The traditional Chinese term for Confucianism is K'ung-chiao", Kung being Master Kung, or Confucius. The character "chioa" could be viewed as a reduced form of either tsung-chiao (religion) or chiao-hua (teachings or cultivation), some have insisted on the interpretation that K'ung-chiao meant "Confucian teachings" instead of "Confucian religion". Confucius lived in a time of strife and anarchy. His teachings called, not for the salvation of the soul, but for good government and harmonious relations among men. He taught that men should be more conscious of their obligations than of their rights.
In the midst of conflicting views and systems, the Chinese are unanimous in the reverence with which they continue to regard Confucius. Their religion is a body of ceremonies rather than a system of doctrine. Practical politics, ethically supported, was the main interest in life for Confucius. He had not a spiritual nature, and taught that the best way to treat the spirits was to let them alone. Confucius implied to his disciples that no man can know anything about spirits or life after death, and that it was more important for a man to know himself and attend to his present life than to worry about spirits and the life to come. At the same time he was too staunch a conservative to neglect the rites and ceremonies of religion.
Confucius, "the Master,"" the Throneless King," "the Instructor of ten thousand generations," who is said to have possessed the most powerful mind that appeared in the Far East for centuries, and who is regarded by the Chinese with religious veneration, repeatedly disclaimed being more than a transmitter of moral, social, and political truth. "I am not one," he is reported to have said, "who was born in the possession of knowledge; I am only fond of antiquity, and earnest in seeking wisdom there. I do not make, but transmit, believing in and loving the ancients."
The legal system in China grew out of the thoughts of the Legalists, who helped to establish the first empire. The immediately following dynasty saw a Confucian-Legalist synthesis. The oldest, Confucian, concept of 'li' regulates the social order and human relationships by authority of custom with the force of law, forbidding trespasses before they are committed. Thus 'li' emphasizes the natural order and moral rules, constituting a code of etiquette and ritual propriety enforced by society rather than the government. But 'fa,' on the other hand, punishes criminal acts after commission, with emphasis on government by decree, as it was established by the Legalists of the third century Han dynasty. This conceptual dichotomy of 'li' and 'fa', complementing and coordinating with each other, has dominated Chinese law for 2,100 years, representing the oldest continuously surviving legal system in the world. In any conflict between 'li' and 'fa,' traditional chinese society preferred 'li,' which also dominated interstate relations.
China's traditional values were contained in the orthodox version of Confucianism, which was taught in the academies and tested in the imperial civil service examinations. These values are distinctive for their this-worldly emphasis on society and public administration and for their wide diffusion throughout Chinese society. Confucianism, never a religion in any accepted sense, is primarily concerned with social order. Social harmony is to be achieved within the state, whose administrators consciously select the proper policies and act to educate both the rulers and the subject masses. Confucianism originated and developed as the ideology of professional administrators and continued to bear the impress of its origins.
Confucius [551-478 BC ?] did not like to talk about extraordinary things and spiritual beings. "To give one's self earnestly," said he, "to the duties due to men, and, while respecting spiritual beings, to keep aloof from them, may be called wisdom." In Confucianism, there is no prayer. Confucius being very sick, Tzu-lu, his pupil, asked leave to pray for him. The master said: "My praying has been for a long time." In other words, he had no need of prayer. The Canon of Poetry speaks of "seeking for much happiness by yourself," which Mencius explains as meaning, "Calamity and happiness are in all cases of man's own seeking." Confucius frees all mankind from supernatural power, and lays stress on the independent cultivation of one's own personality. Any individual, who has reached the highest standard of the means and harmony, can fix the Heaven and Earth and can nourish all things. Such a religion was new to China in ancient times.
Confucians believed in the fundamental goodness of man and advocated rule by moral persuasion in accordance with the concept of li (propriety), a set of generally accepted social values or norms of behavior. Li was enforced by society rather than by courts. Education was considered the key ingredient for maintaining order, and codes of law were intended only to supplement li, not to replace it.
The five Confucian relationships are : Ruler and subject, father and son, elder and younger brother, husband and wife, and friend and friend. Although subordination to the superior is directed in each case, the superior has duties and responsibilities toward the junior whether it be ruler to subject or father to children. Reverence and respect are not owed the superior blindly. A son may, with respect, correct a father, and a people may withdraw the mandate from a ruler who does not truly fulfill his function. The individual's primary obligation is to his ruler, then his teacher, and finally his father although later Confucian teachings have stressed filial piety. A general rule to be observed in relationships with others is: "Do not do to others what you would not want them to do to you."
One of the conditions for performance of the five duties was taught by Confucius in his work, the Chung Yung which has been translated as Doctrine of the Mean. Actually Confucius meant much more than is implied by the word "mean," or middle way. He taught moderation and equilibrium, and harmony in actions, but advocated that a person might use the maximum means necessary. What he deplored was an excess beyond what is required to accomplish a desired end. To this end, he taught "Recompense injury with justice, and recompense kindness.
As the object of all Confucian teachings was the perfect moral individual and a harmonious social order, the basis for obtaining these goals was the "superior, noble or princely man." Such a man would know how he ought to live with moderation and harmony in everything. From this superior man would grow a harmonious family and a perfect state. One of the most frequently preached Confucian doctrines was Government by Example. Government was to be in the hands of the educated and virtuous who by their example would bring about the perfect state.
While Confucius was a humanist whose teachings were ethical, he recognized existing beliefs in a Supreme Being; by his teachings, insistence on the observance of existing rites and customs, he perpetuated religion as part of Confucianism. Ancestor veneration was perpetuated also both by the precept of filial piety and the observance of rites for the ancestors. A basic Confucian precept and the basis of ancestor veneration is that children serve their parents, an obligation equally as binding after the parents' death as when they are living.
The view upheld by some scholars that Confucianism is not a religion is based on a misjudgment of the facts. On the contrary, Confucianism is a religion in a double sense. Confucius stood throughout on the platform of the ancient national religion of China and shared most of the beliefs of his countrymen of that age. His entire moral system has its roots in the most essential factor of this religion, ancestral worship; in the absolute faith in an almighty supreme ruler, the Deity of Heaven; and in the unchangeable will of destiny. He sanctioned and adopted the whole system of ancient rites including the complicated ceremonial of burial and mourning. All this is religion.
Traditional thought accepted social stratification as natural and considered most social groups to be organized on hierarchical principles. In the ideal Confucian scheme of social stratification, scholars were at the highest level of society, followed by farmers, then by artisans, with merchants and soldiers in last place. Most of China's population was composed of peasant farmers, whose basic role in supporting the rulers and the rest of society was recognized as a positive one in Confucian ideology. Although commerce has been a major element of Chinese life since the early imperial period, and wealthy merchants have been major figures in Chinese cities, Confucianists disparaged merchants. Commercial success never won respect, and wealth based on commerce was subject to official taxes, fees, and even confiscation. Upward mobility by merchants was achieved by cultivating good relations with powerful officials and educating their sons in the hope they might become officials. Although dynasties were founded by military conquest, Confucian ideology derogated military skill. Common soldiers occupied a low position in society and were recruited from its lowest ranks.
Imperial-era Confucianists concentrated on this world and had an agnostic attitude toward the supernatural. They approved of ritual and ceremony, but primarily for their supposed educational and psychological effects on those participating. Confucianists tended to regard religious specialists (who historically were often rivals for authority or imperial favor) as either misguided or intent on squeezing money from the credulous masses. The major metaphysical element in Confucian thought was the belief in an impersonal ultimate natural order that included the social order. Confucianists asserted that they understood the inherent pattern for social and political organization and therefore had the authority to run society and the state.
The Confucianists claimed authority based on their knowledge, which came from direct mastery of a set of books. These books, the Confucian Classics, were thought to contain the distilled wisdom of the past and to apply to all human beings everywhere at all times. The mastery of the Classics was the highest form of education and the best possible qualification for holding public office. The way to achieve the ideal society was to teach the entire people as much of the content of the Classics as possible. It was assumed that everyone was educable and that everyone needed educating. The social order may have been natural, but it was not assumed to be instinctive. Confucianism put great stress on learning, study, and all aspects of socialization.
Confucianists preferred internalized moral guidance to the external force of law, which they regarded as a punitive force applied to those unable to learn morality. Confucianists saw the ideal society as a hierarchy, in which everyone knew his or her proper place and duties. The existence of a ruler and of a state were taken for granted, but Confucianists held that rulers had to demonstrate their fitness to rule by their "merit." The essential point was that heredity was an insufficient qualification for legitimate authority. As practical administrators, Confucianists came to terms with hereditary kings and emperors but insisted on their right to educate rulers in the principles of Confucian thought. Traditional Chinese thought thus combined an ideally rigid and hierarchical social order with an appreciation for education, individual achievement, and mobility within the rigid structure.
While ideally everyone would benefit from direct study of the Classics, this was not a realistic goal in a society composed largely of illiterate peasants. But Confucianists had a keen appreciation for the influence of social models and for the socializing and teaching functions of public rituals and ceremonies. The common people were thought to be influenced by the examples of their rulers and officials, as well as by public events. Vehicles of cultural transmission, such as folk songs, popular drama, and literature and the arts, were the objects of government and scholarly attention. Many scholars, even if they did not hold public office, put a great deal of effort into popularizing Confucian values by lecturing on morality, publicly praising local examples of proper conduct, and "reforming" local customs, such as bawdy harvest festivals. In this manner, over hundreds of years, the values of Confucianism were diffused across China and into scattered peasant villages and rural culture.
The decisive impact of the fall of the Ming dynasty in 1644 was for many Chinese literati who lived through this tragic period confirmation [rightly or wrongly] of the sterility and uselessness of the forms of Confucian discourse that had preceded the Ming collapse. "In opposition to the Neo-Confucian approach, there emerged the so-called Jingxue (School of Classics Studies) or classical Confucianism developed in the early Qing dynasty that was founded on the study of the “Six Classics,” that is the Yijing (Book of Changes), the Shujing (Classic of Ancient History), the Shijing (Classic of Poetry), the now-lost Yuejing (Classic of Music), the Lijing (Classic of Propriety), and the Chunqiu (Annals of the Spring and Autumn Period). Liang argued that the major difference between the two is that Neo-Confucianism places great emphasis on abstractions such as xin (mind), xing (human nature), li (reason), and qi (material-force) and demonstrates little concern for practical affairs such as economic, political, and military knowledge that will strengthen the national defense, benefit the public welfare, and promote people’s livelihood. To find a scapegoat for the collapse of the Ming dynasty (the last imperial regime led by ethnic Chinese), many late Ming intellectuals blamed Wang Yangming’s idealism for the ruin of their country. Thus the Jingxue thinkers urged Confucius’ genuine followers to turn to the original Confucian teachings through exegesis, not only of the Four Books, but of the Six Classics, which they supposed to be uncontaminated by Buddhism and Daoism."
Confucianism has been identified as a major cultural factor that explained the economic success of the Asian Five Dragons (Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan). The organizational communication in these nations is based on the four key principles of confucian teaching: the hierarchical relationship, the family system, "Jen" (benevolence), and the emphasis on education. The Confucian emphasis on education at all levels has become one of the most important characteristics of Chinese culture, and the tradition is carried over to every Asian nation, especially the Asian Five Dragons.
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