Confucianism, we’ve all heard of it before but does anyone have any concept of what it is? And maybe you’ve heard of Ruism? Oh wait they’re the same thing. Ok, well i’ll explain them to you anyway. Confucianism is rather a way of life and a philosophy than a religion. It was designed from ancient religion but as a way to guide social and ethical ideals or values. It has since then, manufactured Chinese society and their way of life.
So let’s talk about how this all started, Confucianism was founded by one Master Kong better known to today’s society as Confucius sometime during 551-479 BC. Confucius was a minor government official, he quit this job at the age of 51, left feeling disappointed with the government not embracing his teachings. His teachings were later written in a book by his followers called ‘The Analects of Confucius’. This book was one of 4 books. The other 3 were ‘the great learning’, the ‘Mencius’ and ‘The Doctrine of Mean’. His teachings are now the primary Chinese government philosophy.
Chinese history was written by scholars who were influenced by Confucius and Confucianism. This means that Chinese history was effectively written to say that good emperors behaved in the same way that a good Confucian would behave. This as Crash Course put it ‘sense of circularity between who writes history and who makes it.’ Confucius called for them to look to the past at the Sage emperors. The problem with this, is that we now know that the Sage emperors were most likely mythical.
Confucius’ philosophy was his idea of a recipe for a functioning society. It focused on five main relationships which effectively put people into the hierarchical rank. These 5 relationships were king to subject, father to son, husband to wife, older brother to younger brother and friend to friend. These 5 relationships lead to a fully functioning society, of which compromises the family unit. These 5 relationships were embraced by the government, as it bought about respect for authority.
Two of the main virtues or concepts in Confucianism are Jen and Li. Jen translates to benevolence. For those of you have never heard of that word, dictionary.com describes it as ‘desire to do good to others; goodwill; charitableness.’ Li translates roughly to ritual, a common Chinese definition is that it turns invisible to visible. So what are other the other virtues of Confucianism? Yi, Zhi and Xin, these translate to righteousness, knowledge and integrity respectively. So let’s break these down a bit further. Yi this is to think on your own two feet, to use your own viewpoint, not someone else’s. Zhi is the concept of right and wrong, the moral choices one makes in their life. Xin is the action of matching your words with your actions, basically it means not to be a hypocrite. You may be wondering, how can I live out these five values in my modern Australian life, which is completely different to how the Chinese lived ages ago, take a couple of seconds to think about this.
Jen- we can do this by always giving to charity, by thinking of others before ourselves.
Li- Respecting our elders, authority etc, basically following the five main relationships
Yi- Forming our own viewpoints, researching in order to know the facts and then forming an opinion
Zhi- Always making what we believe is the right choice, choosing the right path and not what we know is wrong.
Xin- This one is easy, one we can all learn from. Honesty, don’t know something, then don’t say it with absolute assurance.
Confucius held education deeply in his heart, this is due to him having been a teacher. His philosophy on the 6 arts, is the equivalent of the modern day Australian educational core studies. Maths, Science, English and those important subjects. The 6 arts were ritual, music, archery, chariot-riding, calligraphy and mathematics. The six arts led to one being mastered in 4 areas, combat, fine arts, mathematics and civil duties. Those who had all these arts mastered, were an example of a perfect societal member. These embodied Confucius’ other teachings and helped society become stronger as an united unit.
Confucius shaped not only the governance of China for thousands of years but also the philosophical world. The works of Confucius have been compared to Socrates, yet Confucius was around before the time of Socrates. If this doesn’t give you an idea of how long ago this was, then I don’t know what will. The effect Confucius had on not only Confucianism but the world was very substantial. Although it might not seem blatantly clear, Confucius has impacted our lives in many ways. His teaching and ideals have pathed the way for the social, moral and ethical norms in everyday life. Confucius once said ‘What you do not wish for yourself, do not do to others.’ This teaching has been relayed many times in religions across the world and puts emphasis on the importance of this message.
Confucianism is both a religion in the spiritual sense, and a way of life for many Chinese people. Much like how Christianity has influenced our laws, Confucianism was the main influencer of Chinese law. Religion and personal beliefs are what defines the moral compass of a society, and therefore their laws and lifestyle. Religion is beginning to take a back seat in the minds of many in Western society. These Asian countries are the ones who are reminding society where the roots to morals came from. Understanding Confucianism and other world religions, can help us understand and accept other cultures and faiths.