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Confucius
traditionally September 8? 551 BC–479 BC


 


Confucius
traditionally September 8? 551 BC–479 BC

Born

Generally thought to be in 551 BCH in Zou, Lu state (near present-day Qufu, Shandong Province).

His father, Kong, also known as Shuliang, was an officer in the Lu military.

Kong died when Confucius was three years old.

Early Life

As a child, Confucius was raised by his mother in poverty.

He married a young girl or woman named Qi Guan at age 19.

A year later, the couple had their first child, Kong Li, both of whom Confucius was to abandon to develop his ideologies. Confucius's social ascendancy linked him to the growing class of shi, a class intermediate between the aristocracy and the common people.

Confucius is reported to have worked as a shepherd, cowherd, clerk, and a book-keeper.

When his mother died, Confucius (aged 23) is reported to have mourned for three years as was the ritual.

Politics

The Lu state was headed by a ruling ducal house.

Under the duke were three aristocratic families, whose heads bore the title of viscount and held hereditary positions in the Lu bureacracy.

The Ji family held the position "Minister over the Masses", who was also the "Prime Minister"; the Meng family held the position "Minister of Works"; and the Shu family held the position "Minister of War".

In the winter of 505 BC, Yang Hu—a retainer of the Ji family rose up in rebellion and seized power from the Ji family.

However, by the summer of 501 BC, the three hereditary families had succeeded in expelling Yang Hu from Lu.

By then, Confucius had build up a considerable reputation through his teachings, while the families came to see the value of proper conduct and righteousness, so they could achieve loyalty to a legitimate government.

Thus, that year (501 BC), Confucius came to be appointed to the minor position of governor of a town.

Eventually, he rose to the position of Minister of Crime.

Confucius desired to return the authority of the state to the duke by dismantling the fortifications of the city strongholds belonging to the three families.

This way, he could establish a centralized government.

However, Confucius relied solely on diplomacy as he had no military authority himself.

In 500 BC, Hou Fan, the governor of Hou, revolted against his lord of the Shu family.

Although the Meng and Shu families unsuccessfully besieged Hou, a loyalist official rose up with the people of Hou and forced Hou Fan to flee to the Qi state.

The situation may have been in favor of Confucius as this likely made it possible for Confucius and his disciples to convince the aristocratic families to dismantle the fortifications of their cities.

Eventually, after a year and a half, Confucius and his disciples succeeded in convincing the Shu family to raze the walls of Hou, the Ji family in razing the walls of Bi, and the Meng family in razing the walls of Cheng.

First, the Shu family led an army towards their city Hou and tore down its walls in 498 BC.

Soon thereafter, Gongshan Furao[a], a retainer of the Ji family, revolted and took control of the forces at Bi.

He immediately launched an attack and entered the capital Lu.

When it was time to dismantle the city walls of the Meng family, the governor was reluctant to have his city walls torn down and convinced the head of the Meng family not to do so.

The Zuo Zhuan recalls that the governor advised against razing the walls to the ground as he said that it made Cheng vulnerable to the Qi state and cause the destruction of the Meng family.

Even though Viscount Meng Yi gave his word not to interfere with an attempt, he went back on his earlier promise to dismantle the walls.

Later in 498 BC, Duke Ding personally went with an army to lay siege to Cheng in an attempt to raze its walls to the ground, but he did not succeed.

Thus, Confucius could not achieve the idealistic reform that he wanted and restore the legitimate rule of the duke, returning to the period of the Duke of Zhou.

As a result of his unusual degree of success, Confucius made powerful enemies within the state, especially with Viscount Ji Huan.

According to accounts in the Zuo Zhuan and Shiji, Confucius departed his homeland in 497 BC after his support to the failed attempt of dismantling the fortified city walls of the powerful Ji, Meng, and Shu families.

He left the state of Lu without resigning, remaining in self-exile and unable to return as long as Viscount Ji Huan was alive.

Exile

The Shiji states that the neighboring Qi state was worried that Lu was becoming too powerful while Confucius was involved in the government of the Lu state.

According to this account, Qi decided to sabotage Lu's reforms by sending 100 good horses and 80 beautiful dancing girls to the Duke of Lu.

The Duke indulged himself in pleasure and did not attend to official duties for three days.

Confucius was deeply disappointed and resolved to leave Lu and seek better opportunities, yet to leave at once would expose the misbehavior of the Duke and therefore bring public humiliation to the ruler Confucius was serving.

Confucius therefore waited for the Duke to make a lesser mistake.

Soon after, the Duke neglected to send to Confucius a portion of the sacrificial meat that was his due according to custom, and Confucius seized upon this pretext to leave both his post and the Lu state.

After Confucius's resignation, he began a long journey or set of journeys around the small kingdoms of northeast and central China, including the states of Wei, Song, Chen, and Cai.

At the courts of these states, he expounded his political beliefs but did not see them implemented.

Ethics

Although Confucianism is often followed in a religious manner by the Chinese, arguments continue over whether it is a religion.

Confucianism discusses elements of the afterlife and views concerning Heaven, but it is relatively unconcerned with some spiritual matters often considered essential to religious thought, such as the nature of souls.

The Analects of Confucius.

In the Analects, Confucius presents himself as a "transmitter who invented nothing".

He puts the greatest emphasis on the importance of study, and it is the Chinese character for study that opens the text.

Far from trying to build a systematic or formalist theory, he wanted his disciples to master and internalize the old classics, so that their deep thought and thorough study would allow them to relate the moral problems of the present to past political events (as recorded in the Annals) or the past expressions of commoners' feelings and noblemen's reflections (as in the poems of the Book of Odes).

Just as action according to Lǐ should be adapted to conform to the aspiration of adhering to yì, so yì is linked to the core value of rén.

Rén consists of 5 basic virtues: seriousness, generosity, sincerity, diligence and kindness.

Rén is the virtue of perfectly fulfilling one's responsibilities toward others, most often translated as "benevolence" or "humaneness".

Translator Arthur Waley calls it "Goodness" (with a capital G), and other translations that have been put forth include "authoritativeness" and "selflessness."

Confucius's moral system was based upon empathy and understanding others, rather than divinely ordained rules.
To develop one's spontaneous responses of rén so that these could guide action intuitively was even better than living by the rules of yì.

Confucius asserted that virtue is a means between extremes.

For example, the properly generous person gives the right amount—not too much and not too little.

Died

Burdened by the loss of both his son and his favorite disciples, he died at the age of 71 or 72. Confucius was buried in Kong Lin cemetery which lies in the historical part of Qufu. The original tomb erected there in memory of Confucius on the bank of the Sishui River had the shape of an axe.

In addition, it has a raised brick platform at the front of the memorial for offerings such as sandalwood incense and fruit.

Confucius
"At fifteen, I set my mind upon learning;
At thirty, I took my stand;
At forty, I no longer had doubts;
At fifty, I knew the will of the heavens;
At sixty my ear was attuned;
At seventy, I follow all the desires of my heart
without breaking any rule.


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