Confucius or K'ung Fu Tzu (The Master Kung) was born in the sixth century during a dark age of Chinese history. Beginning in the eigth century B.C.E. through to the third century, China witnessed the collapse of the Zhou dynasty and the ensuing social anarchy. What began as feuds between lords soon became long drawn out wars. Women, children, and he aged were included in the slaughter if they were to be captured or found by an opposing army. Hundreds of thousands were recorded as being killed in singular mass slaughters, and accounts amassed of horrific tortures such as the conquered being thrown into boiling cauldrons, and having their relatives drink the human soup.
Confucius' life long goal was to achieve change through political action. He believed that China must return to the way it was, and looked back to what most saw as the 'Golden Age of China' and reviewed the way of life that he saw as lost. Confucius was never a successful politician, nor did he live an exceptional life, but what he did for billions of Chinese and others who would come after him was a system of social cohesion.
What Confucius did for his country, which was wrought with war and destruction, was a reiteration of the social structure that had been lost as a result of anarchy. Confucius built his concepts from the basic understandings that all Chinese had inherited from ancient times, namely the concepts heaven and earth, the importance of age, and yin and yang. However he gave these concepts his own tuning and adapted them to bring about a rigidity and discipline characteristic of Confucianism. Through his many teachings, Analects(as in the 'Confucius says..') and through the teachings of his followers Confucius is therefore termed as the 'Supreme Editor' of China's deliberate tradition. A tradition being deliberate in that in order for one to follow the ways of Confucius and the society, one must deliberately keep in mind the key concepts of Confucius's teachings:
Jen.(Oneness, man-to-manness, love) Jen is an all encompassing love for not only every other person but also of oneself. Translating the Chinese character Jen leaves us with the symbol for 'human being' and for 'two'. This translates loosely to loving others as you would love yourself, and in the West it could be best described as Confucius' golden rule. However Confucianism states the Golden Rule in the negative- "Do not do unto others what you would not want others to do unto you".
Chun tzu(One who lives by Jen) The chun tzu is one who lives by the ideal of Jen and is neither petty, arrogant, mean-spirited or vengeful. A Chun tzu is one who is comfortable with his or herself and is completely respecting to the people he or she meets.
If there is righteousness in the heart, there will be beauty in the character. If there is beauty in the character, there will be harmony in the home. If there is harmony in the home, there will be order in the nation. If there is order in the nation, there will be peace in the world.
A chun tzu was Confucius' solution to his historical situation. If one can be righteous in the heart, then he will naturally bring about peace to his surroundings.
Li(the way things should be done)In Li one must be aware of the way one should act and function within a society. In Li one can best cultivate their character by understanding what it entails. Li encompasses most importantly the Doctrine of the Mean, and the Five Constant Relationships.
The Doctrine of the Mean is the way in which one should make decisions in life, in which the best decision is always the middle between unworkable extremes. Taking the middle road as Confucius said would guide one to the way things should be done.
The Five Constant Relationships outline how one should act in society, being the relationships between parent and child, husband and wife, elder sibling and junior sibling, elder friend and junior friend, and ruler and subject. With these constant relationship guidelines, Li sets up a hierarchy between the two people and terms the accepted responses and actions between them.
A parent is to be loving, a child obedient.
This concept of hieracracy would fashion Chinese society and government for thousands of years, and builds into the next concept of Confucianism, Te.
Te(Power, political power.)Te establishes the guidelines for a just government and faithful subjects. Government should be virtuous while ruling, and must keep the confidence of the people. As subjects to the ruler, they must give their popular trust for a country to prosper.
Wen(the arts) Wen is Confucianism's respect for art for art's sake and for society's sake as well. Confucius saw that great and powerful nations has extensively cultivated their arts and intellectual endeavors. As knowledge grows, so does the country, leading Confucius to base his esteem of a country by the beauty of its art and the intellect of their philosophers.
These five concepts would guide China's culture and governments for thousands of years, and would ultimately help China out of its dark ages and into a period of growth and diversity. But, the rigidity of Confucianism could not efficiently influence China on such a large scale in its original form. Modifications had to be made with the changing times to accomodate the changing perceptions and feelings of the eras. But, the basic principles remained constant throughout the ages.
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