Thought to be one of the wisest and great leaders of China, Confucius was born in 551 BC and was a renowned teacher and philosopher, so that Confucianism actually became a state philosophy and a religion.
The government particularly appreciated the teachings of Confucius because they instilled respect for authority and a strong central government. Confucius’ teachings were an important part of Chinese culture up until the 20th century and there are more than 2 million registered descendants of Confucius.
It wasn’t until after his death really that his ideas become popular, becoming the basic philosophy of the Chinese culture. Some of the basic ideas of Confucianism include having respect and manners, treating people with kindness, having good morals and ethics to live by, the importance of family, moderation in all things, having integrity and having an organized central government.
1. The Early Life of the Philosopher
Not much is known about his childhood but he was born in the state of Lu. His father, Kong, was a soldier who had died by the time Confucius was just 3 years of age. He was raised by his mother and spent much of his childhood in poverty, although they were considered ‘better off’ than the common peasants.
With his original name being Kong Qiu, Confucius was an eager learner as a child and when he grew up one of his jobs was to work as a state official handling farms and cattle before becoming a teacher. He then married a woman who thought like him and came from a similar background. He was just 19 when he married and had a child, Kong Li. Two daughters were later added to the family.
Confucius was 23 when his mother died and according to tradition at that time, he spent 3 years in mourning, an interesting fact about Confucius. Records of Confucius, written by Ssu-ma Chi’en offers a fairly comprehensive account of the philosopher’s life.
2. A Royal or a Pauper?
There are some more modern historians who are somewhat skeptical as to the accuracy of the records surrounding the birth of Confucius. One of these uncertainties is referring to Confucius being born into a royal family of the Chou Dynasty while other accounts refer to him being born into poverty.
3. Confucius Threatened and Imprisoned
Confucius traveled all over China with a number of his disciples. On this trip, his life was threatened. It is also astounding to believe that this upright man was imprisoned for no less than 5 days. This wasn’t because of bad behavior however, but because of mistaken identity.
While he waited to hear what was to become of him, he played his stringed instrument until he was reprieved, returning to his hometown where he started his own school for students who came from all walks of life.
4. The Career of Confucius
It was his mastery of the 6 arts – music, archery, calligraphy, arithmetic, ritual and charioteering that got him a teaching job in his 30s, an important fact about Confucius.
Confucius was the first teacher in China who wanted to ensure everyone had access to education. He therefore didn’t charge for his tuition but asked for a gift of dried meat. Much later in life he tried his hand at politics, becoming governor of a town in Lu state. He also became minister of public works and also Minister of Crime.
All however, was not smooth sailing and in fact his involvement in the government of the Lu state ruffled feather wwith the neighboring state of Qi. Disillusioned, it was in about 498 B.C that Confucius resigned and traveled to other parts of China.
Confucius worked at a number of regular jobs such as being a shepherd and clerk. Later on he worked for the government, starting by working as governor of a small town.
Working hard, he gradually rose through the ranks to become a government adviser. However, he gave up his government job at the age of 51. The reason being he was disappointed that no-one there was taking note of his teachings.
5. Words of Wisdom are Recorded
Confucius’ words of wisdom were published for all to see and benefit from in the Analects. The humble philosopher has inspired many people throughout the world with his teaching and observations.
He opted to travel throughout China teaching his philosophy. Some of his followers kept records of his thoughts in a book known as The Analects of Confucius.
6. Confucius – the Author of Lunya and Others
Confucius has written and edited a number of books. Perhaps one of the best known is Lunya, an interesting fact about Confucius. It was translated into English, and was known as ‘Analects of Confucius’. The author’s political- and philosophical beliefs are presented in the book, believed to have been compiled by his disciples.
Other books by Confucius include a revision of the Book of Documents, and there were others as well.
7. You had to Earn your Way to Power
As a humble, ‘ordinary’ man, Confucius was born into a turbulent time in China. The country was at war, a period in China known as the Spring and Autumn period of the Zhou Dynasty.
The young Confuscius wanted order in sociey instead of upheaval. He believed that if people did have any kind of power, it shouldn’t come from the fact that they came from powerful families but rather that they were wise and skilled in that particular area.
8. A Belief in ‘Do Unto Others’
He wanted people to be mindful towards other people instead of thinking of money as far more important. He believed there were 5 relationships people should have, but each relationship with its own set of rules. These relationships were prince and subject, elder and child, father and son, husband and wife and friends.
Confucius believed that people should treat people as they themselves wanted to be treated. This notion was referred to as the Golden Rule and statements like this as well as other wise statements he made were put into a book known as The Analects.
9. The Death of Confucius
It was in 479 BC that Confucius died of natural causes, spending his last few years in his hometown of Qufu, where he was buried in Kong Lin Cemetery. It is believed he was between 71 and 73 years of age.
Today Qufu is a quiet place of remembrance and pilgrimage. Every year, the Chinese hold memorial ceremonies for the life of Confucius and his burial spot is a place for tourists to visit.
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