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Confucianism is an ethical and philosophical system developed from the teachings of the Chinese philosopher Confucius (孔夫子 Kǒng Fūzǐ, or K'ung-fu-tzu, lit. "Master Kong", 551–479 BCE). Confucianism originated as an "ethical-sociopolitical teaching" during the Spring and Autumn Period, but later developed metaphysical and cosmological elements in the Han Dynasty. Following the official abandonment of Legalism in China after the Qin Dynasty, Confucianism became the official state ideology of the Han. Nonetheless, from the Han period onward, most Chinese emperors have used a mix of Legalism and Confucianism as their ruling doctrine, often with the latter embellishing the former. In other words, Confucian values were used to sugar-coat the harsh Legalist ideas that underlie the Imperial system. The disintegration of the Han in the second century CE opened the way for the spiritual and otherworldly doctrines of Buddhism and Daoism to dominate intellectual life at that time.
A Confucian revival began during the Tang dynasty. In the late Tang, Confucianism absorbed some aspects of Buddhism and Daoism and was reformulated as (Neo-Confucianism). This reinvigorated form was adopted as the basis of the imperial exams and the core philosophy of the scholar official class in the Song dynasty. Neo-Confucianism turned into a sometimes rigid orthodoxy over the following centuries. In popular practice, however, the three doctrines of Confucianism, Buddhism, and Daoism were often melded together. The abolition of the examination system in 1905 marked the end of official Confucianism. The New Culture intellectuals of the early twentieth century blamed Confucianism for China's weaknesses. They searched for imported doctrines to adapt to the general nature of their own culture, such adaptations include the "Three Principles of the People" with the establishment of the Republic of China, and then Communism under the People's Republic of China. In the late twentieth century, some people credited Confucianism with the rise of the East Asian economy and it enjoyed a rise in popularity both in the People's Republic and abroad.
The core of Confucianism is humanism, or what the philosopher Herbert Fingarette calls "the secular as sacred". Confucianism focuses on the practical, especially the importance of the family, and not on a belief in gods or the afterlife. Confucianism, broadly speaking, does not exalt faithfulness to divine will or higher law. This stance rests on the belief that human beings are teachable, improvable, and perfectible through personal and communal endeavor especially self-cultivation and self-creation. Confucian thought focuses on the cultivation of virtue and maintenance of ethics. Some of the basic Confucian ethical concepts and practices include rén, yì, and lǐ, and zhì. Ren is an obligation of altruism and humaneness for other individuals. Yi is the upholding of righteousness and the moral disposition to do good. Li is a system of norms and propriety that determines how a person should properly act in everyday life. Zhi is the ability to see what is right and fair, or the converse, in the behaviors exhibited by others. Confucianism holds one in contempt, either passively or actively, for the failure of upholding the cardinal moral values of ren and yi.
Historically, cultures and countries strongly influenced by Confucianism include mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, Korea, Japan, and Vietnam, as well as various territories settled predominantly by Chinese people, such as Singapore. In the 20th century, Confucianism’s influence has been greatly reduced in places such as Mainland China. More recently, there have been talks of a “Confucian Revival.” At this time its popularity is still basically confined to the academia and the scholarly community. Today, few people identify themselves as Confucians. Instead, people often see Confucian ethics as a complementary guideline for other ideologies and beliefs, including democracy, Marxism, capitalism, Christianity, Islam and Buddhism.
- 1 Names and terminology
- 2 Themes in Confucian thought
- 3 Governance
- 4 Meritocracy
- 5 Influence
- 6 Criticism
- 7 Is Confucianism a religion?
- 8 See also
- 9 Notes
- 10 References
- 11 Translations of texts attributed to Confucius
- 12 External links
Names and terminology
Strictly speaking, there is no term in Chinese which directly corresponds to "Confucianism." In the Chinese language, the character Rú 儒 meaning "scholar," is generally used both in the past and the present to refer to things related to Confucianism. The word Ru in ancient China has diverse meanings. Some examples include, “weak,” “soft,” “to tame,” “to comfort” and “to educate.” Several different terms are used in different situations, several of which are of modern origin:
- "School of the scholars" (Chinese: 儒家; pinyin: Rújiā)
- "Teaching of the scholars" (Chinese: 儒教; pinyin: Rújiào)
- "Study of the scholars" (simplified Chinese: 儒学; traditional Chinese: 儒學; pinyin: Rúxué)
- "Teaching of Confucius" (Chinese: 孔教; pinyin: Kǒngjiào)
- "Kong Family's Business" (Chinese: 孔家店; pinyin: Kǒngjiādiàn)
Three of these use Rú. These names do not use the name "Confucius" at all, but instead center on the figure or ideal of the Confucian scholar; however, the suffixes of jiā, jiào, and xué carry different implications as to the nature of Confucianism itself.
Rújiā contains the character jiā, which literally means "house" or "family". In this context, it is more readily construed as meaning "school of thought", since it is also used to construct the names of philosophical schools contemporary with Confucianism: for example, the Chinese names for Legalism and Mohism end in jiā.
Rújiào and Kǒngjiào contain the Chinese character jiào, the noun "teach", used in such as terms as "education", or "educator". The term, however, is notably used to construct the names of religions in Chinese: the terms for Islam, Judaism, Christianity, and other religions in Chinese all end with jiào.
Rúxué contains xué 'study'. The term is parallel to -ology in English, being used to construct the names of academic fields: the Chinese names of fields such as physics, chemistry, biology, political science, economics, and sociology all end in xué.
The use of the term Confucianism has been avoided by some modern scholars, who favor Ruism or Ruists in lieu of Confucianism. Robert Eno argues that the term has been "burdened... with the ambiguities and irrelevant traditional associations." Ruism, as he states, is more faithful to the original Chinese name for the school.
The Five Confucian Classics and the Confucian vision
Traditionally, Confucius was thought to be the author or editor of the Five Classics which were the basic texts of Confucianism. The scholar Yao Xinzhong allows that there are good reasons to believe that Confucian classics took shape in the hands of Confucius, but that “nothing can be taken for granted in the matter of the early versions of the classics.” Yao reports that perhaps most scholars today hold the “pragmatic” view that Confucius and his followers, although they did not intend to create a system of classics, “contributed to their formation.” In any case, it is undisputed that for most of the last 2,000 years, Confucius was believed to have either written or edited these texts.
The scholar Tu Wei-ming explains these classics as embodying “five visions" which underlie the development of Confucianism:
- I Ching or Classic of Change or Book of Changes, generally held to be the earliest of the classics, shows a metaphysical vision which combines divinatory art with numerological technique and ethical insight; philosophy of change sees cosmos as interaction between the two energies yin and yang, universe always shows organismic unity and dynamism.
- Classic of Poetry or Book of Songs is the earliest anthology of Chinese poems and songs. It shows the poetic vision in the belief that poetry and music convey common human feelings and mutual responsiveness.
- Book of Documents or Book of History Compilation of speeches of major figures and records of events in ancient times embodies the political vision and addresses the kingly way in terms of the ethical foundation for humane government. The documents show the sagacity, filial piety, and work ethic of Yao, Shun, and Yu. They established a political culture which was based on responsibility and trust. Their virtue formed a covenant of social harmony which did not depend on punishment or coercion.
- Book of Rites describes the social forms, administration, and ceremonial rites of the Zhou Dynasty. This social vision defined society not as an adversarial system based on contractual relations but as a community of trust based on social responsibility. The four functional occupations are cooperative (farmer, scholar, artisan, merchant).
- Spring and Autumn Annals chronicles the period to which it gives its name, Spring and Autumn Period (771–476 BCE) and these events emphasize the significance of collective memory for communal self-identification, for reanimating the old is the best way to attain the new.
Themes in Confucian thought
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Humanism is at the core in Confucianism. A simple way to appreciate Confucian thought is to consider it as being based on varying levels of honesty, and a simple way to understand Confucian thought is to examine the world by using the logic of humanity. In practice, the primary foundation and function of Confucianism is as an ethical philosophy to be practiced by all the members of a society. Confucian ethics is characterized by the promotion of virtues, encompassed by the Five Constants, or the Wuchang (五常), extrapolated by Confucian scholars during the Han Dynasty. The Five Constants are:
- Rén (仁, Humaneness)
- Yì (義, Righteousness or Justice)
- Lǐ (禮, Propriety or Etiquette)
- Zhì (智, Knowledge)
- Xìn (信, Integrity).
These are accompanied by the classical Sìzì (四字) that singles out four virtues, one of which is included among the Five Constants:
- Zhōng (忠, Loyalty)
- Xiào (孝, Filial piety)
- Jié (節, Continency)
- Yì (義, Righteousness).
There are still many other elements, such as Chéng (誠, honesty), Shù (恕, kindness and forgiveness), Lián (廉, honesty and cleanness), Chǐ (恥, shame, judge and sense of right and wrong), Yǒng (勇, bravery), Wēn (溫, kind and gentle), Liáng (良, good, kindhearted), Gōng (恭, respectful, reverent), Jiǎn (儉, frugal), Ràng (讓, modestly, self-effacing). Among all elements, Ren and Yi are fundamental.
Ren (Chinese: 仁; pinyin: rén) is one of the basic virtues promoted by Confucius, and is an obligation of altruism and humaneness for other individuals. Confucius' concept of humaneness is probably best expressed in the Confucian version of the ethic of reciprocity, or the Golden Rule: "Do not do unto others what you would not have them do unto you." In another instance, Confucius defined Ren as to "love others."
Confucius never stated whether man was born good or evil, noting that 'By nature men are similar; by practice men are wide apart' —implying that whether good or bad, Confucius must have perceived all men to be born with intrinsic similarities, but that man is conditioned and inﬂuenced by study and practise. Xunzi's opinion is that men originally just want what they instinctively want despite positive or negative results it may bring, so cultivation is needed. In Mencius' view, all men are born to share goodness such as compassion and good heart, although they may become wicked. The Three Character Classic begins with "People at birth are naturally good (kind-hearted)", which stems from Mencius' idea. All the views eventually lead to recognize the importance of human education and cultivation.
Rén also has a political dimension. If the ruler lacks rén, Confucianism holds, it will be difficult for his subjects to behave humanely. Rén is the basis of Confucian political theory: the ruler is exhorted to refrain from acting inhumanely towards his subjects. An inhumane ruler runs the risk of losing the "Mandate of Heaven", the right to rule. A ruler lacking such a mandate need not be obeyed. But a ruler who reigns humanely and takes care of the people is to be obeyed, for the benevolence of his dominion shows that he has been mandated by heaven. Confucius himself had little to say on the active will of the people, though he believed the ruler should definitely pay attention to the wants and needs of the people and take good care of them. Mencius, however, did state that the people's opinion on certain weighty matters should be polled.
In Confucianism, the term "li" (Chinese: 禮; pinyin: lǐ), sometimes translated into English as rituals, customs, rites, etiquette, or morals, refers to any of the secular social functions of daily life, akin to the Western term for culture. Confucius considered education and music as various elements of li. Li were codified and treated as a comprehensive system of norms, guiding the propriety or politeness which colors everyday life. Confucius himself tried to revive the etiquette of earlier dynasties.
It is important to note that, although li is sometimes translated as "ritual" or "rites", it has developed a specialized meaning in Confucianism, as opposed to its usual religious meanings. In Confucianism, the acts of everyday life are considered rituals. Rituals are not necessarily regimented or arbitrary practices, but the routines that people often engage in, knowingly or unknowingly, during the normal course of their lives. Shaping the rituals in a way that leads to a content and healthy society, and to content and healthy people, is one purpose of Confucian philosophy.
Loyalty (Chinese: 忠; pinyin: zhōng) is particularly relevant for the social class to which most of Confucius' students belonged, because the most important way for an ambitious young scholar to become a prominent official was to enter a ruler's civil service.
Confucius himself did not propose that "might makes right", but rather that a superior should be obeyed because of his moral rectitude. In addition, loyalty does not mean subservience to authority. This is because reciprocity is demanded from the superior as well. As Confucius stated "a prince should employ his minister according to the rules of propriety; ministers should serve their prince with faithfulness (loyalty)”  Similarly, Mencius also said that “when the prince regards his ministers as his hands and feet, his ministers regard their prince as their belly and heart; when he regards them as his dogs and horses, they regard him as another man; when he regards them as the ground or as grass, they regard him as a robber and an enemy.” Moreover, Mencius indicated that if the ruler is incompetent, he should be replaced. If the ruler is evil, then the people have the right to overthrow him. A good Confucian is also expected to remonstrate with his superiors when necessary. At the same time, a proper Confucian ruler should also accept his ministers’ advice, as this will help him govern the realm better.
In later ages, however, emphasis was often placed more on the obligations of the ruled to the ruler, and less on the ruler's obligations to the ruled. Like filial piety, loyalty was often subverted by the autocratic regimes in China. Nonetheless, throughout the ages, many Confucians continued to fight against unrighteous superiors and rulers. Many of these Confucians suffered and sometimes died because of their conviction and action. During the Ming-Qing era, prominent Confucians such as Wang Yangming promoted individuality and independent thinking as a counterweight to subservience to authority. The famous thinker Huang Zongxi also strongly criticized the autocratic nature of the Imperial System and wanted to keep imperial power in check.
Many Confucians also realized that loyalty and filial piety have the potential of coming into conflict with one another. This can be true especially in times of social chaos, such as during the period of the Ming-Qing transition.
"Filial piety" (Chinese: 孝; pinyin: xiào) is considered one of the great virtues and must be shown towards both the living and the dead (including even remote ancestors). The term "filial" (meaning "of a child") characterizes the respect that a child should show to his parents.
The main source of our knowledge of the importance of filial piety is the Classic of Filial Piety, a work attributed to Confucius and his followers. The Analects, the main source of the Confucianism of Confucius, actually has little to say on the matter of filial piety. While the Classic of Filial Piety emphasizes the need of the child to pay reverence to his/her parents, the child should also not blindly follow his/her parents’ wishes. As chapter 15 of the text reads:
"Zheng Zi said, 'if it’s about being kind and loving, being respectful, bringing peace to the minds of parents, and spreading one’s name—those instructions have already been heard. May I ask: if the son obeys the orders of the father, can that be called xiao?'
The Teacher said, 'What kind of talk is that? What kind of talk is that?'
'Formerly when a Son of Heaven has seven subordinates who will dispute him, even though he has no virtue he will not lose All Under Heaven (the Empire-translator). When a Duke has five subordinates who will dispute him, even though he has no virtue he will not lose his state. When a Minister has three subordinates who will dispute him, even though he has no virtue he will not lose his clan. With a friend who will dispute him, an Officer will not lose his good name. With a son who will dispute him, a father will not fall into unrighteousness. So when there is unrighteousness, then the son must not refrain from disputing his father and the subordinate must not refrain from disputing his lord. So when there is unrighteousness one must dispute it. How can obeying the father’s orders be considered xiao?'”
Therefore, the child has a duty to dispute his/her parents if needed. The same is true with a subordinate, who should dispute his/her lord or superior if necessary.
Traditionally, parents often have great influences over their children. The idea of filial piety also influenced traditional Chinese legal system: a criminal could be punished more harshly if the culprit had committed the crime against a parent.
Filial piety has continued to play a central role in Confucian thinking to the present day.
Social harmony—the great goal of Confucianism—therefore results in part from every individual knowing his or her place in the social order, and playing his or her part well. When Duke Jing of Qi asked about government, by which he meant proper administration so as to bring social harmony, Confucius replied:
There is government, when the prince is prince, and the minister is minister; when the father is father, and the son is son. (Analects XII, 11, trans. Legge)
Relationships are central to Confucianism. Particular duties arise from one's particular situation in relation to others. The individual stands simultaneously in several different relationships with different people: as a junior in relation to parents and elders, and as a senior in relation to younger siblings, students, and others. While juniors are considered in Confucianism to owe their seniors reverence, seniors also have duties of benevolence and concern toward juniors. The same is true with the husband and wife relationship where the husband needs to show benevolence towards his wife and the wife needs to respect the husband in return. This theme of mutuality still exists in East Asian cultures even to this day.
The Five Bonds
- Ruler to Ruled
- Father to Son
- Husband to Wife
- Elder Brother to Younger Brother
- Friend to Friend
Specific duties were prescribed to each of the participants in these sets of relationships. Such duties were also extended to the dead, where the living stood as sons to their deceased family. This led to the veneration of ancestors. The only relationship where respect for elders wasn't stressed was the Friend to Friend relationship, where mutual equal respect is emphasized instead. In all other relationships, high reverence was usually held for elders. Though some Confucian texts do suggest a more equal relationship between husband and wife (more on this below).
The term jūnzǐ (Chinese: 君子; literally "lord's child") is crucial to classical Confucianism. Confucianism exhorts all people to strive for the ideal of a "gentleman". In modern times the masculine translation in English is also traditional and is still frequently used. Elitism was bound up with the concept, and gentlemen were expected to act as moral guides to the rest of society.
They were to:
- cultivate themselves morally;
- show filial piety and loyalty where these are due;
- cultivate humanity, or benevolence.
The great exemplar of a gentleman is Confucius himself. Perhaps the tragedy of his life was that he was never awarded the high official position which he desired, from which he wished to demonstrate the general well-being that would ensue if humane persons ruled and administered the state.
The opposite of the Jūnzǐ was the Xiǎorén (Chinese: 小人; pinyin: xiǎorén; literally "small person"). The character 小 in this context means petty in mind and heart, narrowly self-interested, greedy, superficial, or materialistic.
Rectification of names
Confucius believed that social disorder often stemmed from failure to perceive, understand, and deal with reality. Fundamentally, then, social disorder can stem from the failure to call things by their proper names, and his solution to this was Zhèngmíng (Chinese: [正名]; pinyin: zhèngmíng; literally "rectification of terms"). He gave an explanation of zhengming to one of his disciples.
Zi-lu said, "The vassal of Wei has been waiting for you, in order with you to administer the government. What will you consider the first thing to be done?"
The Master replied, "What is necessary to rectify names."
"So! indeed!" said Zi-lu. "You are wide off the mark! Why must there be such rectification?"
The Master said, "How uncultivated you are, Yu! The superior man [Junzi] cannot care about the everything, just as he cannot go to check all himself!
If names be not correct, language is not in accordance with the truth of things.
If language be not in accordance with the truth of things, affairs cannot be carried on to success.
When affairs cannot be carried on to success, proprieties and music do not flourish.
When proprieties and music do not flourish, punishments will not be properly awarded.
When punishments are not properly awarded, the people do not know how to move hand or foot.
Therefore a superior man considers it necessary that the names he uses may be spoken appropriately, and also that what he speaks may be carried out appropriately. What the superior man requires is just that in his words there may be nothing incorrect."
(Analects XIII, 3, tr. Legge)
Xun Zi chapter (22) "On the Rectification of Names" claims the ancient sage-kings chose names (Chinese: [名]; pinyin: míng) that directly corresponded with actualities (Chinese: [實]; pinyin: shí), but later generations confused terminology, coined new nomenclature, and thus could no longer distinguish right from wrong.
To govern by virtue, let us compare it to the North Star: it stays in its place, while the myriad stars wait upon it. (Analects II, 1)
Another key Confucian concept is that in order to govern others one must first govern oneself. When developed sufficiently, the king's personal virtue spreads beneficent influence throughout the kingdom. This idea is developed further in the Great Learning, and is tightly linked with the Taoist concept of wu wei (simplified Chinese: 无为; traditional Chinese: 無為; pinyin: wú wéi): the less the king does, the more gets done. By being the "calm center" around which the kingdom turns, the king allows everything to function smoothly and avoids having to tamper with the individual parts of the whole.
This idea may be traced back to early Chinese shamanistic beliefs, such as the king being the axle between the sky, human beings, and the Earth. Another complementary view is that this idea may have been used by ministers and counselors to deter aristocratic whims that would otherwise be to the detriment of the state's people.
In teaching, there should be no distinction of classes. (Analects XV, 39)
The main basis of his teachings was to seek knowledge, study, and become a better person.
Although Confucius claimed that he never invented anything but was only transmitting ancient knowledge (see Analects VII, 1), he did produce a number of new ideas. Many European and American admirers such as Voltaire and H. G. Creel point to the revolutionary idea of replacing nobility of blood with nobility of virtue. Jūnzǐ (君子, lit. "lord's child"), which originally signified the younger, non-inheriting, offspring of a noble, became, in Confucius' work, an epithet having much the same meaning and evolution as the English "gentleman". A virtuous plebeian who cultivates his qualities can be a "gentleman", while a shameless son of the king is only a "small man". That he admitted students of different classes as disciples is a clear demonstration that he fought against the feudal structures that defined pre-imperial Chinese society.
Another new idea, that of meritocracy, led to the introduction of the Imperial examination system in China. This system allowed anyone who passed an examination to become a government officer, a position which would bring wealth and honour to the whole family. The Chinese Imperial examination system started in the Sui dynasty. Over the following centuries the system grew until finally almost anyone who wished to become an official had to prove his worth by passing written government examinations.
In 17th-century Europe
The works of Confucius were translated into European languages through the agency of Jesuit scholars stationed in China. Matteo Ricci was among the very earliest to report on the thoughts of Confucius, and father Prospero Intorcetta wrote about the life and works of Confucius in Latin in 1687. Translations of Confucian texts influenced European thinkers of the period, particularly among the Deists and other philosophical groups of the Enlightenment who were interested by the integration of the system of morality of Confucius into Western civilization. Confucianism influenced Gottfried Leibniz, who was attracted to the philosophy because of its perceived similarity to his own. It is postulated that certain elements of Leibniz's philosophy, such as "simple substance" and "preestablished harmony", were borrowed from his interactions with Confucianism. The French philosopher Voltaire was also influenced by Confucius, seeing the concept of Confucian rationalism as an alternative to Christian dogma. He praised Confucian ethics and politics, portraying the sociopolitical hierarchy of China as a model for Europe.
Confucius has no interest in falsehood; he did not pretend to be prophet; he claimed no inspiration; he taught no new religion; he used no delusions; flattered not the emperor under whom he lived...
On Islamic thought
From the late 17th century onwards a whole body of literature known as the Han Kitab developed amongst the Hui Muslims of China who infused Islamic thought with Confucianism. Especially the works of Liu Zhi such as Tiānfāng Diǎnlǐ（天方典禮）sought to harmonize Islam with not only Confucianism but also with Daoism and is considered to be one of the crowning achievements of the Chinese Muslim culture.
In modern times
Important military and political figures in modern Chinese history continued to be influenced by Confucianism, like the Muslim warlord Ma Fuxiang. The New Life Movement in the early 20th century was also influenced by Confucianism.
Referred to variously as the Confucian hypothesis and as a debated component of the more all-encompassing Asian Development Model, there exists among political scientists and economists a theory that Confucianism plays a large latent role in the ostensibly non-Confucian cultures of modern-day East Asia, in the form of the rigorous work ethic it endowed those cultures with. These scholars have held that, if not for Confucianism's influence on these cultures, many of the people of the East Asia region would not have been able to modernize and industrialize as quickly as Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea and even China has done. For example the impact of the Vietnam War on Vietnam was devastating, however over the last few decades Vietnam has been re-developing in a very fast pace. Most scholars attribute the origins of this idea to futurologist Herman Kahn's World Economic Development: 1979 and Beyond. In years since, this hypothesis has been thoroughly discredited. See Hicks' account of it referenced above for details, or for an alternate and more current explanation, Cristobal Kay's "Why East Asia Overtook Latin America: Agrarian Reform, Industrialization, and Development."
For many years since the era of Confucius, various critiques of Confucianism have arisen, including Laozi's philosophy and Mozi's critique. Lu Xun also criticised Confucianism heavily for shaping Chinese people into the condition they had reached by the late Qing Dynasty: his criticisms are well portrayed in two of his works, "A Madman's Diary" and The True Story of Ah Q.
In modern times, waves of critique along with vilification against Confucianism arose. The Taiping Rebellion, May Fourth Movement and Cultural Revolution are some upsurges of those waves in China. Taiping rebels described many sages in Confucianism as well as gods in Taoism and Buddhism as mere legends. Marxists during the Cultural Revolution described Confucius as the general representative of the class of slave owners. Numerous opinions and interpretations of Confucianism (of which many are actually opposed by Confucianism) were invented.
In South Korea, there has long been criticism of Confucianism. Many Koreans believe Confucianism has not contributed to the modernization of Korea. For example, South Korean writer Kim Kyong-il wrote an essay entitled "Confucius Must Die For the Nation to Live" (공자가 죽어야 나라가 산다, gongjaga jug-eoya naraga sanda). Kim said that filial piety is one-sided and blind, and if it continues social problems will continue as government keeps forcing Confucian filial obligations onto families.
Women in Confucian thought
Confucianism "largely defined the mainstream discourse on gender in China from the Han dynasty onward." The often strict, obligatory gender roles based on Confucian teachings became a cornerstone of the family, and thus, societal stability. Starting from the Han period onward, Confucians in general began to gradually teach that a virtuous woman was supposed to follow the lead of the males in her family, especially the father before her marriage and the husband after she marries. In the later dynasties, more emphasis was placed on women to uphold the virtue of chastity when they lost their husbands. Chaste widows were revered as heroes during the Ming and Qing periods. This "cult of chastity" accordingly, "condemned many widows to poverty and loneliness by placing a social stigma on remarriage by women."
However, recent reexaminations of Chinese gender roles suggest that many women flourished within Confucianism. During the Han dynasty period, the important Confucian text Lessons for Women (Nüjie), was written by Ban Zhao (45–114 CE): by a woman, for women.
She wrote the Nüjie ostensibly for her daughters, instructing them on how to live proper Confucian lives as wives and mothers. Although this is a relatively rare instance of a female Confucian voice, Ban Zhao almost entirely accepts the prevailing views concerning women's proper roles; they should be silent, hard-working, and compliant. She stresses the complementarity and equal importance of the male and female roles according to yin-yang theory, but she clearly accepts the dominance of the yang-male. Her only departure from the standard male versions of this orthodoxy is that she insists on the necessity of educating girls and women. We should not underestimate the significance of this point, as education was the bottom line qualification for being a junzi or "noble person,"...her example suggests that the Confucian prescription for a meaningful life as a woman was apparently not stifling for all women. Even some women of the literate elite, for whom Confucianism was quite explicitly the norm, were able to flourish by living their lives according to that model.
Joseph A. Adler has also indicated that even with the Neo-Confucians who have the reputation of discriminating against women, the actual situation was in fact quite complicated. As he writes, "'Neo-Confucian' writings do not necessarily reflect either the prevailing social practices or the scholars' own attitudes and practices in regard to actual women." There had been a difference between textual teaching and the actual social practice by the Confucians and society in general throughout all of China's dynasties. Matthew Sommers has also indicated that during the Qing dynasty, the imperial government began to realize the utopian nature of enforcing the “cult of chastity.” As a result, by the late Qing period, Qing officials became more tolerant and allowed practices such as widow remarrying to stand. Finally, some Confucian texts like the Chunqiu Fanlu 春秋繁露 also has passages which suggest a more equal relationship between a husband and his wife. All of these things add to the complexity of the issue of women in Confucian teaching.
In 2009, for the first time women (and ethnic minorities and people living overseas) were officially recognized as being descendants of Confucius. These additions more than tripled the number of officially recognized descendants of Confucius.
Is Confucianism a religion?
Ever since Europeans first encountered Confucianism, the issue of how Confucianism should be classified has been subject to debate. In the 16th and the 17th centuries, the earliest European arrivals in China, the Christian Jesuits, considered Confucianism to be an ethical system, not a religion, and one that was compatible with Christianity. The Jesuits, including Matteo Ricci, saw Chinese rituals as "civil rituals" that could co-exist alongside the spiritual rituals of Catholicism. By the early 18th century, this initial portrayal was rejected by the Dominicans and Franciscans, creating a dispute among Catholics in East Asia that was known as the "Rites Controversy". The Dominicans and Franciscans argued that ancestral worship was a form of pagan idolatry that was contradictory to the tenets of Christianity. This view was reinforced by Pope Benedict XIV, who ordered a ban on Chinese rituals.
This debate continues into the modern era. There is consensus among scholars that, whether or not it is religious, Confucianism is definitively non-theistic. Confucianism is humanistic, and does not involve a belief in the supernatural or in a personal god. On spirituality, Confucius said to Chi Lu, one of his students, that "You are not yet able to serve men, how can you serve spirits?" Attributes that are seen as religious—such as ancestor worship, ritual, and sacrifice—were advocated by Confucius as necessary for social harmony; however, these attributes can be traced to the traditional non-Confucian Chinese beliefs of Chinese folk religion, and are also practiced by Daoists and Chinese Buddhists. Scholars recognize that classification ultimately depends on how one defines religion. Using stricter definitions of religion, Confucianism has been described as a moral science or philosophy. But using a broader definition, such as Frederick Streng's characterization of religion as "a means of ultimate transformation", Confucianism could be described as a "sociopolitical doctrine having religious qualities." With the latter definition, Confucianism is religious, even if non-theistic, in the sense that it "performs some of the basic psycho-social functions of full-fledged religions", in the same way that non-theistic ideologies like Communism do.
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- This phrase of a certain negative context became popular after its usage in many Anti-Confucianism movements in China, most notably the May Fourth Movement and the Cultural Revolution. See  and  for more details.
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- Analects 12:22
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- Analects 3:19 http://ctext.org/analects/ba-yi
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- e.g. Hai Rui 海瑞 in the Ming dynasty, Yuan Chang 袁昶 in the Qing and so forth.
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- See the discussion in 何冠彪 He Guanbiao, 生與死 : 明季士大夫的抉擇 (Taipei: Lianjing Chuban Shiye Gongsi, 1997).
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Translations of texts attributed to Confucius
The Analects (Lun Yu)
- Confucian Analects (1893) Translated by James Legge.
- The Analects of Confucius (1915; rpr. NY: Paragon, 1968). Translated by William Edward Soothill.
- The Analects of Confucius: A Philosophical Translation (New York: Ballantine, 1998). Translated by Roger T. Ames, Henry Rosemont.
- The Original Analects: Sayings of Confucius and His Successors (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998). Translated by E. Bruce Brooks, A. Taeko Brooks.
- The Analects of Confucius (New York: W.W. Norton, 1997). Translated by Simon Leys
- Analects: With Selections from Traditional Commentaries (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 2003). Translated by Edward Slingerland.
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- Confucius entry in the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
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- Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy Entry: Confucius
- Interfaith Online: Confucianism
- Confucian Documents at the Internet Sacred Texts Archive.
- Oriental Philosophy, "Topic:Confucianism"