Confucianism is a moral and religious system of China. Its origins go back to the Analects, the sayings attributed to Confucius, and to ancient writings, including that of Mencius. Confucius was born a mandarin under the name Kongzi. It was developed around 550 B. C. In its earliest form Confucianism was primarily a system of ethical concepts for the control of society. It saw man as a social creature that is bound to his fellow men by jen, or “humanity. ” Jen is expressed through the five relationshipssovereign and subject, parent and child, elder and younger brother, husband and wife, and friend and friend.
Of these, the filial relation is most important. The relationships are said to function smoothly if you stress li, which is a combination of etiquette and rituals. In some of these relationships a person may be superior to some and inferior to others. If a person in a lower status wishes to be properly treated that person must treat his or her own inferiors with respect. Correct conduct is thought to be gained through a sense of virtue gained by observing a role model of the higher status.
The ruler, as the moral role model of the whole state, must be strict, but virtuous to all his subjects. The early philosophers recognized that the “great commonwealth,” the union of citizens under ethical rule, would take a long time to achieve, but believed that it might be constantly improved by practicing the “rectification of names. ” This is the examination of the behavior of a title or a group as it corresponds to its name. For example the title of king should not be given to one who issues excessive taxes, and allows others to influence the rule of his kingdom.
The practice of offering sacrifices and other rituals to Confucius in special shrines began in the 1st century A. D. and continued into the 20th century. Confucianism has often had to contend with other religious systems, mainly Taoism and Buddhism. It has also suffered declines, especially from the 3rd to 7th century. It had a renaissance period in the late T’ang dynasty. It was not until the Sung dynasty and the appearance of neo-Confucianism that Confucianism became the dominant philosophy among educated Chinese.
Using Taoist and Buddhist ideas, neo-Confucian thinkers formulated a system of metaphysics, which had not been a part of older Confucianism. They were particularly influenced by Ch’an, or Zen Buddhism. Nevertheless they rejected the Taoist search for immortality and Buddhist ethical universalistic teachings, keeping instead the political and social vision of the early Confucian teachings. In 479 B. C. the government made it part of the civil service examination. The neo-Confucian teachings were unified and established as orthodoxy by Chu Hsi and his system dominated Chinese intellectual life.
His metaphysics is based on the concept of li, or principle of form, and the combination of these, called the “supreme ultimate. ” During the Ming dynasty, the idealist school of Wang Yang-ming stressed meditation and knowledge. The overthrow of the monarchy, with which Confucianism had been closely identified, led to the downfall of Confucian institutions and a decline of Confucian traditions. The decline heightened after the Communist revolution. Elements of Confucianism survived as a part of traditional Chinese religious practice in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macao and among Chinese immigrants.