Confucianism: An Overview

Confucianism is an ancient Chinese belief system that can be looked at in three ways; as a religion, as a philosophy, and as a way of life.

This ancient belief system was founded by Confucius; a 6th century Chinese philosopher who if given a chance would have preferred to live 500 years earlier (at the dawn of the Zhou dynasty).

During Confucius’ time, China had splintered into small independent states, ruled by corrupt feudal Lords, who were constantly at war with each other. This was a total contrast to the Zhou dynasty, when the country was unified under a single, authoritative, morally upright, Zhou King.

Confucius drew inspiration and hope for reform from the Zhou dynasty, which he imagined to have been the country’s golden age. If good governance, proper social relations, and decent treatment of fellow human beings could prevail in the current state, then the country could possibly reinstate its lost glory. And so he made this his mission.

The master travelled from one feudal state to another, in an effort to convince any one of the rulers to accommodate him in their respective governments, for the sake of executing his socio-political vision as a way of railing the country back to where it once was.

But none of the rulers would hear of it. They all dismissed Confucius and his ideologies. It was a time of war. The entire country was plunged into civil war. No ruler was interested to govern by moral example at a time when the enemy was at the border waiting to pounce any minute. In the face of strife, Confucius’ vision held little persuasive power. The focus was on the war. Nothing else.

Instead of blind persistence, Confucius changed tact; he turned his life’s work from politics to teaching his disciples , men he hoped would embrace his socio-political ideals and go on to succeed where he himself had failed.

The success of Confucianism as a belief system therefore, is not only attributed to Confucius as a teacher, but also to his team of dedicated disciples as well as subsequent generation after generation of followers. It is through their adherence and devotion to his teachings, sayings, and conversations that the Analects (a key source of Confucius’ thoughts) was formed.

Confucian beliefs and values promote self-improvement, education, filial piety, conforming to one’s proper role in the society, and cultivating harmony through pursuit of these principles. Perhaps famous of all Confucian beliefs is the Golden Rule: To treat others how you wish to be treated (or don’t treat others how you don’t want to be treated).

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