Chinese philosophy: Confucius

The birth and education of Confucius

 Actually the real name of Confucius was Qiu (mound), as the case may be Zhongni, meaning "the second eldest son Ni". He was born to an impoverished family of the lower aristocracy. His home was the state of Lu located in modern province Shandong. He was born in Qufu about 180 km south of Jinan (capital of Shandong) in 551 b.C. and died in 479 b.C..

The name Confucius derives from the Romanisation of Kong Fuzi ( Master Kong) by Jesuits. Chinese call Confucius Kongzi (Master Kong).

In his childhood he experienced poverty. His father died when he was young and his mother hardly managed to subsist him and his elder brother. Whether he received his education at a school or by his mother and grandfather is not known. During his education he learned the "Six Arts" i.e. the rites, music, archery, being a charioteer, writing and arithmetic. At an early age he was able to write and exceeded his teachers' standard of knowledge.

Confucius lived during the Chun- Qiu period (Spring and Autumn Period) from 772- 481 b.C. and was named after the Annals of the state of Lu. Allegedly these annals were written by Confucius himself which is considered improbable. The times of Confucius were characterized by chaos and war between a multitude of small states. The king of the Zhou dynasty at that time was powerless and couldn't bring the fights to an end. The aim of Confucius was to end the chaos and establish order by finding a wise ruler who would implement his ideas. Indeed his life's work failed in this regard.

The political career of Confucius

Confucius was a teacher who travelled with his students to many different feudal states and offered advice to the feudal rulers. First he held insignificant offices because he was without means. His political career was short. It started about 500 B. C. in the city of Zhong Du, which was of great importance for the dukedom of Lu. He re-established law and order in the city by implementing the methods he taught.

Ensuing offices as minister of justice as well as minister of construction were held by him to the complete satisfaction of the Duke of Lu. His activity as a master of ceremonies during an important meeting of the dukes of Lu and Qi is well-known as he convinced the Duke of Qi to deliver disputed territories with his moral superiority. Confucius was thwarted in Lu by a stratagem of the Duke of Qi he fell victim to. He had not forgotten his defeat during the negotiations. The Duke of Qi sent 80 beautiful women and 120 horses to the court of the Duke of Lu who was distracted from state affairs and the right performance of rites by this present. Confucius was disappointed and quitted service.

As a travelling scholar he achieved reputation among the sovereigns but in a time of jealousy, war and intrigues his unrealistic and high moral demands his thinking could not hold sway. In his lifetime he failed to meet his ends.

The doctrine of Confucius

The teachings of Confucius were mainly passed down through the records of his disciples. The main source is the Lunyu (Sayings), which was written down in the form of dialogues between his disciples or dignitaries who sought his advice and himself.

His teachings are distinguished by his high moral demands, his relatedness to the here and now and the conservative package ("I do not invent new things but follow the decent and historical tradition.")

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