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Confucianism Culture


Confucianism Culture is a cultural school established by Confucius during the Spring and Autumn Period. With the core value of forgiveness, loyalty, filial piety, humility, courage, benevolence, righteousness, etiquette, wisdom, and faith, the Confucianism doctrine emphasizes blood relationships, ethics, self-fulfillment, self-cultivation, and moral rationality. It had dominated the Chinese feudal society for over 2000 years and still plays a critical role in current Chinese culture.


In the Spring and Autumn Period, the intensified social crisis caused by the irreconcilable contradictions shook traditional culture's authority, making people skeptical about what they used to believe and began to seek new ways to solve the social problems. What kind of social model the future will become had become a significant issue of worldwide concern, and it has caused a controversial debate in the ideological circle. Meanwhile, people had to figure out how to treat the old traditional culture. Different schools presenting various classes' interests came up with different proposals; Confucius brought one up.

Confucius used to believe that people should follow the practices created by King Yao and King Shun in ancient times and the systems of Wen King and Wu King of Eastern Zhou Dynasty. The new social tendency made Confucius seek change. He fused that era's spirit into his ideological system and appropriately adjusted the traditional culture to establish a new harmonious order in social practice.


Confucianism has gone through four stages, the establishment by Confucius in the Spring and Autumn Period, Han Dynasty Confucianism represented by Dong Zhongshu, Neo-Confucianism in Song and Ming Dynasties, and the modern Confucianism under the impact of Western ideology.

Establishment in the Spring and Autumn Period

In the late Spring and Autumn Period, an unprecedented reform was taking place. In terms of social form, the feudal society gradually replaced the slavery society, and in politics, the legal systems gradually substituted the ritual institutions.

The two most outstanding representatives of Confucianism at this time is Confucius and Mencius. With the core value of “generosity," Confucius thought people should love and be kind to each other, and they should not do unto others what we would not want others to do unto us. He also emphasized that the rulers should rule by virtue and restore the ritual and musical systems of the Western Zhou Dynasty. As the first person ever proposed education for all classes, Confucius was regarded as the “exemplary teacher for all ages." Mencius is the successor of Confucius. He inherited Confucianism and put forward his ideas. Mencius's core concept is “benevolent government," which further developed the first people-oriented thoughts “the people are the most important, state second, and the rulers last." Mencius also believed that no one was born discriminatory.

The early Confucianism is considered modern and advancing, and the ruling class did not well accept it. Before the establishment of the Qin Dynasty, Chinese society was in chaos. All the states, big or small, were fighting each other for resources. The ideology Confucius brought up was not able to help the ruling class to gain what they wanted. However, Confucius had taught many students, and his thoughts were well accepted by the commons.

Development in the Han Dynasty

In the early Western Han Dynasty, Huanglao Taoism was practiced so that the economy can recover after years of war. In the reign of Emperor Wu, the economy was gradually recovered and strengthened. However, the ever-expanding power of the vassal states, the fierce land annexation, and the invasion of the Huns all threatened the stability of the Western Han Dynasty. To strengthen the centralization, a positive mindset was in urgent need. This was when Confucianism began to dominate Chinese thinking.

The representative of Confucianism at this time was Dong Zhongshu. He developed Confucianism and brought new concepts. He vigorously advocated the ideas of “divine power of kings” and “interaction between heaven and mankind." Dong Zhongshu also proposed three principles and five virtues to restrain people’s behavior from helping rule the subject. The three principles refer to “ruler guides subjects," father guides son," and “husband guides wife," and the five virtues refer to benevolence, righteousness, propriety, wisdom, and trustworthiness. These ideas were accepted by the ruler and institutionalized. People had to abide by those standards willingly or not.

Neo-Confucianism in Song and Ming Dynasties

Confucianism went unpopular after the Han Dynasty until the Song Dynasty when the Confucian scholars launched a series of activities to criticize Buddhism and Taoism and revive Confucianism. A new Confucianism system with "principle" as its core was formed in the Song Dynasty. The representatives of the neo-Confucianism at this time were Cheng Hao, Cheng Yi, and Zhu Xi. With the core belief that the principle came before the substance, the neo-Confucianism animateurs believed that the divine code is the origin of the universe. There is only one heavenly principle that can control everything.  They also thought that the heavenly principle in society was the same as the three principles and five virtues of the moral norms, representing the highest human nature level. However, the acquired human desire had blinded the heavenly guide. So, to save human nature (heavenly principle), human desires must be destroyed.

Lu Jiuyuan of the Southern Song Dynasty and Wang Yangming of the Ming Dynasty put forward the idea that "heart" is the "reason." They believed that everything in the universe was in people's hearts. There is no need to seek reason; look inside the heart. Their doctrine is called "Mindology," also called Mindology of Lu and Wang. Wang Yangming absorbed the Buddhist thought that there is no Buddha outside the heart, and the mind is the Buddha, and promoted the propositions that there is nothing outside the heart and that there is no reason outside the heart. Epistemologically, he put forward the doctrines of "for the conscience" and "the unity of knowledge and action, " which profoundly impacted future generations.

Modern Confucianism

In the early 20th century, China was facing both internal and external crises. Some people took advantage of the chaos and attempted to revive Confucianism. In 1916, Yuan Shikai restored the monarchy and reminded the young radical democrats that the autocratic monarchy was still alive. Those democrats believed that the root cause was that they didn't touch the old ideas, morals, and cultures. Thus, they launched a spiritual liberation movement and made strong critiques of Confucius and his thoughts. There was a slogan back then, "Down with Confucius." Under such impact, Confucianism has lost its appeal to Chinese intellectuals.

Main Confucianism Propositions

Respect and Trust Others

In ethics, with the central idea of generosity, Confucianism focuses on self-cultivation, which requires people to maintain a harmonious relationship with others. The younger generations should treat the elders with respect. Friends should keep their words. Officials should be honest and care for people. Rulers should carry out benevolent governing and manage the subjects. Ordinary people should be self-aware and share their social responsibilities.

Be Generous and Orderly

The political ideas of Confucianism mainly focus on the relationships between the ruling class and ordinary people. Confucius said that the ruler should treat his minister with due respect, while the ministers should stay loyal to their ruler. Mencius believed that the people are the most important, and the state goes second, and lastly goes the rulers. Xuncius, another Confucianism advocate, thought that one should abide by the morality standard instead of the ruler’s thought and follow social justice instead of listening to his father. In terms of the real political problems, Confucianism requests both the ruler and the ruled take responsibility. Theoretically, the governed have the right to rebel against any ruler who failed to carry out his duties. In terms of international politics, Confucianism advocates the distinction of Hua and Yi (central Chinese civilization and the surrounding nations), which promoted the spreading of advanced Chinese culture in old times, but hindered China's modernization.

Say A Lot by Saying Very Little

There is a tradition in Confucianism - archive history. The things that Confucius compiled in “Spring and Autumn” were historical events and chose certain characters to make his points. The Chinese chronicles have never been stopped since 841 B.C. (the founding year of the Western Zhou Dynasty).

Justice Outweighing Benefit

Confucianism emphasizes that justice outweighs the benefit, commerce outweighs politics, agriculture outweighs business.


The thought case in Confucianism means to seek knowledge by studying the principles of the substance. There is no record to trace this school nowadays.

What are the pros and cons of Confucianism?


1.Value of Education. Confucianism attached great importance in teaching, especially in individualized instruction.
2.Value Morality, Ethic Code, Generosity, and Justice. It requests people to be honest and kind to each other.
3.Dialectical Thinking, Value Experience. Confucianism values agriculture and believes that the natural order is the root of human rationality, and social rationality is the foundation of the natural order.
4.Rule by Virtue. It emphasizes that people should stay loyal to their country and fight against any invaders. If the rulers harm the country, people should confront them and help them rule better.


1.Disvalue Science. Confucianism thinks the official career is the most important.
2.Disvalue Logic. The Confucianism stresses experience and neglects the logic and in-depth rules of objects.
3.Disvalue Individual Interests. It stresses that the collective interests came first and suppressed the individual personality, which further subdued human creativity.
4.Strict ethical ideas. Confucianism advocates three principles and five virtues, which much oppressed the human mind. It also stresses the hierarchy.

How to treat Confucianism?

As the main foundation of Chinese culture, Confucianism has a profound influence on modern lives. We should value the right parts of the Confucianism concepts and discard the disadvantageous parts.

Learn More About Confucius: Confucius