Confucius


Confucius was born in Shantung, China, in 551 B.C. He came from a poor but distinguished patrician family, whose descendants, in the seventy-sixth generation, still live in the district. He was a clever child and, while still a schoolboy, conceived the notion of devoting his life to the moral and cultural transformation of society by a new kind of education. It was to stress all that was best in Chinese learning, based on six arts: ritual, calligraphy, arithmetic, and music, with the physical skills of archery and charioteering. His pupils recorded him saying: "At fifteen I set my heart on learning. At thirty I firmly took my stand as a teacher. At forty I had no delusions about education. A fifty I felt the Mandate of Heaven to teach. At sixty my ear was attuned to my pupils. At seventy I followed my heart's desire without overstepping the boundaries of right."

It was Confucius's view, recorded by his pupils in what are called the Analects, that education was the key to everything: A person should be so deep in study that he forgets to eat, so full of joy in learning he ignores all practical worries, and so busy acquiring knowledge he does not notice old age coming on. Education was the process whereby civilization, and the minds and bodies of those privileged to enjoy it, breathed and lived. 


Confucius was from a warrior family. His father Shulianghe had military exploits in two battles and owned a fiefdom. The Records of the Grand Historian, compiled some four centuries later, states that Confucius was born as a result of a yehe, or "illicit union". His father died when Confucius was three years old, and he was brought up in poverty by his mother. His social ascendancy linked him to the growing class of shì, a class whose status lay between that of the old nobility and the common people, that comprised men who sought social positions on the basis of talents and skills, rather than heredity. As a child, Confucius was said to have enjoyed putting ritual vases on the sacrifice table. He married a young girl named Qi Guan at 19 and she gave birth to their first child, Kong Li, when he was 20. Confucius is reported to have worked as a shepherd, cowherd, clerk, and a book-keeper.  His mother died when was 23, and he entered into three years of mourning.

Despite growing disorder and chaos in the system, Confucius is said to have risen to the position of Justice Minister in Lu at the age of 53. According to the Records of the Grand Historian, the neighboring state of Qi was worried that Lu was becoming too powerful. Qi decided to sabotage Lu's reforms by sending 100 good horses and 80 beautiful dancing girls to the Duke of Lu. The Duke indulged himself in pleasure and did not attend to official duties for three days. Confucius was deeply disappointed and resolved to leave Lu and seek better opportunities, yet to leave at once would expose the misbehavior of the Duke and therefore bring public humiliation to the ruler Confucius was serving, so Confucius waited for the Duke to make a lesser mistake. Soon after, the Duke neglected to send to Confucius a portion of the sacrificial meat that was his due according to custom, and Confucius seized this pretext to leave both his post and the state of Lu.

According to tradition, after Confucius's resignation, he began a long journey (or set of journeys) around the small kingdoms of northeast and central China, including the states of Wei, Chen and Cai. At the courts of these states, he expounded his political beliefs but did not see them implemented. Perhaps due to the turmoil and injustices that Confucius experienced, he set himself to develop a new moral code based on respect, honesty, education, kindness and strong family bonds.  

Confucius believed that a good government was the basis for a peaceful and happy society. And the basis for a good government was good officials. In order to become a "good official", a person had to master the following five virtues: 1) Li for ritual etiquette, manners, gravity; 2)  Ren stands for kindness to the fellow man 3) Xin stands for truthfulness, faithfulness and sincerity; 4) Yi for righteousness or honesty, generosity of soul; 5) and finally Xiao for filial piety, for strong family values. 

Confucius believed that strong family values and relationships were the key to a stable society. Mutual respect and family loyalty were central to Confucius teachings. This extended to the living as well as the deceased. Paying respect to the ancestors has become an important Chinese tradition. He stressed the importance of seniority: The old educate the young, and the young respect the old. Confucius was well aware of the difference of all classes that people fell under. He believed education and knowledge belonged to anyone who had the desire to learn. He opened a school in his home, and legend has it, some of his poorer students lived with him. He insisted on honesty, hard work, and teaching by example. He taught through conversation, by asking questions and expecting his pupils to find their own answers. By doing this, he was preparing his students for public service, and to develop compassion and respect for others. 

According to the Zuo Commentary to the Spring and Autumn Annals, Confucius returned home when he was 68. The Analects depict him spending his last years teaching disciples and transmitting the old wisdom via a set of texts called the Five Classics. Burdened by the loss of both his son and his favorite disciple, he died at the age of 72 or 73. His teachings would later become the basis for religious and moral life throughout China and his influence on the country is still seen today.



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