What Is Confucianism Religion And Why Is It Important?

Confucianism, also called Ruism, refers to the way of living that was postulated and propagated by Confucius between the 6th and the 5th Century BCE. This belief, way of life, and way of thinking would then be followed by the ancient Chinese people for at least 2 millennia. Over the years, the Confucianism beliefs and ways have undergone some transformations, but it remains a key learning area. It’s also held in very high regard and is still studied to date because Confucianism was the primary source of the most important values of the Chinese people, as well as the Chinese social code.

What Does Confucianism?

Confucianism is a reputable ancient Chinese belief system created by the philosopher Confucius. Confucianism focuses on the importance of having and living by one’s personal ethics and also morals. Though developed by Confucius, Mencius, also known as Meng Ke (372-289BCE), was one of the biggest proponents for Confucianism, and he is considered the best-known Confucian philosopher, second to Confucius.

Confucianism was brought about by the Chinese philosopher and teacher, Confucius, who was alive between 551 and 479BCE. He shared many of his thoughts about ethics, moral character, and good behavior, all of which were documented in a number of books, the Lunyu being the most important of these books.

Essentially, the philosophy of Confucianism is based on the belief in ancestral worship, as well as the human-centered virtues that would result in people leading peaceful lives. As a result, Confucianism was guided by a golden rule – Do not do unto others that which you wouldn’t want to be done to you.’

Today, the debate on whether Confucianism is just a philosophical belief or an important, standalone religion rages on. This debate is brought about by the fact that Confucianism is understood best and more as an ethical guide for life and also living with a strong character. But then, Confucianism started as a revival of the earlier religions and religious traditions. However, there are no forms of Confucian gods that have been documented or were ever heard of, and it’s been noted that Confucius is worshipped not as a god but as a spirit, which begs even more questions. Then there is the fact that there are Confucianism temples that were quite important to the ancient communities that believed in Confucianism; civic rituals took place in these temples too. So, while the debate rages on, it makes sense that more people refer to the belief in Confucianism as a philosophy and religion.

Confucianism History And Development

Confucianism is a belief that started between the 6th and the 5th centuries BCE. This belief system and philosophy from Ancient China is about ethical and moral living for a peaceful life. Scholars envision that the Confucianism belief and Confucius’ vision dates back to the times of the sage-kings (of tranquillity).

However, the earliest possible dynasty that practiced Confucianism, as confirmed by archaeological records, is the Shang Dynasty that reigned between the 8th Century and the 12th Century BCE. That said, it’s possible that the historical period in which Confucius and Confucianism were more relevant were the dynasties before the Shang dynasty. This also means that the real origin of the Confucianism belief is not well-known, although Confucius is believed to have initiated a cultural process that the West describes as Confucianism. The people who followed him considered themselves a part of the tradition and were later called the rujia by the Chinese historians. Rujia, or the scholarly tradition, came about two millennia before Confucianism and was introduced by the legendary sages Shun and Yao, who successfully created a more civilized world through the power and belief in moral persuasion.

Besides the sage kings, Confucianism was also inspired by Confucius’ hero, who was called Zhougong (the duke of the Zhou, 11th Century BCE). Zhougong is said to have helped in the consolidation, expansion, and refinement of the ancient ‘feudal’ system of rituals. The feudal system was a rather elaborate system that relied on mutual dependence and was based on marriage alliances, blood ties, old covenants, and even the newly-negotiated agreements. This system also appealed to the existing cultural values, as well as societal norms that would ensure the maintenance of the interstate peace and also domestic order that were predicted on shared political visions. These visions were guided by the following aspects – the authority lying in the universal kingship, the religious and ethical power given by mandate of heaven or tianming, and lastly, the belief that social solidarity was achievable by observing rituals rather than through the use of legal constraint. These beliefs were implemented during the reign of the Western Zhou dynasty, and they enabled the dynasty’s survival in perfect (relative) peace and their prosperity for at least 5 centuries.

Confucius was deeply inspired by Zhougong’s statesmanship, and she labored for his lifelong dream to be in the high position to not just emulate the leadership of the duke, by putting into practice the different political ideas which he had learned from the ancient worthies and sages. So, in as much as Confucius was never able to realize the full potential of his political dreams, his concepts of politics, such as his moral persuasion, slowly became increasingly influential.

So, how did Confucianism come in, given the popularity of the feudal system? Well, while the feudal system was very successful in guiding the Zhou kings, by Confucius’ time, the feudal system was largely undermined by the leaders of the time and the reigning political system, and then there were many crises in politics that led to a significant level of moral decline. The system was also largely influenced by what is now popularly referred to as the mandate of heaven, which noted that the leaders were anointed by god. So, with the center of the symbolic dynasty was no longer in control of the kingdom and a civil war that devolved the kingdom into 14 feudal states, Confucius’ time had come.

In response, and to let his system out in the world, Confucius’ response was for him to learn and address himself through learning how to be human. To do this, Confucius made attempts to redefine and also to revitalize the leading institutions that had been around for centuries and had been vital to both social order and political stabilit. The social order recognized in the ancient Chinese cultures was the state, school, local community, as well as kingdom. Confucius was against the status quo because it held on to the belief that wealth and power were crucial. Confucius held on to the belief that virtue, as a personal quality and also as one of the requirements for leadership (success), was important for an individual’s dignity, political order, as well as communal solidarity.

What Is The History Of Confucianism?

As mentioned above, the philosophy of Confucianism was developed to bring stability and peace to society. This is because this belief system was based on kindness and mutual respect. So, with the feudal ritual system crumbling, Confucianism was born during the reign of the Zhou Dynasty between 551 and 479BC.

What Is The Origin Of Confucianism?

Confucianism was developed in China, which is where the whole idea of Confucianism originates from. It was first created by Master Kong, who lived between 551 and 479BC. Master Kong got his name, Confucius, from the Jesuit missionaries who were visiting China, specifically his neighborhood. The Jesuits not only gave him a new name but also ingrained in him the principles and the fundamentals of the Confucian belief. That said, the very fundamental principles of the Confucian beliefs are noted to have started before Confucius’ birth because Confucianism was actually started by the Sage Kings from the Zhou Dynasty.

Before Confucianism was an actual thing or belief system, the general ideals of wellbeing and respect for others were quite prevalent. But it was not just about respect; there was a great deal of emphasis on the spiritual matters, such as the goodness of the divine, as well as the mandate for a king to rule, a mandate that was given to the persons in power. Generally, all these initial ideas were there to create stability, unite the people, and prevent rebellion.

Confucius built onto these beliefs, believing that his philosophy was the most important route that would lead to more civil society. But after some time, Confucius shifted his attention away from the rulers and all in society, peoples futures or death, and the divine, focusing instead on what he considered to be more important – the importance of human interactions and daily (simple) life. This was a new and a more refined version of his Confucian philosophy. But this new belief didn’t really take root at the time. Confucian beliefs only became a thing when the Han Dynasty that ruled between 140 and 87BC came into power. The Confucianism practiced by the Han dynasty is what the world is aware of and studies today.

With the feudal system losing its effectiveness and there being too many rebel groups, Confucianism was seen as the best way of creating a more harmonious society.

That said, the Sage-King played a critical role in Confucianism in that he set the founding principles for the whole philosophy of Confucianism.

Who Is The Founder Of Confucianism?

Confucius is known as the founder of the philosophy of Confucianism. However, the basic principles of Confucianism were developed and taught by the Sage Kings, who lived many years earlier.

What Are The Practices Of Confucianism

There are six main practices of Confucianism:

  1. Righteousness – Yi
  2. Trustworthiness and Honesty – Xin
  3. Loyalty to the state – Chung
  4. Rituals, etiquette, and Propriety, etc. – Li
  5. Love for and within the family, Parents’ love for their children, and children’s love for their parents – Hsiao
  6. Humanness towards each other and benevolence (most important value taught in Confucianism) – Jen

What Are The 5 Principles Of Confucianism

  • Theology and Theory

This Confucian principle revolves around the pursuit of an individual’s unity, as well as their unification with God of Heaven; in other words, this is about the relationships between Heaven and humanity.

According to the Confucian beliefs, the Principle of Heaven regards the order of creation and also the source of all divine authority and the monistic structure of the heavens. It notes that humans would be able to realize the best versions of their humanity and also become one with the heavens by contemplating the existence of this kind of order. The philosophical teachings also point to how self-transformation would be extended to the family and the rest of the society for the creation of a harmonious fiduciary community.

Note that in Confucian teachings, as well as Chinese Cosmology, which is essentially the Chinese umbrella religion, the universe created itself from chaos in the matter (material energy) and also qi, but got organized thanks to the polarity of the yin and yang. Therefore, the whole of creation is in a continuous cycle of order. Confucianism then comes in, and its primary focus is finding the middle-ground/way between yin and yang in all the new world configurations. Confucianism also reconciles the inner and the outer polarities of the spiritual cultivation of the self and also world cultivation; all synthesized through the idea of the idea described as the sageliness within and the kingliness without.

There is also the ideal of Rén or humanness, which defines the essence of the proper nature of human beings as a character that comes from a compassionate mind. Compassion is a virtue endowed to the individual by Heaven and is a form of divine essence.

Tiān and the gods that described the forces beyond human control is an element of Confucian theology.

  • Ethics and Social Morality

As mentioned earlier, Confucianism is primarily focused on mortality, which is why it is one of the important Confucian doctrines. It follows the idea of Heaven and Earth and the need for a middle way between the yin and yang for the configuration of the desired reality.

This philosophy or the Confucian ethical codes are essentially described as humanistic codes that could be practiced by all members of the society. It is all about the promotion of virtues, and it has 5 main elements or constants listed earlier (Ren or Humanness/ Benevolence, Yi or Justice/ righteousness, Li or Proper Rite, Zhi or knowledge, and Xin or integrity). These could also be accompanied by what’s called the classical Sìzì that focuses on loyalty, filial piety, righteousness, and continence/ fidelity.

  • Humaneness/ Cosmic Harmony

The main idea behind Confucianism focuses on the importance of being of good moral character because this would then affect the world around you. This is what the whole idea of cosmic harmony is all about.

Confucius and the believers of Confucianism held on to the belief that if the leaders say the emperor, for example, practiced moral perfection, it meant that his rule would be benevolent and peaceful. And if people strayed from these ancient teachings, conflict and natural disasters would be rampant as a consequence. It was, therefore, held that achievement of a remarkable level of character was only possible and achievable through the virtue of humanity, also called ren; this would then lead to even more virtuous behaviors like humility, respect, and altruism.

Confucius also believed in the power and the importance of education for the creation of a virtuous character. He also held onto the belief that people were inherently good, but they may have strayed from the idea or the appropriate ways of conducting themselves. Therefore, the Confucianism rituals were developed to bring about a more respectful attitude while also creating a community feeling within groups. Essentially, humaneness, according to Confucianism, is everything to do with the notion that you shouldn’t do to others what you wouldn’t want to be done to you.

  • Rite & Centering

This is the belief in the importance of rites for making invisible things visible. The rites were said to allow humans the capacity to cultivate and be on the same size as the underlying nature’s order. The rituals needed to be performed correctly for alignment between the heavenly and the earthly forces or centring, hence harmonious living.

  • Loyalty

Loyalty or zhōng is more relevant to the social class that most of the Confucianism students belonged to. It is the opposite of the old belief that ‘might makes things right,’ and it teaches, instead, that superiors are to be obeyed because of their moral rectitude rather than the position they hold. It adds that loyalty doesn’t translate to subservience to the authorities, and so, princes should employ their ministers based on propriety rules and the ministers to serve the prince with loyalty/ faithfulness. This was reiterated by Mencius in his teachings.

  • Devotion to one’s family or Filial Piety

This is the other important Confucianism principle. Essentially, Confucius believed that one’s devotion to family was an important thing. This form of devotion to the family would take on different forms, including ancestral worship, use of family-specific metaphors like sons of heaven to describe the emperor and the government he led, as well as submission to parental authority. All these point to the fact that family was the most important group or unit in the Confucian ethics, and also the belief that it was only through one’s complete devotion to their family that it would be possible to strengthen the surrounding society.

  • Relationships

This is the other important Confucian doctrine that was created to encourage social harmony. This principle notes that social harmony is achieved when every individual is aware of their place in the natural (societal) order and if they play their role well/ according. The principle also mentions the importance of responsibility and reciprocity and how these values extend beyond the aspect of filial piety and will involve the whole networks of social relations, including respect for the rulers.

Here, the idea of Junzi is introduced. Junzi translates to superior person or gentleman and was employed in the Confucian Analects in describing the ideal man. Note that Confucianism only regarded the wise or the sages as the ideal personalities. These individuals often live in poverty, they discipline themselves, are quite knowledgeable and obedient, and often, they don’t speak much.

  • Rectification of names

Confucius held the belief that the existence of the element of social order came from the failure to perceive, deal with reality, and understanding of reality. So, social order was from the failure to call things the right names.

Famous Followers Of Confucianism/Famous Confucianists

  • Mencius 
    1. Mencius – Second Sage, developed an orthodox form of Confucianism
    2. Xunzi – elaborated and then systemized the works of Confucius and Mencius
    3. Zhu Xi – developed the ideas of neo-Confucianism
    4. Kang Youwei – led the reform movements that reformed and led to the development of modern China.
    5. Yamaga Sokō – Was a Confucian philosopher and military strategist
    6. Dong Zhongshu – Established Confucianism back in 136BCE
    7. Wudi – Ruled the Han dynasty and encouraged the use of the Confucian examination system
    8. Yan Yuan – Founder of the empirical school of Confucianism
    9. Zisi – Confucius’ grandson who studied under Confucius and believed to have taught Mencius
    10. Li Ao – Re-established Confucianism when it was challenged by Daoism and Buddhism
    11. Yuandi – Promoted the establishment of Confucianism in the Han dynasty
    12. He Yan – Gave new meanings to the Confucian texts using concepts and terms based on Daoism  
    13. Ge Hong – he tried to combine the Confucian ethics Buddhism with the Daoist occult doctrines
    14. Zhengzong – He was an emperor of the Song Dynasty and strengthened Confucianism
    15. Zengzi – Confucius’ disciple

    Famous Confucius Quotes And Meanings

    These quotes teach about different important virtues of life; all meant to encourage harmony and peaceful living.

    • Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.” Teaches about patience
    • “It does not matter how slowly you go so long as you do not stop.” This quote teaches about discipline, patience, hard work, and perseverance.
    • “What the superior man seeks is in himself; what the small man seeks is in others.” – teaches about the importance of relationships and the reciprocity in social relations for social harmony.
    • “In a country that is well-governed, poverty’s something to be ashamed of. In a badly-governed country, wealth’s something to be ashamed of.” This quote addresses the importance of equality, ethics, and social morality.
    • “Do not impose on others what you yourself do not desire.” This is about equity, social harmony, and compassion.
    • “Hold faithfulness and sincerity as first principles.” This quote encourages loyalty and faithfulness.

    Confucius Symbol

    Confucianism is represented by 4 main symbols. These include:

    • Confucius – This is the symbol that represents the man behind the Confucian religion/ belief system and the importance of moral conduct by all people in the society.
    • The Chinese character for water – this symbol is important in Chinese culture because it is one of the 5 elements of the Chinese philosophies. Water is considered a life source, and it’s used in this philosophy because of its importance in the natural world in sustaining life.
    • The Yin and Yang symbol – the circle represents wholeness, while the dots and the black/blue sides represent balance.
    • The Chinese character for scholar – it shows the importance of self-awareness and knowledge; and the fact that no one would ever really have too much knowledge.

    Confucius Books

    1. Analects – these are the collective writings by Confucius
    2. Great Learnings – Originally one chapter from the book called Book of Rites.
    3. The doctrine of the Mean – also a chapter in the Book of Rites written by Zisi and covers all about gaining perfect virtue.
    4. Mencius

    The other books are the Classic of Poetry, Book of Documents, Book of Rites, Book of Changes, Spring & Autumn Annals.

    Why Confucianism Is Important

    Confucianism, along with the teachings of Confucius from the 500BC, has played a critical role in the development of Chinese character, behavior, as well as the Chinese way of living.

    It is primarily a philosophical outline about the importance of harmony and why harmony is an important value in the social systems.

    The teachings of Confucianism emphasize Mercy, Fulfilment of one’s responsibilities, and also Social Order.

    Confucianism God

    While there is ongoing debate regarding Confucianism and whether it is a religion or a belief system, or maybe both, the truth is that there are no Confucian gods. But the believers of this school of thought worshipped Confucius as a spirit, but not as a deity. This worship took place in the Confucian temples.

    Confucianism Clothing

    Confucius and his followers wore long, casual clothes meant to keep them warm. The right sleeves were truncated for convenience when working and to avoid waste.

    The other clothing synonymous with Confucianism is called the Hanfu, or the traditional clothing that the Han people wore. The clothing style features a robe or, in other cases, a jacket worn as an upper garment and a skirt that is worn as a lower garment. These are paired with belts, headwear, footwear, handheld fans, and jewelry made of jade.

    What Is Neo Confucianism?

    The Song/ Sung dynasty was known for their intellectual activities when the dynasty reigned between 960 and 1279, and their intellectual ways gave rise to a new or an improved version of Confucianism that was based on a mix of the Taoist and the Buddhist elements. This school of Confucianism thought was referred to as Neo-Confucianism. And the scholars behind the evolution of Confucianism and the development of Neo-Confucianism were very much versed with the two other philosophies. So, while they were primarily the teachers of ethics, these scholars were also interested in the universe’s theories, as well as the origin of human nature.

    Confucianism Influence

    Confucianism Influence on China

    Confucianism was the most influential philosophy during ancient China, but it remains an important aspect of Chinese culture in the modern world. The Han dynasty used Confucian teachings as the official ideology of the state, and during this time, Confucian schools were established and the Confucian ethics taught.

    Confucianism Influence On Society

    With teachings such as the Central Ethical principle or Ren, which can be defined through the concepts of love, humility, and mercy, the ethical standards of the society improved because, because people were encouraged to be fair and to do good for good to come back to them. This principle was strengthened by the Buddhist belief in Karma which encouraged the accumulation of merciful acts for a better life in the afterlife, thanks to reincarnation. This teaching encouraged social harmony, equity, justice, faithfulness, and loyalty.

    Then you have the 5 Cardinal Relations that are related to the sovereign and the family unit. It placed the family in a high place of significance and built stronger family systems.

    Confucianism also taught The Proper Way, which involved a set of rules that governed the interactions people had with each other while reminding everyone of the roles they played and what was expected of them for harmonious living. It also encouraged restraint, better control of emotions, obedience to the authority, and just prevented conflict.

    Confucianism Influence On Government

    Confucianism ensured that the government officials who took office during the reign of the Han dynasty were well-trained and ethical, helping the society to create/ make an organized and just system governed by a code of conduct.

    Conflict resolution was made not through the legal system but through mediation.

    And the elected officials would get the jobs for their virtues and moral qualities.  

    Confucianism Influence On Art

    Arts, specifically, the Confucian arts, were largely influenced and inspired by Confucius’ writings and his teachings.

    Confucianism also influenced most of China’s architecture in terms of scale and structure, as well as colors and the decorations used. These were based on the homeowner’s status and identity.

    Confucianism Influence On Other Religions

    Although Confucianism cannot be defined as a religion but rather a blend of philosophical thoughts and religious beliefs, there is no doubt that the Chinese society as we know it today, especially its focus on obligation, rituals, familial respect, self-discipline, and even ancestral worship all are largely influenced by the Confucian teachings and Confucius himself. Taoism (Daoism), for example, was developed after Confucianism, and some of the Taoist beliefs are borrowed from Confucian teachings.

    How Many Confucianism Followers Are There Worldwide

    Currently, it is estimated that there are about 6.1million Confucian followers worldwide.

    Confucianism Vs. Daoism

    While Confucianism is all about a code of conduct, harmony, ethics, family, obligations, and the belief that one shouldn’t do what they wouldn’t want to be done to them, Daoism is, first, a standalone religious practice. Daoism is also largely focused on the spiritual elements of life, as well as the unique and spontaneous state of the universe. The guiding principle of Daoism is The Way and is all about harmony in the natural order between the world and humans. Confucianism is about morality, ethics, code of conduct, and overall sense of balance or harmony – or rather, human social institutions.

    Confucianism Vs Legalism

    Confucianism relies heavily on the inherent or the very fundamental goodness or good nature of human beings. Legalism, on the other hand, presupposes the opposite, that human beings are fundamentally evil. So, while Confucianism will cast everything as corresponding obligations/ responsibilities, Legalism regards everything in terms of harsh punishments and strict laws.

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