An Overview of Confucianism
by Michael A. Ashby


Confucius was born in 551 B.C.E. in the principality of Lu (Shantungprovince), China. He became a gifted teacher who acquired a facility involvingthe Socratic method of teaching a diverse array of subjects, includinghistory and poetry. Confucius used this facility to train his students¡¯minds and to impart wisdom to them.

The problem that confronted Confucius entailed social anarchy. Specifically,Confucius was concerned with the destruction of Chinese culture and normativesocietal behavior. His solution involved the development of a system whichencouraged cooperation and social cohesion. This system is known as Confucianism:a religion to some, a philosophy to others.

Historically, custom and tradition stabilized Chinese society. Theseelements allowed China to progress in an orderly manner. However, yearsof turmoil from warring provincial factions undermined this stability.Confucianism provided a framework which reinstated these two vital componentsof Chinese society. Furthermore, Confucius promulgated an ingenious doctrine:reliance on the past for solutions which solve problems in the presentcultivates continuity, an essential element of social cohesion. Therefore,Chinese societies should first look to the past for solutions before deviatingfrom established traditions. Confucius also promulgated the belief whichstates that human beings are innately good. (Seemingly, people who believethemselves to be innately good are more likely to act in a morally correctmanner).

Confucianism relies significantly on the concept of deliberate tradition.The concept of deliberate tradition is comprised of five components: Jen,Chun tzu, Li, Te, and Wen. Jen refers to love and human-heartedness; itis the virtue of virtues, according to Confucius. Jen involves simultaneouslya feeling of humanity toward others and respect for oneself; an indivisiblesense of the dignity of human life where ever it appears. The principleof Chun tzu entails maturity and generosity of spirit. People faithfulto this principle treat others in a gracious and benevolent manner. Theprinciple of Li connotes propriety, the way things should be done. Additionally,life should be lived according the Doctrine of the Mean, balanced betweenextremes. Most importantly, citizens should live their lives consistentwith the Five Constant Relationships: parent and child, husband and wife,elder sibling and junior sibling, elder friend and junior friend, and rulerand subject. (These relationships constitute the foundation of Confucianism.)Te means power and connotes governmental rule through cooperation of thecitizenry. Therefore, citizens need to have confidence in their government.The principle of Wen connotes ¡°the arts of peace;¡± the esthetic elementsof culture. Confucius believed that art had the power to transform humannature in the direction of virtue by ennobling the human ¡°heart ¡°

Confucius also wrote the Analects in order to guide and encourage Chinesecitizens to conform to his philosophy. The Analects are pithy sayings describingproper behavior. For example, ¡°The true gentleman is friendly but not familiar;the inferior man is familiar but not friendly.¡±

Lastly, Confucianism depends on the cooperation of the citizenry. Thisincludes subordinating individual goals in deference to familial and governmentalobjectives. Although this tenet contravenes Western philosophical tenets,Confucius believed that it was an imperative facet of Chinese society.

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