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Confucianism was founded by Confucius in the Spring and Autumn period (770 B.C. – 476 B.C.), and further developed by Mencius, thus called The Way of Confucius and Mencius. In the Han dynasty, Confucianism was adopted and other schools suppressed by the Han rulers to consolidate their reign. Then Confucianism flourished and became dominant in the Chinese history and culture for almost 2 millenniums. Later it even spread to Korea and Japan and has been influential in the two cultures.
Confucius and his Confucianism had so great an impact on the Chinese civilization that you can’t imagine how Chinese culture and history will be otherwise. In the whole 2,000 years, Confucianism has influenced the Chinese attitude toward life, set the patterns of living and standards of social value, established standards for training government officials, and provided the background for Chinese political theories and institutions.
Who is Confucius?
Confucius (551 B.C. – 479 B.C.), founder of Confucianism, was born in today’s Qufu, Shandong province. He was named Kong Qiu and styled Zhongni and respected by Chinese as Kong Fuzi or Kong Zi. He was an outstanding thinker and educationist in the late Spring and Autumn period. He was born poor, however he managed to get good education. It was said that at the age of fifty Confucius finally ascended to Prime Minister of State Lu. However, his political foes conspired to force him to retire at the age of fifty-five. Then he led his disciples to trek around those competing states to advocate his teachings and to advise rulers how to govern, however he was frustrated. In his late years, he engaged in education, with 3,000 disciples and 72 famous ones according to legend. He died in 479B.C.
Politically, he insisted strict social stratification to maintain public order and contended moral cultivation and opposed tyranny. Main ethic feature he advocated was benevolence, called ren in Chinese. On the educational theory, he stressed individual aptitude education and combination of learning and thinking, proposing ” learning without thinking leads to bewilderment; thinking without learning results in idleness.”
Confucianism is a system of philosophy and humanism instead of a religion though it features a few religious characteristics. Confucius and Mencius never intended to set up a religion although they were enshrined in almost everywhere in the nation.
Confucius lived in a time of social and moral chaos, when common values were generally rejected or simply disregarded. In the ethos of uncertainty and fear created by warlords, Confucianism flourished and eventually transformed Chinese society with its values and dominated it for centuries. Since Confucius saw a sharp difference between the disunity and lack of harmony that existed in this chaotic society as opposed to the harmony and orderliness of nature, his philosophy sought to consciously restore primary set values and norms.
In the Qin dynasty (221B.C. – 206B.C.), Emperor Qin Shi Huang slaughtered Confucian intellectuals and burnt Confucian canons, in order to unite chaotic thoughts to facilitate ruling. It was soon over thrown. In the Han dynasty under the reign of Emperor Wu (140B.C. – 87 B.C.), Confucianism was accepted as state ideology and orthodoxy since Confucianism claimed regality was god-given, and other ideologies were banned to maintain law, social stratification and social order with Confucian values. From then on, other ideologies never got a chance to attempt a comeback.
The reason why Confucianism was dominant was it conformed to needs of the ruling classing. It presented a utopian world for both the ruling class and the common people. Confucianism thinks that ruler be a father to his people and look after their basic needs. It encouraged officials to be loyal to their rulers and refuse to serve the corrupt; advocated absolute authority of a king over his subject, a husband over his wife, and a father over his son; and stressed five constant virtues, namely benevolence (ren), righteousness (yi), propriety (li), wisdom (zhi) and fidelity (xin) as basic ethical code.
Confucianism was an androcentrism in which women has no dignity and human rights. According to Confucianism, women had to obey absolutely their fathers when they were not married, to obey their husbands absolutely after in the wedlock and to obey absolutely their sons in their widowhood. Morality, proper speech, modest manner and diligent work were basic virtues they ought have. In case women were barren, unfilial, talkative, jealous, heavily sick, or in adultery and theft, they would be divorced no matter what the reasons were.
Although Confucian is condemned for some of its views, it has branded Chinese and their life.