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Who Was Confucius?

Confucius, also known as Kong Qiu or K’ung Fu-tzu, was a Chinese philosopher, teacher and political figure. His teachings, preserved in the Analects, focused on creating ethical models of family and public interaction and setting educational standards. After his death, Confucius became the official imperial philosophy of China, which was extremely influential during the Han, Tang and Song dynasties.

Early Life and Family

Confucius was born probably in 551 B.C. (lunar calendar) in present-day Qufu, Shandong Province, China.

Little is known of Confucius’ childhood. Records of the Historian, written by Ssu-ma Chi’en (born 145 B.C.; died 86 B.C.) offers the most detailed account of Confucius’ life. However, some contemporary historians are skeptical as to the record’s accuracy, regarding it as myth, not fact.

According to Records of the Historian, Confucius was born into a royal family of the Chou Dynasty. Other accounts describe him as being born into poverty. What is undisputed about Confucius’ life is that he existed during a time of ideological crisis in China.


Confucianism is the worldview on politics, education and ethics taught by Confucius and his followers in the fifth and sixth centuries B.C. Although Confucianism is not an organized religion, it does provide rules for thinking and living that focus on love for humanity, worship of ancestors, respect for elders, self-discipline and conformity to rituals.

As of the fourth century B.C., Confucius was regarded as a sage who had deserved greater recognition in his time. By the second century B.C., during China’s first Han Dynasty, his ideas became the foundation of the state ideology. Today Confucius is widely considered one of the most influential teachers in Chinese history. The philosophies are still followed by many people living in China today and has influenced thinking in Japan, Korea and Vietnam.

Confucius’ Beliefs, Philosophy and Teachings

During the sixth century B.C., competing Chinese states undermined the authority of the Chou Empire, which had held supreme rule for over 500 years. Traditional Chinese principles began to deteriorate, resulting in a period of moral decline. Confucius recognized an opportunity — and an obligation — to reinforce the societal values of compassion and tradition.

The Golden Rule

Confucius’ social philosophy was based primarily on the principle of «ren» or «loving others» while exercising self-discipline. He believed that ren could be put into action using the Golden Rule, «What you do not wish for yourself, do not do to others.» (Lunyu 12.2, 6.30).


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Although the facts about the life of Chinese philosopher Confucius are scanty, they do establish a precise time frame and historical context. Confucius was born in the 22nd year of the reign of Duke Xiang of Lu (551 BCE). The traditional claim that he was born on the 27th day of the eighth lunar month has been questioned by historians, but September 28 is still widely observed in East Asia as Confucius’s birthday.

Confucius is known as the first teacher in China who wanted to make education broadly available and who was instrumental in establishing the art of teaching as a vocation. He also established ethical, moral, and social standards that formed the basis of a way of life known as Confucianism.

Confucius’s ancestors were probably members of the aristocracy who had become poverty-stricken commoners by the time of his birth. His father died when Confucius was only three years old. Instructed first by his mother, Confucius distinguished himself as an indefatigable learner in his teens.

Confucius, Pinyin romanization Kongfuzi or Kongzi, Wade-Giles K’ung-fu-tzu or K’ung-tzu, original name Kongqiu, literary name Zhongni, (born 551, Qufu, state of Lu [now in Shandong province, China]—died 479 bce , Lu), China’s most famous teacher, philosopher, and political theorist, whose ideas have profoundly influenced the civilizations of China and other East Asian countries. Confucius was born near the end of an era known in Chinese history as the Spring and Autumn Period (770–481 BCE ). His home was in Lu, a regional state of eastern China in what is now central and southwestern Shandong province. Like other regional states at the time, . (100 of 7713 words)


Confucius: biography

The name of this philosopher is familiar to everyone. Confucius is the most famous Chinese man. The doctrine of the ancient thinker is the basis of the state ideology. It has influenced the life of East Asia. Confucianism has long been as crucial as Buddhism in China. Although questions of religion are not addressed in the philosophy of Confucianism, the name of Confucius was inscribed in the religious Pantheon.

Confucius is the founder of the idea of building a moral, harmonious society. Following the rules of philosophy, a person will be in harmony with himself and the world around him. The popularity of the aphorisms and judgments of Confucius have not been forgotten even 20 centuries after his death.

Childhood and youth

The biography of the Kong family, whose descendant was Confucius, is thoroughly described by historians of medieval China. Confucius is a descendant of Wei-Tzu, the General of the Zhou dynasty Emperor Cheng-Wang. For his loyalty to the Emperor, Wei-Tzu was granted the Song dukedom and a prestigious title. By the time Confucius was born, the Wei-Tzu family had become impoverished and moved to the Kingdom of Lu in Northern China. Confucius’ father Kong He (or Shuliang He) had two wives. The first gave birth to nine daughters. The second gave birth to a son, but the weak boy died.

Portrait of Confucius

In 551 BC, Yan Zhengzai, who at that time was barely seventeen, gave the 63-year-old Shuliang He an heir. According to the legend, she went to give birth on a hill, under a mulberry tree. At the time of the birth of the baby, a spring shot from the ground, in which the baby was washed. And after that, the water flow ceased. The father did not live long after the birth of his son. When Confucius was a year and a half old, Shuliang He left this world. Yan Zhengzai, who was disliked by her older wives, left her husband’s house and moved closer to her family, to the city of Qufu. Yan Zhengzai and the boy lived independently. Confucius learned to live in poverty from early childhood.

Confucius’s mother taught the boy that he should be a worthy successor of the family. Although the small family lived in poverty, the boy worked hard, mastering the knowledge necessary for the aristocrat of China. Special attention was paid to the arts. His diligence in studying bore fruit: 20-year-old Confucius was appointed to be in charge of the barns of the Ji family of the Lu dukedom in Eastern China. And then he was put in charge of the cattle.


Confucius lived during the decline of the Zhou Empire. The Emperor gradually lost power, giving out land and control over it to individuals. The Patriarchal structure of the state fell into decay. Internal wars led the people to impoverishment.

In 528 BC, Yan Zhengzai, Confucius’ mother, died. Following the tradition of mourning for a relative, he retired for three years. This departure allowed the philosopher to study ancient books and create a philosophical treatise on the rules of relationships in the process of creating a harmonious state.

Statue of Confucius

When the philosopher was 44 years old, he was put on the post of the ruler of the residence of the Lu dukedom. For a time, he was chief of the judicial service. From the height of the job, Confucius appealed to those in power to punish the people only in case of disobedience, and in other cases- «to explain to people their duties and teach.»

Confucius worked for some time as an official of several principalities. But the inability to agree with the new policy of the state forced him to resign. He began to travel around China with his students, preaching philosophical teachings.

Only at the age of 60 Confucius returned to his native Qufu and did not leave the city until his death. Confucius spent the rest of his life with his students, working on the systematization of the wise book heritage of China: The Classic of Poetry, The I Ching, and other ancient Chinese texts. The classical heritage of Confucius himself officially consists of only one work, Spring and Autumn Annals.

China in the time of Confucius

Historians of China found about 3000 students of the philosopher, but only 26 are known for a fact. Yan Hui is considered a favorite disciple of Confucius.

According to the quotations of the ancient philosopher, his disciples compiled a book of sayings called The Analects. Besides, a book about the path to human perfection, The Great Learning or Daxue, as well as the Doctrine of the Mean or Zhongyong, about the road to harmony, were created.


During the reign of the Han dynasty (II century BC — III century AD), the teachings of Confucius were elevated to the rank of the ideology of China. At this time, Confucianism became a pillar of Chinese morality and shaped the way of life of the Chinese people. Confucianism played a crucial role in shaping the face of Chinese civilization.

The basis of Confucian philosophy is the construction of a society based on harmony. Each member of this society stands in its place and performs its assigned function. The basis of relations between the top and the bottom is loyalty. Philosophy is based on the five main qualities inherent in a righteous person: respect, justice, ritual, wisdom, and decency.

The Philosopher Confucius

«Rén» — «respect», «generosity», «kindness», a fundamental category in Chinese philosophy. It is the chief of the five benefactors that a man should possess. «Rén» includes three main components: love and compassion for people, the right attitude of two people to each other, the attitude of a person to the world around him, including inanimate objects. The person who has comprehended «Ren» is in balance with the surrounding world, fulfilling the «Golden rule of morality»: «do not impose on others what you do not want yourself.» The symbol of Rén is a tree.

«Yì» — » justice.» The person who follows the «Yì» does not do it out of selfishness, but because the «Yì» way is the only right one. It is based on reciprocity: your parents raised you, and you honor them in gratitude. «Yì» balances «Rén,» giving the person firmness in opposition to egoism. A nobleman seeks justice. The symbol of «Yì» is metal.

«Lǐ» — «proper rite», means «decency», «ethics», «ceremony.» In this concept, the Chinese philosopher put the opportunity to smooth out conflicts that interfere with the state of world unity through behavioral rituals. A person who has mastered the «Lǐ» respects not only the elders but also understands their role in society. The symbol of «Lǐ» is fire.

Confucius, the thinker

«Zhì» — knowledge. «Zhì» is the quality of a noble person. «Common sense» distinguishes man from the animal, «Zhì» frees a person from doubt, not giving way to stubbornness. It fights with stupidity. In Confucianism, its symbol is water.

«Xìn» means trustworthiness. Trustworthy is the one who senses the good. Another meaning is conscientiousness and ease. «Xìn» balances «ritual» by preventing insincerity. «Xìn» corresponds to Earth.

Confucius developed a scheme to achieve the goal. According to the philosophy, if you follow the nine main rules, you can become a successful person:

  1. Go to your goal, even if you go slowly, don’t stop.
  2. Keep your tool sharp: your luck depends on how well prepared you are.
  3. Do not change the goal: only the methods of achieving it are not necessary.
  4. Do only the essential and exciting thing for you, putting maximum effort.
  5. Communicate only with those who are developing: they will lead you.
  6. Work on yourself, do good; the world around you is a mirror of your inner self.
  7. Don’t let resentments lead you astray; the negative does not attract the positive to you.
  8. Control your anger: everything has to be paid for.
  9. Watch the people: everyone can teach you something or warn you.

In contrast to Confucianism, several other philosophical schools are common in China. In total, there are about a hundred directions. The central place is occupied by Taoism, founded by Laozi and Zhuang Zhou.


In the philosophical teachings of Laozi, our connection with space is emphasized. For each person, there is a unique way, destined from above. It is unusual for people to influence the world order. The right path of humanity is humility. Laozi urges people not to try to change the course of events around. Taoism is a philosophy with a mystical beginning, appealing to human emotions. Confucianism, with its rationalism, appeals to the human mind.

In Europe, people learned about Confucius in the middle of the XVII century — with the arrival of a trend for everything related to Eastern culture. The first edition of The Analects in Latin was published in 1687. At this time, Jesuit missionary work was gaining momentum, and China was not an exception. First tourists from China came to Europe, and it fueled the interest of the public to the unknown and exotic.

Personal life

At the age of 19, Confucius married Qiguan, a girl from a noble family. The family had their first child, Kong Li. Then Qiguan gave birth to a daughter.


At the age of 66, the philosopher was widowed. In the twilight of his life, he devoted all his time to his disciples in his home in the city of Qufu. Confucius died in 479 BC, aged 72. Before he died, he fell into a seven-day sleep.

In the city of Qufu (Shandong province, Eastern China) on the site of the house of the ancient thinker, a temple was built. After the construction of several buildings and all the adjustments, the structure grew into a temple complex. The burial place of Confucius and his disciples has been an object of pilgrimage for two thousand years. In 1994, UNESCO listed the temple complex, the house of Confucius, and the forest around it in the List of World Heritage Sites.

Grave of Confucius

The Beijing Temple of Confucius occupies the second place after the temple in Qufu. It opened the doors in 1302. The area of the complex is 20 000 m2. On the grounds, there are four yards, standing on the «North-South» axis. In the first courtyard, there are 198 tablets, on the stone of which 51 624 names of people who received the highest academic degree of the Imperial state examinations are carved. In the Beijing temple, there are 189 steles of stone which bare the Thirteen Books of Confucius.


A year after the death of Confucius, the celebration of the memory of the great philosopher began to take place in China. Commemorative events in China resumed in 1984, at the same time as the international festival of Confucian culture. China also hosts Conferences on the topic of Confucianism. The Confucius prize is awarded for the achievement of success in the educational sphere. In 2009, China celebrated the 2560th anniversary of the thinker.

Statue of Confucius at secondary school No. 6 in Wuhan

Since 2004, Confucius Institutes have been opened all around the world. The idea of creation is to popularize Chinese culture and language. Confucius institutes train students and teachers in China. They organize meetings dedicated to China conferences, conduct a language test of HSK. In addition to «institutes,» classes of a specific profile are formed: medicine, business, etc. Funding and support are provided by the Ministry of Education of China, together with the centers of Synology.

In 2010, the biographical movie Confucius was released. Chow Yun-fat played the central role. The project caused a lot of controversy among viewers and critics. The Chinese felt that the actor playing the role of Confucius, starred in action movies about martial arts too much. He could not be able to convey the image of the great teacher correctly and turned the philosopher into a «hero of Kung fu.» The audience was also concerned about the Cantonese language of the actor (Chow Yun-fat hails from Hong Kong), as the movie was shot in the Putonghua language.

Confucius’ descendant Kun Jiang sued the movie company, demanding that the movie maker’s remove the «romantic» scene of Confucius and Yang Zi’s conversation.

Confucius tried on so many images in the history of China that sometimes he caused protest among ethnographers. Many humorous stories and jokes are connected with the name of the philosopher. Gu Jiegang, a Chinese historian, advised: «to take one Confucius at a time.»

Quotes of Confucius

«The wise find pleasure in water; the virtuous find pleasure in hills. The wise are active; the virtuous are tranquil. The wise are joyful; the virtuous are long-lived.»

«Choose a job you love, and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.»

«There are three things that never come back — a word, a time, and an opportunity. So don’t waste your time, do mind your words and don’t miss an opportunity.»

«If they spit at you behind your back, it means you’re ahead of them.»