By Chanler Kelly and Samantha Wasson
"To study and not think is a waste. To think and not study is dangerous." -Confucius, from his Analects (ca. 490 BCE).


First and foremost, Confucianism is a political and social philosophy, and more of a way of life than a religion. It does not deal with salvation or the afterlife, but instead provides a code of conduct in order to live an honorable life. Confucianism was created during the Era of Warring States by a philosopher named Confucius. His teachings have been passed down throughout generations, and continue to influence Chinese culture today.

Confucius, the Father of Confucianism

Confucius, which in Chinese means ‘Kung Fu Tzu’, was born in Qufu, China in 551 BC. He grew up in a poor home; His parents were once rich, but got in trouble with the emperor and had everything taken away from them. They sent him out to the big city- Zhou, where Chou, the emperor lived, to pursue an education. This is when Confucius was inspired to figure out a way to help people live civilly inside the government.

Confucius searched for a way for the government to do a better job taking care of people. When he was 35 years old and moved back to Lu as a teacher, he tried to get involved in politics, but when his initial plan didn't work out Confucius went back to being a teacher and served for a while as a city magistrate and then as a chief minister of his city, Lu, when he was about fifty. But when he saw that the Duke of Lu was shirking his responsibilities, Confucius quit and left his city.

Confucius spent the rest of his life traveling from town to town around China with his students and friends, giving advice to different rulers wherever he went. Often they didn't like his advice, but he still spread his ideas through the people. When he was 67, Confucius went back to Lu and decided to settle down. He died there when he was 72 years old in 479 B.C., leaving behind his practices and movements.

Confucian Teachings and Beliefs

A common theme in Confucianism is “knowing your place in society.” It is believed that harmony comes from the proper ordering of human relationships. Thus, this philosophy is based on one’s relationships with others. The five relationships Confucius focused on are…
  • Ruler and Subject
  • Parent and Child
  • Husband and Wife
  • Older Brother and Younger Brother
  • Friend and Friend
The Analects, which are the only certain sources of the original teachings of Confucius, expand on this philosophy’s ethics and values. In them we learn that knowledge and education are highly important, and that everyone should practice filial piety. Filial piety meant showing respect, obedience and honor to the Family Elders. It is also important to obey and respect one’s leaders, because they have the Mandate of Heaven, which is best described as the divine right to rule. In the Analects it is stated that the five things one needs to be a man of humanity are reverence, generosity, truthfulness, diligence, and kindness. Confucius also warned of lust, quarrels, and envy, and urged followers to guard themselves against them.
Confucianism stress several virtues, three of which are…
  • Ren- Sense of humanity, kindness, and benevolence
  • Li- Sense of propriety, courtesy, respect, and deference of elders
  • Xiao- Filial Piety (This was a big one)

The Analects

The Analects are widely considered to be the only accurately preserved original teachings of Confucius.
The Analects carved into stone by Confucius' faithful students.
This record was complied after Confucius' death in 479 AD by his students. The Analects are a collection of moral and ethical principles that set standards for individual conduct and government administration. A general theme throughout the Analects is that a man should live and upright life, gain knowledge, and promote, support, and contribute to society. The Analects state that one should overflow with love for human beings, and for rulers to provide guidance and protection to his obedient followers. The Analects greatly affected how government was managed at the time, and set in motion key changes that are still prevalent in Chinese culture today.

Confucianism's Impact on Chinese Society

Confucianism was created by Confucius in order to bring peace to the chaotic time period in which he lived. However, these teaching lived on and became extremely popular in China. One aspect about Confucianism that helped it gain popularity was the fact that it was philosophy. This made it (somewhat) compatible with other common religions, such as Daoism and Buddhism.

Confucianism caused several changes in China. Its regard for filial piety and intimate family relationships created close-knit extended families. However, Confucianism severely limited the power and liberty of women. Wives were considered to be “below” their husbands in the Confucian hierarchy, and were confined to subordinate roles. However, children were still taught to honor their mothers, and through their family a women was able to gain some power.

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