Confucianism, a religion of optimistic humanism, has had a
monumental impact upon the life, social structure and political
philosophy of China. The founding of the religion goes back to
one man, known as Confucius, born a half-millennium before
The Life of Confucius
Although Confucius occupies a hallowed place in Chinese
tradition, little is verifiable about his life. The best source
available is The Analects, the collection of his sayings made by
his followers. Long after his death much biographical detail on
his life surfaced, but most of this material is of questionable
historical value. However, there are some basic facts that can be
accepted reasonably to give an outline of his life.
Confucius was born Chiu King, the
youngest of 11 children, about 550 B.C., in the principality of
Lu, which is located in present-day Shantung. He was a
contemporary of the Buddha (although they probably never met) and
lived immediately before Socrates and Plato. Nothing is known for
certain concerning his ancestors except the fact that his
surroundings were humble.
As he himself revealed:
"When I was young I was without rank and in humble
circumstances." His father died soon after his birth,
leaving his upbringing to his mother. During his youth Confucius
participated in a variety of activities, including hunting and
fishing; but, "On reaching the age of 15, 1 bent my mind to
He held a minor government post
as a collector of taxes before he reached the age of 20. It was
at this time that Confucius married. However, his marriage was
short-lived, ending in divorce; but he did produce a son and a
daughter from his unsuccessful marriage. He became a teacher in
his early twenties, and that proved to be his calling in life.
His ability Is a teacher became
apparent and his fame spread rapidly, attracting a strong core of
disciples. Many were attracted by his wisdom. He believed that
society would not be changed unless he occupied a public office
where he could put his theories into practice.
Confucius held minor posts until
age 50, when he became a high official in Lu. His moral reforms
achieved an immediate success, but he soon had a falling out with
his superiors and subsequently resigned his post. Confucius spent
the next 13 years wandering from state to state, attempting to
implement his political and social reforms. He devoted the last
five years of his life to writing and editing what have become
He died in Chüfou, Shantung, in
479 B.C., having established himself as the most important
teacher in Chinese culture. His disciples referred to him as King
Fu-tzu or Kung the Master, which has been latinized into
China Before Confucius
It is important to understand life in China at the time of
Confucius in order to develop a better appreciation of the
reforms he was attempting to institute. The age in which
Confucius lived was characterized by social anarchy. Huston Smith
gives insight into the condition of China during this difficult
By Confucius' day, however, the interminable warfare had
degenerated a long way from this code of chivalrous honor toward
the undiluted horror of the Period of the Warring States. The
horror reached its height in the century following Confucius'
death. The chariot, arm of the tournament, gave way to the
cavalry with its surprise attacks and sudden raids. Instead of
nobly holding their prisoners for ransom, conquerors put them to
death in mass executions. Soldiers were paid upon presenting the
severed heads of their enemies. Whole populations unlucky enough
to be captured were beheaded, including women, children, and the
aged. We read of mass slaughters of 60,000, 80,000, 82,000, and
even 400,000. There are accounts of the conquered being thrown
into boiling caldrons and their relatives forced to drink the
human soup (Huston Smith, The Religions of Man, New York: Harper
and Row, 1965, p. 166).
It is easy to see how the need arose for someone like Confucius
to provide answers for how the people could live together
harmoniously. Although the conduct of Chinese officials was
exceedingly corrupt, Confucius believed the situation was not
hopeless, for the general population had not reached the point of
Confucius believed China could be
saved if the people would seek for the good of others, a practice
of their ancestors. The role Confucius would play was not as a
savior or messiah but as one who would put the people back in
touch with the ancients: "I transmit but do not create. I
believe in and love the ancients. I venture to compare myself to
our old Peng (an ancient official who liked to tell
The Veneration of Confucius
Like many great religious leaders, Confucius was eventually
deified by his followers. The following chart traces the progress
which led to his ultimate deification:
195 The Emperor of China offered animal sacrifice at the tomb of
1 He was given the imperial title "Duke Ni, All- complete
57 Regular sacrifice to Confucius was ordered at the imperial and
89 He was raised to the higher imperial rank of "Earl"
267 More elaborate animal sacrifices to Confucius were decreed
four times yearly.
492 He was canonized as "The Venerable, the Accomplished
555 Separate temples for the worship of Confucius were ordered at
the capital of every prefecture in China.
740 The statue of Confucius was moved from the side to the center
of the Imperial College, to stand with the historic kings of
1068-1086 Confucius was raised to the full rank of Emperor.
1906 December 31. An Imperial Rescript raised him to the rank of
Co-assessor with the deities Heaven and Earth.
1914 The worship of Confucius was continued by the first
President of the Republic of China, Yuan Shi Kai (Robert E. Hume,
The World's Living Religions,
New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, rev. ed., 1959,
pp. 117, 118).
The Life of Mencius
One of the central figures in Confucianism is Meng-tzu (Latinized
into Mencius) who became second only to Confucius in the history
of Confucian thought. Mencius ' born in the state of CWi in 371
B.C., studied with a disciple of Confucius' grandson, Tzu-Ssu.
Like his master, Mencius spent
most of his life traveling from state to state, seeking those in
leadership who would adopt the teachings of Confucius. The feudal
order in China had become worse than in the days of Confucius,
and the attempts of Mencius to reverse this trend were of no
Mencius, rejected by the
politicians of his day, turned to teaching and developing
Confucian thought. Among his accomplishments was the
clarification of a question that Confucius left ambiguous: the
basic nature of man. Mencius taught that man is basically good.
This is still a basic presupposition of Confucian thought.
In his classic example, Mencius
compared the potentiality of the goodness of man to the natural
flow of water. Though water naturally flows downward, it can be
made to flow uphill or splashed above one's head, but only as a
result of external force. Likewise man's nature is basically good
but can be forced into bad ways through external pressure.
This teaching, which is
diametrically opposed to the biblical doctrine of original and
universal sin, has made the proclamation of the Gospel that much
more difficult among the people in China who accept the ideas of
Mencius concerning the nature of man.
Confucius and Lao-tzu
There are reports, perhaps untrue, that Confucius met with
Lao-tzu (var. sp.: Lao-tze), the founder of Taoism. Confucius had
heard about the old archivist with strange philosophical beliefs
and decided to investigate. The meeting was anything but amiable,
however. Confucius, still a young man, had become famous because
of his teachings and wisdom, and Lao-tzu was annoyed with him.
Joseph Gaer records what is believed to have taken place:
Confucius had prepared a number of questions he wished to ask of
Lao-tze concerning his doctrines. But before he could even begin
on the topic, Lao-tze questioned Confucius about his interests.
Confucius replied that he was
interested in the history of the Ancients, especially as recorded
in The Book of Annals (Shu King).
"The men of whom you speak are long since dead and their
bones are turned to ashes in their graves!' Lao-tze interrupted
Their talk continued, with Lao-tze asking the questions and
Confucius answering them deferentially and politely. It was his
belief, Confucius explained, that man is by nature good, and that
knowledge can keep him good. "But why study the
Ancients?" Lao-tze asked impatiently. Confucius tried to
explain his belief that new knowledge must be based upon old
knowledge. Lao-tze interrupted him, saying: "Put away your
polite airs and your vain display of fine robes. The wise man
does not display his treasure to those he does not know. And he
cannot learn justice from the Ancients!' "Why not?"
"It is not bathing that
makes the pigeon white," was Lao-tze's reply. And he
abruptly ended the interview (Joseph Gaer, What the Great
Religions Believe, New York: Dodd, Mead, and Company, 1963, p.
Whether or not this meeting occurred, the account amply
illustrates the difference between the two men and the religions
which proceeded from them.
The Sources of Confucianism
During his teaching career Confucius collected ancient
manuscripts which he edited and on which he wrote commentaries.
He arranged these manuscripts into four books to which he also
added a fifth book of his own. These works are known as the Five
The Five Classics
The Five Classics as we have them today have gone through much
editing and alteration by Confucius' disciples, yet there is much
in them that can be considered the work of Confucius. The Five
1. The Book of Changes (I Ching) The I Ching is a collection of
eight triagrams and 64 hexagrams which consist solely of broken
and unbroken lines. These lines were supposed to have great
meaning if the key were discovered.
2. The Book of Annals (Shu King) This is a work of the history of
the five preceding dynasties. The example of the ancients was
crucial to Confucius' understanding of how the superior man
3. The Book of Poetry (Shih Ching) The book of ancient poetry was
assembled by Confucius because he believed the reading of poetry
would aid in making a man virtuous.
4. The Book of Ceremonies (Li Chi) This work taught the superior
man to act in the right or traditional way. Again Confucius
stressed doing things in the same way as the ancients.
5. The Annals of Spring and Autumn (Chun Chiu) This book,
supposedly written by Confucius, gave a commentary on the events
of the state of Lu at Confucius' time.
The Teachings of Confucius
None of these works contain the unique teaching of Confucius but
are rather an anthology of works he collected and from which he
taught. Confucius' own teachings have come down to us from four
books written by his disciples. They include:
1. The Analects. This is the most important source we have on
Confucius. The Analects are sayings of both Confucius and his
2. The Great Learning. This work which deals with the education
and training of a gentleman comes not from the hand of Confucius
but rather from a later period (about 250 B.C.).
3. The Doctrine of the Mean. This work deals with the
relationship of human nature to the order of the universe.
Authorship is uncertain (part of it may be attributed to
Confucius' grandson Tzu-Ssu), but it does not come from
4. The Book of Mencius. Mencius wrote the first exposition of
Confucian thought about 300 B.C. by collecting earlier teachings
and attempting to put them down systematically. This work, which
has had great influence and gives an idealistic view of life,
stresses the goodness of human nature.
The Doctrines of Confucianism
A common feature of Chinese religion prevalent at Confucius' time
was the veneration of ancestors. Ancestor worship is the
veneration of the spirits of the dead by their living relatives.
Supposedly the continued existence of the ancestors in spirit is
dependent upon the attention given them by their living
relatives. It is also believed that the ancestors can control the
fortunes of their families.
If the family provides for the
ancestors' needs, then the ancestors will in turn cause good
things to happen to their relatives. However, if the ancestors
are neglected, it is believed that all sorts of evil can fall
upon the living. Consequently, the living sometimes live in fear
of the dead.
Richard C. Bush expands upon this thought:
The veneration of ancestors by royal families and common people
alike reveals several reasons for ancestor worship. People wanted
their ancestors to be able to live beyond the grave in a manner
similar to their life-style on earth; hence the living attempted
to provide whatever would be necessary. A secondary motive lurks
in the background: if not provided with the food and weapons and
utensils needed to survive in the life beyond, those ancestors
might return as ghosts and cause trouble for the living. To this
day people celebrate a Festival of the Hungry Ghosts, placing
food and wine in front of their homes to satisfy those ancestral
spirits or ghosts whose descendants have not cared for them and
who therefore may wander back to old haunts. A third motive is to
inform the ancestors of what is going on at the present time,
hopefully in such a way that the ancestral spirits may be assured
that all is well and therefore may rest in peace. Finally,
ancestor worship expresses the hope that ancestors will bless the
living with children, prosperity, and harmony, and all that is
most worthwhile (Richard C. Bush, The Story of Religion in China,
Niles, IL: Argus Communications, 1977, p. 2).
A concept that was entrenched in China long before the time of
Confucius is that of filial piety (Hsaio) which can be described
as devotion and obedience by the younger members of the family to
the elders. This was particularly the case of son to father. This
loyalty and devotion to the family was the top priority in
Chinese life. Such duty to the family, particularly devotion to
the elders, was continued throughout one's life. This was
expressed in The Classic of Filial Piety: "The services of
love and reverence to parents when alive, and those of grief and
sorrow to them when dead -these completely discharge the
fundamental duty of living men" (Max Mueller, ed., Sacred
Books of the East, Krishna Press, 1879-1910, Vol. III, p. 448).
Confucius stressed this concept in his teachings, and it was well
received by the Chinese people, both then and now. In The
Analects, Confucius said:
The master said, "A young man should be a good son at home
and an obedient young man abroad, sparing of speech but
trustworthy in what he says, and should love the multitude at
large but cultivate the friendship of his fellow men" (1:6).
Meng Wu Po asked about being
filial. The master said, "Give your father and mother no
other cause for anxiety than illness" (11:6).
Tzu-yu asked about being filial. The master said, "Nowadays
for a man to be filial means no more than that he is able to
provide his parents with food. Even hounds and horses are in some
way provided with food. If a man shows no reverence, where is the
Confucianisns doctrines can be summarized by six key terms
or ways. Jen is the golden rule; Chun-tzu the gentleman;
Cheng-ming is the roleplayer; Te is virtuous power; Li is the
standard of conduct; and Wen encompasses the arts of peace. A
brief discussion of the six principles reveals the basic
doctrinal structure of Confucianism.
1. Jen. Jen has the idea of humaneness, goodness, benevolence or
man-to-manness. Jen is the golden rule, the rule of reciprocity;
that is to say, do not do anything to others that you would not
have them do to you. "Tzu-Kung asked, 'Is there a single
word which can be a guide to conduct throughout one's life?' The
master said, 'It is perhaps the word "Shu." Do not
impose on others what you yourself do not desire"'
(Confucius, The Analects, XV:24).
This is the highest virtue according to the Confucian way of
life; if this principle could be put into practice, then mankind
would achieve peace and harmony.
2. Chun-tzu. Chun-tzu can be
translated variously as the gentleman, true manhood, the superior
man, and man-at-his-best. The teachings of Confucius were aimed
toward the gentleman, the man of virtue. Huston Smith observes,
"If Jen is the ideal relationship between human beings,
Chun-tzu refers to the ideal term of such relations" (Smith,
op. cit., p. 180). Confucius had this to say about the gentleman:
(Confucius:) He who in this world can practice five things may
indeed be considered man-at-his-best.
What are they?
Humility, magnanimity, sincerity, diligence, and graciousness. If
you are humble, you will not be laughed at. If you are
magnanimous, you will attract many to your side. If you are
sincere, people will trust you. If you are gracious, you will get
along well with your subordinates (James R. Ware, trans., The
Sayings of Confucius, New York: New American Library 1955, p.
110). It is this type of man who can transform society into the
peaceful state it was meant to be.
3. Cheng-ming. Another important
concept according to Confucius was Cheng-ming, or the
rectification of names. For a society to be properly ordered,
Confucius believed everyone must act his proper part.
Consequently, a king should act like a king, a gentleman like a
Confucius said, "Duke Ching of Ch'i asked Confucius about
government. Confucius answered, 'Let the ruler be a ruler, the
subject a subject, the father a father, the son a son. . .
." (The Analects, XII:11).
He said elsewhere, "Tzu-lu said, 'If the Lord of Wei left
the administration (cheng) of his state to you, what would you
put first?'The master said, 'If something has to be put first, it
is perhaps the rectification of names'" (The Analects,
4. Te. The word te literally
means "power," but the concept has a far wider meaning.
The power needed to rule, according to Confucius, consists of
more than mere physical might. It is necessary that the leaders
be men of virtue who can inspire their subjects to obedience
through example. This concept had been lost during Confucius'
time with the prevailing attitude being that physical might was
the only proper way to order a society.
Confucius looked back at history to the sages of the past, Yao
and Shun, along with the founders of the Chou dynasty, as
examples of such virtuous rule. If the rulers would follow the
example of the past, then the people would rally around the
5. Li. One of the key words used by Confucius is li. The term has
a variety of meanings, depending upon the context. It can mean
propriety, reverence, courtesy, ritual or the ideal standard of
conduct. In the Book of Ceremonies (The Li Chi), the concept of
1i is discussed:
Duke Ai asked Confucius, "What is this great li? Why is it
that you talk about li as though it were such an important
Confucius replied, "Your humble servant is really not worthy
to understand Ii."
"But you constantly speak about it," said Duke Ai.
Confucius: "What I have learned is this, that of all the
things that people live by, li is the greatest. Without li, we do
not know how to conduct a proper worship of the spirits of the
universe; or how to establish the proper status of the king and
the ministers, the ruler and the ruled, and the elders and the
juniors; or how to establish the moral relationships between the
sexes; between parents and children, and between brothers; or how
to distinguish the different degrees of relationships in the
family. That is why a gentleman holds li in such high
regard" (Lin Yutang, The Wisdom of Confucius, New York:
Random House, 1938, Li Chi XXVII, p. 216).
6. Wen. The concept of Wen refers
to the arts of peace, which Confucius held in high esteem. These
include music, poetry and art. Confucius felt that these arts of
peace, which came from the earlier Chou period, were symbols of
virtue that should be manifest throughout society.
Confucius condemned the culture of his day because he believed it
lacked any inherent virtue. He had this to say:
The master said, "Surely when one says, 'The rites, the
rites,' it is not enough merely to mean presents of jade and
silk. Surely when one says 'music, music,' it is not enough
merely to mean bells and drums...." The master said,
"What can a man do with the rites who is not benevolent?
What can a man do with music who is not benevolent?" (The
Analects, XVII:11, III:3).
Therefore, he who rejected the arts of peace was rejecting the
virtuous ways of man and heaven.
The Book of Analects (Lun Yu) contains the sayings of Confucius
which present his ethical principles. The following excerpts are
from The Analects and give an example of the teachings of
Men of superior minds busy themselves first getting at the root
of things; when they succeed, the right course is open to them.
One excellent way to practice the rules of propriety is to be
When truth and right go hand in hand, a statement will bear
Sorrow not because men do not know you; but sorrow that you do
not know men.
To govern simply by statute and to maintain order by means of
penalties is to render the people evasive and devoid of a sense
If you observe what people take into their hands, observe the
motives, note what gives them satisfaction; then will they be
able to conceal from you what they are?
When you know a thing, maintain you know it; when you do not,
acknowledge it. This is the characteristic of knowledge.
Let the leader of men promote those who have ability, and
instruct those who have it not, and they will be willing to be
To see what is right and not to do it, that is cowardice.
The superior man is not contentious. He contends only as in
competitions of archery; and when he wins he will present his cup
to his competitor.
A man without charity in his heart, what has he to do with
ceremonies? A man without charity in his heart, what has he to do
He who has sinned against Heaven has none other to whom his
prayer may be addressed.
Tell me is there anyone who is able for one whole day to apply
the energy of his mind to virtue? It may be that there are such,
but I have never met with one.
If we may learn what is right in the morning, we should be
content to die in the evening.
The scholar who is intent upon learning the truth, yet is ashamed
of his poor clothes and food, is not worthy to be discoursed
The superior man thinks of his character; the inferior man thinks
of his position; the former thinks of the penalties for error,
and the latter, of favors.
One should not be greatly concerned at not being in office, but
rather about the requirements in one's self for that office. Nor
should one be greatly concerned at being unknown, but rather with
being worthy to be known.
The superior man seeks what is right, the inferior one what is
The superior man is slow to promise, prompt to fulfill.
Virtue dwells not in solitude; she must have neighbors.
In my first dealings with a man, I listen to his avowals and
trust his conduct; after that I listen to his avowals and watch
These are the four essential qualities of the superior man: he is
humble, he is deferential to superiors, he is generously kind,
and he is always just.
Those who are willing to forget old grievances will gradually do
away with resentment.
I have not yet seen the man who can see his errors so as in a day
to accuse himself.
Where plain naturalness is more in evidence than fine manners, we
have the country man; where fine manners are more in evidence
than plain naturalness, we have the townsman; where the two are
equally blended we have the ideal man.
Better than the one who knows what is right is he who loves what
To prize the effort above the prize, that is virtue.
What you find in me is a quiet brooder and memorizer, a student
never satiated with learning, an unwearied monitor to others.
These things weigh heavily upon my mind: failure to improve in
the virtues, failure in discussion of what is learned, inability
to walk always according to the knowledge of what is right and
just, inability to reform what has been amiss.
Fix your mind on truth; hold firm to virtue; rely upon
loving-kindness; and find your recreation in the arts.
With coarse food to eat, water to drink, and a bent arm for a
pillow, happiness may still be found.
Let there be three men walking together, and in them I will be
sure to find my instructors. For what is good in them I will
follow; and what is not good I will try to modify.
Sift out the good from the many things you hear, and follow them;
sift out the good from the many things you see and remember them.
Without a sense of proportion, courtesy becomes oppressive;
calmness becomes bashfulness; valor becomes disorderliness; and
candor becomes rudeness.
Even if a person were adorned with the gift of the Duke of Chau,
if he is proud and avaricious, all his other qualities are not
really worth looking at.
Learn as if you could never overtake your subject, yet as if
apprehensive of losing it.
When you have erred, be not afraid to correct yourself.
It is easier to carry off the chief commander of an army than to
rob one poor fellow of his will.
We know so little about life, how can we then know about death?
If a man can subdue his selfishness for one full day, everyone
will call him good.
When you leave your house, go out as if to meet an important
Do not set before others what you yourself do not like.
The essentials of good government are: a sufficiency of food, a
sufficiency of arms, and the confidence of the people. If forced
to give up one of these, give up arms; and if forced to give up
two, give up food. Death has been the portion of all men from of
old; but without the people's trust, nothing can endure.
A tiger's or a leopard's skin might be a dog's or a sheep's when
stripped of its hair.
Hold fast to what is good and the people will be good. The virtue
of the good man is as the wind; and that of the bad man, as the
grass. When the wind blows, the grass must bend.
Knowledge of man, that is wisdom.
The superior man feels reserved in matters which he does not
Let the leader show rectitude in his personal character, and
things will go well even without directions from him.
Do not wish for speedy results nor trivial advantages; speedy
results will not be far-reaching; trivial advantages will matter
only in trivial affairs.
The superior man will be agreeable even when he disagrees; the
inferior man will be disagreeable even when he agrees.
Confucius was asked, "Is a good man one who is liked by
everybody?" He answered, "No." "Is it one who
is disliked by everybody?" He answered, "No. He is
liked by all the good people and disliked by the bad!'
In a country of good government, the people speak out boldly and
Good men speak good words, but not all who speak good words are
good. Good men are courageous, but not all courageous men are
Confucianism is not a religion in the sense of man relating to
the Almighty but is rather an ethical system teaching man how to
get along with his fellow man. However, Confucius did make some
comments on the supernatural which give insight into how he
viewed life, death, heaven, etc. He once said, "Absorption
in the study of the supernatural is most harmful" (Lionel
Giles, Sayings of Confucius, Wisdom of the East Series, London:
John Murray Publ., 1917, 11:16, 94). When asked about the subject
of death, he had this to say, "Chi-lu asked how the spirits
of the dead and the gods should be served, The master said, 'You
are not able to serve man. How can you serve the spirits?"
May I ask about death?' 'You do not understand even life. How can
you understand death?"' (Confucius, The Analects, D. C. Lau,
trans., London: Penguin Books, 1979, Book XI, 12).
John B. Noss comments, "His
position in matters of faith was this: whatever seemed contrary
to common sense in popular tradition, and whatever did not serve
any discoverable social purpose, he regarded coldly" (John
B. Noss, Man's Religions, New York: MacMillan Company, 1969, P.
Confucius did, however, feel that heaven was on his side in the
ethical teachings that he espoused, as can be observed by the
"The master said, 'At fifteen I set my heart on learning; at
thirty I took my stand; at forty I came to be free from doubts;
at fifty I understood the decree of heaven; at sixty my ear was
attuned; at seventy I followed my heart's desire without
overstepping the line"' (The Analects, 11:5).
Confucianism a Religion?
Since Confucianism deals primarily with moral conduct and the
ordering of society, it is often categorized as an ethical system
rather than a religion. Although Confucianism deals solely with
life here on earth rather than the afterlife, it does take into
consideration mankind's ultimate concerns. One must remember the
outlook of the people during the time of Confucius. Deceased
ancestors were thought to exercise power over the living,
sacrifice to heaven was a common occurrence, and the practice of
augury, or observing the signs from heaven (thunder, lightning,
the flight of birds, etc.), all were prevalent. Huston Smith
makes an appropriate comment:
In each of these three great
features of early Chinese religion-its sense of continuity with
the ancestors, its sacrifice, and its augury -there was a common
emphasis. The emphasis was on Heaven instead of Earth. To
understand the total dimensions of Confucianism as a religion, it
is important to see Confucius (a) shifting the emphasis from
Heaven to Earth (b) without dropping Heaven out of the picture
entirely (Huston Smith, op. cit., p. 189). The emphasis in
Confucianism was on the earthly, not the heavenly; but heaven and
its doings were assumed to be real rather than imaginary. Since
Confucianism gradually assumed control over all of one's life,
and it was the presupposition from which all action was decided,
it necessarily permeated Chinese religious thought, belief and
practice as well.
The Impact of Confucianism
The impact Confucianism has had on China can hardly be
overestimated. Huston Smith observes:
History to date affords no clearer support for this thesis than
the work of Confucius. For over two thousand years his teachings
have profoundly affected a quarter of the population of this
globe. Their advance reads like a success story of the spirit.
During the Han Dynasty (206 B.C- A.D. 20), Confucianism became,
in effect, China's state religion. In 130 B.C. it was made the
basic discipline for the training of government officials, a
pattern which continued in the main until the establishment of
the Republic in 1912. In 59 A.D. sacrifices were ordered for
Confucius in all urban schools, and in the seventh and eighth
centuries temples were erected in every prefecture of the empire
as shrines to him and his principal disciples. To the second half
of the twelfth century his The Analects remained one of the
classics. But in the Sung Dynasty it became not merely a school
book but the school book, the basis of all education. In 1934 his
birthday was proclaimed a national holiday (Ibid., p. 192).
Marcus Bach in a similar way relates:
One thing that the Communist regime will never be able to do is
to get Confucius out of China. Some say it has not been tried.
Others contend there is no use trying. China's ... people know
Confucius as well as America's millions know the Christ. We do
not have a state religion, but we are predominantly Christian.
China does not have a state religion, but it is predominantly
Confucian (Marcus Bach, Major Religions of the World, Nashville:
Abingdon, 1970, p. 8 1).
Confucianism and Christianity
The ethical system taught by Confucius has much to commend it,
for virtue is something to desire highly However, the ethical
philosophy Confucius espoused was one of self-effort, leaving no
room or need for God. Confucius taught that man can do it all by
himself if he only follows the way of the ancients, while
Christianity teaches that man does not have the capacity to save
himself but is in desperate need of a savior. Confucius also
hinted that human nature was basically good. This thought was
developed by later Confucian teachers and became a cardinal
belief of Confucianism.
The Bible, on the other hand, teaches that man is basically
sinful and left to himself is completely incapable of performing
ultimate good. Contrast what the Bible says about human nature
and the need of a savior against Confucianism.
"The heart is more deceitful than all else and is
desperately sick; Who can understand it?" (Jeremiah 17:9,
NASB). "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of
God" (Romans 3:23, NASB). "For by grace you have been
saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift
of God: not as a result of works, that no one should boast"
(Ephesians 2:8, 9, NASB). "He saved us, not on the basis of
deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His
mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy
Spirit" (Titus 3:5, NASB).
Since Confucianism lacks any emphasis upon the supernatural, this
religious system must be rejected. It must be remembered that
Confucius taught an ethical philosophy that later germinated into
a popular religion, though Confucius had no idea that his
teachings would become the state religion in China. Nevertheless,
Confucianism as a religious system is opposed to the teachings of
Christianity and must be rejected summarily by Christians.
Analects, The -One of the Four Books containing the sayings of
Confucius. The Analects are considered the best source of
determining the sayings and wisdom of Confucius.
Ancestor Worship-the Chinese practice of worshipping the spirits
of their dead relatives in order to appease them from causing
trouble with the living.
Cheng Ming-The concept of rectification of names, meaning that
one should act in accordance with his position in life (king as a
king, father as a father, etc.).
Chun-tzu --"Man-at-his best," the superior man. The
type of man, according to Confucius, who could transform society
into a peaceful state.
Confucius -"Kung the Master," the title for Chiu King,
the founder of Confucianism.
Feng Shui -The Chinese name for geomancy, a branch of divination
to determine appropriate sights for houses or graves.
Filial Piety-The Chinese practice of loyalty and devotion by the
younger members of the family to their elders.
Five Classics-Along with the Four Books, the Five Classics are
the authoritative writings of Confucianism. The Five Classics
were collected and edited by Confucius. They include: The Book of
Changes, The Book of Annals, The Book of Poetry The Book of
Ceremonies, and The Annals of Spring and Autumn.
Four Books -The Four Books are a collection of the teachings and
sayings of Confucius. They include: The Analects, The Great
Learning, The Doctrine of the Mean, The Book of Mencius.
Jen -The golden rule in Confucianism, "Do not do to others
what you would not have them do to you."
Li-The concept denoting the ideal standard of conduct.
Mandate of Heaven-The authorization of power to Chinese emperors
and kings believed traditionally to issue from heaven.
Mencius -A later disciple of Confucius who is credited with
developing and systematizing Confucian thought.
Te-The virtuous power needed to properly rule the people.
Wen-The arts of peace, which include poetry, music, and art.
Bach, Marcus, Major Religions of the World, Nashville: Abingdon,
Bush, Richard C., The Story of Religion in China, Niles, IL:
Argus Communications, 1977.
Confucius, The Analects, D. C. Lau, trans., London: Penguin
Gaer, Joseph, What the Great Religions Believe, New York: Dodd,
Mead, and Company, 1963.
Giles, Lionel, Sayings of Confucius, Wisdom of the East Series,
London: John Murray Publ., 1917.
Hume, Robert E., The World's Living Religions, New York: Charles
Scribner's Sons, rev. ed., 1959.
Mueller, Max, ed., Sacred Books of the East, Fifty Volumes,
London: Krishna Press, 1879-1910.
Noss, John B., Man's Religions, New York: MacMillan Company,
Smith, Huston, The Religions of Man, New York: Harper and Row,
Ware, James R., trans., The Sayings of Confucius, New York: New
American Library 1955.
Yutang, Lin, The Wisdom of Confucius, New York: Random House,