“What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others.”- Confucius
You may have heard this quote over a few times in your lifetime. It is inspirational as it is spiritual and morally true in any era. In this modern age, most of his quotes and teachings have been all over the internet and shared by millions of people. Beyond his quotes, what do we know about one of the greatest philosophers, Confucius?
Confucius’ original name was K'ung Ch'iu and was born on September 28, 551 BC, in the district of Zou which is near present-day Qufu, China.
His father, Kong He, was a nobleman who was a commandant of the Lu garrison and a descendant of the royal house of Shang. When his father’s wife was unable to bear any sons, he divorced his wife and married a young girl.
It was believed that Confucius was considered an illegitimate child. At the age of three, his father died, leaving behind his mother, Yan Zhengzai, to raise him on her own. It was said that during Confucius’ youth that he lived in poverty but still maintained a status as a Shih. A Shih is neither a commoner nor nobility who can acquire positions in the government. He worked as a bookkeeper and caretaker in his early 20s as well as various government positions.
Confucius married Qiguan when he was only 19 years old. According to records, they had their first child after a year of marriage and had two daughters afterward. Unfortunately, one of his daughters died during her childhood.
Sadly, his mother died when he was just 23 years old.
According to records, Confucius was in his 30s when he became the first Chinese teacher to prioritize education for the people. He primarily taught the Six Arts which are calligraphy, ritual, chariot racing, arithmetic, music, and archery. Since he received a good education as a Shih, he was also able to impart his impeccable knowledge of history and poetry to his students.
Apart from teaching the Six Arts, Confucius made it a point to emphasize morality and self-improvement in his teachings. It was believed that he had 3000 students wherein he taught virtues such as righteousness, kindness, humility, courtesy, loyalty, and mindfulness.
Due to his fame, Confucius was appointed as a governor of a town in Lu State in his 40s. A few years after, he became the Minister of Crime in Lu State. During this time, Confucius wanted to re-establish the power of the duke; however, this cannot be easily done since the aristocratic families uphold the authority of the state. His plans to restore the duke’s authority failed which also caused him to acquire political enemies in his career. His failure led him to leave the town and travel to the northeast and central China.
Known as the philosophy of Confucius, Confucianism is a philosophical system that focuses on moral, social, religious and political teachings. It flourished during the Han Dynasty and became the state philosophy of Emperor Wu of Han. It was not until the rise of communism in China that Confucianism was suppressed. However, it has survived and its influence remains today. As the years passed by, its teachings have been adopted by countries like Korea and Japan.
Known as the central texts of Confucianism, the Analects is a collection of ideas, commentaries, and sayings by Confucius’ followers during 475-221 BC. During the Han dynasty, the Analects were only considered as a supplemental text to “The Five Classics”. However, during the Song dynasty, it started to gain significance as a philosophical literature, surpassing the importance of “The Five Classics”. Today, the Analects are recognized as one of “The Four Books” which are the most studied read and examined books of Philosophy in China.
The Four Books are the following:
Jen pertains to how a man should behave which is focused on kindness, compassion, and consideration to fellow men. It teaches how a man should treat another void of any cruelty as well as racism.
“A man of humanity, wishing to establish his own character also establishes the character of others, and wishing to be prominent himself, also helps others to be prominent (Analects 6:28).”
Li pertains to the principle of gain and benefit as well as the general order of society. It is further divided into two senses which are the guide to human relationships and social order.
The first sense contains the teachings of how things should be perceived which are taught that a person should have a positive perspective. It also teaches that truth should always be exercised in order to create a harmonious existence.
It also explains The Five Relationships which explains the authority of between two people. If due respect is given within these relationships, peace will easily be attained in the community and government.
The Second Sense teaches the importance of tradition as well as respect to the elders of the village and as well as officials in the government. Loyalty to the government is to be practiced by subjects and that officials should also set a good example for its people.
Yi teaches righteousness and that each man has a role that he must fulfill. A person has a specific role that affects those around him. It is important to practice Yi in any event in order for it to become one’s second nature.
"Stick by the title and go by the essence of the title” (Analects 12.11)
Hsiao explains how a man should uphold filial piety. Parents should be revered because they are the ones who have given life and a man is expected to bring honor to the family. It further teaches that the foundation of a peaceful society is a harmonious relationship of a family.
“Even if you disagree with your parents, gently remorse or express your disagreement. Do not be rude, do this with respect and gentleness. Never lose that respect even you disagree with the decision of your parents. Do it with reverence (Analects 4:18).
Hsin teaches the importance of the Word of Honor. A man’s character is seen how he lives up to his promises and takes responsibility. It also teaches that actions speak louder than words which are a very honorable trait.
“The superior man wants to be slow in word but diligent in action (Analects 4:24).”
Chih is a virtue that comes with age. As a man becomes older, he develops critical thinking and intelligence because of life experiences. To become a man of wisdom, he should be able to and acquire knowledge as well as share it with those around him.
A man of wisdom becomes the very example of every man. Through his learning and experiences, he could teach and share with others what he knows. “A good man is not concerned of his reputation. A good man goes out to know others (Analects 1:16).”
Confucius’ Final Years
Confucius was 68 years old when he returned home to Lu. He was invited by the chief minister of Lu, Ju Kangzi to become an adviser to government officials specifically on crime and governance.
During his years in Lu, he started teaching his wisdom and philosophy to at least 70 disciples, thus the creation of the “Five Classics”.
He witnessed his son’s death which caused him extreme sadness and frustration. Apart from the death of his son, Tzu-Lu and Yen Hui, who were his disciples, died in the same year. At age 71 in 479 BC, Confucius died due to natural causes and was buried at the Kong Lin Cemetary in Qufu, Shandong Province.