Getting to Know Confucius
This post is part of our ongoing series featuring the works of Professor LeBoeuf 's students!
Confucius is a well-known figure not only in China, but worldwide. He was a great Chinese teacher, politician, and philosopher who lived during the Zhou Dynasty and the Spring and Autumn period in Chinese history. He lived to be 72 years old and left a great legacy and way of life behind to live on for eternity. Confucius’ birth name was Kongfuzi which means Master Kong, but “Confucius” is a Latinized form of Mandarin Chinese that was coined in the late 16th century by Jesuit Missionaries in China. Confucius was born into the Shi class, a class between aristocracy and commoners, on September 28th, 551 BCE in Qufu, which is located in the Shandong Providence in China. Confucius’ parents were Kong He, an officer in the Lu state military, and Yan Zhengzai. Confucius’ father died when Confucius was 3 years old and his mother was left to raise him in poverty until she passed when Confucius was 23 years old.
Even though Confucius was raised in poverty, he still managed to become an educated and learned man. He attended school intended for commoners and not only learned but excelled in the required Six Arts of the Chinese Confucius started his own family at a relatively young age. He married Qiguan at 19 years old and had three children together. The couple had one son, Kong Li, and two daughters, one daughter is believed to have died in infancy. Confucius had a few odd jobs in his early adult life including: a book keeper, cowherd, and clerk. In his early 30’s, he worked as a teacher. Confucius was very enthusiastic about education. He believed that education was not only gaining scholarly knowledge but was also a method of improving and building one’s character. Confucius had such a great passion for education that he made it his goal to make teaching a vocation along with making education broadly available to everyone. Additionally, Confucius was involved in politics during his late 40’s to early 50’s, but his involvement was very short-lived. He became involved in the Lu state government where he held various positions such as a magistrate, an Assistant Minister of Public Works, and a Minister of Justice.
In becoming involved in politics, Confucius hoped to establish a centralized government by redirecting the power held by the three aristocratic families of the time from them to the duke. Neighboring states feared that Confucius’ actions would cause the Lu state to become a central power in the area. So, these neighboring states interfered by distracting the duke of the Lu state to prevent him from signing and passing Confucius’ policies. At this time, Confucius realized that the duke was not fulfilling his duties and opted to leave the state in self-exile. At the time of his departure, he left with a following of students that gradually grew as the years went by.
Throughout these years of self-exile, Confucius worked toward educating his followers on a way of life that he later developed into the philosophy that is known as Confucianism today. As mentioned beforehand, Confucius was very focused on developing character via education and developed his philosophy based on that along with the influence of Chinese traditions like ancestor worship, loyalty to family, and respecting one’s elders. Additionally, he introduced the concepts of benevolence, ritual, and propriety also known as jen, li, and yi. Confucius returned to the Lu state at age 68, but soon after his return, his son, Kong Li, died along with many other of his followers and teachers that it was too much from Confucius to stand. Confucius became ill and died at the age of 72 in about 479 BCE. After Confucius’ death, his legacy continued through his followers who established the Analects filed with his wisdom, lessons, and quotes. One of he more famous quotes by Confucius is commonly known as the “Golden Rule” which states, “Do not do to others what you do not want done to yourself,” in other words treat others the way you want to be treated. Much like this quote, Confucius was filled with such sage and philosophical sayings that enamored his followers.
However, it is important to note that Confucius did not believe that he was the founder of Confucianism, but more of a restorer or retransmitter. He did not think that he established of found something new rather than that he took something that was already present and gave it a mold and direction. His main philosophical concepts consisted of Ren referring to central teaching, Li meaning correct behavior, Xiao which means family conduct, and Zhong meaning loyalty.
About Alondra Chavira
She is currently a second-year student majoring in Biology on the premed track. She is a first-generation student and aspire to be a doctor specializing in either cardiology or pediatrics. An interesting fact about her is that although she was born in the United States where the national language is English, her first language was Spanish.
Riegel, Jeffrey, "Confucius", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2013 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2013/entries/confucius/>.