a child.

Confucius was born into the class of shi, between the aristocracy and the common people. He is said to have worked in various government jobs during his early 20s, as a bookkeeper and a caretaker of sheep and horses, using the proceeds to give his mother a proper burial. When his mother died, Confucius, at age 23, is said to have mourned for three years, as was the tradition.

Confucius is traditionally credited with having authored or edited many of the Chinese classic texts including all of the Five Classics, but modern scholars are cautious of attributing specific assertions to Confucius himself. Aphorisms concerning his teachings were compiled in the Analects, but only many years after his death.

Confucius’s principles have commonality with Chinese tradition and belief. He championed strong family loyalty, ancestor worship, and respect of elders by their children and of husbands by their wives, recommending family as a basis for ideal government. He espoused the well-known principle “Do not do unto others what you do not want done to yourself,” the Golden Rule. He is also a traditional deity in Daoism.

The philosophy of Confucius, also known as Confucianism, emphasized personal and governmental morality, correctness of social relationships, justice and sincerity.

Lao TzuLao Tzu, the 6th century BCE Chinese philosopher, author of the Tao Te Ching, and founder of philosophical Taoism, was a contemporary of Confucius, albeit allegedly 20 years older. In his early 30s Confucius paid a visit to Lao Tzu, who at the time was a high official of the royal court and curator of the National Archives in the bustling Chinese capital of Luoyang. The two men shared concerns about their country’s crumbling social order, but offered very different solutions. While Confucius was optimistic about the ability of Zhou dynasty kings to offer peace, Lao Tzu questioned their relevance and motives.

With Lao Tzu as his host, Confucius literally buried himself in books for days on end in the royal library. Books were a rare possession of a few privileged people, and Confucius had never seen so many books before. It opened his eyes, and laid the foundation for his career as an educator.

When Confucius was on his way home with the capital in the distance, a few men were hunting on horseback. A duck fell from the sky at the release of the bowstring. It suddenly dawned on Confucius who recited slowly, “Birds can fly but will fall at the hunter’s arrow. Fish can swim but will be hooked by the fisherman. Beasts can run but will drop into people’s nets and traps. There is only one thing that is out of man’s reach. That’s the legendary dragon. A dragon can fly into the sky, ride on clouds, dive into the ocean. A dragon is powerful yet so intangible to us. Lao Tzu is a dragon, and I’ll never understand him.”

Although Confucianism is often followed in a religious manner by the Chinese, many argue that its values are secular and that it is, therefore, less a religion than a secular morality. Proponents argue, however, that despite the secular nature of Confucianism’s teachings, it is based on a worldview that is religious. Confucianism discusses elements of the afterlife and views concerning Heaven, but it is relatively unconcerned with some spiritual matters often considered essential to religious thought, such as the nature of souls. However, Confucius is said to have believed in astrology, saying: “Heaven sends down its good or evil symbols and wise men act accordingly.”

One of the deepest teachings of Confucius may have been the superiority of personal exemplification over explicit rules of behaviour. His moral teachings emphasized self-cultivation, emulation of moral exemplars, and the attainment of skilled judgment rather than knowledge of rules. Confucian ethics may, therefore, be considered a type of virtue ethics. His teachings rarely rely on reasoned argument, and ethical ideals and methods are conveyed indirectly. His teachings require examination and context to be understood.

Confucius did not believe in the concept of “democracy”, which is an Athenian concept unknown in ancient China, but could be interpreted by Confucius’s principles recommending against individuals electing their own political leaders to govern them, or that anyone is capable of self-government. He expressed fears that the masses lacked the intellect to make decisions for themselves, and that, in his view, since not everyone is created equal, not everyone has a right of self-government.

Confucius is widely considered as one of the most important and influential individuals in shaping human history. His teaching and philosophy greatly impacted people around the world and remains influential today.

Related quote by Confucius: Three methods
Related discourse excerpt by Osho: It is because of Confucius that communism became important

MarcMarc is a regular contributor

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