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Confucius, illustration from Myths & Legends of China, 1922, by E.T.C. Werner
Chinese 孔夫子
Literal meaning Master Kong

Confucius (551-478 B.C.) was a Chinese thinker and social philosopher born in Lu (modern day Shandong province). He was poor, but self-educated and started teaching his disciples around age 20.[1]

Confucius, a great figure in ancient China, lived during the corruption and collapse of the Zhou Dynasty, and formulated a code of ethics and ritual based upon the venerated ancient Golden Civilizations of China. His real name was Kong Fu Zi (the "Zi" character meaning "little one," or "master"), the romanization of his name occurred when the first Christian evangelicals came to China and took a liking to his teachings, and transferred them back to the West. His disciples wrote down his teachings in a book called the Analects, which focus on man's duties to obey a universal natural law through ritual behavior. Moderation in conduct, or "Li", was emphasized, and filial piety (respecting the older members of one's family) was the goal. Age itself is greatly honored in Chinese culture, and the elderly were taught to be venerated. He emphasized rational analysis with a touch of flexibility. He is quoted to say,
"I for my part am not one of those who have innate knowledge. I am simply one who loves the past and who is diligent in investigating it."

Confucius became a magistrate in the city of Chang-tu, but resigned when the position turned out to have very little influence.

After Confucius died there was an era of the Warring States in ancient China, lasting from 481-221 B.C. During this time period social philosophy thrived amidst the chaos of war and famine, and Kongzi's teachings were criticized by philosophers such as Mozi and Han Feizi, while expanded upon by Mengzi (Latinization: Mencius) and Xunzi, which would be incorporated into governmental policy with the rise of the Han Dynasty.

Confucian ideas were later brought to Europe by Marco Polo in the 1500s.


Certain difficulties have arisen around English translations of the "Lunyv," the "Analects." When Jesuits priests, originally destined for the Indian subcontinent, arrived in China, the school of Confucianism (Rujia) that was flourishing at the time was "Daoxue," literally meaning "inquiry into the Dao/Way," but for philosophical reasons it could be translated simply as "ontology." The English compound "Neo-Confucianism" is typically used to denote "Daoxue" and should not be confused with "New Confucianism," which did not emerge until the 20th century. The Jesuits, fearing that in its Neo-Confucian and Xunzian manifestations, Confucianism was overwhelmingly a secular philosophy with strong atheistic tendencies, placed greater emphasis on Confucius and Mencius, whose writings were sufficiently vague and underdeveloped to make allowances for theistic readings. As a consequence of this, most, although not the most recent, translations of the "Lunyv" and the "Mengzi," as well as other important Confucian texts, have been somewhat "Christianized." It should be noted that this may provide a false sense that Confucianism and Christianity are complementary philosophies/religions. Certain important terms, such as "tian," "yi," and "e," translated as "Heaven," "righteousness," and "evil" respectively, do not commensurate well their Christian counterparts. The Analects tend to contradict the Gospels more often than they compliment them.


  1. The New American Desk Encyclopedia, Penguin Group, 1989