Chinese Culture >> Chinese Society, Traditions >> Confucianism
It’s hard to overvalue the influence of the
Confucianism to the development of
Chinese culture, politics arts and history. Scientists still doubt and
can’t define the exact meaning of the teaching. Some place it to religion;
others place it to moral ethics, third to political science. There are others
who try to follow it without vain reflections and they state it works for them.
I think all of them are right in their own way as the Confucian teaching is a
harmonious mixture of ethics, esthetics, politics, religion and humanism.
Kung-fu-tsu (we know him under his Westernized name – Confucius) was born in 551 B.C. into a middle class family. From the very childhood he was devoted to learning and fond of many subjects. He mastered six arts – ritual, music, archery, charioteering, Calligraphy and arithmetic – the basic set for the noble youth of those times. Even being very young he was interested in public service. When grown up, Confucius went traveling state by state to study the way of life and customs of people of the different provinces.
He was born in difficult for his country times. China of the Eastern Zhou dynasty (that is the time he lived) was split into a number of small states which were at war with each other. These wars weakened the country, made a lot of harm to its people and devastated its lands. This was a time of moral chaos when moral values were rejected, crime and disobeying flourished and ruined the society from inside. The difference between poor and rich class was overwhelming and lead to a great contradictory in the society. There was a great need in a social theory which would reunite the country and Chinese nation and make it powerful and mighty union. A lot of theories were proposed at those times but Confucius’ one turned to be the most successful one and won a great supremacy during the ruling of the Han dynasty.
During his life Confucius accomplished several books. He didn’t write them himself and they were written by his successors from his words. “The Confucius Analects” is the most famous of them. It’s a book of quotes and sayings of the master on the social, ethical and moral topics.
The life of China during the Zhou dynasty can seem something distanced and uninteresting to the modern people but if to make a deep survey of the situation, we will see that problems people faced then are repeated in the most of modern societies and have same roots as they did in the times of Confucius. If to think we can state that the decline of moral values, the growth of crime rate and a big gap between rich and poor classes of the society we face now sound very alike with the problems of the ancient China. History repeats itself. This simple truth was discovered by Confucius many centuries ago. “Study the past and you would define the future.” – states he in his book. (Confucius, The Confucian Analects, p.18). And he followed his own advice. He studied a lot of great leaders of the past and a lot of successful reigning systems before he produced the one of his own. Confucius believed that the divine order is reflected in the order human beings present on the earth. He believed that our ancestors understood this order better than we did as they didn’t lose the connection with the ultimate source and understood the union of the earth and heaven better than his contemporaries.
He set ancient people as an example and the past model or reigning considered being the best one.
He specialized not only in the orderly arrangement of society and relationship between people but in self-perfection and self-development, humanism and moral rectitude as the ultimate goals of every person. The concepts of jen and li are often considered to be the main concepts of Confucianism. Each of these concepts has a lot of shades of meaning and covers almost all the teaching. The concept of jen includes goodness, benevolence, humanity and kindness. These are the qualities of the personality which define the level of its development and differentiate it from non-human beings. For Confucius these qualities make the basis of moral rectitude. The more developed the qualities mentioned above are, the more developed the personality is according to the teaching of Confucius. If put in the basis of human relationship, these qualities provide genuine and open communication and both sides get profit of it. Humanity, kindness, goodness, etc. do not depend of the race or social status and can be born or developed during the lifetime. Since jen is a sense of humanity, developed towards others it increases the self-esteem of the individual himself. Confucius can not imagine right attitude to others without the right attitude to yourself. “Respect yourself and others will respect you.” (Confucius, The Confucian Analects, p.73) addresses he his followers to underline one more time the importance of right self-esteem. Some scientists state that “The Golden Rule” of human interaction mentioned in many scripts and by many authors was first formulated by Confucius in his teaching. It sounds like “Do not do to others what you would not like them to do to you.”(Confucius, The Confucian Analects, p. 45). Confucius states that following this rule would stop wars and conflicts and bring harmony and peace to the life of the country in general and its citizens in particular.
Another important component of the teaching presented by Confucius is so called Lee concept and it describes the principle of order, gain, and benefit. Lee gives concrete guide to human action and stresses on the importance of the obeying the order. He defines two aspects of order. First is a common order, rules and customs incarnated through the relationship between people in the society. This set of rules in not written anywhere and it is connected to the moral system of the individual and defined by jen. Another aspect of lee (order) principle is realized through the social order or the general ordering of life. Confucius paid a lot of attention to the principle of yi (righteousness) as one of the means to achieve high moral level. Yi helps the person to recognize bad and good things. It’s an internal controller which gives the person the ability to make right judgments about the people and situations and to react accordingly. Confucius stated that truth can be hidden sometimes and most common reaction to the situation is not always the best one and the possession of yi principle helps to define the true nature of things. Right understanding generates the right behavior which is described in another aspect of yi – the moral disposition to do good. The concept of “good” is defined by the higher wisdom and can not be understood by ordinary human but can be felt as a sense of internal righteousness. Hsiao (filial piety) is a concept described in great detail by Confucius and very peculiar not only to Confucianism, but for the whole Chinese culture and moral tradition. This is the concept of obedience and respect which was considered the greatest of virtues. Hsiao concept had several levels same as most of the other ones. It includes the obedience of the son to the parents, obedience to family, friends, society, and mankind. Historically parents had a very big influence on the life of their children and had very much authority in the family.
All the virtues mentioned formed the concept
of the gentlemen very important for Confucius’ teaching. Gentleman is an
incarnation of all the virtues and moral rectitude such as humanity, kindness,
obedience to the higher will, roughhouses and wisdom. It’s an ideal everybody
must strive to achieve and Confucius strove to himself. Fulfilling all the
concepts and rituals of Confucianism could take the whole life but it’s common
for oriental people who concentrate on the process, but not the result. “It does
not matter how slowly you go so long as you do not stop.” (Confucius, The
Confucian Analects, p. 45). The concept of the gentlemen as an ideal man can not
be separated from the concept of an ideal ruler of the country. Confucius
couldn’t image a good ruler who would keep the country in peace and order and
bring wealth and prosperity to its citizens not being a gentleman. Grateful
citizens would provide obedience and respect to the ruler fulfilling the
principles of filial piety, righteousness and goodness. This was the model of
the society and human relationship presented by Confucius.
We can not give less than due do to Confucian ideas of humanity, sacrifices for the sake of common good and order very uncommon and ever revolutionary for the times he lived. Same as we can not deny that some of the ideas of this ancient teaching could be very helpful to the modern political leaders and just ordinary people in everyday life.
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