At the dawn of the Zhou dynasty, people were becoming more self-centered. Individual interests replaced the moral values of the Xia, Shang, and early Zhou dynasties. Relationships between the Chinese states also became much strained, and wars were a frequent issue. During this challenging time, great people started to make a significant change in the country’s history. When the teachings of Taoism, founded by Lao Tzu, preached returning to one’s true Self, the philosophy of Confucius focused on high moral values. This paper aims to analyze the life and teachings of Confucius, as well as his significant impact on the history of China and the whole world.
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Confucius came from a noble Kong family; his father was a military man. In the second year of his son’s life, he died, and the family fell into great need. At the age of nineteen, Confucius married and soon took an overseer position at public grain warehouses. A few years later, he became a national teacher, and at the age of 30, as he already acquired his religious and moral beliefs. Many students gathered around him, his acknowledgment grew, and the noblest of the Chinese princes paid him high honors (Salowey 237). Confucius became the head of the Lu state, then Minister of Public Works, and finally Minister of Justice. He stood for the principle of good-heartedness and dignity in ruling the country, but the Emperor did not accept his philosophy. Thus, Confucius had no other choice but to resign – that was when he made the decision to travel around China and share his philosophy.
During this challenging time, his political views were not accepted by the Chinese aristocracy. Confucius came back to his hometown and devoted himself to education. He established a private school and gathered many students around himself. His efforts gave tremendous results, and his teachings spread among common people, making Confucius remembered in history as the first and the greatest teacher in Chinese history (Roberts). The teachings of Confucius included four fundamental aspects: education, correct speech, and appropriate behavior, honesty and generosity, and righteousness. Confucius also created four main prohibitions: not to gossip, not to be stubborn, not to be self-willed, and not to show arrogance. If asked about personal matters, Confucius always used this opportunity to talk about virtue and moral values. He was a thoughtful teacher who cared for his students and passionately strived to pass his knowledge to them. When a student did not seem to catch a valuable lesson, Confucius patiently explained it to them and helped overcome the difficulties that appeared in their way.
Confucius saw the basis of human happiness not in personal improvement but, above all, in the state’s highest moral development and the family. He advocated for the absolute power of the monarch and the unshakable authority of the elderly and those of higher positions, but they, for their part, must be guided by humanity and justice (Upshur). The lower classes, in their turn, had to obey the state power strictly. Confucius believed that if every person, or even only the great ones of the world, lived by the rules of morality, human life would reach the limit of perfection. Confucius avoided such words as God and divinity, apparently out of fear, to give the reason for rude representations and personifications. He did not introduce religious dogmas, but only set morality rules, saying that the state could achieve the highest welfare and happiness only by an excellent example that the upper classes should set to the lower ones. Only in this way, in his opinion, could a simple person be brought to the path of truth.
Confucius made a significant contribution to education, as he was the first in China to make it accessible to common people. He had students, different in their social status: both rich and poor. Those from low backgrounds who truly wanted to learn from Confucius received the same educational opportunities as the rich ones (Roberts). He taught his students how to be kind-hearted and honest, showing it by example. His followers and future generations were deeply moved by his righteousness, generosity, humility, courtesy, and condescension towards others. The most famous written work of the great philosopher is the Analects of Confucius (Perkins). He is also considered the author of the classic work Spring and Autumn Annals. In the memory of generations, he remained the greatest teacher in Chinese history.
To sum up, during the life of Confucius, the upper classes did not want to accept his teachings, and he died disappointed, not hoping for the triumph of his ideas and for the improvement of society. But immediately after his death, his personality was raised to a real cult. People began to build temples in Chinese cities to his honor. The biggest ones were visited by pilgrims from all over China, whose most prominent scholars recognized Confucius’s philosophy as the only righteous path. This great philosopher was a person who made the most significant historical contribution to both the Chinese education system and the world’s historical heritage.
Perkins, Dorothy. “Analects of Confucius.” Encyclopedia of China, Facts On File, 1998. History Research Center, Web.
Roberts, Jeremy. “Confucius.” Chinese Mythology A to Z, Facts On File, 2004. History Research Center, Web.
Salowey, Christina A. Great Lives from History: the Ancient World Prehistory – 476 C.E. Volume II. Salem Press, 2004.
Upshur, Jiu-Hwa Lo. “Five Classics of Confucianism.” Encyclopedia of the Ancient World: Prehistory to 600 CE, Facts On File, 2016. History Research Center, Web.