History Of Confucianism Essay, Research Paper
“Confucianism is, and has been for over 25 centuries, the dominantphilosophical system in China and the guiding light in almost every aspect ofChinese life.” Confucius and his disciples traveled all throughout China in anattempt to convert rulers to the Confucian belief system. (author unknown,Confucianism). Originally one of several rival teachings during the Choudynasty (1027 256 BC ), it wasn’t widely accepted at first but, by the 2nd centuryBC, had become the official creed of China (Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia,Edition 3, p208AA) . K’ung Fu-tzu, the father of Confucianism, was born in 551 B. C. of a noblefamily who had lost their wealth and position. His father, who died when K’ungFu-tzu was two, is said to have been a celebrated soldier of tremendous size andmight who was seventy years old when K’ung Fu-tzu was conceived. K’ung Fu-tzu was the youngest of eleven children. He was raised in poverty but received agood education. After accepting a minor government position, he married andfathered a son but eventually divorced. (Sprunger). He was unsuccessful as aguest official, so he opened a school. He taught using books that would come tobe known as the Confucian Classics. These books were I Ching (Book ofChanges), Rites of Chou, Book of Poetry, Book of Documents, Spring andAutumn Annals, and Classic of Music. (class notes, Sept. 23, 1998) . Before the Third Century BC, Confucianism was essentially a system ofmoral laws that society should follow in order to reach the Confucian ideal.Confucianism advocated education, jen (benevolence), rituals or Li, whichinvolved knowing your proper position (i.e.. “king behaves like king, father likefather, son like son”). (class notes, Sept. 23, 1998). “Jen is expressed through thefive relations sovereign and subject, parent and child, elder and youngerbrother, husband and wife, and friend and friend. Of these, the filial relation isusually stressed.” (The Columbia Encyclopedia, Edition 5, p8867). Each of theserelationships involves someone inferior and superior. A subordinate personmust treat his or her inferiors with respect. The ruler must set the moralstandard.(The Columbia Encyclopedia, Edition 5, p8867). Kung Fu-tzu insisted that education was key to gain virtue or jen. (classnotes, Sept. 23, 1998). Confucianism stressed struggling for education andadhered to the idea that man should try to improve upon himself. Confuciusbelieved that it was possible for a man, most importantly a ruler to become anideal being by practicing Li and Jen and by obtaining a proper education. (classnotes, Oct 9, 1998). Early Confucianism took no interest in the idea of Tao or some greaterpower and, before it was altered during the Han dynasty, had no concept ofcosmic forces. It dealt solely with life on earth (class notes Oct. 9, 1998). Confucius declined to deal with all things spiritual. He once said about heavenand the concept of an “after-life”, “If we don’t know everything about this life,why bother with another.” (class notes Sept. 23, 1998). Mencius (371-289 BC), regarded as the Second Chinese Sage, developedand added to Confucianism. He believed in the basic decency of human nature,but he was skeptical of government. It was his belief that rulers exist to providefor the good of the people, in both material goods and moral guidance. He statedhis thesis as: “The people are the most important element in a nation; the spiritsof the land and grain come next; the sovereign counts for the least.” Hepromoted low taxes, free trade, conservation of natural resources, and welfarelegislation for the old and disadvantaged. (Compton’s Encyclopedia Online,”Mencius”) Mencius was born in about 371 BC in the state of Tsou, China. He was astudent a pupil of Confucius’ grandson. Much of his career was spent travelingfrom state to state and advocating change, though he became a teacher when hegrew older. He lived during the period of the Warring States (481-221 BC), so hefound little support among princes and nobility for his ideas on the merits of thecommon man and of democracy. The book ‘Mencius’ is a collection of his sayingsand a record of his life put down in writing by his pupils. For more than 1,000years he has been regarded as the cofounder of Confucianism.(Compton’sEncyclopedia Online, “Mencius”). Confucius did not speak directly about the nature of human beings, therights of the people against corrupt rulers, and the supernatural. Two of hisdisciples, Mencius and Xunzi (Hs n-tzu), did much to clarify these issues.Mencius asserted that human nature was basically good and that it could bedeveloped not only by study, as Confucius taught, but also by inner self-cultivation. Like Confucius, Mencius accepted the hierarchically ordered feudalsociety in which he lived, but he placed far greater stress on the responsibilitiesof the ruler for the welfare of the people. The Zhou rulers held their positionunder a doctrine known as the Mandate of Heaven. Mencius held that theMandate of Heaven was expressed by the acceptance of a ruler by the people. Ifthe people rose up and overthrew a tyrant, it was proof that Heaven hadwithdrawn its favor. Therefore, Mencius claimed the common people had theright to revolt. Xunzi took an exactly opposite view of human nature; heasserted that rebellion was fundamentally evil. Xunzi, however, was optimisticenough to believe in people’s unlimited capacity for improvement. He taughtthat through education, the study of the classics, and the rules of etiquette, virtuecould be achieved and order could be reestablished in society. Xunzi thusendowed Confucianism with a philosophy of formal education and a tendencytoward rigid rules for the regulation of human conduct (author unknown, CONFUCIANISM) After the death of Confucius two major schools of Confucian thoughtemerged: one was represented by Mencius, the other by Xunzi (Hs n-tzu, alsoknown as Xunkuang, or Hs n K’uang). Mencius continued the ethical teachingsof Confucius by stressing the innate goodness of human nature. He believed,however, that original human goodness can become depraved through one’sown destructive effort or through contact with an evil environment. Theproblem of moral cultivation is therefore to preserve or at least to restore thegoodness that is one’s birthright. In political thought, Mencius is sometimesconsidered one of the early advocates of democracy, for he advanced the idea ofthe people’s supremacy in the state (Encarta Online Deluxe, “Mencius”). Chinese philosopher Xunzi (Hs n-tzu) was an important early figure inConfucianism, a major system of thought that originated in China. Xunzi wrotethe book that bears his name sometime during the 3rd century BC. In directcontradiction with his predecessor, the Chinese philosopher Mencius, Xunziargued that humans are evil by nature, and that only law, order, and adherenceto the rules of etiquette can lead humans away from the chaos caused by theirself-centered desires. Xunzi considered heaven a detached force that operatedindependently of human society. He disapproved of superstition and held uppractices such as the proper cultivation of crops, decorum in behavior, and justgovernment as correct ways to prevent hardship (Weber) Confucianism met with resistance in 213 BC. Scholars were banned fromstarting Confucian classes. Li Ssu ordered all Confucian books. This burningresulted in the loss of many original texts (author unknown, CONFUCIANISM). K’ung Fu-tzu’s teachings experienced a brief period of eclipse in the 3rdcentury BC, but during the Han dynasty (206 BC-AD 220) the Confucian workswere restored to favor, becoming the basis of later civil service examinations.Candidates were appointed to government positions based on their knowledgeof classic literature. Confucianism thus secured a firm hold on Chineseintellectual and political life (Nylan).
The civil service examination system was initiated in the Han dynasty andsurvived until 1905. The idea of a state ruled by able men of virtue stemmedfrom Confucian philosophy. Confucian Classics were studied for the test. Theexamination system attempted to recruit men on the basis of merit rather thanon the basis of family or political connection. Because success in theexamination system was the basis of social status and because education wasthe key to success in the system, education was highly regarded in traditionalChina. If one passed the provincial examination, one’s entire family was raisedin status to that of scholar gentry, thereby receiving prestige and privilege(Sprunger). In 140 B.C. Emperor Wu tried to unify the thought of the country, and onthe recommendation of Tung Ching-Shu, a famous scholar of the time, hedecided to make Confucianism the state thought(author unknown, “Influence”).Tung Ching-Shu altered Confucianism to make it more appealing to the people. He made Confucianism more like Taoism by including the metaphysicalaspects that Confucianism lacked. The ideas of Yin and Yang as well as the fivecosmic forces were added, therefore making it more attractive to the people.(class notes Oct. 9, 1998). “Lao-Tzu explained the harmonious yet dualistic principles of yinand yang: When some things are deemed beautiful, other things becomeugly. When things are deemed good, other things become bad. Existence and nonexistence create each other. Difficult and easyproduce each other. Long and short are fashioned from each other. High and low contrast each other. Before and behind follow eachother.” ( Levitt) This steered later Confucianism into the universal arena that earlyConfucianism avoided, but Tao clung to. This made the two ideals slightly lesscontrary. (class notes, Oct. 9, 1998). Confucianism was beneficial to the Han dynasty because it aided EmperorWu in his plans for the dynasty. If the ruler performed benevolence, he wasjustified in his rule. Therefore, if Emperor Wu performed benevolence, thepeople would have reason to believe he had the right to be the emperor. Confucianism advocated the lesser/greater positions of people. Therefore, theruler was superior to the common people and they were expected to treat himas such. (Class notes October 9, 1998). A new found interest in Confucianism created conflict. A university wascreated to teach Confucian scholars. An Erudite position was created for thosepeople familiar with the Confucian Classics. Many commentaries were writtenon the Confucian Classics. However, many of the original classics were burnedin Li Ssu’s fire. Therefore, many of the scholars were studying and writingcommentaries on books other than the originals. This lead to the split ofConfucianism into two schools. The New Text School studied the newer textsbecause many of the old texts were lost. The Old Text School studied a scriptthat Confucius’ great grandson claimed was an original. The original text andthe more contemporary texts were very different. This lead to much debatebetween the two groups as to which school was correct in its interpretation ofConfucius’ beliefs. (Class notes October 9, 1998). Following the fall of the Han dynasty, Confucianism was overshadowedby the rival philosophies of Taoism (Taoism) and Buddhism (Sprunger) The Sui Dynasty (589-618) supported Buddhism generously. Buddhismwas introduced from India in the 1st century BC. It appealed to both the nomadsand native Chinese, who welcomed its approach to the basic problems of life, itsmessage of salvation, and its art. By the time the Sui unified China, Buddhismhad become the most important religion in China, helping to unify the people ofthe north and the south, who had grown apart during the centuries of separation(Levitt). The Sui emperors supported Buddhism by building and/or repairingplaces of worship, giving land and money to various sects and temples, andconsulting with Buddhist leaders about scholarly problems. With the patronageof the Sui, Chinese Buddhism blossomed. Buddhism in China no longer had todepend on foreign missionaries. It produced its own teachers, whose knowledgewas as deep and extensive as that of anyone from India. Their knowledge was,more importantly, uniquely Chinese resulting from a Chinese understanding ofBuddhist teachings. As the fame of these Chinese teachers spread, studentscame from other countries to study under them, turning China into a majorcenter of Buddhist learning (Encarta Online Deluxe, “Sui Dynasty”) During the Tang Dynasty (618-907), Buddhism was still favored overConfucianism. The most important institutions in Tang society were theBuddhist temples, which succeeded in maintaining their independence despitegovernment attempts to control them (Levitt). The Song dynasty (960-1279) gave rise to a system of Neo-Confucianthought based on a mixture of Buddhist and Taoist (Taoist) beliefs (authorunknown, “Influence”). During the Qing dynasty (1644-1911) scholars advocated a return to theearlier Confucianism of the Han period, when it was still unadulterated byBuddhist and Taoist ideas. Scholars wrote criticisms of the Confucian texts usingphilology, history, and archaeology to reinforce their ideas. In addition, scholarssuch as Tai Chen introduced an empiricist point of view into Confucianphilosophy. This lead to a new evolved branch of Confucianism known as Neo-Confucianism (Delwitten, p 249) Neo-Confucianism branched out into two schools of philosophy, the Lior Law school and the Hsin or Mind school. Chu Hsi, an eminent thinker secondonly to Confucius and Mencius in prestige, was the foremost exponent of the Lischool who “established a new philosophical foundation for the teachings ofConfucianism by organizing scholarly opinion into a cohesive system”.According to the Neo-Confucianist system Chu Hsi represented, “all objects in nature are composed of two inherent forces: li, animmaterial universal principle or law; and ch’i, the substance ofwhich all material things are made. Whereas ch’i may change anddissolve, li, the underlying law of the myriad things, remainsconstant and indestructible. Chu Hsi further identifies the li inhumankind with human nature, which is essentially the same forall people. The phenomenon of particular differences can beattributed to the varying proportions and densities of the ch’i foundamong individuals.” Therefore, those who receive a ch’i that is not pure will find their original natureobscured and should cleanse their nature to restore its purity. Purity can beachieved by extending one’s knowledge of the li in each individual object. When, one has investigated and comprehended the universal li or natural law inherentin all animate and inanimate objects, one becomes a sage (Appanley, p 54) Opposed to the li (law) school was the hsin (mind) school of Neo-Confucianism. Wang Yang-ming was the major defender of the hsin school, whotaught the unity of knowledge and practice. His major proposition was that”apart from the mind, neither law nor object” exists. In the mind areincorporated all the laws of nature, and nothing exists without the mind. One’sultimate effort should be to develop “the intuitive knowledge” of the mind, notthrough the study or investigation of natural law, but through intense thoughtand calm meditation (Appanley, p 172-174) Neo-Confucianism continued to spread and in 1241 the court officiallyhonored Zhu Xi and other Neo-Confucian thinkers. Later, the Yuan dynastymade Zhu Xi’s commentaries on the Confucian Classics a requirement for thecivil service examination; they remained a requirement almost to the end of theQing dynasty (1644-1911) (Delwitten, p353). Confucianism began as a set of beliefs K’ung Fu-tzu had difficultyconvincing anyone in authority to believe. Through many philosophers withtheir numerous ideas, Confucianism has evolved and split into sects through outhistory. The believer in this philosophy in all its forms, through various times inhistory, have been united in their adherence to the emperor’s rule and alsoshunned and condemned to death. Through all the changes in bothConfucianism itself, the people, the nation, and other religions, K’ung Fu-tzu’sideas managed to always triumph in China.