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Biography of Confucius

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Kong Qui, better known as Confucius, was born in 551 B.C. in the Lu state of China. He was the most influential and respected philosopher in Chinese history, and is also called the “first teacher” of China. His ideas were the single strongest influence on Chinese society from around 100 BC until the early 20th century. Confucianism recommended healing Chinese society by returning to the traditions of the early Zhou Dynasty. Confucius’s teachings, preserved in the Analects, which is one of the most important of all the Chinese classics, provide a vivid record of his teachings. They focused on creating ethical models of family and public interaction, and setting educational standards.

His social philosophy was based primarily on the principle of "ren" or "loving others" while exercising self-discipline. Ren is what makes a person human and life worth living. It can be translated as "humaneness" or "goodness." The goal of everyone should be to achieve ren. Confucius called a person who achieves ren a "superior person," "ideal person," or "sage." Confucius believed that a leader needed to exercise self-discipline in order to remain humble and treat his followers with compassion. In doing so, he would lead by showing a positive example. According to him, leaders could motivate their subjects to follow the law by teaching them virtue and the unifying force of ritual propriety. It prescribed a high ideal for the state: the ruler was to be a father to his people and look after their basic needs. It required officials to criticize their rulers and refuse to serve the corrupt.

Confucianism generated a high ideal for family interaction: members were to treat each other with love, respect, and consideration for the needs of all. In a Confucian society, one shows a great deal of “filial piety.” This was originally conceived as devotion and obedience one must show to parents (especially the father), but over time, it was extended to ancestors, giving rise to ancestor worship. This focus on family became added motivation for “proper behavior” and conduct. A side effect of this “family first” approach is that today Chinese people tend to view society in terms of insiders and outsiders. This is related to the idea of guanxi (connections), where the Chinese view the world in terms of their web of family, personal and professional network.

Confucianism also had a big influence on education in China throughout history. Confucius’s many disciples spread his effective educational methods, such as "Look back to the old, if you would learn the new", "Among any three people walking, I will find something to learn for sure", and "Leaning without thinking you feel lost, thinking without learning you turn to indolent". Confucianism particularly focused on scholarship and meritocracy, directly giving rise to the Imperial Examination system. Though it was changed by future dynasties, the exam system was significant because it was the only method by which a person could move up in the world. Later in the Han dynasty, a form of public education system was established. Not only elites from upper class families could study in school, but common men could educate themselves to become better men.

Many of Confucius’s approaches to education were avant-garde as he promoted the ideas "to educate all despite their social status" and "to teach according to the students' characteristics". The first of these broke with tradition as only the aristocracy had the privilege of education. He also proposed a complete set of principles concerning study. He said: "Studying without thinking leads to confusion; thinking without studying leads to laziness." Today's quality-education was nothing new to him. Influenced by Confucianism, in Chinese culture, an intellectual isn’t limited to study alone. He should be successful in being a human and in his bearing of himself. A key objective of an intellectual should be to make full use of his ability, personality and intelligence to do good things for the state, society and the world.

The outer and inner aspects of Confucianism were in tension throughout Chinese history. It was only under the Han Emperor Wu that Confucianism became accepted as state ideology and orthodoxy. Its influence then penetrated all parts of Chinese society: education, government, public and private attitudes, etiquette. From that time on the imperial state promoted Confucian values to maintain law, order, and the status quo. The imperial family and other notables sponsored the publication of morality books that encouraged the practice of Confucian values: respect for parents, loyalty to government, and keeping to one's place in society. This side of Confucianism was conservative, and served to strengthen established institutions and long-standing social divisions. In the Wei and Jin Dynasties, Confucianism coexisted with Buddhism and Taoism. But during the Tang and Song dynasties influences from Taoism and Buddhism significantly challenged the dominant status of Confucian ideology. Confucian scholars met this challenge by integrating elements of both Taoist and other native philosophies into a single integrative ideology known as Neo-Confucianism. The Song Dynasty saw an important development of Confucianism, which remained the dominant orthodoxy in Chinese society until the 1890s.

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