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.