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The word Confucianism implies the existence of a philosophy, a religion, or a worldview that goes by the name. "Confucian" ideas or attributes are assumed to have roots in ancient China, to be part of the common heritage of people of Chinese ancestry in other parts of the world, and to be shared by the peoples of Korea, Japan, and Vietnam, who have been heavily influenced by Chinese culture. Confucianism has been used to identify an ideology of benevolent kingship used by empires to legitimize themselves in various parts of eastern Asia. It is often applied to the practice of ancestor worship or simple respect for family elders. Yet, although there was an ancient Chinese word for "scholar" (ru ), referring to those who studied ancient texts, the term Confucianism has no precise equivalent in Chinese. In order to understand why so many different phenomena have gotten lumped together in this fashion, we had better start with Confucius, or "the master," whose name was Kong (551479 b.c.e.).


The master speaks to us in the Lunyu (Analects), which contains brief, disconnected sayings attributed to him, conversations he had with disciples, and additional sayings or comments by some of those disciples. The text portrays Confucius as mentor and patron to a group of younger men who sought to serve in the government of a small state called Lu between 510 and 479 b.c.e. It is from their questions and answers that the notion of Confucian "learning" derives. Confucius describes himself simply as one who loves to learn and as a transmitter of wisdom from the ancient past. That he also learns from his students demonstrates that learning, knowing, and holding to the truth were considered parts of a continuous process, which was at once intellectual, practical, and spiritual. Learning was essential to knowing, knowing was essential to doing, doing was essential to spiritual fulfillment, and spiritual fulfillment was essential to learning. This process was held up as a standard against which the corrupting influences of wealth and power could be measured. After his death, it was the learning of Confucius that his disciples sought to emulate, and the standards he set were what students in later times struggled to achieve.

The concepts the learners used were appropriated from the pre-Confucian discourse of a broad class of warriors across the North China Plain. In this discourse power and virtue ideally were one (de ). The worlds of men and of spirits (gui or shen ) were separate but communication between the two was possible, and so was mutual intervention. Shamans and oracles were the agents of communication, while the warriors' sacrificial rites (li ) were intended to mollify the spirits and to prevent their capricious intervention in the affairs of men. Five hundred years before the time of Confucius, astrologers in the service of a particular coalition of warrior clans called Zhou had interpreted the movements of stars and planets as signs of the movement of spiritual forces in an ordered cosmos. From this they had extrapolated the overarching idea of a Mandate of Heaven (Tian Ming ), which legitimated the Zhou claim to order the world under heaven (tianxia ) with a clarification of the ritual duties of all the warrior clans, in accordance with their rank. At the apex of this ritual hierarchy was the head of the house of Zhou, who alone among men bore the title of king (wang ), but who by the time of Confucius no longer had any real political power.

The wisdom that Confucius sought to transmit was expressed in the language of Zhou texts and embodied in the performance of the rites as codified by the original Zhou patriarchs. But in the absence of Zhou power, the wisdom of the ancients with respect to bringing peace and order to the world could only be validated by the conscience, or benevolence (ren ), of especially virtuous "gentlemen" (junzi ) who rejoiced in the prospect of placing duty, or righteousness (yi ), above personal gain. Resisting the temptation to validate the Mandate of Heaven by appealing to revealed truth, the early Confucians held that human virtue, without reference to spiritual intervention, was both necessary and sufficient for bringing order to a world fraught with conflicts over wealth and power.

Warring States Confucianism

Until the time of Mencius (Mengzi; c. 371c. 289 b.c.e.) the principal proponents of Confucian learning resided in Lu, where they studied and taught the ancient texts and proper performance of the rites. The text that bears the name Mencius confirms historians' judgments that this era, the height of the Warring States period, witnessed a rapid change in the ethos of the ruling class. The rulers of the larger states all appropriated the title of king for themselves. They accelerated the development of institutions of direct taxation and conscription within their borders and belligerently applied new technologies in their efforts to expand beyond these borders. They actively sought advice on how to develop, defend, and expand their states, inviting scholars from throughout the known world to participate. Two opposing tendencies appear to have defined a new discourse involving a "Hundred Schools of Thought." On the one side were ideas that reflected and further encouraged the standardization of institutions and laws, the simplification and clarification of administrative methods, and the realistic pursuit of political goals. On the other side were ideas that reflected and further encouraged belief in divine retribution, spiritual intervention, and the Mandate of Heaven. Mencius revived the early Confucians' concepts of conscience, duty, ritual performance, and wisdom within this discourse.

The Confucius of the Analects answered a question about the meaning of wisdom by advising the questioner to "revere the spirits but keep them at a distance." He had very little to say about heaven. The Warring States discourse defines the domain of man as the space between heaven and earth. In this domain there is a Way (dao ) a set of principles and/or activitiesthat parallels, follows, approximates, resonates with, or reflects the "Way of Heaven and Earth." In Mencius the "Way of Man" is moral and the "gentleman" is its agent. The Warring States discourse also anticipates a reappearance of the spiritual forces that were manifest in the Zhou Mandate of Heaven. In Mencius the Mandate of Heaven appears at two levels. At one level Mencius advises kings and lesser rulers as to how they must act if they expect to receive the mandate and become a "true" king. At another level the text defines the "gentleman" as one who is able to grasp and hold onto the original moral "mind," or "heart" (xin ), which was heaven's mandate to each individual human, and thereby to "transform the environment through which he passes and invest with spirituality (shen ) the place in which he resides." At both levels, the idea of the Mandate of Heaven is inseparable from the idea that in the mind of every person originally there are the seeds both of benevolence and of the duty to spread it in the domain of humanity.

In political thinking the idea of a world ordered by ritual was being displaced by the idea of a world ordered by law, or rewards and punishments. Yet proper performance of the rites remained important to the ruling elite, who still sought to legitimize their status by showing respect for their dead parents and ancestors as well as reverence for the gods of local communities over which they ruled. Mencius included the rites among the four virtues that were seeded by heaven in the human mind, but the Legaliststhose who would reform the world by enforcing new lawsdismissed them as artifacts of a world that was no more, while the Daoists, for whom the Way was not moral but natural, regarded them as the last means of moral suasion before a ruler resorted to force. In the middle of the next century, as the powerful state of Qin mounted its conquest of the world, Xunzi (c. 298c. 230 b.c.e.)the last of the great Warring States scholars to apply the early Confucians' conceptsrevived the concept of ritual with a stunning attack on the Legalists, the Daoists, and Mencius alike.

Xunzi argued that in the absence of benevolent rulers, it was the principles inherent in the performance of the rites that preserved the wisdom of the ancients and provided the means by which the "gentleman" could transform the world. The Daoists were right about heaven; it was neither moral nor responsive to human pleas for help. But, in addition, it was the origin of all life, and it provided man with a mind capable of learning by observing nature and by moderating the natural drive toward self-gratification. Human nature could not be distinguished from animal nature by its goodness, as Mencius had argued. Humans could understand the meaning of the word "good" because humans had invented it to contrast with the natural urge to gratify their desires. This natural urge was enhanced by emotions that, if allowed to prevail, led to ever increasing conflict and ultimate self-destruction. Social order, in short, was invented by the sages, and the rites were their means of channeling the emotions between the extremes that would destroy that order. For Xunzi, ordinary men find benevolence unattractive because they are naturally inclined to pursue pleasure and profit, leaving benevolence to the sages, but everyone benefits from a social order that keeps our angry and acquisitive urges at bay.

Xunzi replaces the moral mind of Mencius with a mind that is "empty, unified, and still." Like the Daoists, Xunzi argues that reasoningmoving the mind, filling it with things, and analyzing themforces us to make distinctions that lead us away from first principles and into petty disputes. Because the "gentleman" understands the principles behind the rites, an understanding that guides him to the middle ground between keeping to form and releasing the feelings, he finds comfort in carrying them out. Officials only maintain them, while ordinary people perform them because they are customary and believe they have something to do with spirits. As for laws and regulations, or rewards and punishments, these are necessary but not sufficient tools for governing. "Although there can be disorder where the laws are good, I have never heard of a case of disorder where the ruler was a 'gentleman.'"

Han Confucianism

With the successful completion of the Qin conquest (221 b.c.e.) and gradual development of imperial rule under the Han by the time of the emperor Wudi (14186 b.c.e.) came another shift in political and cosmological discourse within the ruling class. The unique title of the emperor (august lord; huangdi ) placed him above the warriors, scholars, magistrates, and economic managers who ran the state, and also above the complex array of magicians, shamans, and religious cults that made up the spiritual landscape. The ruler now occupied the position of cosmic pivot. The cosmos was explained as constantly changing, its primordial energy, or the psychophysical stuff of which all things are made (qi ), being differentiated by the complementary interaction of bipolar valences (yin and yang). Every part of the cosmos resonated with the changes occurring in the others. Small changes in climate, ecology, production, and administrative policy were related to a larger process that moved in grand cycles through five phases. Scholars gathered at the imperial academy and many lesser academies across the realm to improve their understanding of heaven, earth, and human sciences based on this cosmology. Dong Zhongshu (c. 179c. 104) is credited with the revival of early Confucian textual studies and the Mencian idea of "moral mind" within this context.

What modern scholars have called "Han Confucianism" comprised a broad spectrum of beliefs, social practices, and textual scholarship. The Five Classics on which imperial academy scholars based their interpretations were the Changes, Documents, Odes, and Rites all purported to be Zhou classicsand Spring and Autumn Annals of Lu, an extremely spare text attributed to Confucius. Dong Zhongshu used the Spring and Autumn Annals as a prophetic text, giving it more power in imperial academic discussions. One commentary on this text, the Gongyang zhuan, imagined in it cryptic references to a past and future age of "great peace," which readily fit into the discussions of continuous cycles of change and cosmic resonance. Dong advocated studying the past to prepare for the future. He interpreted specific natural disasters that damaged symbolic imperial structures as warnings to the emperor that corruption and dishonesty at court were moving the human world away from the "great peace" and toward cosmic disorder. Although contemporary scholars increasingly conclude that this version of "Han Confucianism" never subsumed the larger cosmology of which these moral arguments were a part, the image of Confucius as a sage continued and the idea of a Confucian vision of a utopian future reappeared in the nineteenth century. The radical reformer Kang Youwei (18581927) applied it to the modern world.

As the male educated elite of the Later Han period (25220 c.e.) found themselves dependent more on large landed estates, inherited titles, and marriage ties than on official positions with the Han state, they found other uses for the texts. The families of the titled elite used the Rites as their guide to social relations. Confucius had become something like a patron saint of scholars (ru ), and education in the classics had become a necessary part of elite status. An early Han text called Filial Piety preached devotion to parents and ancestors. If education for men had carried with it the obligation to serve both one's parents and the public good, education for women entailed the obligation to serve both the family of one's birth and the family of one's marriage in their roles as daughters, wives, and mothers. The rituals of ancestor worship distinguished elite male lines of descent, while the rituals of marriage and childbirth defined the passage of women from one line to another. Ban Zhao (c. 48c. 119), an educated woman of the highest status during this period, has been celebrated for her literary talents and exemplary role in further propagating these family values in her essays Admonitions to Women. With this text also begins a discussion of gender using Confucian concepts, as the author reminds her male readers that if a "gentleman" owes his status not to conditions of birth but to "Confucian" learning, then the same must be true of the exemplary woman.


For nearly a thousand years after the disintegration of the Han empire, the maintenance of elite family rituals and repeated invocation of filial duty were the only distinctively "Confucian" markers of the political elite in China. The classics, now labeled "New Texts," were replaced by more recently discovered "Old Texts," which joined Buddhist scriptures and imperial institutions as the eclectic markers of civilization. This was the civilization that spread to the Korean Peninsula and the Yamato Plain of Japan. The great Tang state of the seventh century left the elite families and their self-defined hierarchy in place. The Tang model resonated with the interests of great families in Korea and Japan. But not until the eleventh century, in an East Asian world that was divided among shifting imperial states but increasingly integrated by an expanding commercial economy, did another new ethos invite the recasting of early Confucian ideas.

The recasting, which has led Western scholars to coin the term "Neo-Confucianism" in an effort to define it, developed at the intersection of three social-intellectual trends. First, in the great Song empire of the eleventh century an emergent scholar-official elite, in their discussions of statecraft, tended to support their arguments on all sides with appeals to "native" precedents and values, in contrast to "imported" religious values and the imputed values of a rising commercial class. This nativist trend produced "moral learning" (daoxue ), which centered on early Confucian ideas of the Way and self-cultivation. Second, with the development of woodblock printing, the growth of unprecedentedly large commercial urban centers, and the appearance of private academies, there emerged a new metaphysical discussion that subsumed Buddhist and Daoist philosophy. This metaphysical trend was labeled "principle learning" (lixue ). Third, as an increasing number of scholar-official families relocated in rural areas in central, eastern, and southern China where they could invest in land and form strategic alliances with other locally prominent families, they began to appropriate the genealogical rules, forms of record keeping, contracts for incorporating property, and family rituals of the old hereditary elite as part of their localist social strategies. This localist trend led to the reinvention of the rites to suit their needs, while raising new problems for those scholar-officials who were engaged in "moral learning."

Zhu Xi (11301200), the great master of Song "principle learning," brought these three trends together in his copious writings on learning, statecraft, family rituals, cosmology, and the sciences. Philosophers of the previous century, especially Cheng Yi (10331107), had challenged the Buddhist view that prior to something (i.e., prior to the mind's effort to distinguish one thing from another) there is nothing (wu ). They turned to the cosmology of the Changes, according to which all things come into being with the movement of the complementary valences of yin and yang. Their movement is limited only by the finite amount of qi in the cosmos, and this limit (ji ) is called the "great ultimate" (taiji ). In other words, they argued, prior to something there is a principle (li ), which is best understood as both the ultimate limit and that which has no limit (wuji ). The mind's awareness of principles in things is not, as the Buddhists argued, something that it invents and confuses with reality but, rather, the completion of the process by which something simultaneously comes to exist and becomes knowable as principle. In the words of Zhu Xi, the "investigation of things," which, according to one ancient text, the Great Learning, was the first step in the process of learning that led to self-cultivation and world peace, meant the "exhaustive comprehension of principle." Drawing on this and another ancient text called the Doctrine of the Mean, he also argued that the unity of principle and mind was a manifestation of the Mandate of Heaven, which could only be understood as good, thereby merging the moralist with the metaphysical trend. He wrote commentaries on these two texts along with the Analects and Mencius, supplementing the commentaries by Cheng Yi, and advocated their study as a unit called the Four Books.

The moralist trend intersected the localist trend as the rites of upwardly mobile families began to change and the value of women in marriage arrangements began to rise. In the commercial world, especially in the households of urban and geographically mobile small traders and shopkeepers, a woman's value could easily depend more on the talents and abilities she brought to the trade than on her conformity to Ban Zhao's model. For a landowning scholar-official family, on the other hand, a woman's value was determined primarily by the family's rank, wealth, and local status. As daughters tended to marry upward on the social scale, dowries rose to a level that moralists regarded as grotesque. Concurrently, scholar-official families began to perform ceremonies at gravesites and to include in their ancestral rites greater generational depth. To further enhance their pedigrees, they began compiling genealogical records, which then became the currency of social relations locally, regionally, and empire-wide as time went on. When appeals to moral principles proved insufficient to counter these trends, scholars adapted the ancient texts and traditions to the setting of official standards for the new practices. Zhu Xi himself wrote copiously on issues of the family rituals that were the tools, or the cultural capital, of this class. Marriages, deaths, burials, ancestral rites, genealogical record keeping, and patterns of descent group formation were all contributing to a new discussion, the vocabulary of which derived from ancient ritual texts and concurrent discussions of learning and morality among the scholar-official elite.

After the Mongol expansion and domination of Asia, the texts and commentaries of Song "Neo-Confucianism" emerged as the orthodoxy on which success in the examination system of the Ming and Qing imperial civil service depended. A broadening stratum of educated elites in rural and urban communities throughout China drew on this tradition of learning to construct the nexus of power between the imperial state and local society. At the same time, the tradition's dual focus on self-cultivation and public duty defined a new debate on the role of individuals quite apart from the state. By the mid-sixteenth century a newly vibrant urban culture, based in part on global trade and silver flows, challenged the scholar-officials' nexus of power. An alternative reading of the ancient texts proposed by Wang Yangming (14721529) produced an array of new traditions that differed from the Song moralist trend. Wang argued that the "exhaustive comprehension of principle" could not occur in the first stage of learning because knowledge of principles was inseparable from the act of knowing. Learning entailed the "unity of knowledge and action," so that only when the mind actively applied itself to something could the principle be

According to Confucius, the point of "learning" was to attain confidence in one's own understanding of the Way, which also entailed the duty to restore virtue to power through benevolence and the use of ritual. One who understood this was called a "gentleman," to be distinguished from a "petty man," who did not. The core of this teaching can be found in a few pithy quotations from book 4 of the Analects:

The benevolent man is attracted to benevolence because he feels at home in it; the wise man is attracted to benevolence because he finds it to his advantage (4:2).

There is no point in seeking the counsel of an officer who sets his mind on the Way, if he is ashamed of poor food and poor clothes (4:9).

The gentleman cherishes virtue in power; the petty man cherishes his native land. The gentleman cherishes justice; the petty man cherishes mercy (4:11).

The gentleman understands what is right; the petty man understands what is profitable (4:16).

When you meet someone better than yourself, turn your thoughts to becoming his equal. When you meet someone not as good as you are, look within and examine your own self (4:17).

If one is able to run the state with rites and deference, then what is the difficulty? If one is unable to run the state with rites and deference, then what good are the rites? (4:13).

Mencius believed that humans were inclined to goodness by nature and that this original goodness could be found by looking into one's heart (or mind), which heaven had made sensitive to the suffering of others: "Suppose one were, all of a sudden, to see a young child on the verge of falling into a well. One would certainly be moved to compassion. The heart of compassion is the germ of benevolence; the heart of shame is the germ of duty; the heart of deference is the germ of the rites; the heart of right and wrong is the germ of wisdom. Having these four germs is like having four limbs. To say that one cannot use them is to cripple oneself; to say that one's ruler cannot use them is to cripple one's ruler."

Mencius also counseled rulers of states on how to recover and apply the compassion that was in their hearts. The key was to "take this very heart here and apply it to what is over there. Why is it that your bounty is sufficient to reach animals yet the benefits of your government fail to reach the people? The people will not have constant hearts if they are without constant means. Lacking constant hearts, they will go astray and fall into excesses, stopping at nothing. To punish them after they have fallen foul of the law is to set a trap for the people. How can a benevolent man in authority allow himself to set a trap for the people?"

Xunzi believed that humans were inclined to selfishness and that goodness was the result of the conscious activity of the mind (or heart). Neither "goodness" nor the rites were mandated by heaven; both were created by men who understood that ritual and deference were necessary for social order and the collective good. "The former kings looked up and took their model from Heaven, looked down and took their model from the earth, looked about and took their rules from mankind. Such rules represent the ultimate principle of community harmony and unity. Hence the sacrificial rites originate in the emotions of remembrance and longing, express the highest degree of loyalty, love, and reverence, and embody what is finest in ritual conduct and formal bearing." Man shares energy, life, and intelligence with the animals; why is man superior? "Because he is able to organize himself in society and they are not. Why is he able to organize himself in society? Because he sets up hierarchical divisions. And how is he able to set up hierarchical divisions? Because he has a sense of duty."

Zhu Xi believed that one could be said to have learned something only when the principle in a text had revealed to one the principle that was buried in one's mind: "When one's original mind has been submerged for a long time, and the moral principle in it hasn't been fully penetrated, it's best to read books and probe principle without any interruption; then the mind of human desire will naturally be incapable of winning out, and the moral principle in the original mind will naturally become safe and secure. In reading, we cannot seek moral principle solely from the text. We must turn the process around and look for it in ourselves. We have yet to discover for ourselves what the sages previously explained in their textsonly through their words will we find it in ourselves."

Wang Yangming believed that "learning" required both knowing and acting, and it was not necessarily aided by reading books. "In all the world, nothing can be considered learning that does not involve action. Thus the very beginning of learning is already action. To be earnest in practice means to be genuine and sincere. This is already action." "In the basic structure of mind there is neither good nor evil; when the mind moves purposively, then there is good and evil; knowing good and evil is what is meant by 'moral knowledge'; doing good and destroying evil is what is meant by 'the investigation of things.'"

known. By the same token, insofar as the substance of mind was empty and still, it was neither good nor evil, but a clarified mind in action "naturally" or "intuitively" conformed to what was "good." This, he argued, is what Mencius had meant by "moral knowledge" (liang zhi ). Some of the new traditions developed closer affinities with Buddhist and Daoist enlightenment. Some gave a much higher priority to individual enlightenment than to educational status. Some made it a duty to convert wealth into charity or to spread the enlightenment attained through self-cultivation to women and to social classes that were outside the nexus of power. Some even pointed out the ways in which the structures of family, lineage, and state impeded the learning process for men and women alike.

Ming challenges to Song Neo-Confucian orthodoxy continued to influence the personal moral choices of educated Chinese during the Ming decline and Qing conquest in the seventeenth century, but they did not displace that orthodoxy in the examination system. Nor did they prevent the Qing from using Confucian state ideology, demanding loyalty and compliance with prescribed norms in regular readings of the emperor's "Sacred Edict," or providing official support for patriarchal lineage institutions throughout the empire. On the other hand, a new trend of "evidential scholarship" (kaozheng ) emerged to challenge the antiquity of the pre-Han texts on which the orthodox commentaries depended. By the mid-eighteenth century, philological studies of ancient texts had developed into a science known as "Han learning" that complemented the learning imported by Jesuits into the Qing court's bureau of astronomy, weakening the cosmological underpinnings of the imperial state without challenging its political dominance. As Han learning gradually eroded the validity of the "Old Texts" of the Confucian tradition, new champions of the early Han "New Texts" also appeared. When alternative cosmologies and political philosophies arrived along with British gunboats and opium in the early nineteenth century, Chinese scholars and reformers responded not simply by reinforcing imperial Confucian ideology, but by drawing on current evidential scholarship and renewed debates over ethics that were strikingly relevant to the modern age.

In Korea the Chosŏn dynasty officially implemented Confucian rituals for local control using texts propagated by Zhu Xi, whose commentaries also remained orthodoxy in imperial examinations. By the eighteenth century Chosŏn state power had declined but a thoroughly ensconced local elite maintained a strict social hierarchy using Confucian family and community rituals, prescribed by law. In Tokugawa Japan, on the other hand, Confucian scholars found it difficult to reconcile Neo-Confucian ideas with bakufu military governance, as distinct from imperial authority, and the strict social distinction between a samurai class and common folks. Ogyū Sorai (16661728) and his successors in "Ancient studies" (kogaku ) challenged the Neo-Confucian worldview with observations akin to Xunzi's about the need to implement rites that are appropriate in time and place. A school of "National learning" (kokugaku ) arose and went even further, blaming Chinese learning in general for corrupting the native traditions of Shinto and the idea of imperial power. In response, Japanese "Han learning" promoted the study of the literary products of Chinese civilization as a valuable tradition in its own right. In the nineteenth century the Mito school devised a new formula, according to which the Chinese sages, as understood by the Duke of Zhou and Confucius, had formulated for China a philosophy whose principles were intrinsic in the Japanese imperial cult and original Shinto practice. Holding to the idea that Chinese civilization reflected universally true ideas, they concluded that the Way of the sages and the Way of the gods (Shinto) were actually one.

Modern Confucianism

After 1868 the Meiji leaders of Japan reinvented Shinto as a state religion in the effort to create a Japanese nation that could compete in a world dominated by modern imperialist powers. In its new imperial discourse it would also claim righteousness and demand loyalty of Korean and Chinese subjects in Confucian terms. In China, moderate reformers tried to combine Confucian traditions of education, political unity, and social order with modern technology and institutional reforms to enable the Qing empire to compete as well. With its capture of Taiwan in 1895 the Japanese empire emerged as both the greatest threat to China and the most obvious model for inventing a Chinese nation. Kang Youwei, a visionary who captured the imagination of a younger generation of reformers, drew on the "New Text" tradition to reinvent the image of Confucius himself as a radical reformer who envisioned an egalitarian world without political or cultural borders. The eras of "great peace" and, eventually, "great unity" would be China's contribution to a world that would eventually emerge from this era of imperialist expansion. At the same time, Kang and the other radical reformers hoped to place the young Guangxu emperor in a position analogous to that of the Meiji emperor in Japan, as the symbolic head of an empire strong enough to resist demolition at the hands of foreign powers.

In the revolutionary tide that engulfed China over the century after the failure of the Qing reforms, Kang's vision was dismissed as an artifact of a world swept away by modern change. But the very way in which it was dismissed demonstrates the role Confucianism has played in revolutionary discourse. The reformers' adaptation of ideals of self-cultivation, family loyalty, and Confucian education to a modern national identity galvanized support for the effort to save China among overseas Chinese in Southeast Asia and elsewhere, contributing to a culturally specific style of engaging the modern world that is still thriving. As educated Japanese increasingly distanced themselves from the "backward" cultures of East Asia, blaming the failures of Neo-Confucian idealism in large part, educated Chinese increasingly identified themselves with humanistic Confucian traditions to combat the rampant "superstition" of popular religious culture and the "backwardness" of the imperial state. Liang Qichao (18731929), who was the most influential of Kang Youwei's followers, forced into exile in 1898 after the failed reform effort, tried to meld Xunzi's realistic concepts of a social order based on group obligations with German authoritarian notions of law in order to overcome both the impractical idealism of the Song tradition and the disintegrative effects that a more liberal political philosophy would likely have had on China. By the 1920s he was urging politically dispossessed students to learn from Wang Yangming's philosophy of liang zhi and the unity of knowledge and action. The Communist revolutionary leader Liu Shaoqi, on the other hand, urged the educated cadre to apply the unflagging selflessness of Confucian learning to the socialist cause. To combat Communism, the Nationalist regime appropriated the image of Confucius as authoritative teacher, lover of tradition, and counselor of respect for parents, elders, and rulersthe very opposite of the radical, visionary Confucius imagined by Kang Youwei.

More recently Confucian cultural norms have been credited for the Asian "economic miracle," the political stability and unprecedented economic development of China since the fall of the Soviet Union, and the educational success of East Asians in general. The same norms have been shamelessly invoked by dictators and blamed for the relative weakness of opposition politics, cronyism, and persistent gender inequality. Samuel Huntington has claimed that "Confucian civilization" provides a set of norms and symbols that opponents of the progressive ideas and institutions of "Western civilization" can use to maintain power in their own countries. Such a view represents a powerful position on the geopolitical struggles of the postCold War world, but it does not reflect the complex history or diversity of the ideas and practices associated with the Confucian tradition.

Other scholars have tried to understand the ways in which new traditions of Confucian learning appeared over time as economic and social conditions changed. Much postwar Japanese scholarship on Confucianism has focused on the libertarian and communitarian tendencies in China and Japan since the time of Wang Yangming. The same tendencies have led others to focus on tensions related to social mobility, increasing literacy, and shifting gender roles. Tu Wei-ming has argued that Chinese on the intellectual and geographic periphery have been the most creative in adapting Confucian learning to modern change. He believes that others will benefit from the lessons learned by those on the periphery and continue to develop new modern identities while renewing their Confucian roots. Chinese scholars of Confucianism in Hong Kong, Singapore, and more recently Taiwan and China have turned their focus to arguments about the balance between human rights and political authority, pressing politicians and entrepreneurs to attend to grievances, provide for education and welfare, value the law, and share the wealth. In a postcolonial, postrevolutionary world, the future of Confucian learning can hardly be predicted, but it seems unlikely that it will cease.

See also Chinese Thought ; Daoism ; Education: China ; Legalism, Ancient China .



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Jerry Dennerline

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Confucianism is a philosophy with a religious function. It is named after Confucius, whose teachings on ethical behavior have been adopted as a national development model in Chinese history. Currently, Confucianism has a strong influence in China, Korea, Taiwan, and the countries of Southeast Asia, as well as influencing people of Far Eastern descent living around the world. An increasing number of Western people are able to appreciate Confucianism through international contacts and literature.

Confucianism consists of some elements of traditional Chinese religion, such as reverence toward Heaven and the worship of ancestors. It does not assert the existence of a deity, although it recognizes and promotes synchronization with Tien (Heaven, Ultimate, Tao) in harmonious relationships with others and environments. Most Chinese view Confucianism as a philosophy or a practical way to reach an ideal world rather than as a religion.

History of Confucianism

Confucius (551–479 b.c.e.) is renowned as a philosopher and educator, but little attention is given to his roles as researcher, statesman, change agent, social planner, social innovator, enabler, and spiritual advocate. He is said to have spent nearly thirty years touring various states in China, advising local rulers of social reforms but receiving no real opportunities to actualize his political and social vision. It is widely believed that during his old age, Confucius edited several ancient works that later formed the basic canon of Chinese scholarship, such as The Book of Odes (Shi-Ching). The method that he developed offers a means to transform individuals, families, communities, and nations into a harmonious universal society.

Since the second-century b.c.e., Confucianism has strongly influenced Chinese political, and ultimately social and intellectual, behaviors. When the Chinese came into contact with Indian Buddhism around the first century c.e., the programmatic side of Confucianism responded, and they developed a spiritual discipline called Ch'an (meditation), which Japan adopted around 1200 c.e. as Zen. Zen is thus a unique blend of the philosophies and idiosyncrasies of four different cultures: the typical way of Japanese life, Buddhism of India, the Taoists' love of nature, and the pragmatism of the Confucian mentality.

Since the eleventh century, Buddhism and Taoism have been better known for their increasingly religious content rather than as schools of philosophies. They forced Confucians to find metaphysical and epistemological foundations for their ethics. Chinese scholars have incorporated Western concepts and methods into their studies. The Western and Eastern cultures have been integrated and resulted in some eclectic new systems of thought. This integration led to three major eclectic schools in modern Chinese philosophy. The first is the school of comprehensive synthesis, which takes any philosophical view it finds useful and profound, and offers insights into cosmic existence and human nature. The second is the school of contemporary neo-Confucian synthesis, which emphasizes the idealist school of inquiry into the "mind." The third is the Chinese scholastic synthesis school, the principal concept of which is benevolence, through which a person is capable of endless development.

The different strands of thought within Confucianism notwithstanding, the overall vision is to revitalize the human virtue of Te (an ethical code of loving and caring). Confucianism seeks to enable people to assume responsibilities to carry out the dual aim of cultivating the individual self and contributing to the attainment of an ideal, harmonious society.

Confucian Worldview

Confucians believe that Tai Chi is the Ultimate, an integrated energy of Yin and Yang, which is evolved from Wu Chi (void energy) and can be transformed into various forms. The ultimate source of all energy and knowledge is called Tao, which is a continuum without boundaries in time and space, infinite, formless, and luminous (I-Ching).

In Confucian philosophy, the system of Yin and Yang was conceived as a way of explaining the universe. It is a purely relativist system; any one thing is either Yin or Yang in relation to some other object or phenomena, and all things can be described only in relation to each other. The Yin and Yang are the negative and positive principles of universal force and are pictorially represented by the symbol of Tai Chi. The Yin and Yang together constitute the Tao, the eternal principle of heaven and earth, the origin of all things human and divine. The Tao produced the Chi (Qi, energy or life force). Human nature was good; however, negative and endless human desires may lead to systems become unbalanced, which can produce problematic situations.

In contemporary terms, the Yin-Yang theoretical worldview can be defined as a school of transformation that is research-oriented and employs an approach that is multidimensional, cross-cultural, multilevel, multimodal, multisystemic, and comprehensive. It is a way of life or an art of living that aims to synchronize the systems of the universe to achieve both individual and collective fulfillment.

Four major principles describe changes in the interrelationships within environmental systems. These principles of change historically are used to empower the individual and family:

  1. Change is easy because the Tao as its source exists in everything and every moment in daily life;
  2. Change is a transforming process due to the dynamics of Yin and Yang. Any change in part of Yin or Yang will lead to a change in the system and its related systems;
  3. Change has the notion of constancy—the change itself is unchanging. Thus, one should constantly search for the truth and engage in lifelong transformation;
  4. The best transformations are those that promote growth and development of the individual and the whole at the same time.

In summary, any systems' solution to conflict and goals for development aim to integrate love (Jen), justice, freedom, and faithfulness (the image of Tao) in the dynamics. It is a situational approach to fulfill human needs (love). Justice is seen as perfectly equal treatment. Freedom is practiced by participation in negotiation and compromise with flexibility of new patterns and behavior. The stability, repeatability, and accountability of leadership revealed by the natural laws reach faithfulness. The core image of the Tao is integrated in the dynamics of conflict resolution. Role equity and role change, therefore, are the core implication of the Yin-Yang theory. Reaching Yin-Yang balance, family well-being, and an ideal world commonwealth are all aspects of Confucius practice.

Confucian Meditation and Family Integration

The Confucian transformation model (Chung 1992a, 2001) starts with individual meditation; goes through personal enhancement, self-discipline, personality integrity, family integration, and state governance; and reaches the excellence of universal commonwealth. Individual meditation starts with learning to rest the energy (chu chu), in order to be stabilized (ting), be still and calm (ching), reach peace (an), and be mindful (li). A mindful energy is ready to learn the truth and reveal the virtue (te) (Confucius 1971; Liu, K. 1985). An example of Confucian meditative qigong is sitting still to free the ego and get in touch with the real self. It aims to internalize and calm the energy (qi) to calm the mind, body, and spirit. It aims to reach a peaceful state so that the practitioner becomes a thoughtful person towards the self and others. It is a process of mind, body, and spiritual training with the aim of regaining control of the self/mind and preparing for further training and development for Tien jen unification (micro and macro self-unification).

Confucians called this meditation Chou Won. Chou means sit. Won means to forget (the self). It is a process of synthesizing with Tao by "letting go and allowing God to work," similar to Christian concepts. It is an essential means of detaching the ego and reaching mental freedom. It is important because it teaches self-awareness, self-enhancement, self-discipline, and self-actualization, as well as how to find the truth and create social change. This is a cornerstone of Confucian transformation technology.

These mental processes aim to revitalize the internal virtue (te—moral consciousness through mindfulness or Tao's image) that leads to the insight of real self and awareness of universal energy interconnection. This meditation is training the individual to become a highly self-disciplined sage who integrates various social developmental strategies for large-scale social applications. This simple meditation method aims to integrate mind, body, and spirit for holistic healing with three main functional goals: disease prevention, healing, and human capacity development. Historically, it serves as an empowerment tool for the Confucians and their family members by teaching them stress management, personal enhancement, family integration, and career development.

Confucian Family Teaching

Many forms of wisdom have been developed after years of practice. The following are some examples of family teaching derived from Confucian classics.

Family life: "When a parent behaves like a parent, a child like a child, an elder like an elder, a youth like a youth, a husband like a husband, and a wife like a wife, then the conduct of the household is correct. Make the home correct, and the country will be stable" (I-Ching, People in the home).

Good deeds of family: "Family with good deeds will enjoy abundance" (I-Ching, Earth).

Holistic life: "Let the will be set on the path of duty. Let every attainment in what is good be firmly grasped. Let perfect virtue be accorded with. Let relaxation and enjoyment be found in the polite arts" (Confucian Analects, Confucius 1971 [500 b.c.e.]).

Modeling: "When I walk along with two others, they may serve as my teachers. I will select their good qualities and follow them, their bad qualities and avoid them" (Confucian Analects, Confucius 1971 [500 b.c.e.]).

The Great Learning: "What the Great Learning teaches, is—to illustrious virtue; to renovate the people; and to rest in the highest excellence" (The Great Learning).

Stages and Rituals of Life Transformation

Confucius considered life as a process of transformation that moves through different developmental stages, with each stage having its own task and process. Confucius reviewed his own life journey and suggested the following stages of life (Confucian Analects, Confucius 1971 [500 b.c.e.]; Cheng, Y. 1988). Confucians created various rituals of Li (a proper behavior in a certain situation) that demands certain behaviors to fulfill the expected performance. Li ranges from a bow to an elder, taking off shoes before entering the house, being silent and respectful to elders, bringing a gift to the host, and writing thank-you notes to a helper. Society considers a serious violation of Li as a violation of the law (Confucian Analects, Confucius 1971 [500 b.c.e.]). The original purpose of Li is to help the individual to express proper ways of building and maintaining caring relationships.

Birth as a creative life form. Confucianism considers the individual as a link in the chain of existence from the past to the future. Everyone should have descendents to continue the family tree. To have no children is considered the most unforgivable thing in life. Having a child, particularly a boy, is very important to carry on the family name.

Therefore, when a new life is born to the family, by the end of one month, the family will give a party for the extended family and friends to announce and celebrate the arrival of the new family member. It is the family's responsibility to take care of the mother's needs to reward her production and contribution to the family. Her family status will be increased accordingly. In the future, the person is given a birthday party anywhere from every year to every ten years, according to the extended family's desire. Egg is served as a symbol of life, and the noodle serves as a symbol of longevity, thus, the longer the better. Many parents also offer different gifts to the child during the party to test his or her talents or areas of interest with reference to future education.

At home, children are taught to honor the ethical code (Li), such as honoring parents, loving brothers and sisters, respecting elders, trusting friends, and retaining loyalty to the family and the nation. It means that life is a creative force because it is connected with the Ultimate. Based on virtue, children are taught to make friends by studying with others who are interested in learning similar subjects. Parents are encouraged to appreciate the strengths of a less favored child and look at the weaknesses of the favored one to avoid any prejudice.

Young adulthood. At fifteen years of age, a child reaches young adulthood and starts to dress differently (Adulthood Li). The social symbols of adulthood are given with expectation that the individuals will perform their roles adequately with the help of family members and others. They participate in social activities and assume related responsibilities, which extend the ethical code of obedience to society. Self-searching, self-awareness, self-acceptance, identity development, acceptance of others, and systematic synchronicity with the environment are expected to take place.

Age of independence. At age thirty, with life established, a person should become an independent professional and have his or her own family and career established. A journey of self-searching is done between the ages of sixteen and thirty. During this stage, it is important to outwardly express one's inner qualities to understand and develop the self.

A wedding ceremony (Wedding Li) is given by both families to announce the establishment of the new couple. During the wedding ceremony, both bride and groom have to pay their honor to Heaven, Earth, their ancestors (at the symbolic shrine in the family hall), and their parents, with family and friends as witnesses. The third day after the wedding, another wedding party is held with the bride's family.

Age of mental maturity. At age forty, a person should have matured and acquired a defined self, no longer struggling in a trial-and-error fashion. As Confucius says, "When a person at forty is the object of dislike, he will always continue what he is" (Confucian Analects, Confucius 1971 [500 b.c.e.]).

Age of spiritual maturity. At age fifty, a person should be spiritually reconnected with the Ultimate and be synchronized with it. A matured person should know the answers to the questions: "Where did I come from?" "What is the purpose of my life?" and "Who am I?" During this stage, a person should be synchronizing life energies with the systems' needs according to mission and vision. Real life is only beginning, not ending.

Age of acceptance. At age sixty, a person is ready to take a spiritual journey that is the only way that he or she may actualize the self spiritually. Spiritual maturity will facilitate the acceptance of diversity and differences within the family or community and guide the community in leadership.

Age of unification. After the age of seventy, one can purify his or her mind and free the self from negative thoughts. The real self becomes outwardly apparent after it reconnects with the Ultimate and accepts the self and others. During this stage, retirement and detachment from worldly situations may be beneficial.

Funeral service. Confucians respect the end of the life by giving a sincere funeral service (Funeral Li/rite) to honor the dead and promote the social morality (Confucian Analects, Confucius 1971 [500 b.c.e.]). The name of the dead will be added to the shrine of the family hall as a part of the dead (Yin) family.

Honor the ancestors. Confucians promote ancestor worship by burning paper money and offering food to respect the lives of the dead on April fifth. This ritual respects ancestors and educates younger generations. It becomes a community asset of honoring the self as well as the family.

Teacher's day. This is an elaborate ceremony to honor Confucius at Taipei's Confucian Temple on Confucius's birthday, September 28. His birthday has been dedicated to honor all teachers as a teachers' day, which is a national holiday in Taiwan. Confucian music and dance are performed to honor Confucius and all teachers. The best gift to the teacher or helper may be a successful outcome of one's project, or letters of appreciation.

Family life and structural relations. The Confucian role approach (Chung 1993b, 1994) is based on the assumption that lawlessness and social problems are due to uncultivated individuals, a lack of morals in the social structure, and lack of adequate relationships. Confucius defined five social relationships on which Chinese and other Asian social structures and relationships are based. Various Asians still feel, profoundly, his influence in these areas in their daily life.

In societies that have been influenced by Confucius, the traditional social structure is based on five fundamental interpersonal relationships: superior-subordinate, parent-child, husband-wife, brothers, and friends (Chung 1992b). These relationships are arranged in a hierarchy based on the members' respective position and status. For example, the first superior-subordinate relationship requires loyalty to the government or one's superior on the job. In return, the employer takes care of the employees' needs. Second, the parent-child relationship requires filial piety; children should obey, honor, and respect their parents, and parents should love their children. The husband-wife relationship prescribes that the wife submit to the husband and the husband love the wife. Young brothers should respect the older brother, while the elders should love the young ones. Among friends, righteousness and trust are the rule.

Confucianism prescribes family relationships and indicates the degree of intimacy and obligations. Anyone who is within this network is considered part of the family. Otherwise, he or she is an outsider. As a member of the family, one enjoys membership privileges such as trust, intimacy, and sharing. Confucians promote universal brotherhood and sisterhood by respecting others and observing propriety (Confucian Analects, Confucius 1971 [500 b.c.e.]).

Concept of Religion and Spirituality

According to Confucians, spiritual development comes after physical, emotional, and mental development. One must first learn to know oneself and to respect and honor oneself as one goes about daily business. As Confucius said, "If you don't know how to live as a person, how can you serve the spirit?" (Confucian Analects, Confucius 1971 [500 b.c.e.]). Confucius avoided talking about extraordinary things, feats of strength (violence), disorder, and religious gods (Confucian Analects, Confucius 1971 [500 b.c.e.]). Confucianism stresses being spiritual, but not religious.

Concept of Jen as loving relationship. Jen is a proper relationship between two parties, a loving and caring relationship to reach humanity. Meditation is considered a cornerstone to search for self, find truth, and achieve individual and collective goals.

Concept of harmony. A central feature of Confucianism is harmony between people and their environment, Nature, or Tao. The Tao Chi (Yin-Yang diagram) is an example of the value of harmony with the environment. It is also applied to the concept of health for energy (qi/chi), balance for disease prevention, healing, and the development of human potential. Meditation is a way of managing energy that is applied to reach physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual harmony for individual holistic health.

This core value of Confucianism has had positive and negative effects on Chinese history; it became quite detrimental to women and children. Contemporary Confucians prescribe family conflict resolution to remedy this. The younger generations are not allowed to express their opinions before their elders. According to social standards, women and children who were abused are still expected to be submissive. Social workers and helping professionals must understand the hidden cultural dynamics to deal with the root philosophies and beliefs as they try to help people.

Family conflict resolution. Based on the Yin Yang theory from the Tai Chi diagram, contemporary Confucians such as Douglas K. Chung (1993a) prescribe the family conflict resolution model. It is an example of innovation of Confucianism in redefining the image of Tao through daily practice. In the model, any systems' solutions to conflict resolutions and goals for development aim to integrate love ( Jen), justice, freedom, and fidelity (the image of Tao) in the dynamics. The approach aims to fulfill human needs (love). Justice is seen by the end of the cycle under perfectly equal treatment. Freedom is practiced by volunteer choice and participation in negotiation and compromise—the flexibility of mean line and possibility of forming new systems. Faithfulness is reached by the stability, repeatability, and accountability of leadership and/or revealed by the natural laws. Role equity and role change, therefore, are the core implication of the Yin-Yang Theory.


The Confucian life model includes seven developmental stages. Theories, values, and skills derive from Taology, the Confucian worldview. Rituals and practices show that Confucianism's cultural roots still affect daily family life. The Confucian healing and developmental model, part of the ecological-systems perspective for a global generalist practice, outlines healing and developmental concepts in a comprehensive and holistic approach to achieve a great vision of commonwealth of the world (Chung 2001).

See also:Ancestor Worship; Asian-American Families; China; Japan; Korea; Religion; Vietnam


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douglas k. chung

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Chinese Religions, Confucianism and Science in China

Chinese Religions, Confucianism and Science in China

The term of Confucianism is ambiguous. It refers to the ideology developed by a man named Confucius (522479 b.c.e.), but Chinese scholars prefer to use the term Rujia, which means the school or teachings of the scholars. Ru was originally used to refer to dispossessed aristocrats of antiquity who were no longer warriors, but lived according to their knowledge of rituals, history, music, arithmetic, and archery. The term eventually became a designation of honor. The "school of ru " eventually came to encompass the ethical wisdom of the past that Confucius transmitted to later ages, as well as the entire development of the tradition after his time. In this sense, it constitutes the "religion" of the Chinese because it provides a system of beliefs and values that calls for faith and acceptance from adherents. It also qualifies as a religion in that it provides a way of life for adherents to follow, rather than a body of knowledge for them to master. In this regard, Confucianism is more comparable to Western religions than it is to Western philosophies. However, Confucianism is not a religion in the Western sense because it has no transcendental God, no eschatology or teaching beyond this life, and no organizational structure. It is only a teaching, and it teaches people how to live a noble life in a particular social context.

The teaching of Confucianism

The main teaching of Confucius is jen, which literally means "two persons." Jen is concerned with human relationships and with the virtue of the superior or noble person. Jen is associated with loyalty (zhong ), referring basically to loyalty to one's own heart and conscience, rather than to a narrower political loyalty. Jen also refers to affection and love. The great Confucian thinker Mencius (371289 b.c.e.) said, "The human being of jen loves others." However, jen should be guided by yi (righteousness), and a superior person must know how to love others and when not to love others. The Confucian interpretation of jen as universal love differs from that of Mo-tzu (fifth century b.c.e.), who advocated a love for all without distinction. The followers of Confucius emphasize the need of discernment, of making distinctions, and they reserve for parents and kin a special love. Familial relations provide a model for social behavior by which people should respect their own elders, as well as other's elders, and be kind to their own children and juniors, as well as those of others. This is the reason for the strong sense of solidarity not only in the Chinese family, but also in Confucian social organizations among overseas Chinese communities.

Ritual is an important part of Confucius's teachings as well, and Confucianism is also known as the ritual religion (li-jiao ). Confucian teachings have helped keep alive an older cult of veneration for ancestors and the worship of heaven. This was a formal cult practiced by China's imperial rulers, who regarded themselves as the keepers of "Heaven's Mandate" of government, and were considered to be "High Priests," mediators between the human order and the divine order.

Before the twentieth century, the calendar of official sacrifices was determined by the Board of Astronomy according to established divinatory procedures and was published well in advance by the Ministry of Rites (li-Pu ). During the last dynasty (Q'ing, 16441912), the Ministry of Rites performed the same functions as they did during the Han dynasty (206 b.c.e.220 c.e.). The Ministry's most important responsibilities were educational, but it also kept records of all ceremonies the emperor attended, of the descendants of Confucius, and of Buddhist, Daoist, medical, and astronomical officials. All cases of filial piety, righteousness, and loyalty were reported to the emperor for rewards.


Neo-Confucianism develops the meaning of jen through the School of Mind. Wang Yang-ming (14721529) understood that the hsin (mind and heart) was the root of jen, according to which hsin -in-itself is the highest good. It exists beyond good and evil to distinguish what is good and evil. This is the substance of morality. Yang-ming called it liang-chih (inborn capacity to know the good) and liang-neng, which enables one to act according to one's originally good nature. When the mind is in good condition, for example, no human desire occupies it and the mind is clear and intelligent. If one has a clear and intelligent mind, one knows how to apply moral principle to daily life. It does not matter if one is versed in technical knowledge or knows how to complete a task. As Yang-ming puts it, if a person knows what filial piety is, that person will know how to treat his parents well.

Yang-ming does not distinguish between moral knowledge and cognitive knowledge, with the result that in Confucianism, moral knowledge suppresses cognitive knowledge. Contemporary neo-Confucianists understand this, and have revised Yang-ming's theory by stressing cognitive knowledge so as to open the door to modern science and democracy.

Confucianism and science

Traditional Confucianism valued science mainly for its practical applications. Astronomy and mathematics, for example, were valuable for divination and agricultural purposes. Both of them were also needed in making calendars, which were important for the agricultural economy. In addition, Chinese medicine was an early scientific tradition with many practical applications related to the surival of human beings.

Astronomers were active during the East Chou period (722222 b.c.e.) in China. Almost all Chinese astronomers were also astrologers. They believed that the stars and celestial bodies affected the governmental bureaucracy, but seldom affected individuals or the population in general. The Shiji (Records of the historian), written by Sima Qian in 90 b.c.e. during the Han dynasty, includes a systematic chapter on astronomy. The chapter reviews the stars and constellations of the five "Palaces" (circumpolar, east, south, west, and north) and includes an elaborate discussion about planetary movements, including retrogradations, followed by the astrological association of the lunar mansions with specific terrestrial regions, and the interpretation of unusual appearances of the sun and moon, comets and meteors, clouds and vapors, earthquakes, and various harvest signs. The author also warns the emperor to pay attention to astronomy because it can help him learn how to govern the empire.

The most important early writing on mathematics is Jiuzhang suanshu (Nine chapters on the mathematical arts), written in 260 c.e. by Liu Hui. This work provides the first Chinese geometrical proofs in connection with finding the areas of a trapezium (a quadrilateral formed by two isosceles triangles) and other figures. The first chapter of Jiuzhang suanshu is a "Land Survey" that gives the correct rules for finding the areas of rectangles, trapeziums, triangles, circles, and arcs of circles and annuli. The second chapter, "Millet and Rice," deals with percentages and proportions, and reflects the management and production of various types of grains in Han China. The sixth chapter, "Impartial Taxation," deals with problems of pursuit and alligation, especially in connection with the time required for people to carry their grain contributions from their native towns to the capital.

Nearly one thousand Chinese mathematical treatises from the second century c.e. onward survive. The great majority have to do with the kinds of practical matters that government officials, their clerks, and landowners would encounter, such as surveying land and calculating exchange rates and taxes payable in money and commodities. The predominantly practical orientation of Chinese mathematics makes it neither inferior nor superior to the Western tradition. Its lack of development at the abstract geometric level was balanced by its strength in numerical problem solving.

Another important function of mathematics in premodern China was divination (shu ) and astrology (suan ), both of which included numerology. Some divination techniques also identify regularities underlying the flux of natural phenomena.

In general, Confucianism is mainly concerned with ethics, morality, and political theory rather than science and technology. Although Confucianism essentially functioned as the state religion, it was conspicuously un-religious. Confucian scholars who lived during the long period (approx. two thousand years) of unity of Chinese society always set the social agenda concerning how to "cultivate their persons, regulate their families, govern well their states and finally exemplify illustrious virtue throughout the world" (c. fifth to first century, Great Learning ). The purpose of science and technology in a Confucian society is to help a person to be a good politician and sage. Thus, moral teachings are more important than natural scientific findings, and scientific discourse in Chinese culture tends to be full of speculations and metaphors, rather than accurate factual information.

Confucian tradition has not been concerned with scientific theory, so traditional Chinese sciences have focused on practical applications in medicine, agriculture, arithmetic, and astronomy. Traditional Chinese sciences have also stressed the political and moral implications of science and technology. Nonetheless, Chinese scientists are credited with some important inventions, including paper, the compass, the art of printing, and the production of gunpowder. Although the compass was invented in China around 2700 b.c.e., there was no further scientific theory of the compass. The Chinese people used compasses mostly for determining Feng Shui (wind and water), a folk superstition by which people set up a comfortable living environment. Although it can not be denied that technical investigations were fruitful in Chinese history and resulted in many inventions, scientific theorization remained on the level of factual description and empirical interpretation. For example, traditional Chinese medicine involves a great deal of speculation that is not supported by clinical experimentation; it remains on the level of abstract thinking and intuitive observation. Arithmetic was also mainly used for practical calculation that did not require abstract thinking, so no mathematical theory or formal logical system was developed.

Under the ideology of Confucianism, science and technology had to deal with daily issues of human society, and Confucian scholars made little effort to engage in scientific and technological research. Science and technology were generally regarded as merely a means for human beings, with no ultimate value in helping someone become a sage. This may be one of the main drawbacks of the Confucian value system and worldview: It has served as a drag on Chinese scientific and technological development.

See also Chinese Religions and Science; Chinese Religions, History of Science and Religion in China; Mathematics


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Confucianism (kənfyōō´shənĬzəm), moral and religious system of China. Its origins go back to the Analects (see Chinese literature), the sayings attributed to Confucius, and to ancient commentaries, including that of Mencius.

Early History and Precepts

In its early form (before the 3d cent. BC) Confucianism was primarily a system of ethical precepts for the proper management of society. It envisaged man as essentially a social creature who is bound to his fellows by jen, a term often rendered as "humanity," or "human-kind-ness." Jen is expressed through the five relations—sovereign and subject, parent and child, elder and younger brother, husband and wife, and friend and friend. Of these, the filial relation is usually stressed.

The relations are made to function smoothly by an exact adherence to li, which denotes a combination of etiquette and ritual. In some of these relations a person may be superior to some and inferior to others. If a person in a subordinate status wishes to be properly treated that person must—applying a principle similar to the Golden Rule—treat his or her own inferiors with propriety. Correct conduct, however, proceeds not through compulsion, but through a sense of virtue inculcated by observing suitable models of deportment. The ruler, as the moral exemplar of the whole state, must be irreproachable, but a strong obligation to be virtuous rests upon all.

The early philosophers recognized that the epochal "great commonwealth," the union of mankind under ethical rule, would take a long time to achieve, but believed that it might be constantly advanced by practicing the "rectification of names." This is the critical examination of the degree to which the behavior of a functionary or an institution corresponds to its name; thus, the title of king should not be applied to one who exacts excessive taxes, and the criticism of the undeserving claimant should force him to reform. The practice of offering sacrifices and other veneration to Confucius in special shrines began in the 1st cent. AD and continued into the 20th cent.

Renaissance and Decline

Confucianism has often had to contend with other religious systems, notably Taoism and Buddhism, and has at times, especially from the 3d to the 7th cent., suffered marked declines. It enjoyed a renaissance in the late T'ang dynasty (618–906), but it was not until the Sung dynasty (960–1279) and the appearance of neo-Confucianism that Confucianism became the dominant philosophy among educated Chinese. Drawing on Taoist and Buddhist ideas, neo-Confucian thinkers formulated a system of metaphysics, which had not been a part of older Confucianism. They were particularly influenced by Ch'an or Zen Buddhism: nevertheless they rejected the Taoist search for immortality and Buddhist monasticism and ethical universalism, upholding instead the hierarchical political and social vision of the early Confucian teachings.

The neo-Confucian eclecticism was unified and established as an orthodoxy by Chu Hsi (1130–1200), and his system dominated subsequent Chinese intellectual life. His metaphysics is based on the concept of li, or principle of form in manifold things, and the totality of these, called the "supreme ultimate" (t'ai chi). During the Ming dynasty, the idealist school of Wang Yang-ming (1472–1529) stressed meditation and intuitive knowledge. The overthrow (1911–12) of the monarchy, with which Confucianism had been closely identified, led to the disintegration of Confucian institutions and a decline of Confucian traditions, a process accelerated after the Communist revolution (1949). Elements of Confucianism survived as a part of traditional Chinese religious practice in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macao and among Chinese emigrants and have experienced a modest revival in China since the mid-1990s.


See R. Wilhelm, Confucius and Confucianism (tr. 1931, repr. 1970); S. Kaizuka, Confucius (tr. 1956); H. Fingarette, Confucius (1972); The Analects (tr. 1979); W. T. de Bary, Neo-Confucian Orthodoxy and the Learning of the Mind-and-Heart (1981); R. Dawson, Confucius (1981); B. I. Schwartz, The World of Thought in Ancient China (1985).

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Confucianism A philosophy for living that contains elements of religious practice, founded by Confucius in the sixth to fifth centuries BCE. Its influence in China was paramount, but it has also been significant in Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Taiwan, as a source of learning and an ethical code.

Confucius (551–479 BCE) taught the necessary actions for harmony and order during a time of political violence and social disorder. During the Han dynasty (206 BCE–220CE) his teachings (compiled by his disciples in the Analects) became state orthodoxy in China and remained so until 1911. Confucianism taught that nobility was not to be attained through inheritance but by following the correct rituals and acts of filial piety, reciprocity, and righteousness. In particular, juniors (such as subjects or sons) should show loyalty to seniors (rulers, fathers), while seniors should show benevolence to juniors. This idea was extended by Mencius (c. 371–289BCE), the ‘second sage of Confucianism’, to suggest that humans were essentially good (the idea of original virtue), and that it was appropriate for subjects to rebel against unjust rulers. Significantly, the latter idea was never introduced into Japan, where loyalty to the Emperor was made paramount.

Although today practised actively as a religion only in South Korea, the influence of Confucianism on the ethical, legal, political, and educational systems of the above-named countries remains considerable. Robert Bellah (Tokugawa Religion, 1957) has argued that Confucianism may have had a similar role in the development of modern Japan as did the protestant ethic in Northern Europe (an interpretation which is at odds with that of Max Weber in The Religion of China, 1916). Others have argued that Confucianism's emphasis on harmony, respect for authority, loyalty, benevolence, meritocracy, literacy, and scholarship, lies behind the recent economic growth of Japan and the newly industrializing countries (NICs) of East Asia.

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Confucianism (Chin. equivalent, ju-chia, ju-chiao, kung chiao: School of Scholars or of Confucius). The school and teaching of Confucius, which formed the mainstream in Chinese philosophy during most of the past 2,000 years. While Confucius' teachings are best found in the Analects, Confucianism regards as its special texts the Confucian Classics, for which see above. Confucian philosophy became dominant in Han China (206 BCE–220 CE) only after much uncertainty, and by losing some of its doctrinal purity and integrity. Confucianism became eclectic, accepting many elements from Legalism. In Chinese terms, Confucianism is a religion (chiao, literally, ‘doctrine’) as well as a philosophy (chia, literally, ‘a school of transmission’). But it is different from those W. religions which emphasize revealed doctrines and belief in God. While Confucius appears to have believed in a supreme deity, he preferred to teach a doctrine of humanism open to the transcendent. (For developments, see NEO-CONFUCIANISM).

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Confucianism Philosophy that dominated China until the early 20th century and still has many followers, mainly in Asia. It is based on the Analects, sayings attributed to Confucius. Strictly an ethical system to ensure a smooth-running society, it gradually acquired quasi-religious characteristics. Confucianism views man as potentially the most perfect form of li, the ultimate embodiment of good. It stresses the responsibility of sovereign to subject, of family members to one other, and of friend to friend. Politically, it helped to preserve the existing order, upholding the status of the Mandarins. When the monarchy was overthrown (1911–12), Confucian institutions ended, but after the Communist Revolution (1949), Maoism incorporated many Confucian elements.

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Confucianism a system of philosophical and ethical teachings founded by the Chinese philosopher Confucius (551–479 bc). His ideas about the importance of practical moral values, collected by his disciples in the Analects, and developed by Mencius, formed the basis of Confucianism.

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See Chinese Religions, Confucianism and Science in China

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