Confucianism, the philosophical system founded on the teaching of Confucius, who
lived from 551 BC to 479 BC, dominated Chinese sociopolitical life for most of
the Chinese history and largely influenced the cultures of Korea, Japan, and
Indochina. The Confucian school functioned as a recruiting ground for government
positions, which were filled by those scoring highest on examinations in the
Confucian classics. It also blended with popular and important religions and
became the vehicle for presenting Chinese values to the peasants. The school’s
doctrine supported political authority using the theory of the mandate of
heaven. It sought to help rulers maintain domestic order, preserve tradition,
and maintain a constant standard of living for the tax paying peasants. It
trained its followers in generous giving, traditional rituals, family order,
loyalty, respect for superiors and for the aged, and principled flexibility in
advising rulers. Confucius was China’s first and most famous philosopher. He had
a traditional personal name (Qiu) and a formal name (Zhoghi). Confucius’s father
died shortly after Confucius’s birth. His family fell into relative poverty, and
Confucius joined a growing class of impoverished descendants of aristocrats who
made their careers by acquiring knowledge of feudal ritual and taking positions
of influence serving the rulers of the many separate states of ancient China.

Confucius devoted himself to learning. At the age of 30, however, when his
short-lived official career floundered, he turned to teaching others. Confucius
himself never wrote down his own philosophy, although tradition credits him with
editing some of the historical classics that were used as texts in his school.

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He apparently made an enormous impact on the lives and attitudes of his
disciples. Confucianism combines a political theory and a theory of human nature
to yield “dao,” a prescriptive doctrine or way. The political theory
starts with a Doctrine of political authority from heaven’s command: the ruler
bears responsibility for the well being of the people and therefore for peace
and order in the empire. Confucianism emerged as a more coherent philosophy when
faced with intellectual competition from other schools that were growing in the
schools that were growing in the fertile social climate of pre-imperial China
(400-200 BC). Daoism, Mohism and Legalism all attacked Confucianism. A common
theme of these attacks was that Confucianism assumed that tradition and
convention was always correct. Mencuis (372-289 BC) developed a more idealistic
inclination to good behavior that does not require education. Xun Zi (313- 238
BC) argued that all inclinations are shaped by acquired language and other
social forms. Confucianism rose to the position of an official orthodoxy during
the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD). It absorbed the metaphysical doctrines of Yin
(the female principle) and Yang (the male principle) found in the Book of
Changes and other speculative metaphysical notions. With the fall of the Han
Dynasty, Confucianism fell into severe decline. Except for the residual effects
of its official status, Confucianism remained philosophically dormant for
approximately 600 years. Confucianism began to revive with the reestablishment
of the Chinese dynastic power in the Tang Dynasty (618- 906 AD). The Zen
Buddhist, Chan felt that “There is nothing much to Buddhist teaching.”
And, the education offered by Confucist teaching filled the intellectual gap.

The Song Dynasty (960 – 1279 AD) produced Neo-Confucianism, which is an
interpretation of classical Confucianism doctrine that addressed both Buddhist
and Daoist issues. Its development was due mainly to Zhenglo (1032) and Zhengi
(1033-1107), but for the orthodox statement of Neo-Confucianism, one turns to
Zhu Xi (1130- 1200). His commentaries on the four scriptures of Confucianism
were required study for the imperial civil service examinations. From the
beginning of the 1200’s to about 1949 and the communist era in China,
Confucianism was the belief that told the peasants of China that the mandate of
heaven said that emperors were to rule the Chinese Empire. Because of this
philosophy, westerners often viewed the Chinese lifestyle as odd and referred to
the Chinese officials as inscrutable.



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