CONFUCIANISM Essay, Research Paper


Confucianism was the major school of thought in China throughout history. Confucianism was developed from the teachings of Confucius and his disciples, and covered the areas of social relationships, principles of good conduct, practical wisdom. Confucianism has influenced the Chinese attitude toward life, set the patterns of living, and provided the background for Chinese political theories and institutions. It has spread through various countries from Korea, Japan, and Vietnam and has aroused interest among Western scholars. Although Confucianism became the official ideology of the Chinese state, Confucianism has never existed as an established religion. Amazingly, Chinese scholars honored Confucius as a great teacher but did not worship him as a personal god. Unlike Christian churches, the temples built to Confucius were not places in which organized community groups gathered to worship, but public places designed for annual ceremonies.

Two major schools of Confucian thought emerged after the death of Confucius. One of these schools was represented by Mencius, the other, Hs?n-tzu. Mencius continued the ethical teachings of Confucius by stressing the innate goodness of human nature. He believed, however, that original human goodness could become corrupt through one’s own destructive effort or through contact with an evil environment. The problem of moral cultivation is therefore to preserve or at least to restore the goodness that is one’s birthright. In political thought, Mencius is sometimes considered one of the early advocates of democracy, for he advanced the idea of the people’s supremacy in the state.

In opposition to Mencius, Hs?n-tzu contended that a person is born with an evil nature but that it can be regenerated through moral education. He believed that desires should be guided and restrained by the rules of propriety and that character should be molded by an orderly observance of rites and by the practice of music. This code serves as a powerful influence on character by properly directing emotions and by providing inner harmony. Hs?n-tzu was the main exponent of ritualism in Confucianism.

Taoist philosophical and spiritual thinking can be found in the book Tao-te Ching, a text dating from 300 BC and attributed to the historical figure Lao-tzu, and in the Chuang-tzu, a book of parables and allegories also dating from the 300 BC but attributed to the philosopher Chuang-tzu. Whereas Confucianism urged the individual to conform to the standards of an ideal social system, Taoism maintained that the individual should ignore the dictates of society and seek only to conform with the underlying pattern of the universe, the Tao, meaning ?way?, which can neither be described in words nor conceived in thought. To be in accord with Tao, one has to ?do nothing? (wu-wei)?that is, nothing strained, artificial, or unnatural. Through compliance with the impulses of one’s own essential nature and by emptying oneself of all doctrines and knowledge, one achieves unity with the Tao and derives from it a mystical power (To). This power enables one to transcend all mundane distinctions, even the distinction of life and death. At the political level, the Taoists called for a return to a primitive farming type life.

Inapt to the development of a clear political theory, Taoism exerted its greatest influence on Chinese aesthetics, hygiene, and religion. Taoism also developed at a cult level in which immortality was sought through magic and the use of various potions. Experimentation in alchemy gave way to the development, between the 3rd and 6th centuries, of various hygiene cults that sought to prolong life. These developed into a general hygiene system, still practiced, that stresses regular breathing and concentration to prevent disease and promote longevity.

About the 200 AD, popular Taoist religious organizations concerned with faith healing began to appear. Taoism was recognized as the official religion of China for several brief periods. Various Taoist sects eventually developed, and in 1019 the leader of one of these was given an extensive tract of land in Jiangxi Province. The successors of this patriarch maintained control over this tract and nominal supremacy over local Taoist clergy until 1927, when the Chinese Communists ousted them.

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