A Brief History
On September 28, 551 BC, Chinese philosopher Confucius was born, a life started that would have a major influence on billions of people for centuries to come. Considered by some (Daoists or Taoists) to be a deity, Confucius was a teacher, editor, and politician as well as a philosopher.
First off, the Confucius is a Latinized/Anglicized version of his Chinese name, Kong Fuzi. He was born near what is now Qufu, China, and his father died while Kong was still a child. Kong’s mother also died fairly young, and Kong was married at the age of 19. From a middle class background, Kong was educated, unlike the peasants, but not in the same schools as the aristocracy. He studied the Six Arts (Rites, Music, Archery, Charioteering, Calligraphy and Mathematics), the basis of Chinese education of the era, similar to our “3 R’s.”
Kong is believed to have held minor political/government posts as a young adult, as well as working as a bookkeeper and tender of animals. By 501 BC Kong had developed a positive reputation as a teacher and was appointed governor of a town, later becoming Minister of Crime (presumably for the local area, similar to our county). Kong became involved in political reform, advocating for fortified towns to tear down their walls so as to submit to a more centralized government under Duke Ding. A period of turmoil followed, and Kong’s plan somewhat realized by 498 BC, but only in part, resulting in powerful enemies of Kong holding a grudge against him.
Frustrated by failing to see his reforms realized and undermined by his enemies, Kong resigned and went into voluntary exile, traveling around China and expounding on his theories of government and society. At the age of 68 Kong returned to his native Lu province and took up preaching and teaching to several dozen disciples, attaining a reputation as a wise man. Kong also advised various government officials, and his teachings were recorded as The Five Classics.
Confucius/Kong died of natural causes at the age of 72, buried in a tomb with the shape of an axe. His tomb is in Kong Lin Cemetery, Qufu, China (Shandong Province) and can be visited today.
Confucianism, the philosophy of Confucius, is treated as both a religion and as a code of ethics. He favored venerating ancestors and treating the elderly with great respect, and treating all people as you would wish to be treated. The “Golden Rule,” “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you” is often cited as a primary example of Confucianism. He also preached to be true to oneself, to realize personal potential, the value of study and knowledge (general respect for academia), kindness, sincerity and virtue, among others. Confucius was so enamored of “truth,” that he said one must be truthful even in one’s facial expression, so as not to deceive. Among his written works, Analects is the primary source of his teachings.
The legacy of Confucius includes leaving disciples (the Four Sages) behind that spread his teachings, and a genetic line that has been revered throughout the centuries, even today the Kong line is perhaps the oldest recorded family tree that is well documented. In the 21st Century a project to test the DNA of the descendants of Confucius was started, but not all family members agreed to the DNA testing, and the project faltered. In 2009, women were included in the genealogy of Confucius for the first time. Branches of the Kong family tree spread to Taiwan and Korea, beyond China.
Question for students (and subscribers): Do you agree with the teachings of wise Confucius? Is it really possible to live up to the “Golden Rule” and other tenets of virtuous living? Tell us what you think about this famous thinker and his philosophy in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please see…
Confucius and Nicholas Tamblyn. The Complete Confucius: The Analects, The Doctrine Of The Mean, and The Great Learning with an Introduction by Nicholas Tamblyn. Independently published, 2016.
The featured image in this article, a Western Han (202 BC – 9 AD) fresco depicting Confucius, from a tomb of Dongping County, Shandong province, China, is a faithful photographic reproduction of a two-dimensional, public domain work of art. The work of art itself is in the public domain for the following reason: This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 100 years or fewer.