What is Confucianism

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Confucianism is a religion, a tradition, a way of life, a philosophy, or simply a humanistic or rationalistic religion, according to some. Confucianism arose from the teachings of Confucius, a Chinese philosopher who founded the Hundred Schools of Thought. It was invented in China between 551-479 BC. Confucius was suppressed for a long time, especially during the Han Dynasty's early years. It was tolerated or accepted during the later years of the Han Dynasty. Confucianism gained popularity after the Mongol Empire conquered China and adopted this philosophy. China abolished the examination system in 1905, officially marking the end of Confucianism at the time. Confucianism is based in the appreciation of an individual’s character as well as that of others.

Confucianism is based on the pursuit of the unity of Tian (traditional high god of Zhou) and the self, and the relationship of mankind to heaven. According to this philosophy, the principle of Tian is the order of divine authority and creation, monistic in its structure. Through contemplating this order, human beings can realize their humanity and as a result become one with heaven. The transformation of the self can further be extended to the society or rather family to create a harmony in the community. Confucianism moral-spiritual ideal counsels both the outer and inner polarities of the world redemption and self-cultivation. The philosophy emphasizes on Ren which is the essence of a proper human being or can be roughly translated to “humaneness.” This is the character of an individual having a compassionate mind and the means in which mankind can return to heaven.

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Social rituals according to Confucius are the specific ways of interacting with one another. Confucianism explains that in every relationship that an individual has, there is a designated role. The philosophy further illustrates that in order for an individual and the whole society to keep these relationship healthy, each person should be cognizant of his role and how to live out that role. Confucius identified the five main relationships in life:

Ruler and Subject

Husband and wife

Father and son

Elder brother and younger brother

Friend and friend

Three of these relationships are familial barring the last two which are hierarchical. According to Confucianism, the most important of the relationships is the family ad it makes up the center of the society or rather, the core. In terms of the roles each individual plays, the husband for example should be kind and attentive to his wife. The wife should also obey the husband because that is her role. In Chinese language, this is what is referred to as Li, which is the principle of doing what an individual is supposed to do.

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In Confucianism, ethics are described as being humanistic. It is characterized by the promotion of virtues in the society and it is encompassed by the five constants. During the Han Dynasty, the Confucian scholars extrapolated these five constants which are also collectively referred to as wu chang. The five constants are:

Benevolence, humaneness

Righteousness or justice

Proper rite



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The five constants are accompanied by the classical Sizi, which singles out the four virtues (loyalty, filial piety, contingency and righteousness). Ethically, there are many elements in Confucianism such as honesty and cleanness, kindness and forgiveness, kind and gentle and modestly and self-effacing.

September 11, 2021

World Philosophy



Subject area:

China Tradition Confucianism

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