Confucius was born at the end of the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476) during the reign of the Zhou Dynasty (1045-255 BC). In the Spring and Autumn Period and in the Warring States Period (475-221), much of China's indigenous religious and philosophical thought originated. Confucius may be the most popular of all the ancient teachers. Scholars are not sure when he was born. He is said to have said that he never invented any of his philosophy. He was only transmitting the knowledge of the ancient people to his disciples. He was an itinerant teacher at a time when there many schools of thought and courts were open to employing and learning from traveling scholars. The time that he was born was marked by political crisis as the Zhou Dynasty was falling from power and rival fiefdoms were transforming into independent kingdoms and trying to conquer each other. He was trying to teach ancient truth in a time of political confusion and crisis.
There are temples dedicated to Confucius all over China. But most of the historical sites related to Confucius all located in Qufu, hometown of Confucius, in Shandong Province.The Qufu International Confucius Culture Festival is held every year between September 26th and October 10th in Qufu City, to honor Confucius. China Highlights offers a special tour to the city of Qufu each year to coincide with the annual Confucius Culture Festival.
When he was born, the political situation was changing. The dynastic clan of the region of Zhou was losing power, and many dozens of kingdoms were arising and battling for survival and dominance. The rulers wanted to know what to do, how best to rule their kingdoms, and how to survive in the dangerous times. Making a mistake might mean their deaths or the destruction of their kingdom. Teachers traveled to find courts or rulers that would employ them to teach them philosophy and religion or to work as officials. The time that Confucius was born until the end of the Warring States period when the Qin Empire imposed standardization of philosophy and religion was called the time of the “One Hundred Schools of Thought.”
Taoist philosophy, Confucian philosophies, and other prominent religious and philosophical schools all emerged during these two periods. Probably hundreds of philosophical schools existed in the dozens of kingdoms in the region each with their own historical and ethnic backgrounds. But as the many kingdoms coalesced into fewer and bigger kingdoms, dominant regional philosophies developed and emerged in the territories. Confucius was probably the first of the famous teachers who taught a major philosophy. Perhaps so many philosophers could write simultaneously because they lived in small kingdoms that supported them. In Chinese history, the dominant rulers generally squelch or discourage philosophical expression that contradict their own, so when there were several small powers, different schools of thought could survive in the land at the same time.
It isn't exactly clear when Confucius was born, but it was sometime around the end of the Spring and Autumn Period. His name was Kong Qiu, and he is said to have been born in 551 in Qufu in the State of Lu that is now in Shandong Province. Scholars do not agree on the dating of his birth however. His mother was said to have been a concubine who left to avoid the mistreatment from the wife. She and Confucius were very poor, but he studied hard. His mother died when he was 17. Then he married three years later. He left his family to become an itinerant teacher.
In the Analects, a book of his pithy sayings, it is recorded that he said that he didn't invent any of his philosophy. He was only transmitting the ancient teachings to his disciples. He wanted them to read the ancient texts. He said he wanted to teach about the Mandate of Heaven. This important belief of his political philosophy was that Heaven would choose a person and his clan to rule. He mixed his theology with his ideas of politics. So he encouraged everybody to behave as they should in whatever role they had in their society. He said that if they did so, there would be harmony and prosperity and happiness. He taught what is called the Silver Rule of behavior that is less expansive than the Golden Rule:
Zi Gong (a disciple of Confucius) asked: "Is there any one word that could guide a person throughout life?"
The Master replied: "How about‘shu?' Never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself."
Here are other well known sayings:
With coarse rice to eat, with water to drink, and my crooked arm for a pillow—is
not joy to be foundtherein? Riches and honors acquired through unrighteousness are to me as the floating clouds."
Knowledge is recognizing what you know and what you don't.
Comparing this last one with the Dao De Jing's….
道可道，非常道。A way that can be the Way, is not the usual way.
名可名，非常名。A name that can be a name, is an unusual name.
…is really confusing.
His disciples went around the Warring States and spread these teachings. The Analects of Confucius is a book of pithy sayings attributed to Confucius and recorded by his disciples. For foreigners who want a taste of this Confucian philosophy, reading the Analects of Confucius is a good introduction since the statements are usually simple and like common sense.
After he died, two philosophers were Mencius (孟子, 371–289) and Xun Zi (荀子, c300-237 BC). They introduced some new and conflicting ideas that it isn't recorded that Confucius taught himself. Mencius is said to be the writer of the Confucian text called Mencius that is an important collection of philosophical dialogues. He may have been a disciple of Confucius' own grandson. One of his basic teachings was that human nature is basically good but needs training, and he bases a lot of his philosophical theory on this axiom. This variety of Confucian philosophy was most widely accepted in later eras and by Neo-Confucianists. Xun Zi taught that human nature is evil, and it is the antithesis.
During the Han Dynasty and then again in the Song Dynasty, Confucian teachings went through periods of codification and reinterpretation and were mixed with Legalism and Buddhism. His teachings became the basis for imperial examinations that tested candidates for ruling offices on their knowledge of Confucian texts, literacy of the Classical Language, and calligraphy and other topics. During the Song Era, a philosophy called Neo-Confucianism emerged. Passing the imperial examination required that almost all the bureaucratic rulers needed to know the Neo-Confucian Classics that were written in the difficult literary Classical Language by heart.
The Neo-Confucian Classics were Four Books and Five Classics (四書五經) that contained the political philosophy of Confucius and others. These nine books were compiled and codified in the Song era. Traditionally, the Five Classics were thought to have been penned by Confucius, and the Four Books were thought to contain Confucian School-related material. However, modern scholars doubt that any material can definitely be described as written by Confucius.
The Five Classics include: The Book of Changes, The Classic of Poetry, The Record of Rites that was a recreation of the original Classic of Rites of Confucius that was lost in the Qin book purge, The Classic of History, and The Spring and Autumn Annals that was mainly a historical record of Confucius' native state of Lu.
The Four Books include: The Analects of Confucius that is a book of pithy sayings attributed to Confucius and recorded by his disciples; Mencius that is a collection of political dialogues attributed to Mencius; The Doctrine of the Mean; and The Great Learning that is a book about education, self-cultivation and the Dao.
- Chinese Dynasties
- The Xia Dynasty
- The Shang Dynasty
- The Zhou Dynasty
- Spring and Autumn Period
- Warring States Period
- The Qin Dynasty
- The Han Dynasty
- Three Kingdoms
- The Jin Dynasty
- The Sui Dynasty
- The Tang Dynasty
- The Western Xia Dynasty
- The Song Dynasty
- The Yuan Dynasty
- The Ming Dynasty
- The Qing Dynasty
- The Kingdom of Dali