Confucius was a Chinese sage who set forth a social and political philosophy that would become popular in China and other Asian countries.
Confucius was born into a wealthy family. His father died in battle when Confucius was young. “Confucius” is the Latin translation of “Kung Futzu” which means “Master Futzu.” Confucius was born during a time of great violence and political upheaval. From an early age Confucius set out to become wise so that he could impact society with his wisdom. He studied and practiced archery, music, arithmetic, and calligraphy. At age nineteen Confucius married and had a son and a daughter. He never held significant positions of power although he served the Duke of Lu for a time. Eventually, Confucius functioned primarily as a teacher. As a teacher, he initially attracted three thousand followers although the number of close disciples was much smaller.
At the heart of Confucius’s philosophy was the concept of jen. This word has been translated into English as “good,” “benevolence,” and “virtue.” Jen refers to the ideal relationship that should exist between humans. It includes the concepts of gentility, goodness of character, and benevolence. The person who embraces and practices jen will treat people humanely. Those who practice jen will experience a good and happy life. For Confucius, jen was not some abstract metaphysical concept but a near reality that could be grasped by most people.
Confucius believed in the goodness of humans. He also asserted that humans learn best from example. Confucius taught that every society needed a good leader, a junzi who would act as a role model for the people. Thus, harmony in society could best be achieved when society had a good ruler and the people obeyed this leader. Confucius was also a strong believer in education. This contrasts starkly with the competing Chinese philosophy of the time, Daoism, which stressed inactivity and non-involvement with the educational and political process.
At the time of his death Confucius was worried that he had little influence upon society. Confucianism, though, gained in popularity and became the official ideology of the Chinese state in the second century B.C. Although primarily a political philosophy, Confucianism is sometimes viewed as a religion as some began to worship Confucius as a deity. Most Chinese scholars, though, consider Confucius to be a great teacher, but they do not worship him. Confucius, himself, never claimed deity.
The principles of Confucius and Confucianism are contained in nine ancient Chinese works handed down by Confucius and his followers. One of these, the Analects, is the most important text in Confucianism and is the most reliable source of knowledge about Confucius. Confucianism is no longer the state religion of China since the communist takeover in 1949. Confucianism, however, is experiencing a rebirth in some parts of Asia including Korea, Japan,Taiwan, and Singapore. Clearly, Confucius’s worry that he made little impact has proven to be inaccurate.