Confucianism

Confucianism
Chinese name
Chinese 儒家
Literal meaning "refined school"
Vietnamese name
Vietnamese Nho giáo
Korean name
Hangul 유교
Hanja 儒教
Japanese name
Kanji 儒教
Kana じゅきょう
Temple of Confucius of Jiangyin, Wuxi, Jiangsu. This is a wénmiào (文庙), that is to say a temple where Confucius is worshipped as Wéndì (文帝), "God of Culture".
Gates of the wénmiào of Datong, Shanxi.

Confucianism, also known as Ruism, is described as tradition, a philosophy, a religion, a humanistic or rationalistic religion, a way of governing, or simply a way of life. [1] Confucianism developed from what was later called the Hundred Schools of Thought from the teachings of the Chinese philosopher Confucius (551–479 BCE), who considered himself a retransmitter of the values of the Zhou dynasty golden age of several centuries before. [2] In the Han dynasty (206 BCE – 220 CE), Confucian approaches edged out the "proto-Taoist" Huang-Lao, as the official ideology while the emperors mixed both with the realist techniques of Legalism. The disintegration of the Han political order in the second century CE opened the way for the doctrines of Buddhism and Neo-Taoism, which offered spiritual explanations lacking in Confucianism.

A Confucian revival began during the Tang dynasty of 618-907. In the late Tang, Confucianism developed in response to Buddhism and Taoism and was reformulated as Neo-Confucianism. This reinvigorated form was adopted as the basis of the imperial exams and the core philosophy of the scholar official class in the Song dynasty (960-1297). The abolition of the examination system in 1905 marked the end of official Confucianism. The New Culture intellectuals of the early twentieth century blamed Confucianism for China's weaknesses. They searched for new doctrines to replace Confucian teachings; some of these new ideologies include the " Three Principles of the People" with the establishment of the Republic of China, and then Maoism under the People's Republic of China. In the late twentieth century Confucian work ethic has been credited with the rise of the East Asian economy. [3]

With particular emphasis on the importance of the family and social harmony, rather than on an otherworldly source of spiritual values, [4] the core of Confucianism is humanistic. [5] According to Herbert Fingarette's concept of "the secular as sacred", Confucianism regards the ordinary activities of human life — and especially in human relationships as a manifestation of the sacred, [6] because they are the expression of our moral nature (xìng 性), which has a transcendent anchorage in Heaven (Tiān 天) and a proper respect for the spirits or gods ( shén). [7] While Tiān has some characteristics that overlap the category of deity, it is primarily an impersonal absolute principle, like the Dào (道) or the Brahman. Confucianism focuses on the practical order that is given by a this-worldly awareness of the Tiān. [8] [9] Confucian liturgy (that is called 儒 , or sometimes 正統/正统 zhèngtǒng, meaning " orthoprax" ritual style) led by Confucian priests or "sages of rites" (禮生/礼生 lǐshēng) to worship the gods in public and ancestral Chinese temples is preferred in various occasions, by Confucian religious groups and for civil religious rites, over Taoist or popular ritual. [10]

The this-worldly concern of Confucianism rests on the belief that human beings are fundamentally good, and teachable, improvable, and perfectible through personal and communal endeavor especially self-cultivation and self-creation. Confucian thought focuses on the cultivation of virtue and maintenance of ethics. Some of the basic Confucian ethical concepts and practices include rén, , and , and zhì. Rén (仁, "benevolence" or "humaneness") is the essence of the human being which manifests as compassion. It is the virtue-form of Heaven. [11] (義/义) is the upholding of righteousness and the moral disposition to do good. (禮/礼) is a system of ritual norms and propriety that determines how a person should properly act in everyday life according to the law of Heaven. Zhì (智) is the ability to see what is right and fair, or the converse, in the behaviors exhibited by others. Confucianism holds one in contempt, either passively or actively, for failure to uphold the cardinal moral values of rén and .

Traditionally, cultures and countries in the East Asian cultural sphere are strongly influenced by Confucianism, including mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, Korea, Japan, and Vietnam, as well as various territories settled predominantly by Chinese people, such as Singapore. In the 20th century Confucianism's influence diminished greatly. In the last decades there have been talks of a "Confucian Revival" in the academic and the scholarly community [12] [13] and there has been a grassroots proliferation of various types of Confucian churches. [14] In late 2015 many Confucian personalities formally established a national Holy Confucian Church (孔聖會/孔圣会 Kǒngshènghuì) in China to unify the many Confucian congregations and civil society organisations.

Names and terminology

Confucius, circa 1770.

Strictly speaking, there is no term in Chinese which directly corresponds to "Confucianism". In the Chinese language, the character 儒 meaning "scholar" or "learned man" is generally used both in the past and the present to refer to things related to Confucianism. The character in ancient China has diverse meanings. Some examples include, "weak", "soft", "to tame", "to comfort" and "to educate" or "to refine". [15] Several different terms are used in different situations, several of which are of modern origin:

Three of these use . These names do not use the name "Confucius" at all, but instead center on the figure or ideal of the Confucian scholar; however, the suffixes jiā, jiào and xué carry different implications as to the nature of Confucianism itself.

Rújiā contains the character jiā, which literally means "house" or "family". In this context, it is more readily construed as meaning "school of thought", since it is also used to construct the names of philosophical schools contemporary with Confucianism: for example, the Chinese names for Legalism and Mohism end in jiā.

Rújiào and Kǒngjiào contain the Chinese character jiào, the noun "teaching" or "transmission", used in such terms as "education", or "educator". The term, however, is notably used to construct the names of religions in Chinese: the terms for Islam, Judaism, Christianity, and other religions in Chinese all end with jiào.

Rúxué contains xué, "study". The term is parallel to "-ology" in English, being used to construct the names of academic fields: the Chinese names of fields such as physics, chemistry, biology, political science, economics, and sociology all end in xué.

The use of the term Confucianism has been avoided by some modern scholars, who favor Ruism or Ruists in lieu of Confucianism. Robert Eno argues that the term has been "burdened... with the ambiguities and irrelevant traditional associations". Ruism, as he states, is more faithful to the original Chinese name for the school. [16]

The Five Classics (五经, Wǔjīng) and the Confucian vision

Traditionally, Confucius was thought to be the author or editor of the Five Classics which were the basic texts of Confucianism. The scholar Yáo Xīnzhōng allows that there are good reasons to believe that Confucian classics took shape in the hands of Confucius, but that “nothing can be taken for granted in the matter of the early versions of the classics.” Yáo reports that perhaps most scholars today hold the “pragmatic” view that Confucius and his followers, although they did not intend to create a system of classics, “contributed to their formation.” In any case, it is undisputed that for most of the last 2,000 years, Confucius was believed to have either written or edited these texts. [17]

The scholar Tu Weiming explains these classics as embodying “five visions" which underlie the development of Confucianism:

  • I Ching or Classic of Change or Book of Changes, generally held to be the earliest of the classics, shows a metaphysical vision which combines divinatory art with numerological technique and ethical insight; philosophy of change sees cosmos as interaction between the two energies yin and yang, universe always shows organismic unity and dynamism.
  • Classic of Poetry or Book of Songs is the earliest anthology of Chinese poems and songs. It shows the poetic vision in the belief that poetry and music convey common human feelings and mutual responsiveness.
  • Book of Documents or Book of History Compilation of speeches of major figures and records of events in ancient times embodies the political vision and addresses the kingly way in terms of the ethical foundation for humane government. The documents show the sagacity, filial piety, and work ethic of Yao, Shun, and Yu. They established a political culture which was based on responsibility and trust. Their virtue formed a covenant of social harmony which did not depend on punishment or coercion.
  • Book of Rites describes the social forms, administration, and ceremonial rites of the Zhou Dynasty. This social vision defined society not as an adversarial system based on contractual relations but as a community of trust based on social responsibility. The four functional occupations are cooperative (farmer, scholar, artisan, merchant).
  • Spring and Autumn Annals chronicles the period to which it gives its name, Spring and Autumn period (771–476 BCE) and these events emphasize the significance of collective memory for communal self-identification, for reanimating the old is the best way to attain the new. [18]