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Confucius - 551-479 BC

ConfuciusConfucius, who is said to have lived 2,500 years ago, never attempted to found a religion but was content to be a scholar and teacher. He introduced no new religious ideas and never professed to be original. Instead Confucius held fast to ancient rites and customs, and his ethics were his chief contribution. He did not indulge in abstract philosophizing; for him man was the measure of all things. In his teachings Confucius combined politics, ethics, and education and imbued disciples with the spirit of reverence and devotion. His ideas survived the inroads of other major religions and lived on while dynasties rose and fell for more than 25 centuries.

Confucius, the Latin form given by Jesuit missionaries to Kung Fu Tse, was said to have been born in the year 551 BC near the town of Yen-chow, in what is now the province of Shan-tung. His father, Shuh Leang Heih, died when Confucius was three years old. He had been an official of some rank and a soldier of distinguished courage. It was long remembered that, at the siege of Peih Yang in 562, having forced his way through the gate with a few followers who were being overwhelmed by numbers, the father of Confucius held the portcullis up by sheer strength till they made their escape good. At the age of seventy Confucius married his second wife, Ching-Tsae, the mother of Confucius. To her wise counsels the son owed much; and at her death Confucius honored her with three years of mourning, first preparing a burial mound with revival of all ancient rites, under which his father's remains were also entombed.

One of 11 children, his early life was spent in poverty. Largely self-educated, Confucius became China's most noted educator and learned man. At the age of nineteen Confucius had held the office of superintendent of the corn market, subsequently that of public lands. At twenty-two, Confucius is first heard of as a teacher. What Confucius taught is uncertain; but attention and intelligence were firmly exacted from his pupils. "When," Confucius said, "I have presented one side of a subject to a pupil, and he cannot from it learn the other three, I do not repeat my lessons." It is believed that the months of seclusion following his mother's death were spent in preparation for his life's work. He was now twenty-three years old; but Confucius had married four years previously, and his public life had long since begun.

Much of the life of Confucius was spent passing from one of the small feudal States to another, and forming a school of disciples, penetrated like himself with the desire to revive and perpetuate a higher ethical standard. But Confucius was no recluse: and was ready to put principle in practice when occasion offered.

After 29 years of successful teaching Confucius was appointed town magistrate when he was 51. In the five years, 500-496 BC, Confucius held office as chief magistrate of the town of Chung-foo, in the dukedom of Lu. Under his administration stringent ordinances were made as to sexual relations, as to public and private expenditure, and as to burial rites. It is said that, before taking office, Confucius insisted on the execution of the unjust minister who had preceded him. It is at least probable that a marvelous reformation of justice and public order took place under his rule. In four years Confucius advanced to chief justice of his state. The state ruler, Duke Ting, impressed with Confucius' teachings, followed them to the point of greatly improving his government and his people's lot.

Then Confucius resigned. Envy and court intrigue drove him from power, and the next thirteen years were spent in homeless wandering from one State to another, often in much tribulation and with a deep sense of failure and unattained ideal. This period of self-imposed exile, with its hardship and danger, helped spread his fame as a teacher and reformer and attracted many disciples.

In 483 BC, Confucius was recalled by his prince, and under his protection the last five years of his life were spent in completing his task of arranging ancient records. He edited The Book of Songs (containing 308 songs and several anthems), wrote a chronicle of his native state and a book detailing the classic rites. He also began writing the Analects or Sayings of Confucius, which were completed by his disciples.

Born in 551 BC, Confucius died in 479 BC. The worship of his memory began forthwith, and remained as the chief directing influence of Chinese polity. In 140 BC, Emperor Han Wu-Ti made Confucianism a state religion. Succeeding emperors built temples in his honor in every district of China, and imperial colleges were established which taught the Confucian Classics. Graduation from these schools, or passing an examination based on his teachings, opened the door to social and official life until 1912. His emphasis on ancestral reverence continued into modern times. When the Tientsin-Pukow railroad was being built the railroad authorities were influenced by his descendants to divert it five miles from the town so as not to disturb his resting place. Red Guards desecrated Confucius' tomb, the first known exception to this tradition.

The Library of Congress held a program honoring the Chinese philosopher on 11 September 2010. The cornerstone of the event was a ceremony marking a special donation to the Library of Congress of the Confucian genealogy. Ling-He Kung, a 76th-generation descendant of the revered Chinese philosopher, donated an 80-volume set that documents Confuciuss family tree. Published by the Beijing-based Culture and Literature Publishing House, the volumes record 83 generations (more than 2 million people) descended from Confucius. It is believed to be the biggest family tree in the world.

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Page last modified: 20-11-2011 19:12:21 ZULU