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Confucianism as a Lifestyle: Philosophy and Principles Essay


Confucianism is a philosophy, a way of life, a political system, and a religion originated by a Chinese philosopher known as Confucius (Moore-Oldstone 23). In China, it is predominantly adopted as a system of social and ethical philosophy that has great impact on the lifestyles of its adherents.

During its founding, Confucianism was based on religious principles and teachings that were aimed at establishing a society that revered positive values and certain aspects of Chinese traditions (Yao 9). Confucianism is also applied as a religion even though not as a mainstream one. Its religious aspect is based on the fact that it plays an important role in weaving the moral fabric of the societies in which it is practiced. Its principles and beliefs are based on the teachings of its founder who lived between 551 and 479 B.C.E (Yao 5).

Confucius did not intend to start a religion through his teachings though he had many disciples who followed his teachings. This accounts for the reason why Confucianism is not a mainstream religion but largely a way of life and thinking. It is the foundation on which the values, social codes, and numerous traditions of the Chinese are based on. Its beliefs and principles are also practiced in many eastern countries such as Vietnam, Japan, and Korea.


Confucius was a Chinese philosopher who lived between the years 551 and 479 B.C.E (Yao 5). He had great influence in the fields of philosophy and politics during the Chinese Spring and Autumn Period. Confucius was also a teacher and politician who had great impact on Chinese history (Moore-Oldstone 24). His teachings, beliefs, and principles were later adopted to form a system of ethics and philosophy referred to as Confucianism.

The core tenets of Confucianism include governmental morality, honesty, justice, and the uprightness of relationships between people. The teachings of Confucius were overshadowed by others during an era when different schools of thought competed to prevail. However, his philosophy was revived and embraced after the collapse of the Qin Dynasty (Yao 15). Historians credit Confucius for authoring several Chinese texts whose origin has been debated intensely in contemporary society.

His teachings were founded on the traditional teachings and beliefs of the Chinese. He was a strong advocate for the worship of ancestors, the need for family loyalty, and respect for elders by young people as well as the respect for husbands by wives (Moore-Oldstone 29). Confucius had great influence in the fields of philosophy and politics.

He is credited for creating the Ru School of Chinese thought and another system of philosophy that was later rebranded to create Confucianism (Yao 23). Moreover, he is the most relevant Chinese philosopher whose influence in the East is evident today’s society. His thoughts and teachings endeared him to many disciples who were attracted to his way of teaching.

The beliefs and principles of Confucianism

The teachings of Confucius were dominated by his thoughts on government, morality, arts, family, justice, and speech as well as language (Moore-Oldstone 34). His teachings were selectively adopted to come up with the central doctrines of Confucianism that include tian and gods, ethics, relationships, junzi, and rectification of names.


Confucianism’s concept of ethics is characterized by five main virtues that include Ren (humanness), Yi (honesty and righteousness), Li (correct behaviour and propriety), Chih (wisdom), and Hsin (sincerity and fidelity) (Yao 64). Humanness involves being sympathetic, kind, considerate, and polite. These values expressed in an individual’s words and actions. The three main characteristics of Ren include humanity, mercy, and love (Yao 66). Li involves the propagation and practice of good behaviour in different situations (Yao 66).

Confucianism expects individuals to talk and act appropriately. In addition, it encourages its adherents interact appropriately with people, objects, and nature. Self-control is an important aspect of Li. Zhi involves the accumulation of knowledge and wisdom for right living (Yao 67). Individuals are also encouraged to uphold honesty and sincerity in their dealings with other people.


Relationships form an important aspect of the teachings and principles of Confucianism. The five main types of relationships are those between rules and their subjects, husbands and wives, fathers and sons, brothers, and friends (Moore-Oldstone 43). In these relationships, each individual is required to execute certain duties in order to create social harmony in society.

The duties of individuals in all relationships depend on their status (Yao 36). For instance, the duties of juniors are different from the duties of seniors. Children are required to respect their parents and parents are required to protect and love their children. Age is an important determinant of duties in these relationships. As such, juniors have more responsibilities with regard to respect and service as compared to seniors.

Filial piety

Filial piety is expressed through respect of parents and ancestors. It embraces several aspects that include obeying and serving parents, obeying ancestors, and engaging in good conduct with the aim of bringing respect upon one’s parents and ancestors (Moore-Oldstone 46). Parents should be honoured because they are the source of life and sacrifice a lot for their children’s wellbeing.

Filial piety is also expressed through offering sacrifices to ancestors, desisting from any form of rebelliousness against parents, being courteous, avoiding moral unrighteousness, and expressing grief during situations that involve sickness and death (Moore-Oldstone 47). In Chinese contemporary culture, the idea of filial piety is evident in the teachings of certain religious groups.

It is the duty of elders to teach the young and it is the duty of the young to learn from elders. According to Confucius, filial piety involves respecting parents while they live and after they die (Yao 53). Honouring the dead is a core tenet of Confucianism because the afterlife is a concept that is beyond human comprehension. In addition, ancestors offer guidance to the living and should therefore be worshiped and honoured. Honouring parents after their death means upholding and fulfilling the wishes they had while they lived (Yao 55).

A common aspect of filial piety is ancestor worship. This is founded on the belief that children are supposed to honour their parents after they die for the many sacrifices they made and for giving them life (Yao 55). In China, worship is performed in temples, gravesides, and the homes that the dead occupied. Ancestral tablets and shrines are usually constructed in remembrance of ancestors (Moore-Oldstone 58). In the case of shrines, portraits are erected in different locations.

These portraits are built with incense-stick holders that are used to hold incense during worship sessions. Individuals visit the grave of ancestors annually and perform rituals such as tomb cleaning and weed clearing around the graves. During veneration ceremonies, the ancestors’ favourite foods and drinks are offered. Family members show respect by burning incense and bowing before the graves of their ancestors (Yao 33). Temple worship involves kneeling before the portraits and burning incense as signs of respect and veneration.


This is a Chinese phrase that means a superior person or a gentleman. Confucianism has great reverence for superiors and people who possess its core values. During the times of Confucius, superiors were symbols of knowledge and wisdom. The junzi is the ideal personality that every individual is required to aim for. A junzi has several admirable traits that include simplicity, good listeners, knowledgeable, honest, just, and obedient (Yao 36). In order to become a gentleman, humanness is a core requirement.

An ideal leader should be a junzi due to the high moral and ethical standards that are associated with that title. Ethical values are important for successful governance. Therefore, a junzi is ideal for leadership because he uses his ethical values to govern the people. He talks seriously, asks questions when in doubt, acts ethically, avoids making decisions when angry, shuns prejudice, and acts respectfully (Yao 39).


According to Confucius, only individuals who have learned to govern themselves possess the ability to govern other people (Yao 41). This is the reason why he developed the idea of a perfect gentleman. The best type of government is that which governs people based on sound and well founded ethical values.

One characteristic of a perfect gentleman is the possession of moral values. This teaching formed the major contribution of Confucius to the field of politics. Confucianism teaches that the first priority of a government should be to gain the confidence of its people (Yao 45). This is easily attained if the leader is virtuous.

Rectification of names

According to Confucianism, rectification of names is an important aspect of dealing with reality and creating social order in society (Moore-Oldstone 58). A common source of disorder is the failure to embrace that emanates from wrong use of language. Confucius taught that the truth of things should be in accordance with the language used to reference them (Moore-Oldstone 61). A superior person uses proper names to refer to specific things in order to foster understanding and ensure that social order prevails.

Tian and gods

Tian is used in Confucianism to refer to the origin of the universe, reality, and nature. Confucianism has four major principles that denote the mandate of heaven. First, only heaven has the power to give any individual the right to rule. Second, the fact that there is only one Heaven implies that there can be only a one ruler at a specific time. Third, a rule is allowed to rule based on the virtues they possess. Fourth, any culture has the right to rule because heaven can choose any individual to assume leadership.

The cycle of the 5 phases

The cycle of the five phases is a doctrine that describes the processes of creation and destruction that are related. The five phases include wood, fire, earth, metal, and water, or spring, summer, winter, autumn, and late summer (Yao 45). The phases are used to explain various phenomena such as weather patterns and progression of political regimes. The phases create a cycle through which the three realms of Heaven, Earth, and Humanity interact (Yao 49).

The phases correspond to other natural phenomena such as the five senses and the five major body organs. A common belief holds that the five phases predict future occurrences (Yao 55). In case a ruler does not uphold morality in governing the people, he interrupts the natural cycle of the phases and thus attracts calamity.

Amy Tan and the Joy Luck Club

Amy Tan is an American writer who authored the novel titled The Joy Luck Club. Her literary work mainly explores relationships between mothers and daughters as well as the challenges of Japanese immigrants in America. The aforementioned novel has been translated into 35 languages and was adopted into a film and a movie. The Joy Luck Club was published in 1989 and its story was so captivating that it became a best seller.

The novel’s storyline explores the lives of four American families that migrated from China and settled in San Francisco. The families started a club and named it The Joy Luck Club, hence the name of the novel. The structure of the book is adapted from that of a game known as mah-jong. The novel comprises four parts that are divided into four sections each. It has 16 chapters that comprise stories of the families’ experiences in Japan and America. The writer begins each chapter with a fable that sets the mood for the rest of the chapter.

The Joy Luck Club summary

The novel is divided into four parts that comprise four sections each. The four sections include Feathers from a Thousand Li Away, Twenty-Six Malignant Gates, American Translation, and Queen Mother of the Western Skies. The characters include four mothers (Suyuan Woo, An-mei Hsu, Lindo Jong, and Ying-Ying St. Clair) and four daughters (Jing-mei Woo, Rose Hsu Jordan, Waverly Jong, and Lena St. Clair).

The book has been subjected to intense denigration by literary critics who argue that it promotes racist stereotypes and explores untrue stories. The novel includes flashback stories of the mothers’ lives in China and their contemporary challenges in San Francisco. It explores the cultures of China and America.

Feathers from a Thousand Li Away

This section explores the relationships between the mothers and their daughters. Throughout the novel, Suyuan’s stories are narrated by her daughter because she is dead. Jing-mei is worried that she may be unable to fit into her mother’s shoes considering that she knows little about her. In the novel’s first section, the mothers decide to send Jing-mei to China in order to find her mother’s daughters that she deserted before coming to America (Tan 35). The mothers also narrate stories of their early childhood in China.

An-mei narrates how her mother left her to marry a rich merchant who had other wives (Tan 43). Lindo Jong narrates a story about her escape from an arranged marriage. She says that she used superstition to maintain her family’s honour by annulling the marriage to a boy she did not like. Ying-ying St. Clair narrates a tale of separation from her family after falling into a lake during the Moon festival (Tan 80).

She wanders into a festival that features the Moon Lady who was purported to grant wishes to children. Her wish is to be reunited with her family but she is disillusioned after realizing that the Moon Lady was not a lady but a man (Tan 81).

Twenty-Six Malignant Gates

This section features stories from the four daughters. Waverly Jong narrates the story of how she graduated from a novice chess player into a national champion (Tan 91). She was embarrassed by her mother’s behaviour of introducing her to everyone they met and the embarrassment lead to an angry confrontation. Lena St. Clair narrates a story about how her mother became depressed after unsuccessfully trying to help a pregnant women deliver (Tan 99).

After that incident, she looked at her mum as a heinous creature. She also talks about her neighbours. Rose Hsu Jordan narrates the story of how her brother (Bing) drowned during a family visit to the beach (Tan 107). She and her mum searched for him but did not find him. She also talks about her relationship to her husband and her plan to divorce her.

She just wishes that it was easy to tell her mother about her plan. Jing-mei Woo talks about how her mother pressured her to become a piano player because she always expected her to become great in something (Tan 121).

Despite taking lessons, she was still unable to play the piano perfectly and as a result abandoned the pursuit. Her decision disappointed her mother who wanted her to pursue a career in music. Suyuan gave her a piano as a birthday gift with the hope of resurrecting her career. However, Jing-mei was reluctant to resume training because she believed that she did not possess the skills anymore (Tan 134).

American Translation

The third section involves several stories that are narrated by the daughters regarding their mothers’ lives in San Francisco. Lena talks about the problems she is facing in her marriage and fears that her mother might be aware of them (Tan 146). Her greatest fear is being inferior in her marriage. This fear is a fulfilled prophecy because her husband is her boss at work and earns more than her.

Her mother encourages her to stand up to her husband if she wants the situation of her marriage to improve in her favour (Tan 151). Waverly Jong worries that her mother’s opinion of her fiancé is that of disproval. Waverly’s confrontation with her mother reveals that she knew of her relationship and was okay with it.

Rose Hsu Jordan declines to sign divorce papers from her husband who intends to marry again after their divorce (Tan 175). She does not agree with the terms stipulated in the papers. Jing-mei talks of her belief that her mother was disappointed in her because she never lived up to her high expectations (Tan 195). She argues that in her mother’s eyes, she was always an underachiever.

Queen Mother of the Western Skies

In this section, mothers tell stories about their past and present lives and those of their daughters. An-mei talks about the events that accompanied her grandmother’s death. She says that she went with her mother to her husband’s (Wu Tsing) house where they were subjected to the second concubine’s controlling tendencies (Tan 215). For example, she took her brother and made him her son.

She also talks about her mother’s rape ordeal that was arranged by Wu Tsing’s second wife (Tan 220). Her mother poisoned herself and died. During her mother’s burial, An -mei forced Wu Tsing to acknowledge them as part of his large family. The second wife tried to interrupt the acknowledgment and An-mei destroyed a necklace she had received from her (Tan 233). Ying-ying St.

Clair tells a story of how her husband abandoned her due to his philandering mannerisms. She later married an American even though she did not love him. She only married him because of her desperation (Tan 246).

Lindo Jong talks about her relocation to America and her first encounter with An-mei Hsu. The novel’s last chapter explores the fulfilment wish of Jing-Mei of finding the daughters that Suyuan abandoned in China after World War II (Tan 267). Jing-mei flies to China, meets her sisters, embraces her Chinese culture and in doing so makes peace with her dead mom.


Confucius was a Chinese philosopher who lived between the years 551 and 479 B.C.E and founded Confucianism. Confucianism is a philosophy, a way of life, a political system, and a religion. Its core teachings include humanness, propriety, social order, veneration of ancestors, filial piety, moral wisdom, and possession of values as exhibited by junzi.

Amy Tan is an American writer who authored the novel The Joy Luck Club. The novel’s storyline explores the lives of four American families that migrated from China and settled in San Francisco. The daughters and mothers struggle to interact despite the existence of numerous generational and cultural differences that create disagreements and confrontations among them.

The daughters view their mothers as old-fashioned, authoritative and domineering, and disconnected from reality. On the other hand, the mothers are surprised by their daughter’s poor understanding of Chinese culture and negative attitudes towards men. In addition, they are dissatisfied with their daughters’ satisfaction with their discreet jobs. Conflicts serve to make both parties appreciate each other’s perspectives regarding different things.

Works Cited

Moore-Oldstone, Jennifer. Confucianism: origins, Beliefs, Practices, Holy Texts, Sacred Places. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002. Print.

Tan, Amy. The Joy Luck Club. New York: Penguin, 2006. Print.

Yao, Xinzhong. An Introduction to Confucianism. New York: Cambridge University, 2000. Print.

This Essay on Confucianism as a Lifestyle: Philosophy and Principles was written and submitted by user Gaige N. to help you with your own studies. You are free to use it for research and reference purposes in order to write your own paper; however, you must cite it accordingly.

Gaige N. studied at the University of California, San Francisco, USA, with average GPA 3.23 out of 4.0.

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N., G. (2020, March 25). Confucianism as a Lifestyle: Philosophy and Principles [Blog post]. Retrieved from

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N., Gaige. "Confucianism as a Lifestyle: Philosophy and Principles." IvyPanda, 25 Mar. 2020,

1. Gaige N. "Confucianism as a Lifestyle: Philosophy and Principles." IvyPanda (blog), March 25, 2020.


N., Gaige. "Confucianism as a Lifestyle: Philosophy and Principles." IvyPanda (blog), March 25, 2020.


N., Gaige. 2020. "Confucianism as a Lifestyle: Philosophy and Principles." IvyPanda (blog), March 25, 2020.


N., G. (2020) 'Confucianism as a Lifestyle: Philosophy and Principles'. IvyPanda, 25 March.

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