The Chinese philosopher and social reformer, Kong Zi, (Wade-Giles – K’ung-fu-tzu; or Pinyin – Kongfuzi; see also – Kong Qiu), or Master K’ung, is best known by the Latin form of his name, Confucius, which was bestowed by Jesuit missionaries centuries after his death.
Confucius was apparently born about 551 BC in the Watch Tower (Queli) district of Qufu, then the capital of the state of Lu of the Zhou kingdom. He is believed to have worked as a minor civil servant and teacher under the Zhou Dynasty.
The tradition he left was not originally intended as a philosophical learning, as much as a “Way of the Gentleman”, and in Chinese “Confucianism” is better rendered as “The School of the learned”. Confuciansim itself is a system of honour codes and moral assumptions for the educated upper classes of Chinese society, principally formed by Confucius, Mencius (Mengzi), and Xunzi.
It was later writers, such as Sima Tan, Sima Qian, and Liu Xiang, who distilled philosophical elements from the Confucian writings. A large number of different schools of thought emerged from the study of such texts in relation to the Confucian canon.
A temple was erected in 480 BC, in honour of Confucius a year after his death, where he attained a cult following that developed into a worship of his spirit. The sacrifices to the spirit of Confucius were part of a larger system of cult sacrifices to other gods and spirits.
An important event in the canonizing process occurred in 195 BC, when the founding emperor of the Han dynasty, Han Gaozu (ruled 206-195 BC), offered a Great Sacrifice to the spirit of Confucius at his tomb in Qufu. As early as 241 BC, sacrfices to the spirits of Confucius and his most prominent disciple, Yan Hui, were offered in the Imperial University (Biyong).
The Han emperor Wu (ruled 141-87 BC), acting on the advice of Dong Zhongshu (c. 179-104 BC), eliminated all court positions of canonical scholars called Erudites who taught non-Confucian books, in effect establishing Confucianism as the sole teaching of the imperial court. The court’s privileging of the “Confucian canon” became a critical part of the establishment of Confucianism as orthodoxy in the Song (960-1279), with the emergence of the civil service examination system as the most important means of appointment to positions in the bureaucracy.
The traditional canon varies, according to a set of accepted classics. The list of generally accepted books are as follows:
The Five (5) Classics:
1 – I Ching (Yì Jing) – I Ching
2 – Shih Ching – Book of Odes
3 – Shu Ching – Book of History
4 – Li Chi (Li Ching) – Records of Ritual (or Book of Rites)
NOTE: This work includes both Ta Hsüeh, The Great Learning, and Chung Yung, The Doctrine of the Mean.
5 – Ch’un Ch’iu – Spring and Autumn Annals
The Nine (9) Classics: (all of the preceding works, plus
6 – Chou Li – Rites of Chou (part of the Li Ching)
7 – I Li – Ceremonial and Ritual (part of the Li Ching)
8 – Hsiao Ching – Filial Piety Classic
9 – Lun Yü – Analects
The Thirteen (13) Classics: (all of the preceding works, plus
10 – Meng Tzu – The Mencius
11 – Er Ya – Dictionary of Terms
12 – Kung-yang Chuan – commentary on Ch’un Ch’iu
13 – Ku-liang Chuan – commentary on Ch’un Ch’iu
Confucianism generally stressed the virtues of truthfulness, loyalty, learning – and moderation in eating and drinking. Confucius believed in a modest, regular life, and urged his followers not to be extremists. He considered war to be a profound evil, and urged his followers to avoid it through negotiation.
The key to the whole Confucian philosophy, a moral and ethical code as much as a religion in itself, was: ‘Do unto others as you would be done by’ – a key Foundationist ideal.