Chinese name
Chinese 儒家
Literal meaning "refined school"
Vietnamese name
Vietnamese Nho giáo
Korean name
Hangul 유교
Hanja 儒教
Japanese name
Kanji 儒教
Kana じゅきょう
Temple of Confucius of Jiangyin, Wuxi, Jiangsu. This is a wénmiào (文庙), that is to say a temple where Confucius is worshipped as Wéndì (文帝), "God of Culture".
Gates of the wénmiào of Datong, Shanxi.

Confucianism, also known as Ruism, is described as tradition, a philosophy, a religion, a humanistic or rationalistic religion, a way of governing, or simply a way of life.[1] Confucianism developed from what was later called the Hundred Schools of Thought from the teachings of the Chinese philosopher Confucius (551–479 BCE), who considered himself a retransmitter of the values of the Zhou dynasty golden age of several centuries before.[2] In the Han dynasty (206 BCE – 220 CE), Confucian approaches edged out the "proto-Taoist" Huang-Lao, as the official ideology while the emperors mixed both with the realist techniques of Legalism. The disintegration of the Han political order in the second century CE opened the way for the doctrines of Buddhism and Neo-Taoism, which offered spiritual explanations lacking in Confucianism.

A Confucian revival began during the Tang dynasty of 618-907. In the late Tang, Confucianism developed in response to Buddhism and Taoism and was reformulated as Neo-Confucianism. This reinvigorated form was adopted as the basis of the imperial exams and the core philosophy of the scholar official class in the Song dynasty (960-1297). The abolition of the examination system in 1905 marked the end of official Confucianism. The New Culture intellectuals of the early twentieth century blamed Confucianism for China's weaknesses. They searched for new doctrines to replace Confucian teachings; some of these new ideologies include the "Three Principles of the People" with the establishment of the Republic of China, and then Maoism under the People's Republic of China. In the late twentieth century Confucian work ethic has been credited with the rise of the East Asian economy.[3]

With particular emphasis on the importance of the family and social harmony, rather than on an otherworldly source of spiritual values,[4] the core of Confucianism is humanistic.[5] According to Herbert Fingarette's concept of "the secular as sacred", Confucianism regards the ordinary activities of human life — and especially in human relationships as a manifestation of the sacred,[6] because they are the expression of our moral nature (xìng 性), which has a transcendent anchorage in Heaven (Tiān 天) and a proper respect for the spirits or gods (shén).[7] While Tiān has some characteristics that overlap the category of deity, it is primarily an impersonal absolute principle, like the Dào (道) or the Brahman. Confucianism focuses on the practical order that is given by a this-worldly awareness of the Tiān.[8][9] Confucian liturgy (that is called 儒 , or sometimes 正統/正统 zhèngtǒng, meaning "orthoprax" ritual style) led by Confucian priests or "sages of rites" (禮生/礼生 lǐshēng) to worship the gods in public and ancestral Chinese temples is preferred in various occasions, by Confucian religious groups and for civil religious rites, over Taoist or popular ritual.[10]

The this-worldly concern of Confucianism rests on the belief that human beings are fundamentally good, and teachable, improvable, and perfectible through personal and communal endeavor especially self-cultivation and self-creation. Confucian thought focuses on the cultivation of virtue and maintenance of ethics. Some of the basic Confucian ethical concepts and practices include rén, , and , and zhì. Rén (仁, "benevolence" or "humaneness") is the essence of the human being which manifests as compassion. It is the virtue-form of Heaven.[11] (義/义) is the upholding of righteousness and the moral disposition to do good. (禮/礼) is a system of ritual norms and propriety that determines how a person should properly act in everyday life according to the law of Heaven. Zhì (智) is the ability to see what is right and fair, or the converse, in the behaviors exhibited by others. Confucianism holds one in contempt, either passively or actively, for failure to uphold the cardinal moral values of rén and .

Traditionally, cultures and countries in the East Asian cultural sphere are strongly influenced by Confucianism, including mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, Korea, Japan, and Vietnam, as well as various territories settled predominantly by Chinese people, such as Singapore. In the 20th century Confucianism's influence diminished greatly. In the last decades there have been talks of a "Confucian Revival" in the academic and the scholarly community[12][13] and there has been a grassroots proliferation of various types of Confucian churches.[14] In late 2015 many Confucian personalities formally established a national Holy Confucian Church (孔聖會/孔圣会 Kǒngshènghuì) in China to unify the many Confucian congregations and civil society organisations.

Names and terminology

Confucius, circa 1770.

Strictly speaking, there is no term in Chinese which directly corresponds to "Confucianism". In the Chinese language, the character 儒 meaning "scholar" or "learned man" is generally used both in the past and the present to refer to things related to Confucianism. The character in ancient China has diverse meanings. Some examples include, "weak", "soft", "to tame", "to comfort" and "to educate" or "to refine".[15] Several different terms are used in different situations, several of which are of modern origin:

Three of these use . These names do not use the name "Confucius" at all, but instead center on the figure or ideal of the Confucian scholar; however, the suffixes jiā, jiào and xué carry different implications as to the nature of Confucianism itself.

Rújiā contains the character jiā, which literally means "house" or "family". In this context, it is more readily construed as meaning "school of thought", since it is also used to construct the names of philosophical schools contemporary with Confucianism: for example, the Chinese names for Legalism and Mohism end in jiā.

Rújiào and Kǒngjiào contain the Chinese character jiào, the noun "teaching" or "transmission", used in such terms as "education", or "educator". The term, however, is notably used to construct the names of religions in Chinese: the terms for Islam, Judaism, Christianity, and other religions in Chinese all end with jiào.

Rúxué contains xué, "study". The term is parallel to "-ology" in English, being used to construct the names of academic fields: the Chinese names of fields such as physics, chemistry, biology, political science, economics, and sociology all end in xué.

The use of the term Confucianism has been avoided by some modern scholars, who favor Ruism or Ruists in lieu of Confucianism. Robert Eno argues that the term has been "burdened... with the ambiguities and irrelevant traditional associations". Ruism, as he states, is more faithful to the original Chinese name for the school.[16]

The Five Classics (五经, Wǔjīng) and the Confucian vision

Traditionally, Confucius was thought to be the author or editor of the Five Classics which were the basic texts of Confucianism. The scholar Yáo Xīnzhōng allows that there are good reasons to believe that Confucian classics took shape in the hands of Confucius, but that “nothing can be taken for granted in the matter of the early versions of the classics.” Yáo reports that perhaps most scholars today hold the “pragmatic” view that Confucius and his followers, although they did not intend to create a system of classics, “contributed to their formation.” In any case, it is undisputed that for most of the last 2,000 years, Confucius was believed to have either written or edited these texts. [17]

The scholar Tu Weiming explains these classics as embodying “five visions" which underlie the development of Confucianism:


Theory and theology

Further information: Confucian theology

Confucianism revolves around the pursuit of the unity of the self and Tiān (Heaven, or the traditional high god of the Zhou), and the relationship of humankind to the Heaven.[19][20] The principle of Heaven (Tiān lǐ 天理 or Dào 道), is the order of the creation and divine authority, monistic in its structure.Individuals can realise their humanity and become one with Heaven through the contemplation of this order. This transformation of the self can be extended to the family and society to create a harmonious fiduciary community.[20]

The moral-spiritual ideal of Confucianism conciles both the inner and outer polarities of self-cultivation and world redemption, synthesised in the ideal of "sageliness within and kingliness without".[20] Rén, translated as "humaneness" or the essence proper of a human being, is the character of compassionate mind; it is the virtue endowed by Heaven and at the same time the means by which man can achieve oneness with Heaven or return to Heaven, or comprehend his divine nature. In the Dàtóng shū (《大同書/大同书》) it is defined as "to form one body with all things" and "when the self and others are not separated ... compassion is aroused".[11]

Tiān and the gods

Main article: Tian

Tiān (天), a key concept in Chinese thought, refers to the sky, or the heavens,[21] nature, "heaven and earth" (that is, "all things"), and to the awe-inspiring forces beyond human control.There are such a number of uses in Chinese thought that it is not possible to give one translation into English.[22]

Confucius used the term in a religious way. He wrote in the Analects (7.23) that Tian gave him life, and that Tian watched and judged. (6.28; 9.12). A person can know the movement of the Tiān, giving the sense of having a special place in the universe. (9.5) Confucius wrote that Tian spoke to him, though not in words (17.19), but the scholar Ronnie Littlejohn warns that Tian was not a personal God comparable to the God of the Abrahamic faiths in the sense of an independent creator or transcendent Being.[23] When Confucians spoke of Tian they often meant something like what the Taoists meant by Tao (Dào): "the way things are" or "the regularities of the world." [24] Tiān can also be compared to the Brahman of Hindu and Vedic traditions.[19]

Zǐgòng, a disciple of Confucius, said that Tiān had set the master on the path to become a wise man (Analects 9.6). In Analects 7.23 Confucius says that he has no doubt left that the Tiān gave him life, and from it he had developed the virtue (Dé, 德). In Analects 8.19 he says that the lives of the sages and their communion with Tian are interwoven.[22]

Regarding personal gods (shén, energies who emanate from and reproduce the Tiān) enliving nature, in Analects 6.22 Confucius says that it is appropriate (義/义, ) for people to worship (敬, jìng) them,[25] though through proper rites (禮/礼, ), implying respect of positions and discretion.[25] Confucius himself was a ritual and sacrificial master.[26] In Analects 3.12 he explains that religious rituals produce meaningful experiences.[27] Rites and sacrifices to the gods have an ethical importance: they generate good life, because taking part in them leads to the overcoming of the self.[note 2] Analects 10.11 tells that Confucius always took a small part of his food and placed it on the sacrificial bowls as an offering to his ancestors.[26]

In original Confucianism the concept of Tiān expresses a form of pantheism. Other philosophical currents, like Mohism, developed a more theistic idea of the Tiān.[29]


Confucius and disciples, statues of the Ashikaga Gakko, a Confucian school and oldest academy of Japan.

Confucian ethics are described as humanistic.[5] This ethical philosophy can be practiced by all the members of a society.[30] Confucian ethics is characterized by the promotion of virtues, encompassed by the Five Constants, or the wǔ cháng (五常), extrapolated by Confucian scholars during the Han Dynasty.[31] The Five Constants are:[31]

These are accompanied by the classical Sìzì (四字), that singles out four virtues, one of which is included among the Five Constants:

There are still many other elements, such as chéng (誠/诚, honesty), shù (恕, kindness and forgiveness), lián (廉, honesty and cleanness), chǐ (恥/耻, shame, judge and sense of right and wrong),yǒng (勇, bravery), wēn (溫/温, kind and gentle), liáng (良, good, kindhearted), gōng (恭, respectful, reverent), jiǎn (儉/俭, frugal), ràng (讓/让, modestly, self-effacing).


Main article: Ren (Confucianism)

Rén (Chinese: ) is the Confucian virtue denoting the good feeling a virtuous human experiences when being altruistic. It is exemplified by a normal adult's protective feelings for children. It is considered the essence of the human being, endowed by Heaven, and at the same time the means by which man can act according to the principle of Heaven (天理, Tiān lǐ) and become one with it.[11]

Yán Huí, Confucius's most outstanding student, once asked his master to describe the rules of rén and Confucius replied, "one should see nothing improper, hear nothing improper, say nothing improper, do nothing improper".[32] Confucius also defined rén in the following way: "wishing to be established himself, seeks also to establish others; wishing to be enlarged himself, he seeks also to enlarge others".[33]

Another meaning of rén is "not to do to others as you would not wish done to yourself".[34] Confucius also said, "rén is not far off; he who seeks it has already found it". Rén is close to man and never leaves him.

Rite, right

Main article: Li (Confucianism)

Li (禮/礼) is a classical Chinese word which finds its most extensive use in Confucian and post-Confucian Chinese philosophy. Li is variously translated as "rite" or "reason", "ratio" in the pure sense of Vedic ṛta ("right", "order") when referring to the cosmic law, but when referring to its realisation in the context of human individual and social behavior it has also been translated as "custom", "mores", and "rules", among other terms.

Li embodies the entire web of interaction between humanity, human objects, and nature. Confucius includes in his discussions of li such diverse topics as learning, tea drinking, titles, mourning, and governance. Xunzi cites "songs and laughter, weeping and lamentation... rice and millet, fish and meat... the wearing of ceremonial caps, embroidered robes, and patterned silks, or of fasting clothes and mourning clothes... spacious rooms and secluded halls, soft mats, couches and benches" as vital parts of the fabric of li.

Confucius envisioned proper government being guided by the principles of li. Some Confucians proposed the perfectibility of all human beings with learning li as an important part of that process. Overall, Confucians believed governments should place more emphasis on li and rely much less on penal punishment when they govern.


Loyalty (Chinese: , zhōng) is particularly relevant for the social class to which most of Confucius' students belonged, because the most important way for an ambitious young scholar to become a prominent official was to enter a ruler's civil service.

Confucius himself did not propose that "might makes right", but rather that a superior should be obeyed because of his moral rectitude. In addition, loyalty does not mean subservience to authority. This is because reciprocity is demanded from the superior as well. As Confucius stated "a prince should employ his minister according to the rules of propriety; ministers should serve their prince with faithfulness (loyalty)".[35]

Similarly, Mencius also said that "when the prince regards his ministers as his hands and feet, his ministers regard their prince as their belly and heart; when he regards them as his dogs and horses, they regard him as another man; when he regards them as the ground or as grass, they regard him as a robber and an enemy".[36] Moreover, Mencius indicated that if the ruler is incompetent, he should be replaced. If the ruler is evil, then the people have the right to overthrow him.[37] A good Confucian is also expected to remonstrate with his superiors when necessary.[38] At the same time, a proper Confucian ruler should also accept his ministers' advice, as this will help him govern the realm better.

In later ages, however, emphasis was often placed more on the obligations of the ruled to the ruler, and less on the ruler's obligations to the ruled. Like filial piety, loyalty was often subverted by the autocratic regimes in China. Nonetheless, throughout the ages, many Confucians continued to fight against unrighteous superiors and rulers. Many of these Confucians suffered and sometimes died because of their conviction and action.[39] During the Ming-Qing era, prominent Confucians such as Wang Yangming promoted individuality and independent thinking as a counterweight to subservience to authority.[40] The famous thinker Huang Zongxi also strongly criticized the autocratic nature of the imperial system and wanted to keep imperial power in check.[41]

Many Confucians also realized that loyalty and filial piety have the potential of coming into conflict with one another. This can be true especially in times of social chaos, such as during the period of the Ming-Qing transition.[42]

Filial piety

Main article: Filial piety

In Confucian philosophy, filial piety (Chinese: , xiào) is a virtue of respect for one's parents and ancestors. The Confucian classic Xiao Jing or Classic of Xiào, thought to be written around the Qin-Han period, has historically been the authoritative source on the Confucian tenet of xiào / "filial piety". The book, a conversation between Confucius and his student Zeng Shen (曾參, also known as Zengzi 曾子), is about how to set up a good society using the principle of xiào (filial piety). The term can also be applied to general obedience, and is used in religious titles in Christian Churches, like "filial priest" or "filial vicar" for a cleric whose church is subordinate to a larger parish. Filial piety is central to Confucian role ethics.[43]

In more general terms, filial piety means to be good to one's parents; to take care of one's parents; to engage in good conduct not just towards parents but also outside the home so as to bring a good name to one's parents and ancestors; to perform the duties of one's job well so as to obtain the material means to support parents as well as carry out sacrifices to the ancestors; not be rebellious; show love, respect and support; display courtesy; ensure male heirs, uphold fraternity among brothers; wisely advise one's parents, including dissuading them from moral unrighteousness, for blindly following the parents' wishes is not considered to be xiao; display sorrow for their sickness and death; and carry out sacrifices after their death.

Filial piety is considered a key virtue in Chinese culture, and it is the main concern of a large number of stories. One of the most famous collections of such stories is The Twenty-four Filial Exemplars (Ershi-si xiao 二十四孝). These stories depict how children exercised their filial piety in the past. While China has always had a diversity of religious beliefs, filial piety has been common to almost all of them; historian Hugh D.R. Baker calls respect for the family the only element common to almost all Chinese believers.[44]


Social harmony results in part from every individual knowing his or her place in the natural order, and playing his or her part well. When Duke Jing of Qi asked about government, by which he meant proper administration so as to bring social harmony, Confucius replied:

There is government, when the prince is prince, and the minister is minister; when the father is father, and the son is son. (Analects XII, 11, trans. Legge)

Particular duties arise from one's particular situation in relation to others. The individual stands simultaneously in several different relationships with different people: as a junior in relation to parents and elders, and as a senior in relation to younger siblings, students, and others. While juniors are considered in Confucianism to owe their seniors reverence, seniors also have duties of benevolence and concern toward juniors. The same is true with the husband and wife relationship where the husband needs to show benevolence towards his wife and the wife needs to respect the husband in return. This theme of mutuality still exists in East Asian cultures even to this day.

The Five Bonds are: ruler to ruled, father to son, husband to wife, elder brother to younger brother, friend to friend. Specific duties were prescribed to each of the participants in these sets of relationships. Such duties are also extended to the dead, where the living stand as sons to their deceased family. The only relationship where respect for elders isn't stressed was the friend to friend relationship, where mutual equal respect is emphasized instead. In all other relationships, high reverence is usually held for elders.


Main article: Junzi

The junzi (Chinese: 君子, jūnzǐ, "lord's son") is a Chinese philosophical term often translated as "gentleman" or "superior person"[45] and employed by Confucius in his works to describe the ideal man. In the I Ching it is used by the Duke of Wen.

In Confucianism, the sage or wise is the ideal personality; however, it is very hard to become one of them. Confucius created the model of junzi, gentleman, which can be achieved by any individual. Later, Zhu Xi defined junzi as second only to the sage. There are many characteristics of the junzi: he can live in poverty, he does more and speaks less, he is loyal, obedient and knowledgeable. The junzi disciplines himself. Ren is fundamental to become a junzi.[46]

As the potential leader of a nation, a son of the ruler is raised to have a superior ethical and moral position while gaining inner peace through his virtue. To Confucius, the junzi sustained the functions of government and social stratification through his ethical values. Despite its literal meaning, any righteous man willing to improve himself can become a junzi.

On the contrary, the xiaoren (小人, xiăorén, "small or petty person") does not grasp the value of virtues and seeks only immediate gains. The petty person is egotistic and does not consider the consequences of his action in the overall scheme of things. Should the ruler be surrounded by xiaoren as opposed to junzi, his governance and his people will suffer due to their small-mindness. Examples of such xiaoren individuals can range from those who continually indulge in sensual and emotional pleasures all day to the politician who is interested merely in power and fame; neither sincerely aims for the long-term benefit of others.

The junzi enforces his rule over his subjects by acting virtuously himself. It is thought that his pure virtue would lead others to follow his example. The ultimate goal is that the government behaves much like a family, the junzi being a beacon of filial piety.

Rectification of names

Priest paying homage to Confucius' tablet, circa 1900.

Confucius believed that social disorder often stemmed from failure to perceive, understand, and deal with reality. Fundamentally, then, social disorder can stem from the failure to call things by their proper names, and his solution to this was zhèngmíng (Chinese: [正名]; pinyin: zhèngmíng; literally: "rectification of terms"). He gave an explanation of zhengming to one of his disciples.

Zi-lu said, "The vassal of Wei has been waiting for you, in order with you to administer the government. What will you consider the first thing to be done?"
The Master replied, "What is necessary to rectify names."
"So! indeed!" said Zi-lu. "You are wide off the mark! Why must there be such rectification?"
The Master said, "How uncultivated you are, Yu! The superior man [Junzi] cannot care about the everything, just as he cannot go to check all himself!
        If names be not correct, language is not in accordance with the truth of things.
        If language be not in accordance with the truth of things, affairs cannot be carried on to success.
        When affairs cannot be carried on to success, proprieties and music do not flourish.
        When proprieties and music do not flourish, punishments will not be properly awarded.
        When punishments are not properly awarded, the people do not know how to move hand or foot.
Therefore a superior man considers it necessary that the names he uses may be spoken appropriately, and also that what he speaks may be carried out appropriately. What the superior man requires is just that in his words there may be nothing incorrect."
(Analects XIII, 3, tr. Legge)

Xun Zi chapter (22) "On the Rectification of Names" claims the ancient sage-kings chose names (Chinese: [名]; pinyin: míng) that directly corresponded with actualities (Chinese: [實]; pinyin: shí), but later generations confused terminology, coined new nomenclature, and thus could no longer distinguish right from wrong. Since social harmony is of utmost importance, without the proper rectification of names, society would essentially crumble and "undertakings [would] not [be] completed." [47]


Confucianism can be traced even before the birth of its namesake, Confucius (an Anglicization of his actual name, Kong Qiu), to the general culture of the Zhou Dynasty, which emphasized politeness and consideration, though generally with more of a spiritual bent.[48] Thought to be a real historic figure, Confucius was born on September 28, 551 BC. He reportedly grew up in a time of instability in the region that would someday be known as China, and failed in his ambitions to become a high minister of the national government. But he did become known for his attempts to analyze and codify rules of society and behavior. The system of "virtue" he proposed was one of respect for others, including for their position in society, focusing on this as a system of principles, not mysticism.

The Analects that are generally attributed to Confucius actually appear to have been compiled after his death, by followers one or two generations removed, perhaps during the Warring States period (476 BC-221 BC), though no copies exist older than 50 BC, with some scholars saying the document may have been compiled as recently as 140 BC.[49]

Confucianism went through a number of phases of being repressed or unpopular, as in the earlier part of the Han dynasty, or being tolerated, even accepted, with the later Han years being an example of this. It is not until the 12th century AD, though, that it has become such an accepted part of the state that the Analects themselves are integrated into civil service tests.[50]

In fact, this success came via Neo-Confucianism, an attempt to reform the philosophy, which had been influenced by Taoism and Buddhism and was seen as moving toward mysticism and superstition. This movement started as early as the 8th century AD, and was dominant by the 12th. While still influenced by Taoism and Buddhism, it worked to restore Confucianism to what were seen as its secular roots.

The influence of Confucianism increased after the conquest of the region by the Mongol empire, whose Khans were convinced to adopt its philosophy for their own government.[51]

Organisation and liturgy

A Temple of the God of Culture (文庙 wénmiào) in Liuzhou, Guangxi, where Confucius is worshiped as Wéndì (文帝), "God of Culture".
Temple of the Filial Blessing (孝佑宫 Xiàoyòugōng), an ancestral temple of a lineage church, in Wenzhou, Zhejiang.

Since the 2000s, some intellectuals and students in China have become increasingly identified with Confucianism.[52] In 2003 the Confucian intellectual Kang Xiaoguang published a manifesto in which he made four suggestions: Confucian education should enter official education at any level, from elementary to high school; the state should establish Confucianism as the state religion by law; Confucian religion should enter the daily life of ordinary people through standardization and development of doctrines, rituals, organisations, churches and activity sites; the Confucian religion should be spread through non-governmental organisations.[52] Another modern proponent of the institutionalisation of Confucianism in a state church is Jiang Qing.[53]

In 2005 the Center for the Study of Confucian Religion was established,[52] and guoxue education started to be implemented in public schools. Being well received by the population, even Confucian preachers have appeared on television since 2006.[52] The most enthusiastic New Confucians proclaim the uniqueness and superiority of Confucian Chinese culture, and have generated some popular sentiment against Western cultural influences in China.[52]

The idea of a "Confucian Church" as the state religion of China has roots in the thought of Kang Youwei, an exponent of the early New Confucian search for a regeneration of the social relevance of Confucianism, at a time when it was de-institutionalised with the collapse of the Qing dynasty and the Chinese empire.[54] Kang modeled his ideal "Confucian Church" after European national Christian churches, as a hierarchical and centralised institution, closely bound to the state, with local church branches, devoted to the worship and the spread of the teachings of Confucius.[54]

In contemporary China, the Confucian revival has developed into different, yet interwoven, directions: the proliferation of Confucian schools or academies (shuyuan 书院),[53] the resurgence of Confucian rites (chuántǒng lǐyí 传统礼仪),[53] and the birth of new forms of Confucian activity on the popular level, such as the Confucian communities (shèqū rúxué 社区儒学). Some scholars also consider the reconstruction of lineage churches and their ancestral temples, as well as cults and temples of natural and national gods within broader Chinese traditional religion, as part of the revival of Confucianism.[55]

Other forms of revival are folk religious[56] or salvationist religious[57] groups with a specifically Confucian focus, or Confucian churches, for example the Yidan xuetang (一耽学堂) based in Beijing,[58] the Mengmutang (孟母堂) of Shanghai,[59] the Way of the Gods according to the Confucian Tradition or phoenix churches,[60] the Confucian Fellowship (儒教道坛 Rújiào Dàotán) in northern Fujian which has spread rapidly over the years after its foundation,[60] and ancestral temples of the Kong (Confucius') kin operating as Confucian-teaching churches.[59]

Also, the Hong Kong Confucian Academy has expanded its activities to the mainland, with the construction of statues of Confucius, Confucian hospitals, restoration of temples and sponsorship of other activities.[61] In 2009 Zhou Beichen founded another institution that inherits the idea of Kang Youwei's Confucian Church, the Holy Hall of Confucius (孔圣堂 Kǒngshèngtáng) in Shenzhen affiliated with the Federation of Confucian Culture of Qufu City,[62] the first of a nationwide movement of congregations and civil organisations that was unified in 2015 by the Holy Confucian Church (孔圣会 Kǒngshènghuì). The first spiritual leader of the Holy Church is the renowned scholar Jiang Qing.

Chinese folk religion's temples and kinship ancestral shrines on special occasions may choose Confucian liturgy (that is called 儒 , or sometimes 正统 zhèngtǒng, meaning "orthoprax" ritual style) led by Confucian priests (礼生 lǐshēng) to worship the gods enshrined, instead of Taoist or popular ritual.[10] "Confucian businessmen" (儒商人 rúshāngrén, also "refined businessman") is a recently recovered term that defines people of the entrepreneurial or economic elite that recognise their social responsibility and therefore apply Confucian culture to their business.[63]


To govern by virtue, let us compare it to the North Star: it stays in its place, while the myriad stars wait upon it. (Analects 2.1)

A key Confucian concept is that in order to govern others one must first govern oneself according to the universal order. When actual, the king's personal virtue (de) spreads beneficent influence throughout the kingdom. This idea is developed further in the Great Learning, and is tightly linked with the Taoist concept of wu wei (simplified Chinese: 无为; traditional Chinese: 無為; pinyin: wú wéi): the less the king does, the more gets done. By being the "calm center" around which the kingdom turns, the king allows everything to function smoothly and avoids having to tamper with the individual parts of the whole.

This idea may be traced back to the ancient shamanic beliefs of the king being the axle between the sky, human beings, and the Earth, reflected in the Chinese idea of the Mandate of Heaven.


In teaching, there should be no distinction of classes. (Analects 15.39)

Although Confucius claimed that he never invented anything but was only transmitting ancient knowledge (Analects 7.1), he did produce a number of new ideas. Many European and American admirers such as Voltaire and H. G. Creel point to the revolutionary idea of replacing nobility of blood with nobility of virtue. Jūnzǐ (君子, lit. "lord's child"), which originally signified the younger, non-inheriting, offspring of a noble, became, in Confucius' work, an epithet having much the same meaning and evolution as the English "gentleman".

A virtuous plebeian who cultivates his qualities can be a "gentleman", while a shameless son of the king is only a "small man". That he admitted students of different classes as disciples is a clear demonstration that he fought against the feudal structures that defined pre-imperial Chinese society.

Another new idea, that of meritocracy, led to the introduction of the imperial examination system in China. This system allowed anyone who passed an examination to become a government officer, a position which would bring wealth and honour to the whole family. The Chinese imperial examination system started in the Sui dynasty. Over the following centuries the system grew until finally almost anyone who wished to become an official had to prove his worth by passing written government examinations. The practice of meritocracy still exists today in the Chinese cultural sphere, including China, Taiwan, Singapore and so forth.


In 17th-century Europe

"Life and works of Confucius, by Prospero Intorcetta, 1687

The works of Confucius were translated into European languages through the agency of Jesuit scholars stationed in China.[note 3] Matteo Ricci was among the very earliest to report on the thoughts of Confucius, and father Prospero Intorcetta wrote about the life and works of Confucius in Latin in 1687.[64]

Translations of Confucian texts influenced European thinkers of the period,[65] particularly among the Deists and other philosophical groups of the Enlightenment who were interested by the integration of the system of morality of Confucius into Western civilization.[64][66]

Confucianism influenced Gottfried Leibniz, who was attracted to the philosophy because of its perceived similarity to his own. It is postulated that certain elements of Leibniz's philosophy, such as "simple substance" and "preestablished harmony", were borrowed from his interactions with Confucianism.[65] The French philosopher Voltaire was also influenced by Confucius, seeing the concept of Confucian rationalism as an alternative to Christian dogma.[67] He praised Confucian ethics and politics, portraying the sociopolitical hierarchy of China as a model for Europe.[67]

Confucius has no interest in falsehood; he did not pretend to be prophet; he claimed no inspiration; he taught no new religion; he used no delusions; flattered not the emperor under whom he lived...

On Islamic thought

From the late 17th century onwards a whole body of literature known as the Han Kitab developed amongst the Hui Muslims of China who infused Islamic thought with Confucianism. Especially the works of Liu Zhi such as Tiānfāng Diǎnlǐ(天方典禮)sought to harmonize Islam with not only Confucianism but also with Daoism and is considered to be one of the crowning achievements of the Chinese Islamic culture.[68]

In modern times

Important military and political figures in modern Chinese history continued to be influenced by Confucianism, like the Muslim warlord Ma Fuxiang.[69] The New Life Movement in the early 20th century was also influenced by Confucianism.

Referred to variously as the Confucian hypothesis and as a debated component of the more all-encompassing Asian Development Model, there exists among political scientists and economists a theory that Confucianism plays a large latent role in the ostensibly non-Confucian cultures of modern-day East Asia, in the form of the rigorous work ethic it endowed those cultures with. These scholars have held that, if not for Confucianism's influence on these cultures, many of the people of the East Asia region would not have been able to modernize and industrialize as quickly as Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea and even China has done.

For example, the impact of the Vietnam War on Vietnam was devastating, however over the last few decades Vietnam has been re-developing in a very fast pace. Most scholars attribute the origins of this idea to futurologist Herman Kahn's World Economic Development: 1979 and Beyond.[70][71]

Other studies, for example Cristobal Kay's Why East Asia Overtook Latin America: Agrarian Reform, Industrialization, and Development, have attributed the Asian growth to other factors, for example the character of agrarian reforms, "state-craft" (state capacity), and interaction between agriculture and industry.[72]

On Chinese martial arts

After Confucianism had become the official 'state religion' in China, its influence penetrated all walks of life and all streams of thought in Chinese society for the generations to come. This did not exclude martial arts culture. Though in his own day, Confucius had rejected the practice of Martial Arts (with the exception of Archery), he did serve under rulers who used military power extensively to achieve their goals. In later centuries, Confucianism heavily influenced many educated martial artists of great influence, such as Sun Lutang,[73] especially from the 19th century onwards, when empty-handed martial arts in China became more widespread and had begun to more readily absorb philosophical influences from Confucianism, Buddhism and Daoism. Some argue therefore that despite Confucius' disdain with martial culture, his teachings became of much relevance to it.[74]


For many years since the era of Confucius, various critiques of Confucianism have arisen, including Laozi's philosophy and Mozi's critique. Lu Xun also criticised Confucianism heavily for shaping Chinese people into the condition they had reached by the late Qing Dynasty: his criticisms are well portrayed in two of his works, "A Madman's Diary" and The True Story of Ah Q.

In modern times, waves of critique along with vilification against Confucianism arose. The Taiping Rebellion, New Culture Movement and Cultural Revolution are some upsurges of those waves in China. Taiping rebels described many sages in Confucianism as well as gods in Taoism and Buddhism as mere legends. Marxists during the Cultural Revolution described Confucius as the general representative of the class of slave owners. Numerous opinions and interpretations of Confucianism (of which many are actually opposed by Confucianism) were invented.

In South Korea, there has long been criticism of Confucianism. Some South Koreans believe Confucianism has not contributed to the modernization of South Korea. For example, South Korean writer Kim Kyong-il wrote an essay entitled "Confucius Must Die For the Nation to Live" (공자가 죽어야 나라가 산다, gongjaga jug-eoya naraga sanda). Kim said that filial piety is one-sided and blind, and if it continues social problems will continue as government keeps forcing Confucian filial obligations onto families.[75][76]

Women in Confucian thought

Confucianism "largely defined the mainstream discourse on gender in China from the Han dynasty onward."[77] The often strict, obligatory gender roles based on Confucian teachings became a cornerstone of the family, and thus, societal stability. Starting from the Han period onward, Confucians in general began to gradually teach that a virtuous woman was supposed to follow the lead of the males in her family, especially the father before her marriage and the husband after she marries. In the later dynasties, more emphasis was placed on women to uphold the virtue of chastity when they lost their husbands. Chaste widows were revered as heroes during the Ming and Qing periods. This "cult of chastity" accordingly, "condemned many widows to poverty and loneliness by placing a social stigma on remarriage by women."[77]

Confucianism was usually characterized by Western scholarship, up until the mid-1990s, as a sexist, patriarchal ideology that was responsible for the severe subjugation and oppression of women in pre-modern China.[78] However, recent reexaminations of Chinese gender roles suggest that some women can flourish within Confucianism.[77] During the Han dynasty period, the important Confucian text Lessons for Women (Nüjie), was written by Ban Zhao (45–114 CE): by a woman, for women.

She wrote the Nüjie ostensibly for her daughters, instructing them on how to live proper Confucian lives as wives and mothers. Although this is a relatively rare instance of a female Confucian voice, Ban Zhao almost entirely accepts the prevailing views concerning women's proper roles; they should be silent, hard-working, and compliant. She stresses the complementarity and equal importance of the male and female roles according to yin-yang theory, but she clearly accepts the dominance of the yang-male. Her only departure from the standard male versions of this orthodoxy is that she insists on the necessity of educating girls and women. We should not underestimate the significance of this point, as education was the bottom line qualification for being a junzi or "noble person,"...her example suggests that the Confucian prescription for a meaningful life as a woman was apparently not stifling for all women. Even some women of the literate elite, for whom Confucianism was quite explicitly the norm, were able to flourish by living their lives according to that model.[77]

Joseph A. Adler has also indicated that even with the Neo-Confucians who have the reputation of discriminating against women, the actual situation was in fact quite complicated. As he writes, "Neo-Confucian writings do not necessarily reflect either the prevailing social practices or the scholars' own attitudes and practices in regard to actual women."[77] There had been a difference between textual teaching and the actual social practice by the Confucians and society in general throughout all of China's dynasties.

Matthew Sommers has also indicated that during the Qing dynasty, the imperial government began to realize the utopian nature of enforcing the "cult of chastity." As a result, by the late Qing period, Qing officials became more tolerant and allowed practices such as widow remarrying to stand.[79] Finally, some Confucian texts like the Chunqiu Fanlu 春秋繁露 also has passages which suggest a more equal relationship between a husband and his wife. All of these things add to the complexity of the issue of women in Confucian teaching.[80]

In 2009, for the first time women (and ethnic minorities and people living overseas) were officially recognized as being descendants of Confucius.[81] These additions more than tripled the number of officially recognized descendants of Confucius.[81]

Catholic controversy over Chinese rites

Ever since Europeans first encountered Confucianism, the issue of how Confucianism should be classified has been subject to debate. In the 16th and the 17th centuries, the earliest European arrivals in China, the Christian Jesuits, considered Confucianism to be an ethical system, not a religion, and one that was compatible with Christianity.[82] The Jesuits, including Matteo Ricci, saw Chinese rituals as "civil rituals" that could co-exist alongside the spiritual rituals of Catholicism.[82]

By the early 18th century, this initial portrayal was rejected by the Dominicans and Franciscans, creating a dispute among Catholics in East Asia that was known as the "Rites Controversy".[83] The Dominicans and Franciscans argued that Chinese ancestral worship was a form of idolatry that was contradictory to the tenets of Christianity. This view was reinforced by Pope Benedict XIV, who ordered a ban on Chinese rituals.[83]

Confucianism is definitively pantheistic, nontheistic and humanistic, in that it is not based on the belief in the supernatural or in a personal god that doesn't impact reality.[6][84] On spirituality, Confucius said to Chi Lu, one of his students: "You are not yet able to serve men, how can you serve spirits?"[85] Attributes such as ancestor worship, ritual, and sacrifice were advocated by Confucius as necessary for social harmony; these attributes can be traced to the traditional Chinese folk religion.

Scholars recognize that classification ultimately depends on how one defines religion. Using stricter definitions of religion, Confucianism has been described as a moral science or philosophy.[86][87] But using a broader definition, such as Frederick Streng's characterization of religion as "a means of ultimate transformation",[88] Confucianism could be described as a "sociopolitical doctrine having religious qualities."[84] With the latter definition, Confucianism is religious, even if non-theistic, in the sense that it "performs some of the basic psycho-social functions of full-fledged religions".[84]

See also


  1. This phrase of a certain negative context became popular after its usage in many Anti-Confucianism movements in China, most notably the New Culture Movement and the Cultural Revolution.
  2. Quote: «Confucius placed strong emphasis on the importance of rites for the individual who wishes to live the good life. He maintains that "benevolence (仁, rén) is constituted by returning to the observance of the rites through overcoming of the self" (Analects 12:1, Lau: 112). [...] Confucius holds that these rites have an ethical dimension [...] But in order to live as one should, it is not enough to follow or perform these rites—rather these rites should be lived out. Confucius holds that, when one sacrifices to the gods, one must sacrifice as if the gods are present (Analects 3:12, Lau: 69). It is not enough to perform the sacrifice, one must take part in it.»[28]
  3. The first was Michele Ruggieri who had returned from China to Italy in 1588, and carried on translating in Latin Chinese classics, while residing in Salerno.


  1. Yao (2000), pp. 38-47.
  2. Rickett, Guanzi - "all early Chinese political thinkers were basically committed to a reesteablishment of the golden age of the past as early Zhou propoganda described it."
  3. Lin, Justin Yifu (27 October 2011). Demystifying the Chinese Economy. Cambridge University Press. p. 107. ISBN 9780521191807.
  4. Fingarette (1972), p. 1-2.
  5. 1 2 Juergensmeyer, Mark (2005). Religion in global civil society. Oxford University Press. p. 70. ISBN 978-0-19-518835-6. ...humanist philosophies such as Confucianism, which do not share a belief in divine law and do not exalt faithfulness to a higher law as a manifestation of divine will
  6. 1 2 Adler (2014), p. 12.
  7. Littlejohn, 2010. pp. 34-36
  8. Adler (2014), p. 10 quote: [...] Confucianism is basically non-theistic. While Heaven (tiān) has some characteristics that overlap the category of deity, it is primarily an impersonal absolute, like dao and Brahman. "Deity" (theos, deus), on the other hand connotes something personal (he or she, not it).
  9. Adler (2014), p. 12 quote: Confucianism deconstructs the sacred-profane dichotomy; it asserts that sacredness is to be found in, not behind or beyond, the ordinary activities of human life — and especially in human relationships. Human relationships are sacred in Confucianism because they are the expression of our moral nature (xìng 性), which has a transcendent anchorage in Heaven (tiān 天). Herbert Fingarette captured this essential feature of Confucianism in the title of his 1972 book, Confucius: The Secular as Sacred. To assume a dualistic relationship between sacred and profane and to use this as a criterion of religion is to beg the question of whether Confucian can count as a religious tradition.
  10. 1 2 Clart, 2003. pp. 3-5
  11. 1 2 3 Tay (2010), p. 102.
  12. Benjamin Elman, John Duncan and Herman Ooms ed. Rethinking Confucianism: Past and Present in China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam (Los Angeles: UCLA Asian Pacific Monograph Series, 2002).
  13. Yu Yingshi, Xiandai Ruxue Lun (River Edge: Global Publishing Co. Inc. 1996).
  14. Billioud (2015), p. passim.
  15. Robert Eno, The Confucian Creation of Heaven: philosophy and the defense of ritual mastery (Albany: SUNY Press, 1990), 190–197.
  16. Robert Eno (1990). The Confucian Creation of Heaven: Philosophy and the Defense of Ritual Mastery. SUNY Press. p. 7. ISBN 978-1-4384-0208-6. it will be best for us to relinquish entirely the term "Confucian"... their philosophy we will call "Ruism"
  17. Yao (2000), p. 52-54.
  18. Tu Wei-ming: "The Confucian Tradition in Chinese History," in Paul S. Ropp, ed., The Heritage of China: Contemporary Perspectives on Chinese Civilization. (Berkeley; Oxford:University of California Press, 1990), p. 113
  19. 1 2 Adler (2014), p. 10.
  20. 1 2 3 Tay (2010), p. 100.
  21. Kurtis Hagen. Confucian Key Terms - Tian 天.
  22. 1 2 Littlejohn (2010), p. 35.
  23. Littlejohn (2010), p. 35-36.
  24. Kurtis Hagen. Confucian Key Terms - Dao 道.
  25. 1 2 Littlejohn (2010), p. 36.
  26. 1 2 Littlejohn (2010), p. 37.
  27. Littlejohn (2010), p. 36-37.
  28. Qingsong Shen, Kwong-loi Shun, 2007. pp. 278-279
  29. Homer Dubs. Theism and Naturalism in Ancient Chinese Philosophy. In: Philosophy of East and West, vol. 9, n. 3/4, pp 163-172. University of Hawaii Press, 1960.
  30. Bevir 2010, p. 272
  31. 1 2 Runes, Dagobert D. (1983). Dictionary of Philosophy. Philosophical Library. p. 338. ISBN 978-0-8022-2388-3.
  32. Analects 12:1
  33. "論語 : 雍也 - 中國哲學書電子化計劃". 中國哲學書電子化計劃.
  34. "論語 : 顏淵 - 中國哲學書電子化計劃". 中國哲學書電子化計劃.
  35. "The Analects : Ba Yi - Chinese Text Project". Chinese Text Project.
  36. "Mengzi : Li Lou II - Chinese Text Project". Chinese Text Project.
  37. "孟子 : 梁惠王下 - 中國哲學書電子化計劃". 中國哲學書電子化計劃.
  38. "論語 : 憲問 - 中國哲學書電子化計劃". 中國哲學書電子化計劃.
  39. Example: Hai Rui 海瑞 in the Ming dynasty, Yuan Chang 袁昶 in the Qing and so forth.
  40. Wang Yangming, Instructions for Practical Living and Other Neo-Confucian Writings by Wang Yang-Ming, Wing-tsit Chan tran. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1963), 159.
  41. William Theodore De Bary, Waiting for the Dawn: A Plan for the Prince (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993), 91–110.
  42. See the discussion in 何冠彪 He Guanbiao, 生與死 : 明季士大夫的抉擇 (Taipei: Lianjing Chuban Shiye Gongsi, 1997).
  43. Wonsuk Chang; Leah Kalmanson (8 November 2010). Confucianism in Context: Classic Philosophy and Contemporary Issues, East Asia and Beyond. SUNY Press. p. 68. ISBN 978-1-4384-3191-8.
  44. Baker, Hugh D. R. Chinese Family and Kinship. New York: Columbia University Press, 1979. pg. 98
  45. Sometimes "exemplary person". Roger T. Ames and Henry Rosemont, Jr., The Analects of Confucius: A Philosophical Translation. Paul Goldin translates it "noble man" in an attempt to capture both its early political and later moral meaning. Cf. "Confucian Key Terms: Junzi".
  46. (Chinese) 君子——儒学的理想人格
  47. Taylor, Rodney L.; Choy, Howard (2003). The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Confucianism. 1 (1 ed.). New York: The Rosen Group, Incorporated. pp. 48–50.
  48. "Confucianism: Definition, Beliefs & History".
  49. Els 21-23
  50. Cristian Violatti. "Confucianism". Ancient History Encyclopedia.
  51. Super User. "The Origin of Confucianism - CHOSON ARCHIVES".
  52. 1 2 3 4 5 Fenggang Yang. Cultural Dynamics in China: Today and in 2020. On: Asia Policy, Number 4. July 2007. p. 48
  53. 1 2 3 Chen (2012), p. 175.
  54. 1 2 Chen (2012), p. 174.
  55. Fan, Chen. 2015. (a). p. 7
  56. Billioud, 2010. p. 203
  57. Billioud, 2010. p. 214
  58. Billioud, 2010. p. 219
  59. 1 2 Fan, Chen. 2015. p. 29
  60. 1 2 Fan, Chen. 2015. p. 34
  61. Billioud (2015), p. 148.
  62. Billioud (2015), p. 152-156.
  63. Billioud, 2010. p. 204
  64. 1 2 "Windows into China", John Parker, p.25, ISBN 0-89073-050-4
  65. 1 2 Mungello, David E. (1971). "Leibniz's Interpretation of Neo-Confucianism". Philosophy East and West. 21 (1): 3–22. doi:10.2307/1397760.
  66. The Eastern Origins of Western Civilisation, John Hobson, pp 194–195, ISBN 0-521-54724-5
  67. 1 2 3 Lan, Feng (2005). Ezra Pound and Confucianism: remaking humanism in the face of modernity. University of Toronto Press. p. 190. ISBN 978-0-8020-8941-0.
  68. Frankel, James (2009). "Uncontrived Concord: The Eclectic Sources and Syncretic Theories of Liu Zhi, a Chinese Muslim Scholar". Journal of Islamic Studies. 20: 46–54. doi:10.1093/jis/etn062. Retrieved 12 September 2011.
  69. Stéphane A. Dudoignon; Hisao Komatsu; Yasushi Kosugi, eds. (2006). Intellectuals in the modern Islamic world: transmission, transformation, communication. London: Routledge. p. 250; 375. ISBN 0-415-36835-9. Retrieved 28 June 2010.
  70. Hicks, George. 1990. "Explaining the Success of the Four Little Dragons: A Survey." In Seiji Naya and Akira Takayama, eds. Economic Development in East and Southeast Asia: Essays in Honor of Professor Shinichi Ichimura. Institute of Southeast Asian Studies: Singapore, and the East-West Center: Honolulu, p. 25., ISBN 9789813035638.
  71. Hofstede, Geert and Michael Harris Bond. 1988. "The Confucius Connection: From Cultural Roots to Economic Growth." Organizational Dynamics 16 (4): p. 6. ISSN 0090-2616, doi:10.1016/0090-2616(88)90009-5, PubMed 4640478, URL
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  74. "Cook Ding's Kitchen: Confucianism and Martial Arts".
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  77. 1 2 3 4 5 Adler, Joseph A. (Winter 2006). "Daughter/Wife/Mother or Sage/Immortal/Bodhisattva? Women in the Teaching of Chinese Religions". ASIANetwork Exchange, vol. XIV, no. 2. Retrieved 18 May 2011.
  78. Li-Hsiang Lisa Rosenlee (2007). Confucianism and Women: A Philosophical Interpretation. State University of New York Press. pp. 15–16. ISBN 978-0791467503.
  79. Matthew Sommers, Sex, Law and Society in Late Imperial China (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2000), 319.
  80. "春秋繁露 : 基義 - 中國哲學書電子化計劃". 中國哲學書電子化計劃.
  81. 1 2 "Asia-Pacific | Confucian family tree 'triples'". BBC News. 2009-09-25. Retrieved 2012-11-08.
  82. 1 2 Elman 2005, p. 112.
  83. 1 2 Gunn 2003, p. 108.
  84. 1 2 3 Yang 1961, p. 26.
  85. Sinaiko 1998, p. 176.
  86. Centre for Confucian Science (Korea)
  87. "Introduction to Confucianism".
  88. Streng, Frederick, "Understanding Religious Life," 3rd ed. (1985), p. 2


Translations of texts attributed to Confucius

The Analects (Lun Yu)

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