(knfy∩shnzm) (KEY) , moral and religious system of China.
Its origins go back to the Analects (see Chinese literature),
the sayings attributed to Confucius, and to ancient commentaries,
including that of Mencius. 1
Early History and Precepts
In its early form (before the 3d cent. B.C.) Confucianism
was primarily a system of ethical precepts for the proper
management of society. It envisaged man as essentially a social
creature who is bound to his fellows by jen, a term often
rendered as ※humanity,§ or ※human-kind-ness.§ Jen is expressed
through the five relations〞sovereign and subject, parent and
child, elder and younger brother, husband and wife, and friend
and friend. Of these, the filial relation is usually stressed.
The relations are made to function smoothly by an exact adherence
to li, which denotes a combination of etiquette and ritual.
In some of these relations a person may be superior to some
and inferior to others. If a person in a subordinate status
wishes to be properly treated that person must〞applying a
principle similar to the Golden Rule〞treat his or her own
inferiors with propriety. Correct conduct, however, proceeds
not through compulsion, but through a sense of virtue inculcated
by observing suitable models of deportment. The ruler, as
the moral exemplar of the whole state, must be irreproachable,
but a strong obligation to be virtuous rests upon all. 3
The early philosophers recognized that the epochal ※great
commonwealth,§ the union of mankind under ethical rule, would
take a long time to achieve, but believed that it might be
constantly advanced by practicing the ※rectification of names.§
This is the critical examination of the degree to which the
behavior of a functionary or an institution corresponds to
its name; thus, the title of king should not be applied to
one who exacts excessive taxes, and the criticism of the undeserving
claimant should force him to reform. The practice of offering
sacrifices and other veneration to Confucius in special shrines
began in the 1st cent. A.D. and continued into the 20th cent.
Renaissance and Decline
Confucianism has often had to contend with other religious
systems, notably Taoism and Buddhism, and has at times, especially
from the 3d to the 7th cent., suffered marked declines. It
enjoyed a renaissance in the late T＊ang dynasty (618每906),
but it was not until the Sung dynasty (960每1279) and the appearance
of neo-Confucianism that Confucianism became the dominant
philosophy among educated Chinese. Drawing on Taoist and Buddhist
ideas, neo-Confucian thinkers formulated a system of metaphysics,
which had not been a part of older Confucianism. They were
particularly influenced by Ch＊an or Zen Buddhism: nevertheless
they rejected the Taoist search for immortality and Buddhist
monasticism and ethical universalism, upholding instead the
hierarchical political and social vision of the early Confucian
The neo-Confucian eclecticism was unified and established
as an orthodoxy by Chu Hsi (1130每1200), and his system dominated
subsequent Chinese intellectual life. His metaphysics is based
on the concept of li, or principle of form in manifold things,
and the totality of these, called the ※supreme ultimate§ (t＊ai
chi). During the Ming dynasty, the idealist school of Wang
Yang-ming (1472每1529) stressed meditation and intuitive knowledge.
The overthrow (1911每12) of the monarchy, with which Confucianism
had been closely identified, led to the disintegration of
Confucian institutions and a decline of Confucian traditions,
a process accelerated after the Communist revolution (1949).
Elements of Confucianism survived as a part of traditional
Chinese religious practice in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macao
and among Chinese emigrants and have experienced a modest
revival in China since the mid-1990s. 6
See R. Wilhelm, Confucius and Confucianism (tr. 1931, repr.
1970); S. Kaizuka, Confucius (tr. 1956); H. Fingarette, Confucius
(1972); The Analects (tr. 1979); W. T. de Bary, Neo-Confucian
Orthodoxy and the Learning of the Mind-and-Heart (1981); R.
Dawson, Confucius (1981); B. I. Schwartz, The World of Thought
in Ancient China (1985).