Confucius, China's most famous philosopher, is a popular Chinese figure today. Learn key facts about Confucianism and the life of Confucius here.
One of the most popular Chinese figures, Confucius, was a philosopher whose teachings remain influential to date as the basis of Confucianism, one of the oldest and largest religions in China and around the globe. Here, we've compiled a list of the top 10 interesting facts about Confucius.
1. Confucius' hometown was Qufu.
With a history spanning back thousands of years, Qufu city remains the legendary birthplace of many Chinese sages, such as Confucius and Mencius. To memorialize these great sages, the locals built temples and cemeteries, later opened to the general public as tourist attractions. The most famous attractions are the Temple of Confucius (Kong Miao), the Cemetery of Confucius (Kong Lin) and the Kong Family Mansion (Kong Fu), together now called the Three Kongs.
- Location: Qufu is a city in southwest Shandong about a two-hour bus ride (135 km) to Jinan, the capital city of Shandong Province.
2. He was schooled in six arts.
Confucius studied six main arts including archery, arithmetic, charioteering, ritual and calligraphy. In addition, he also studied poetry and history. The fact that he was highly knowledgeable is evident in a wide range of his works and teachings.
3. Confucius started his teaching career at the age of 24.
Confucius started his teaching career in 527 BCE, when he was only 24 years old. His main objective in the teaching career was to bring about reform in the leadership of that time, which had negatively been impacted by corruption and lawlessness.
To him, an educator’s main responsibility was to shape people into becoming individuals with integrity.
He also taught that leaders could influence their subjects into following the law by emphasizing ritual propriety and virtue according. Confucius offered instructions to all the people regardless of the amount of money they paid as a fee. He only required his students to show the capacity and appetite for improvement.
4. The primary basis of his philosophy was the “kindness” principle.
The ren (仁 /rnn/ 'kind') principle of loving others, formed the basis of Confucius’ philosophy. Under this principle, Confucius called upon people to reflect goodness in the manner they interact with others, insisting that doing so does not require an individual to have a fine appearance, powerful social rank or excellent speech.
Confucius strongly believed the Golden Rule that people should not do to others what they do not wish to be done to them. The teachings of Confucius are focused on two interrelated areas: Social Teachings, which deal with the proper behavior of the individual in society, and Political Teachings, which deal with the art of governance.
5. The Five Classics of Confucianism were probably not written by Confucius!
In imperial China, in order to be an official scholar, people had to learn the Confucian classic texts called the Five Classics. According to tradition, the Five Classics were penned by Confucius. Modern scholars, however, doubt that any of the material can really be ascribed to Confucius himself.
The Five Classics are:
- The Book of Changes, presenting a system of division;
- The Classic of Poetry, with 305 poems;
- The Book of Rites, a re-creation of the original Classic of Rites of Confucius lost during the Qin book purge;
- The Book of history, with documents and speeches written by early rulers;
- The Spring and Autumn Annals, a historical record of Confucius' native state of Lu.
6. He died before Confucianism became popular.
Before his death, Confucius wasn't convinced that his teachings had made any important impact on the Chinese way of life. Following his death in 479 B.C., those who followed his teachings organized a funeral and went ahead to establish a period of mourning as a way of honoring him.
His popularity grew significantly in the years that followed his death and by the 4th century BC, Confucius was perceived as a sage. His philosophy became the basis state ideology during the first Han Dynasty in the 2nd century BC. The followers of his teachings are the ones who established Confucianism, which remains one of the largest and longest standing religions in China.
7. Confucius' Cemetery was repaired and rebuilt 13 times.
Since the Han Dynasty (202 BC–220 AD), the Cemetery of Confucius was repaired and rebuilt 13 times by the emperors of many Chinese dynasties. Today, the Cemetery of Confucius plays an important role in the analysis of the development of ancient Chinese politics, the economy and culture, as well as changes in Chinese funeral customs.
Guomoruo (1892-1978), one of the most famous Chinese modern writers, praised the cemetery: "The Cemetery of Confucius is one of the best nature museums and preserves the annals of Confucius' family".
8. Confucius' descendants lived in a mansion.
The Kong Family Mansion, also called the Holly Mansion, was where the descendants of Confucius lived. In Chinese history, Confucius' descendants were given the honorary tile Yanshenggong (衍圣公 'Developing Sage Duke' or 'Sage of Development').
The Kong Family Mansion was designed exactly in the Chinese tradition of "the hall in the front, the living room in the back". The front hall was divided into three interestingly named individual spaces: Guanya (关押 'jail'), the place for work; Dongxue (洞穴'cave'), the place for reception; and Xixue (戏谑 'banter'), the place for entertainment. The living rooms were designed for daily living.
Numerous precious historical relics are preserved in the Kong Family Mansion, including calligraphies of emperors, royal poetry, books and royal instruments. Almost everything bestowed to Confucius and his descendants by emperors of past dynasties to show their honor to them is preserved here.
9. The Temple of Confucius in Qufu is the most renowned in China.
The Temple of Confucius in Qufu was built to worship Confucius, the Chinese thinker and social philosopher whose teachings and philosophy deeply influenced Chinese, Korean, Japanese, and Vietnamese. The temple consists of a group of grand, majestic, oriental-featured ancient buildings and was built at the site of Confucius’ former residence.
There are many other Confucius temples all over China and neighboring influenced countries. See the bottom of our detailed page on Confucius.
10. There is an annual festival to celebrate Confucius.
Every year between September 26th and October 10th in Qufu City, the hometown of Confucius, there is the Qufu International Confucius Culture Festival. Celebrations include a worshipping ceremony and performances at both the Temple of Confucius and the Cemetery of Confucius. The performances consist of ancient music and dancing that helps contribute to the memorable experience of the celebration.
Discover Confucius in China with Local Experts
Want to discover Confucius' hometown or experience the lively Qufu International Confucius Festival? Then plan your trip with us, local China experts who will help create an unforgettable journey into the life of Confucius.
Visit Qufu to Discover the Roots of Confucianism
Most of the historical sites related to Confucianism are located in Qufu, the hometown of Confucius, in Shandong Province. The Qufu International Confucius Culture Festival there is convened every year between September 26th and October 10th, in honor of Confucius.
Delve into Confucian Philosophy in Beijing
The Imperial Academy in Beijing is where imperial court candidates studied Confucianism for centuries. Visit the Forbidden City to see where Confucian doctrine was implemented. The Temple of Heaven is a shrine to Confucius' Mandate of Heaven, where emperors prayed to heaven for favor.
Our Golden Triangle itinerary (Beijing–Xi'an–Shanghai in 8 days) can be customized to see the Confucian sights and anything else you'd like to find out more about.