Publié le 02/12/2021

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Confucius (551–479 B.C.E.) Latin for the Chinesename K'ung-fu-tzu, "Master K'ung"; a profoundlyinfl uential Chinese moral teacher whose thoughtgave rise to CONFUCIANISM Confucius was born inChina at a time of unrest in the middle of the Chouperiod. Little is known for certain about his life,and many details that follow are legendary.It is said that Confucius's family had some statusbut little wealth. Despite the family's poverty,he received an education and hoped for a politicalcareer. He served the government in some minorposts, such as overseeing sheep and cattle. Perhapsaround the age of 40, he also began to teach. Withtime Confucius rose to a position of some responsibility,but he became disillusioned because hewas unable to infl uence the duke of Lu, his homestate. He resigned around the age of 54, and forthe next 13 years he traveled around China, lookingfor a ruler who would put his ideas into practice.He was unsuccessful, perhaps because histeachings emphasized virtue at a time when rulerswere looking for action. About fi ve years beforehis death he returned to Lu, where he taught andmay have held another offi ce. During his lifetime,then, Confucius's infl uence was minimal. After hisdeath, his teachings came to exercise a profoundinfl uence on the Chinese state.Some suggest that Confucius should be seenas a moral rather than a religious teacher. Indeed,Confucius's teachings redirected to the living therespect and li (RITUALS) that Chinese had traditionallygiven to dead ancestors. Confucius alsomade revolutionary innovations in the institutionof teaching. Before his time, education wasavailable only to those with the means to buy it.Confucius taught that education should be opento all who had interest and intellectual ability,regardless of whether they could pay. Despitethese radical innovations, Confucius saw himselfnot as an innovator but as a restorer of Chinesetraditions. In keeping with this self-image, he issaid to have edited fi ve traditional Chinese classics(see I CHING).As a teacher, Confucius did not aim to impartknowledge or foster intellectual ability but to nurturea quality of the inner person known in Chi-nese as jen. The term is diffi cult to translate butmeans something like "genuine humanity." Confuciustaught that people could realize this internalquality by means of external observances: Theycould become genuinely humane by performingtheir duties without thought of reward (yi) and byobserving the rules of propriety (li) that governrelations between human beings. When appliedto specifi c roles, Confucius referred to the processof cultivating virtue as a "rectifi cation of names,"that is, making reality conform to the names. Forexample, Confucius taught that if one is called aparent or a child, one ought to behave like a parentor child.In Confucius's teaching, family relationshipsare the cornerstone of society, and the respect ofchildren for parents is a cardinal virtue. Withinsociety, Confucius advocates the principle ofreciprocity: "Do not impose on others what youyourself do not desire" (Analects 15.24). He alsoteaches that the best way to govern is not withrules and punishments but through propriety andthe moral example of the rulers.After Confucius died, followers gathered sayingsattributed to him into a volume known as theAnalects (see ANALECTS OF CONFUCIUS). It is the majorsource for Confucius's ideas. Beginning with theHan dynasty (206 B.C.E.), Confucianism becameoffi cially established in China. Civil servants wererequired to pass a grueling examination in thefi ve Confucian classics. Imperial offi cials maintainedthe cult of Confucius as part of their offi cialduties. Eventually every prefecture (a political unitsomething like a county) in China—over 2,000 inall—had its temple to Confucius. Although thespecifi c fortunes of Confucianism varied, Confucius'steachings shaped offi cial Chinese life untilthe Communist Revolution under Mao Tse-tung in1949. It is likely that they continue to shape unofficial life today.

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