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Brief Introduction

Confucius (Kong Zi, 551 BCE - 479 BCE), born in Zouyi (present Qufu) of Lu State in the Spring and Autumn Period, is one of the most influential philosophers, educators, and politicians in China. His clan name is "Kong," the given name is "Qiu," and his capping name is Zhongni. It's said that Confucius had authored or edited many Chinese texts of Six Classics (Poetry), but there is no record to confirm. Aphorisms concerning his teaching were all compiled in the Analects, which were edited by his disciples. Confucius made such a profound impact in both Chinese culture and the world that the UNESCO regarded him as the first of the "top ten cultural celebrities."

Confucius’ Lifetime


Confucius was born on Sep.28, 551 BCE, in Lu State of Spring and Autumn Period. His ancestry can be traced back to the duke of Song State and the royal branch of the Shang Dynasty. His father, Kong He (Shuliang He), was a commandant of the local garrison. Before Confucius was born, Kong He had nine daughters with his first wife. To have a son, he married another woman and had a disabled son named Meng Pi. At the age of 72, Kong He took the 18-year-old Yan Zhengzai and had another son. To have this son, he offered sacrifice in Niqiu Mountain. Therefore, he named the child Kong Qiu and gave him the capping name of Zhongni. It is said that Confucius was born with a depression in the middle of his skull, and he grew to be 9 feet and 6 inches tall (about 191cm).

Early Life

Confucius had a hard life in his early life. When he was three years old, his father died, leaving him to the care of his mother, Yan Zhengzai. The young Confucius often played with the sacrificial vessels and arranged them to pretend to perform the sacrificial rituals. He also attended the private schools for commons.

At the age of 17, Confucius lost his mother. He wished to bury his mother together with his father, but he didn't know where his father's tomb was. To find out the site, Confucius stopped his mother's coffin in the crossing road and ask passengers. Finally, he acquired his father's burial site and successfully buried his mother along with his father.

When he turned 19, Confucius worked as a bookkeeper and a caretaker of sheep and horses for the aristocratic family Ji of Lu State. That same year, he married a Song State girl named Qiguan. Next year, he had a son and received the present congratulatory cyprinoid (Li Yu) from Duke Zhao of Lu State. Therefore, Confucius named his son Kong Li and gave him the capping name Boyu.

Confucius continued to learn from other scholars in his early 20s. It's said that he learned etiquette from Laodan, learned instruments from Shixiangzi, and learned music from Changhong. When he was 23 years old, Confucius was knowledgeable enough to have his own students. He practiced individualized teaching and heuristic teaching. He even taught for free if the students were poor, ensuring the education was available for the lower classes. His teaching career never stopped ever since, and it's said that he had 3000 students, of whom 72 were sages.

Political Career

At the age of 35, when the Duke Zhao of Lu State was defeated by the three most potent nobles family Ji, family Shu, and family Meng, Confucius fled to Qi State. He had a great time with Qi Imperial Tutor over music that he forgot to have meat for three months. When Duke Jing of Qi State sought advice, Confucius imparted his ideas, which were much appreciated by the duke that he offered Confucius a government post. However, Confucius's appointment in Qi State was vigorously objected to by the Qi State prime minister. Later, when Duke Jing was informed that someone intended to hurt Confucius, he had no choice but to let Confucius back to Lu State. Back to State Lu, Confucius continued his teaching career.

When Confucius was 51 years old, he was finally acknowledged by the Lu State rulers and was put in some crucial positions. In the tenth year of the reign of Duke Ding of Lu State, the Duke Ding of Lu State met the Duke Jing of Qi State in Jiagu area. Confucius was appointed as the diplomat to negotiate with Qi State. He successfully persuaded Qi State and helped the Lu State take back the territories that Qi State occupied before. Three years later, to re-establish the authority of the duke of Lu State, Confucius schemed and carried out the political and military operation of dismantling the wall of the city - the strongholds belonging to the three powerful aristocratic families, in the hope of weaken their strength and build a centralized state. Unfortunately, his endeavor failed.

Nevertheless, Lu State became stronger when Confucius acted as a consultant to Duke Ding that Qi State grew jealous. A Qi State official made a plan and gave many dancing girls and good horses to Duke Ding, tempting the duke to ignore his official duties. Confucius was greatly disappointed by the duke, and his irreconcilable divergence with the three aristocrats over morality and politics made him decide to leave Lu State. Since then, Confucius had a long journey through different states in the next 14 years.

Stories During Confucius’  Travel Through Other States

Leave Wei State

Confucius and his disciples first traveled to Wei State. When he passed the Kuangcheng, he was mistaken for a tiger and rounded up due to his big body. His disciple Zilu was enraged and tried to fight against the hunters. Confucius stopped him and cleared the misapprehension. In the process of dispute, another favorite disciple of Confucius Yanhui was lost. Later, Confucius was respected and treated well in Wei State, but his political ideas were never actually accepted and implemented by the Wei State rulers. One day, Confucius paid a formal visit to Nanzi, the wife of Duke Ling of Wei State, who was very pretty and considered loose. When Confucius met her, he kneeled, facing north, and avoided eye contact with Madam Nanzi. However, Confucius' disciple Zilu was disappointed that his beloved teacher visited such a disgraced person like Nanzi. Confucius swore to Zilu that there was nothing between him and Nanzi. Months later, Duke Ling of Wei State traveled out with Nanzi in a chariot, and Confucius accompanied them in another chariot, and they swaggered through the street. Confucius was very disappointed and shamed by this event and decided to leave Wei State.

The Danger in the Song State

One day in Song State, when Confucius and his disciples studied the rites under a big tree, an officer named Huan Tui tried to kill him and uprooted the tree. His disciples urged Confucius to leave there as soon as possible. Confucius said, "I have my virtue; how could Huan Tui hurt me anyway?" This story shows the courage and faith of Confucius. Why did Huan Tui try to kill Confucius? The reason is that he feared that Confucius might be used by the Duke of Song State, which was not good for himself.

Lost in Zheng State

In Zheng State, Confucius accidentally got separated from his disciples. He became sad and stood alone in the eastern gate. Someone saw this and told Zigong (another disciple of Confucius) that Confucius looked like a strayed dog. When Zigong found Confucius and told him what the other person said, Confucius laughed and said, "such is the case, very true."

Tyranny is Fiercer Than Tiger

When Confucius and his disciples passed Mount Tai, he heard a woman's story. The exorbitant taxation was so unbearable that people choose to live in an area where tigers inhabited. This woman and her family lived in such a place, and her families were killed by the tigers, leaving her alone. This story showed how tyrannic feudal government could be.

Stuck in Chen and Cai States

Wu State launched an invasion of Chen State, and Chu State decided to help Chen State. The King Zhao of Chu State ordered people to invite Confucius to go to Chu State as a consultant. To sabotage the intention, ministers of Chen and Cai States besieged Confucius and his disciples and cut off their food source for seven days. Many disciples were ill, but Confucius continued his teaching and remained calm. Later, Confucius sent Zigong to Chu State and brought back the Chu State army.

Return Home

After traveling in other states for 14 years, almost 70-year-old Confucius was welcomed back to Lu State by the Jikangzi in 484 BCE and was honored as the Guolao (respected but retired tutor). However, Confucius still wasn't offered any position in the Lu government. He just focused on teaching and compiling books. In 479 BCE, he died of natural cause.

Confucian Philosophy

Political Ideas:

Generosity: It requires people to respect the elders, be nice to others, and stay loyal to rulers. In terms of the ruling, the rulers should be generous to their subjects and lower the taxation and burden.
RiteIt emphasizes the importance of following the social and political orders.
Rule by virtue: There are four parts to a ruling by virtue. First, the criminal penalty should be avoided as much as possible. When someone made mistakes, he should be educated and moralized first. Secondly, the ruling class should not force too much pressure and burden on the commons. Thirdly, anyone with virtue and knowledge should enter politics and make contributions. Lastly, anyone in superior positions should watch their behaviors and make an example for others.

Teaching Theories:

Equal education for all classes: Confucius believes that everyone is entitled to education no matter their social status.
Individualized Teaching: Due to many reasons, people may differ in learning abilities. Teachers should treat each student individually and teach them based on their actual condition.
Heuristic Teaching: Confucius thinks teachers should inspire students to learn and make them feel instead of passing the knowledge.
Be Models for Others: Teachers should behave adequately all the time and act as models for their students.

Ten Famous Sayings of Confucius

1.The silent treasuring up of knowledge; learning without satiety; and instructing others without being wearied -- what other things do I need?
2.When there are three people together; there must be one person who can teach me something. I will select their good qualities and follow them, their bad qualities, and avoid them.
3.A man of virtue is open-minded and always at ease; a man of meanness is full of distress at all times.
4.People who know the truth are not to those who like to explore it, and people who want to explore truth is not to those who take delight in doing so.
5.People are born with similar nature, but the living environment will make them different from each other.
6.Learning without thought is labor lost; thought without learning is perilous.
7.Is it not pleasant to learn with a constant application? Is it not delightful to have friends coming from distant quarters? Is he not a man of complete virtue, who feels no discomposure though men may take no note of him?
8.The commander of the forces of a large State may be carried off, but the will of even a common man cannot be taken from him.
9.If a man keeps cherishing his old knowledge, so as continually to be acquiring new, he may be a teacher of others.
10.Time passes on just like this, not ceasing day or night!

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