What Is Confucianism?

Confucianism was rejected by the Qin Dynasty because it was critical of the policies of the dynasties. The philosophy of reform by Confucius was popularized by the philosopher and Confucian scholar Mencius. He traveled from state to state teaching Confucian ideals to end the chaos of the warring states of the time. The teachings of Confucius and Mencius themselves were considered an ideological system of exploited classes, which they regarded as representatives of the “moribund slave-owning classes” (Chao Chung-fan, 1974).

By Confucianism, I mean the complex system of moral, social, political, and religious teachings established by Confucius, an ancient Chinese tradition that persists to this day as the state religion. It is a religion of positive revelation, with a minimum of dogmatic teachings, popular worship focused on the sacrifice of the dead, and an idea of duty that goes beyond the realm of morality to grasp the details of daily life. It aims to make virtues not only of men but also of men who learn good manners.

Confucianism (Rujiao) is a way of life given from the 6th to 5th centuries BC by Confucius (Kong Fuzi) in China and the rituals and traditions associated with it. It is a philosophy and belief system of ancient China which laid the foundation for much of China’s culture. It emphasizes the importance of correct behavior, loyalty, obedience, and hierarchy, and is an ethics system developed by the Chinese scholar Kung Fu Tzu, who was Latinized to Confucius in China in the sixth century.

Confucianism believes in ancestor worship, human-centered virtue, and peaceful living. His thoughts on ethics, good behavior, and moral character have been written down in several books by Confucius disciples, the most important of which is Lunyu. Confucianist philosophy is understood as an ethical guide to a life of a strong character. Confucius himself was a staunch follower of the ritual for many centuries and stated that rituals should be associated with Confucianism. That is, it is not a religion in which the Confucians had deities or teachings about the hereafter. The Confucius gods he worshipped were ghost gods.

Confucianism is characterized as a system of social and ethical philosophy rather than religion. It is what the sociologist Robert Bellah calls a “civil religion,” in the sense that there is no religious identity or common moral understanding as to the basis of a society’s central institutions. Indeed, it builds on ancient religious foundations to establish the social values, institutions, and transcendent ideals of traditional Chinese society.

Confucianism is what Chinese sociologists call a “diffuse religion” because its institutions are not separated from church and society (family, school, and state) and its priests are not separated from liturgical specialists, parents, teachers, and officials. The Confucian tradition has decisively shaped social relations and moral thinking in China. Confucianism is a philosophy that was developed in China in the 6th century BC and is considered a secular, humanist belief system without religion or other social codes. Before the 1890s, serious Chinese regarded Confucianism as a source of hope for China and the heart of what it meant to be Chinese despite its failure to realize its ideal society.

Confucian thought focuses on the cultivation of virtue and the organization of the world. Confucianism is based on the belief that people are only as good as they behave immorally and do not have strong moral standards and that adherence to an ethical code and rituals that encourage them to enable them to live in peace a productive and peaceful life that translates into a strong, ethical and prosperous state. Beyond worldly concerns, it is based on the belief that all human beings, however good they may be, can be taught, improved, and perfected through personal and community effort, self-cultivation, and self-creation.

It is instructive to observe how the term “Confucianism” is applied to so many different things: books, rituals, apparatuses, concepts, and so on. Since the Han Dynasty, the term has encompassed all of these phenomena, and one has to ask why we insist on using a single word to cover such a wide range of phenomena. Sorting the pieces of the puzzle is one of the most urgent tasks in the study of Chinese history, and replacing the wooden dividing lines in the Chinese intellectual world between these three teachings marks a phase, in turn, called the proto-neo-revival, in which a more critical and nuanced understanding of tradition is created and maintained.

The Chinese term ru (ru) goes back to Confucius and refers to a specialist in rituals and music and a later expert in classical studies. Confucians are used in English to refer to ancient sages and kings attributed to important cultural innovations, and ru is the sacrificial practice of temples dedicated to Confucian and related personalities, as well as traditional features of East Asian social organization (bureaucracy and meritocracy). In some areas, unique features developed by later thinkers have been identified as “Confucian,” though the term is not clearly defined. For this reason, the term “Confucian” should be avoided in entries that focus on the philosophical aspects of Confucius’s thought, and the Latinization used for him should follow English language conventions, not through the lens of analects.

Although Confucius and early Chinese thought did not suffer from the Cartesian mind-body problem in general, Herbert Fingarette shows that the dichotomy between inner and outer self is the total cumulative effect of Confucian self-cultivation, not only personally but also socially and cosmically. Feng Youlan suggests in Han that if the image of Confucius prevails, he will become a figure comparable to Jesus Christ in the history of China, and the argument of some scholars is not that Confucianism is a religion, but that of Jesus Christ. For ancient and modern eyes, the fantastic and improbable myth of the Confucians complements the more recent myth of Confucius, which dates back to the earliest enduring contact between China and the West in early modern times.

The Hong Kong Confucian Academy, one of the direct descendants of the Confucian Church of Kang Youwei, diversified its activities on the mainland, including the construction of Confucius statues, a Confucian Hospital, and the restoration of temples. Some scholars see the reconstruction of lineage churches and their ancestral temples, the cult of temples to natural and national gods, and broader traditional Chinese religions as part of the renewal of Confucianism.

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