10 Facts About Confucius

Category: Culture & Society

10 Facts About Confucius

Confucius was an educator, philosopher and writer whose teachings, known today as Confucianism, are considered among the most influential and lasting political and social ideologies. Although much of his life is left to scholarly debate, many believe Confucius was born during the Zhou dynasty in the Chinese state of Lu in 551 B.C. This was a time of major political turmoil in China. However, Confucius' ideas would eventually help to reform Chinese governance, with Confucianism becoming China's official imperial philosophy.

Many Titles

  • Confucius is actually the Latin name for the philosopher known to the Chinese as "Kung Ch'iu" or "Kong Qui," the latter meaning: "Master Kong." By the end of his life, Confucius would be known by many other titles, including the "Great Sage," the "First Teacher" and the "Model Teacher for Ten Thousand Ages."

An Eager Father

  • Confucius' father was a renowned warlord named Shuliang He. After a series of unsuccessful couplings with various concubines and a discarded wife, Shuliang he was frustrated not to have a surviving son. He approached the noble Yen clan in search of a second wife, hoping he might produce an heir before his death.

A Young Mother

  • The patriarch of the Yen family asked his three unmarried daughters for a volunteer to marry Shuliang He. It was only out of obligation that the youngest, Chang-tsai, decades Shuliang He's junior, agreed. However, rumors persisted for ages that, in reality, no wedding actually occurred, and Chang-tsai's son, Confucius, was a product of a brief and illegitimate tryst or, worse, rape.

Poverty and Prosperity

  • Although, by birth, Confucius was considered a knight or member of the "shi" class, most scholars believe he grew up impoverished. Marrying at age 19, he worked, in turn, as a farmhand, a book-keeper and clerk. Still, his noble birth offered him one great solace: scholarship. Confucius had access to libraries, important manuscripts and gatherings of educated men, allowing him the opportunity to exercise not only his intellect but also his insight. It wasn't long before he gathered disciples of his own and became a full-time teacher.

The Six Arts

  • As an educator, Confucius believed his job was to rekindle the traditional Chinese practices of benevolence, loyalty, propriety and ritual. His teaching methods came in the form of what he called the "Six Arts": music, math, archery, calligraphy, chariot-driving and the observation of family tradition.

Confucius' Values

  • While many later interpreted Confucius teachings, or Confucianism, as a religious or spiritual path, in Confucius' time, his ideas were actually responses to the relatively chaotic system of governance that China was experiencing at that time. Confucianism advocated compassion and self-discipline in personal decision-making. In fact, Confucius is one of many great thinkers to which the Golden Rule -- "What you do not wish for yourself, do not do to others" -- is attributed.

Applying Confucianism

  • Confucius’ philosophy was not meant to be abstract; the sage wanted to see his teachings applied to the political movements of his day. Without self-discipline, Confucius believed, leaders could not sympathize with their people nor treat those who depended on them with justice or wisdom. What's more, Confucius believed "loving" one's people would work as an incentive for keeping peace: Individuals were more likely to follow the law if their own leaders demonstrated fairness and the importance of virtue.

Great Expectations

  • Although Confucius traveled all over China and taught many young men who would later grow up to be important government officials, the philosopher largely thought of himself as a failure. Confucius saw the merits of education, but what he wanted more than anything was political influence; he had long carried the dream of being a central adviser to a powerful ruler, believing that if he could persuade a dynamic leader to carry out the tenets of his philosophy, he might help to bring about a peaceful world.

Death and Memorials

  • Confucius is believed to have died of old age in 479 BC. He was buried in Kong Lin cemetery; his original tomb, carved in the shape of an axe, stood on the banks of the Sishui River. In time, his hometown of Qufu became a pilgrimage site to ardent disciples of Confucianism.

Confucius' Family Tree

  • The Kong father-to-son family tree, which includes Confucius, is the world's oldest continuous family line known today. Confucius has 2 million registered male and female descendants, although genealogists believe about 3 million relatives are in existence.

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