the “Hundred Schools of Thought” of the Eastern Chou (Zhou) Dynasty that have left profound effects on Chinese thinking, culture, and essentially every aspect of Chinese life. Confucianism is commonly distinguished as a social and ethical philosophy, while Legalism advocated a strong central government with absolute power. Although the two schools had very distinct principles, various ideologies from both teachings have been adapted and blended in Chinese history.
Confucius (K’ung Fu-tzu or “Master K’ung) was a philosopher whose teachings dominated Chinese philosophical thinking for almost 2,500 years. His principles are studied to this day not only by Chinese historians, but also by scholars throughout the world.
Born an ordinary person in the state of Lu in Shatung province in 551 B.C., Confucius quickly rose in the administrative ranks, but was soon forced out of his office (De Bary, 181). With the division of China into numerous states, chaos reigned during the late Chou period. Still believing that he could restore peace and orderliness in his state, Confucius began teaching, never turning back to politics. With as many as 3,000 students, Confucius did not consider himself an inventor of new ideas, just a transmitter (Ching, 235).
Confucius is also credited with writing or editing the Five Classics, which later became the core of curriculum and officially accepted as the philosophy in the Han Dynasty in the second century B.C. (De Bary, 183). The main sources of his teachings were conversations recorded by his students in the Analects (Ching, 236). Confucius died in 479 B.C.
To restore orderliness and peace of the Golden Age of the Western Chou, Confucius urged return to virtue. This was based on the concept of jen, which has been translated as “humanity,” “benevolence,” “reciprocity,” or “perfect virtue” (De Bary, 187). Confucius concluded that only through a persistent effort will one transcend into jen: “Is there anyone who exerts himself even for a single day to achieve humanity? I have not seen any who had not the strength to achieve it” (De Bary, 187). Confucius justified his beliefs through his own actions:
At fifteen I set my heart on learning to be a sage.
At thirty I became firm.
At forty I had no more doubts.
At fifty I understood Heaven’s Will.
At sixty my ears were attuned to this Will.
At seventy I could follow my heart’s desire, without overstepping the line. (Ching, 235)
The virtue of jen was later associated with the social mobility of classes, rather than the traditional belief in the nobility of birth. This way, every disciplined nobleman or gentleman (chun-tzu/junzi) could become a statesman with the proper education (De Bary, 183). Even Hsun-tzu, whose students were Legalists, proclaimed that education can help humans elude evil (Ching, 241).
Indeed, Confucius began the Chinese bureaucracy based on merit rather than birth.
On a societal level, the people sought chung yung, which translates into “Central Harmony.” The concept of li, or “rites” and “ceremonies,” was to be installed for a stable and orderly society (Kitagawa, 206). Confucius considered family as the ideal social order: with the strong principles of filial piety and rectification of names, the family was a sure microcosm of the state. This viewpoint is supported by the fact that three of the five relationships are composed of family: husband-wife, father-son, and elder brother-younger brother. Although Confucius never intended for his beliefs to be a faith, his teachings of li are loosely tied with the notion of Confucianism as a religion.
The rituals performed as mores and his regard for the will of Heaven (T’ien), given the time period (political chaos), eventually were birth of a new religion (Ching, 235).
To be a virtuous ruler, according to Confucius, one must be moral and of strong character, as a political head was the most highly revered position in China. Confucius also was concerned with the subject of laws and punishment. Because Confucius viewed human natured to be good, he considered punishments futile as people would keep on breaking the law. Only if the people are lead by virtue and restraint, they will develop a sense of shame (De Bary, 190). Along with shaping the bureaucracy, as mentioned earlier, Confucius’ accomplishments in government include the development of proper .