Birthday: September 28, 551 BC
Died At Age: 72
Sun Sign: Libra
Born in: Qufu
Famous as: Renowned Chinese teacher, politician, and philosopher
Quotes By Confucius
father: Shuliang He
mother: Yan Zhengzai
siblings: Kong Li
Died on: 479 BC
place of death: Qufu
Who was Confucius?
Confucius was an ancient Chinese teacher, politician, and philosopher. He belonged to the Spring and Autumn period of Chinese history. Confucius is one of the few leaders who based their philosophy on the virtues that are required for the day-to-day living. His philosophy centered on personal and governmental morality, correctness of social relationships, justice and sincerity. Known as Master Kong to the Chinese, he taught people how to cultivate the value of modesty, planning, respect, moral behavior, honesty and sincerity, apart from common sense. He preached that adopting these values was the only way a human being could lead a good life. Confucius was of the opinion that true happiness would only be brought from well-planned actions and helping of the fellow men. His philosophy was aimed at benefiting not only a few selected groups, but all the people of the empire he was a part of.
Childhood & Early Life
It is believed that Confucius was born in Zou, Lu state (near present-day Qufu, Shandong Province) in 551 B.C. According to Chinese tradition, his ancestors had migrated from the Song state to the Lu state and Confucius was a descendant of the Shang dynasty Kings.
At that time a class structure was prevalent in ancient China. Confucius belonged to Shi Class that was ranked between old nobility and the common people. People belonging to this class sought social position as per their skills and talents.
His father’s name was Kong He (aka Shuliang He) and he was an officer in the Lu Military. It is said that his father had divorced his first wife as she had given birth to two daughters and a disfigured son. Yan, Confucius’ mother, was his second wife.
At the age of 3 in 548 B.C he lost his father and was brought up by his mother Yan Zhengzai under difficult financial conditions.
At the age of 23 he lost his mother and as per the prevalent tradition, he spent 3 years in mourning.
There is not much information available regarding his education but it is said that he studied with Lao Dan and Daoist Master. He studied music with Chang Hong and Lute with Xiang.
In his early years, he worked as a book-keeper, cowherd and a clerk.
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He was the first teacher in China whose aim was to make education available for all. In his 30s (around 519 B.C), he adopted teaching as a career in order to fulfill his aspiration of making teaching a vocation. His command on six arts namely calligraphy, ritual, charioteering, arithmetic, music and archery and his knowledge about history, classical traditions and poetry aided him in this.
It was in 501 B.C or when he was in his late 40s that he stepped into politics and was appointed the governor of a town in Lu state. At that time this was considered to be a minor position. He then served as minister of public works. However, he eventually became the “Minister of Crime” in Lu state.
The Lu state was headed by a ruling ducal house and there were three aristocratic families under the duke, whose heads held hereditary positions in the Lu bureaucracy. Confucius wanted to return the authority of the state to the duke and establish a centralized government. This was not possible without dismantling the fortifications of the city-strongholds belonging to the three aristocratic families.
He achieved considerable success in his plan but could not achieve the reforms that were aimed at restoration of the legitimate rule of the duke. In the process, he had made powerful enemies within the state.
He is believed to have departed his homeland in 497 BC after his support for the failed attempt of dismantling the fortified city walls of the powerful Ji, Meng, and Shu families. He left the state of Lu without resigning, and did not return as long as Viscount Ji Huan was alive.
According to another source (shiji), Confucius’ involvement in the government of the Lu state became a reason of distress for the neighboring state of Qi. Qi state was worried that Lu might become powerful so it tried to lure the Duke of Lu by sending him 100 horses and 80 beautiful dancing girls. The Duke was lured and indulged himself in pleasure and did not attend to official duties for three days. This left Confucius highly disappointed. Around 498 B.C he resigned and began travelling to north-east and central China where he propounded his political beliefs.
His Philosophy - Confucianism
It is often considered and followed in a very religious manner by Chinese but there is a debate about its religious character – many don’t consider it religious and find its character quite secular. Though it talks about elements of the afterlife and has views concerning Heaven but it is somewhat indifferent to some spiritual matters which are generally considered crucial to religious thought.
Confucianism concerns itself with the practical aspects of life, such as good manners, treating others kindly and enhancing family relations. Instead of being poetic about God or metaphysics, Confucius directed his teachings on moral and ethical grounds.
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Bothered about earthly matters, he rested his theory on two main ideas - being a true gentleman and having proper conduct. He stressed that a true gentleman is one who has five characteristics - integrity, righteousness, loyalty, altruism and goodness. As for proper conduct, the second most important foundation of Confucianism, a person should practice social decorum and rituals, as it is the quickest path to ethical growth.
Confucius was of the opinion that moderation was the only way to stay between life's extremes. He believed that each person should maintain the decorum of their position - for instance, a father should behave like a responsible person and not move away from his duties.
For him, family was very important and he believed that relationship between master and servant, father and son, husband and wife, elder and younger siblings and two friends must be honored. He also urged people to honor the aged people.
Confucius' political thought emerged out of his ethical thought. According to him, the best government is one that governs through "rites" and people's natural morality (ethics) and not by using bribery and coercion.
He urged people with political power to model themselves on earlier examples. He is believed to have used past institutions and rites for revival of a unified royal state.
He did not believe in the concept of "democracy" as he believed that the common masses lacked the intellect to make decisions for themselves, and that (in his view), since not everyone is created equal, not everyone has a right of self-government.
He supported the idea of government ruling by a virtuous king, who should follow the ideals of truth and honesty. He emphasized that if a ruler ruled correctly then others will follow the proper actions of their ruler.
He stressed the need to give due respect to superiors but he also said that the subordinates must give advice to their superiors if they believed the superiors were taking the wrong course of action.
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He believed that rulers should rule by example and if they do so, there was no need for orders by force or punishment.
Personal Life & Legacy
Confucius tied the knot with Qiguan when he was 19 years old and a year later they were blessed with a child whom they named, Kong Li. Later he was blessed with two more children - daughters. One of her daughters is thought to have died early in her life as a child. It is believed that he did not have cordial relations with his wife and children.
He stayed in exile for approximately 12 years. The talk about him being a man of vision kept building. Zuo Zhuan states that he returned to Lu when he was 68 with the aim of preserving and teaching his classical traditions through writing and editing.
He left for heavenly abode at the age of 73 in 479 B.C. If “Records of the Historian” is to be believed, he had around 3,000 followers and approximately 72 of his students were able to have a command on the “six arts” that were mastered by Confucius.
Teachings of Confucius have been organized in Analects by his numerous disciples. His philosophical school was kept operational by his only grandson Zisi even after his death. Eventually, the ideals of Confucius were inculcated among students who later held official positions in Courts and paved way for Confucianism to set its dogma.
There isn’t any surviving sculpture or portrait of Confucius. He is believed to have been visually portrayed during Han Dynasty. There have been a number of portraits that depict him as an ideal philosopher.
In earlier times, it was customary to have a portrait in his temples but during the reign of Hongwu Emperor of the Ming dynasty it was decided that the only portrait of Confucius should be displayed in the temple in his home town, Qufu in Shandong.
He was buried in the historical part of Qufu, in Kong Lin cemetery. The original tomb in his memory is on the bank of the Sishui River.
Just after his death, his hometown ‘Qufu’ turned into a place of remembrance and devotion. According to ancient Chinese sources, it became a pilgrimage place for ministers.
This place has now become a cultural tourism spot and is visited by many people. In pan-China cultures, the representations of Buddha, Laozi and Confucius can be found together in many temples.
Every year, Chinese hold picturesque memorial ceremonies of Confucius which is now a part of their tradition.