Confucianism , literally "The School of the Scholars"; or, less accurately, ?? Ko(ng jiào, "The Religion of Confucius") is a Chinese ethical and philosophical system originally developed from the teachings of the early Chinese sage Confucius. It is a complex system of moral, social, political, and religious thought which had tremendous influence on the history of Chinese civilization down to the 21st century. Some have considered it to have been the "state religion" of imperial China.
Debated during the Warring States Period and forbidden during the short-lived Qin Dynasty, Confucianism was chosen by Han Wudi for use as a political system to govern the Chinese state. Despite its loss of influence during the Tang Dynasty, Confucianist doctrine remained a mainstream Chinese orthodoxy for two millennia until the 20th century, when it was attacked by radical Chinese thinkers as a vanguard of a feudal system and an obstacle to China's modernization, eventually culminating in its repression and vilification during the Cultural Revolution in the People's Republic of China. After the end of the Cultural Revolution, Confucianism has been revived in mainland China, and both interest in and debate about Confucianism have surged.
The cultures most strongly influenced by Confucianism include those of China, Japan, Korea, Singapore, and Vietnam, as well as various territories including Hong Kong, Macao, and Taiwan, (settled predominantly by ethnic Chinese).
Confucianism as passed down to the 20th and 21st centuries derives primarily from the school of the Neo-Confucians, led by Zhu Xi, who gave Confucianism renewed vigour in the Song and later dynasties. Neo-Confucianism combined Taoist and Buddhist ideas with existing Confucian ideas to create a more complete metaphysics than had ever existed before. At the same time, many forms of Confucianism have historically declared themselves opposed to the Buddhist and Taoist belief systems.
Confucius (551–479 BC) was a famous sage and social philosopher of China whose teachings deeply influenced East Asia for twenty centuries. The relationship between Confucianism and Confucius himself, however, is tenuous. Confucius' ideas were not accepted during his lifetime and he frequently bemoaned the fact that he remained unemployed by any of the feudal lords.
As with many other prominent figures such as Siddhartha Gautama, Jesus, or Socrates, humanity does not have direct access to Confucius' ideas. Instead, humans have recollections by his disciples and their students . This factor is further complicated by the "Burning of the Books and Burying of the Scholars", a massive suppression of dissenting thought during the Qin Dynasty, more than two centuries after Confucius' death. What we now know of Confucius' writings and thoughts is therefore somewhat unreliable.
However, we can sketch out Confucius' ideas from the fragments that remain. Confucius was a man of letters who worried about the troubled times he lived in. He went from place to place trying to spread his political ideas and influence to the many kings contending for supremacy in China.
In the Eastern Zhou Dynasty (771-221 BC), the reigning king of the Zhou gradually became a mere figurehead. In this power vacuum, the rulers of small states began to vie with one another for military and political dominance. Deeply persuaded of the need for his mission — "If right principles prevailed through the empire, there would be no need for me to change its state" Analects XVIII, 6 — Confucius tirelessly promoted the virtues of ancient illustrious sages such as the Duke of Zhou. Confucius tried to amass sufficient political power to found a new dynasty, as when he planned to accept an invitation from a rebel to "make a Zhou dynasty in the East" (Analects XV, 5). As the common saying that Confucius was a "king without a crown" indicates, however, he never gained the opportunity to apply his ideas. He was expelled from states many times and eventually returned to his homeland to spend the last part of his life teaching.
The Analects of Confucius, the closest we have to a primary source for his thoughts, relates his sayings and discussions with rulers and disciples in short passages. As with the New Testament, there is considerable debate over how to interpret the Analects.
Unlike most Western philosophers, Confucius did not rely on deductive reasoning to convince his listeners. Instead, he used figures of rhetoric such as analogy and aphorism to explain his ideas. Most of the time these techniques were highly contextualised. For these reasons, Western readers might find his philosophy muddled or unclear. However, Confucius claimed that he sought "a unity all pervading" (Analects XV, 3) and that there was "one single thread binding my way together." (op. cit. IV, 15).
The first occurrences of a real Confucian system may have been created by his disciples or by the disciples of his disciples. During the philosophically fertile period of the Hundred Schools of Thought, great early figures of Confucianism such as Mencius and Xun Zi (not to be confused with Sun Zi) developed Confucianism into an ethical and political doctrine. Both had to fight contemporary ideas and gain the ruler's confidence through argumentation and reasoning. Mencius gave Confucianism a fuller explanation of human nature, of what is needed for good government, of what morality is, and founded his idealist doctrine on the claim that human nature is good (??). Xun Zi opposed many of Mencius' ideas, and built a structured system upon the idea that human nature is bad (??) and had to be educated and exposed to the rites (li), before being able to express their goodness.
Some of Xun Zi's disciples, such as Han Feizi and Li Si, became Legalists (a kind of law-based early totalitarianism, quite distant from virtue-based Confucianism) and conceived the state system that allowed Qin Shi Huang to unify China under the strong state control of every human activity. The culmination of Confucius' dream of unification and peace in China can therefore be argued to have come from Legalism, a school of thought almost diametrically opposed to his reliance on rites and virtue.