With China’s most influential philosopher Confucius due to celebrate his 2,567th birthday, a summary of history may enlighten us in sight of the momentous day. Although there continues to be scholarly debate as to the events that took place, such as whether he became a governor, the following is the standard account.
Confucius was born in Zou, Lu state (near present-day Qufu) on the 28th of September, 551 BC during the Zhou Dynasty (1045 – 255BC). Confucius was a sage, scholar and philosopher whose thoughts and teachings have become the foundation of a system known as Confucianism. This philosophy has profoundly influenced Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, and Japanese thoughts and life.
The Latinised name Confucius, based on the honorific title Kong Fuzi (K’ung Fu-tzu), was created by 16th-century Jesuit missionaries in China. Confucius was born into an aristocratic family who had lost their wealth and position. His father died when Confucius was only three years old. Instructed first by his mother, Confucius then distinguished himself as a passionate learner in his teens. He had served in minor government posts managing stables and keeping books for granaries before he married a woman of similar background when he was 19, later fathering 3 children. Confucius’ mastery of the six arts and his familiarity with poetry and history enabled him to start a school and brilliant teaching career in his 30’s. His teachings included humaneness towards others, ritual, etiquette, love of parents for their children, and of children for their parents. An emphasis was placed on self-cultivation and skilled judgement, rather than knowledge of rules.
During his lifetime Confucius developed concepts about education, society and government that he hoped to put into practice in a political career. By the age of 50 he may have become a governor. At 56, when he realised that his superiors were uninterested in his policies (feeding the poor at the expense of the state), Confucius left the country in an attempt to find another feudal state to which he could render his service.
Despite his political frustration he was accompanied by an expanding circle of students during this self-imposed exile of almost 12 years. His reputation as a man of vision and mission spread. At the age of 67 Confucius returned home to teach and to preserve his cherished classical traditions by writing and editing. He died in 479 BC, at the age of 73.
Confucius’ teachings were later turned into an elaborate set of rules and practices by his numerous disciples and followers, who organised his teachings into the Analects. Confucius’ disciples and his only grandson, Zisi, continued his philosophical school after his death. These efforts spread Confucian ideals to students who then became officials in many of the royal courts in China, thereby giving Confucianism the first wide-scale test of its dogma.
In the Analects (2:4), Confucius is recorded as summarising his life this way:
At 15 I set my heart on learning; at 30 I firmly took my stand; at 40 I had no delusions; at 50 I knew the Mandate of Heaven; at 60 my ear was attuned; at 70 I followed my heart’s desire without overstepping the boundaries of right.
Journal of Chinese Humanities is an English-language extension of Wen Shi Zhe 《文史哲》, a long-standing and reputable Chinese journal published by Shandong University. JOCH’s content spans important topics within the fields of Chinese history, philosophy, and literature. It covers both traditional and modern areas of research. Importantly, this journal aims to represent the current research coming out of mainland China. Each issue will be composed primarily of articles from Chinese scholars working at Chinese institutions, while at the same time including a small number of articles from foreign authors so as to provide opposing perspectives. In this way Chinese scholars’ research can reach the Western world, and our Western readers will benefit from a native perspective and first hand material coming out of China.
Every issue will be theme-based, focusing on an issue of common interest to the academic communities both in and out of China. This journal primarily targets academics in the English-speaking world who study multiple aspects of Chinese civilization and humanities. It will be of interest to both scholars and advanced students.
Journal of Chinese Humanities has just released its most recent issue entitled “Early Confucian Thought”. Published by Brill, the issue contains research articles, book reviews, and a special review section “Top Ten Developments in the Studies of Chinese Humanities in 2015”.
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Today celebrates the 15th day of the eighth month in the Chinese lunar calendar, Mid-Autumn Festival, also known as Moon Festival. This day brings family members and loved ones together to enjoy the full moon and what it symbolises – prosperity, happiness and family reunion.
The Mid-Autumn Festival has a history of over 3000 years with moon worship a significant part of the celebration. According to ancient Chinese mythology, there was once a hero named Hou Yi who saved the Earth by shooting down 9 of the 10 suns that appeared in the sky. An admirer of Yi bestowed him with an elixir of immortality, however Yi refused to become immortal without his wife Chang’e. An accomplice knew of this secret and attempted to trick Yi into drinking it, instead Chang’e swallowed the elixir and flew into the sky. After Yi discovered what had happened he felt so sad he displayed the favourite fruits and cake of Chang’e in the garden and gave sacrifices to his wife.
In modern celebration of this festival, families and friends share food offerings in honour of the moon and Chang’e (now known as the Moon Goddess of Immortality). Other traditional customs include burning of incense, performing dragon dances, and releasing brightly lit lanterns.
The hallmark of traditions is the making and sharing of moon cakes, which are typically cakes filled with lotus seed or red bean paste. The senior person in the household would cut the mooncake into pieces and distribute them among family members, signifying completeness and unity of families.
To celebrate the new school term at Fuzimiao Primary School, over 150 young pupils attended a ceremony at Nanjing’s Confucius Temple.
All children had dressed up in traditional costumes as the ancient philosopher Confucius and were learning how to study the character 人Rén (meaning person).
Smiles and excitement were abundant as the children were seen banging the temple’s drum and having a red dot painted on their forehead to represent ‘opening the wisdom eye’.
This celebration is held annually for children to officially start their school life.
To understand Confucian philosophy you need to start with Confucius and his teachings that have exerted deep influence on society in the past and present.
Bin Song, Ruist (Confucian) practitioner and philosopher, has formulated a reference chart to help one understand primary Confucian teachings and to better equip those to practice this wisdom in daily life.
In previous articles we have discussed the five cardinal human relationships and ten reciprocal duties. In order to comprehend these relationships among other virtues an explanation is summarised below.
Firstly, The Way of Heaven (Tian) (天道, Tiāndào) which appears at the top of the chart, refers to an all-encompassing, constantly creative cosmic power. Tian is the transcendent in Ruism (Confucianism). Dao means “the way”. By placing Dynamic Harmony (和, Hé) below The Way of Heaven, it can be said that Dynamic Harmony is the principle that runs through Tian.
The Way of Human Beings (仁道Réndào) and how humans engage with Tian concretely is to realise Dynamic Harmony in human society. This is through the virtue of Humanness (仁Rén). Consequently, the virtue of Humanness is the Way of Human Beings.
Humanness is the highest virtue and includes five different facets, which are referred to as the Five Constant Virtues (五常, Wǔcháng): Humaneness, Righteousness, Ritual-Propriety, Wisdom and Trustworthiness. These are universal principals that govern concrete human relationships.
The Three Guides (三綱, Sān gāng), describes a Ruist ethical understanding of the three major human relationships. ‘Ruler is the guide of subjects’ in modern context ought to be understood as “in public life, a superior is the guide of subordinates” and refers to relationships such as state and citizens and employer and employee. ‘Father is the guide of son’ ought to be understood as “parents are the guide of children”. Finally, ‘Husband is the guide of wife’ is interpreted as “husbands and wives are the guides of each other, depending upon their different areas of expertise”.
The ethics of the Three Guides are a distillation of Mencius teachings about the Five Cardinal Human Relationships (五倫, Wǔlún): parents and children, ruler and subjects, husband and wife, elder and junior, and friendship. Mencius taught that the virtues that guide each of these relationships are affective closeness between parents and children, righteousness between ruler and subjects, distinction between husband and wife, proper order between elders and juniors, and trustworthiness between friends.
Lastly, The ethics of the Ten Reciprocal Duties (十義, Shí yì) are described in The Book of Rites (禮記). The text prescribes a single virtue for each person as they act out their role in these relationships. In the relationship between parents and children, parents should be guided by the virtue of parental kindness and children should be guided by the virtue of filial devotion. As mentioned above, the practice of these two reciprocal duties will nurture the guiding virtue of affective closeness. This pattern of reciprocal virtues is repeated for the remaining four relationships.
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