Confucius was a famous thinker and social philosopher of China whose teachings have deeply influenced East Asia for twenty centuries. Living in times of trouble, he was convinced of his ability to restore the world’s order but he failed. Considered as a “Throneless King”, he eventually became involved in teaching disciples. His philosophy emphasized personal and governmental morality, correctness of social relationships, and justice and sincerity. These values gained prominence in China after being chosen among other doctrines (such as Legalism or Taoism) during the Han dynasty. Used since then as the imperial orthodoxy, Confucius’ thoughts have been changed into a vast and complete philosophical system known in the west as Confucianism.
The Analects is a short collection of his discussions with disciples, compiled posthumously. These contain the gist of his teachings. This book contains the best view on the Master’s life and thought.
According to traditional belief, Confucius was born in 551 BCE (during the Spring and Autumn Period, at the beginning of the Hundred Schools of Thought philosophical movement) in the city of Qufu in the Chinese State of Lu (鲁国 [魯國] lǔguó) (now part of present-day Shandong Province and culturally and geographically close to the royal mansion of Zhou). He was the son of a once noble family who had recently fled from the State of Song. His father was seventy and his mother only fifteen at his birth. His father died when he was three and he was brought up in poverty by his mother. His social ascendancy links him to the growing class of Shì (士), between old nobility and common people, which later became the prominent class of literati because of the cultural and intellectual skills they shared.
As a child, he is said to have enjoyed putting ritual vases on the sacrifice table. As a young man he was a minor administrative manager in the State of Lu and rose to the position of Justice Minister. It is said that, after several years, disapproving of the politics of his Prince, he resigned. At about age fifty, seeing no way to improve the government, he gave up his political career in Lu, and began a twelve year journey around China, seeking the “Way” and trying unsuccessfully to convince many different rulers of his political beliefs and to push them into reality. When he was about sixty, he returned home and spent the last years of his life teaching an increasing number of disciples, trying to share his experiences with them and transmit the old wisdom via a set of books called the Five Classics.
Confucius (/kənˈfjuːʃəs/ kən-FEW-shəs; Chinese: 孔夫子; pinyin: Kǒng Fūzǐ, “Master Kǒng”; or commonly 孔子; Kǒngzǐ; 551–479 BCE) was a Chinese philosopher and politician of the Spring and Autumn period who was traditionally considered the paragon of Chinese sages. Widely considered one of the most important and influential individuals in human history, Confucius’s teachings and philosophy formed the basis of East Asian culture and society, and continue to remain influential across China and East Asia today.
His philosophical teachings, called Confucianism, emphasized personal and governmental morality, correctness of social relationships, justice, kindness, and sincerity. Confucianism was part of the Chinese social fabric and way of life; to Confucians, everyday life was the arena of religion. His followers competed successfully with many other schools during the Hundred Schools of Thought era, only to be suppressed in favor of the Legalists during the Qin dynasty. Following the victory of Han over Chu after the collapse of Qin, Confucius’s thoughts received official sanction in the new government. During the Tang and Song dynasties, Confucianism developed into a system known in the West as Neo-Confucianism, and later as New Confucianism.
Confucius is traditionally credited with having authored or edited many of the Chinese classic texts, including all of the Five Classics, but modern scholars are cautious of attributing specific assertions to Confucius himself. Aphorisms concerning his teachings were compiled in the Analects, but only many years after his death.
Confucius’s principles have commonality with Chinese tradition and belief. With filial piety, he championed strong family loyalty, ancestor veneration, and respect of elders by their children and of husbands by their wives, recommending family as a basis for ideal government. He espoused the well-known principle “Do not do unto others what you do not want done to yourself”, the Golden Rule.