The history of Confucianism can be traced back to ancient China’s society and its government. The society was grounded on the belief of a basic order in the universe that connected nature, people, and cosmos (heaven) through natural harmony. It was also based on the concept that a man was a social being through whom the natural order of the universe should be reflected. According to Confucius, a family formed the core social unit in society. Therefore, family relationship was considered important and formed the foundation for other relationship models such as husband-wife, elder brother-younger brother, friend-friend, and sovereign-subject. Thus, it was through the family relationship that other social models were formed. Moreover, the relationship was organized in a hierarchy where every individual of a particular level had well-defined duties, responsibility, and reciprocity between the superior and the subordinate. The devotion of a child to his or her parent (filial piety) was at the primary level of the hierarchy, and it formed the foundation for other levels. The purpose of the paper is to discuss five concepts of Confucianism including humanity, family, cult, knowledge, and government.
Confucianism is considered as humanism because it is centered on improving human relationships. Humanism in this sense includes virtues such as divergence from supernatural views and focusing on morality as the backbone for rationality and reason. Humanism is also associated with the ability of an individual to self-actualize without the motivation for objective morality. Moreover, humans are also linked with the ability to change themselves, their community, and the world. The common definition of humanism differs with Confucianism in the sense that Confucianism champions for the concept of collectivism. According to Confucianism, good society comes before an individual while humanism supports individualism. However, the two terms are related in the sense that they focus on the development of the natural world and the responsibilities of humanity in that world.
According to Kongzi, the founder and philosopher of Confucianism, ren (humanness) was considered the most important virtue. It only existed within a social construct representing goodness or the human nature of an individual. Ren was also considered as a developing virtue, which was acquired through self-correction and introspection. Confucianism asserts that humanness is defined and made up of one’s relationship in society. The way one connects with everything around them is essential to determining their real identification. As stated in Confucius, an individual who is not a man in humanity cannot prosper or enjoy diversity for long. Therefore, humanity is considered a fundamental virtue above wealth and other pleasures that people enjoy. Although a man desires money, violating moral principles guiding humanity to obtain them is prohibited. Moreover, a man is not supposed to avoid a humble life of poverty by violating moral principles, as it is against humanity.
The sympathetic understanding and reciprocation also characterize humanity. One is required to cultivate ren by practicing sympathetic understanding within their societal relationships. It involves caring about other individuals in the relationship circle. Through reciprocation, an individual can control their emotions towards others, thus, transforming self. For example, they can control anger that might result in harming others in society. Such control keeps the relationship intact. The ability to change self through emotional control is also vital for upholding moral principles in society by preventing evil. As stated in Confucius, a man of humanity would rather die for society instead of harming it.
Confucius advocates for humanity with virtues like liberality, earnestness, diligence, truthfulness, and generosity. An earnest person is treated with respect in society while a generous man wins many hearts. Honesty earns people's trust; thus, a man seeking people's trust should be honest with others in society. All these virtues promote kindness and love, which are core principles of humanity. They are centered on doing well to others to improve humanity.
The concept of the family remains a central element in Chinese life up to date. It stresses the importance of devoting self to parents and family members. Moreover, from the Chinese point of view, the saying "Family begins at home" has a literal meaning in their society. It is attributed to the traditional Confucius concept of a family that one learns to love by experiencing the same from their family. According to Confucius, the development of one’s moral behaviors relies mainly on the naturally fostered love from their family. Confucius believes that one's morality is grounded on their basic human feelings. Such feelings are only nurtured through one's experience of love in their family. The lack of familial love results in unwanted morals; hence, one is not able to develop and maintain other relationships.
As described above, filial piety represents the obedience or respect a child shows to parents. Thus, the child-parent relationship forms the foundation of other relationships between a ruler and a subject. A subject was expected to show obedience to their leaders or those in power. Such obedience was only nurtured during the young age with one’s parents. According to Confucius, an individual has specific responsibilities in every set of relationship. For example, in a husband-wife relationship, a woman is expected to be submissive while a man provides for the family. Fathers also exercised enormous power over their children as a way of shaping their morals. Such responsibilities were also extended to the dead. The living is considered as the son to the deceased and should show respect.
The filial concept was also adapted to the legal system where one would be punished severely if they committed a crime against their parents. Furthermore, filial piety also encouraged parents to always serve their children, even if they do not show obedience to them. Children are also encouraged to be earnest and faithful and love extensively beyond their family circles. This is because respect and filial piety were valued as the roots of humanity, which made up the entire community. Through filial piety, children would grow up to be responsible and earnest people for the good of humanity.
Confucianism became famous as a religion during the reign of Emperor Wu and was later integrated into a state religion by Kang Youwei. Also referred to as jiao, Confucianism was represented by a pictogram of a hand holding a stick while beating a child. The meaning was later transformed to filial piety and education. The tradition of Confucius was then broadened to involve doctrines that could be transmitted and spread by a group of people.
Confucianism was then used as a religious doctrine through which people could practice the rituals productive of faith and behavior about their tradition. According to Chinese tradition, the three factors including faith, disciplines of behavior, and rituals were fundamental to promoting unity and transmission of the doctrines. Jiao then consisted of the cultured and learned scholars who actively participated in the process of interpreting and applying the principles of the religion. The religious idea of Confucianism was promoted to the state ideology and became a part of the country’s religious activities. Many state activities now involve Confucius ceremonies like sacrifice offering and festivals performed on his birthday. Under a new name of Kong Jiao, Confucius was made a central distinctive school and a glorious tradition.
The present reference of the Chinese not being religious is linked to the early adoption of Confucianism as the central religion. Ancient Chinese tradition was based on different schools including legalism and Confucianism. However, Confucianism became dominant during the reign of Wu and had formed the religious foundation of the present Chinese. Furthermore, it did not encourage faith in a higher power, as people performed ceremonies and offered sacrifices in honor of ancestors. Such sacrifices involved a variety of practices ranging from sleeping, eating, receiving guests, as well as praying for better yields.
Confucianism has been an important source of knowledge about traditions. Many new educational institutions have embraced Confucianism as a part of the learning method exposing learners to the classics. Confucianism is now generated through learning and renewed via practice. Confucian learning offers a different approach to learning from what is known today. According to Confucius, learning is more than just pure academics provided in the classroom. Learning rather encompasses reading, understanding, and deliberating, as Confucius states that a person who learns without thinking is lost. Thus, a Confucian student is expected to deliberate on the newly acquired knowledge regularly. It also says men are alike, but what differentiates them is learning and practice. Confucius approaches emphasize on learning as a way of studying heavenly ways in external practices and inner self. Its main purpose is to promote moral characters and good actions. It is also related to the nature of humanity where one is motivated to study ways of loving others. Therefore, it offers learners a chance to remain virtuous and transform themselves.
One characteristic of Confucius tradition is that members are mostly learned. By learning the ways to heaven, members are often considered intellectually civilized with the ability promote love in society. Confucius learning also focuses on understanding the classics and transmitting the ancient tradition. It emphasizes on the traditional way of spreading moral lessons to the next generation by expanding upon it. Confucius learning is also different from the contemporary one in that it focuses on promoting the ethical, political, individual, and collective classics to transform the world.
Confucianism advocates for a moral government where people are governed and regulated by laws and punishment to prevent them from wrongdoing. The confidence of people in the government is valued above food and armament. People's trust determines whether they will adhere to the rules, and thus, it is fundamental for setting rules and regulations.
Confucianism also advocates for a humble ruler who is ready to be corrected, as it states that no one will dare not to be rectified if the leader can be corrected. A leader should be able to accept their mistakes and change for the greater good of society. Moreover, subjects are encouraged to obey their rulers. Confucianism states that let a ruler be a ruler and father be a father, meaning that a subject should practice utmost obedience to those in power. Such virtue is nurtured since childhood, as mentioned above in the perspective of filial piety. One practice to obey those in authority is based on childhood experiences in the family system. The practice of moral governance that Confucianism advocates for is also evident in its view of a ruler setting a good example to their subjects. A leader is expected to practice virtuousness, earnestness, and love and set a good example to their followers so that they can follow the leader without any commands.
In conclusion, Confucianism was and still remains the backbone of Chinese tradition. Although many people have adopted other schools, their daily life revolves around the collective development of the natural world, which follows the idea of humanism. Moreover, contemporary Chinese culture draws the importance of family from Confucius concepts. Chinese people still believe in the significance of the child-parent relationship as the foundation of other relationship models. Additionally, Confucius learning is still practiced as way of expanding people’s knowledge of the classics and their ancient tradition.