Who Was Confucius And Why Was He Important?

Statue of Confucius

Years ago, when I was traveling in China, I went to see Confucius’s house, temple, and cemetery. Today his house, temple, and cemetery continue to be popular tourist destinations.

Confucius was a renowned Chinese philosopher, politician, and educator. He lived over 2,500 years ago, yet his social and moral beliefs continue to influence many parts of Asia today. During his lifetime, he had a group of disciples and wrote what is known as the Analects. No other person in China’s history has affected the world as much as Confucius.

My grandfather, Arthur W Hummel, was a well-known Chinese scholar who worked for many years for the Library of Congress. He translated many of the Confucius Analects into the English language. If you are interested in his private Chinese proverb collection, you can read Over 175 Inspirational Chinese Proverbs On Life And Living by clicking here.

All About the Chinese Philosopher Confucius

Confucius is best described as a renowned philosopher, politician, and educator who lived in ancient China. His beliefs touched upon philosophy, politics, and ethics; today, his teachings are known as Confucianism.

Confucius’s work and way of thinking have profoundly influenced Chinese culture. He was revered as a sacred model teacher for the 10,000 generations by many Chinese emperors.

The question many want to understand is how a man born to the name Kong Qiu in 551 BCE became so powerful and had such an effect on Chinese culture. In fact, the moral and social code that Confucius taught is still important in many parts of Asia, including China, Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan, and Vietnam.

Bronze cast relief of Confucius
Statue of Confucius At The Temple of Confucius. Beijing, China

Interesting Facts About Confucius

Here are some interesting facts about Confucius and his life. As you read through these facts, you will notice that Confucius was an ordinary man who had a genius of thought which inspired and taught many disciples. His disciples and his writings helped ensure that Confucius’s legacy continued for 2,500 years.

  • Confucius’s original name was Kong Qiu.
  • His literary name was Zhongni.
  • Confucius lived in 551 BCE and died in 479 BCE.
  • The Confucius house, temple, and cemetery are located in Qufu, in Shangdong Province in China; the area is so revered it is a UNESCO world heritage site.
  • Confucius is China’s most famous teacher, philosopher, and political theorist; a theorist is a person who considers the facts and then comes up with a possible explanation.
  • Confucius had a profound effect on Chinese civilization and other East Asian countries like Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Vietnam.
  • Confucius’s early ancestors or Kung family were an aristocratic family, but by the 7th century BCE, the family had lost its political standing and wealth.
  • The Kung family was considered gentlemen or Shi. That means educated in the six traditional arts like music, archery, charioteering, writing, and arithmetic.
  • Even though educated gentlemen, the Kung family, for the social hierarchy of the day, were just slightly above the common folk.
  • Confucius’s father was quite old when Confucius was born as this was a second marriage. His father had nine daughters and one son who had a club foot; finally, with the birth of Confucius, he could have a proper heir.
  • Confucius’s father died when Confucius was young, so he was raised by his mother.
  • Confucius was always very candid about his family background; in fact, he said he was “poor, and from a lowly station, so (he) had to be skilled in menial things” (Analects 9:6). Because of his social standing, he could not directly enter government service.
  • Due to his lack of social standing, Confucius had to work his way up in life. Eventually, he was able to obtain some government work.
  • During his early government work, Confucius became so well-known for effectively handling problems and diplomatic relations; he became an excellent negotiator.
  • Eventually, Confucius was forced to leave his position, so he went into self-exile. His journey of self-exile lasted 14 years, but during this time, he spent most of his journey looking for rulers who may be willing to accept his philosophy, influence, and vision that he had about politics and government. Even though this first journey was not very successful, he never gave up on finding someone who would listen to him and his ideas.
  • Changes in the government allowed him to return to government service. Confucius worked very hard and exert influence for his ideas and ways of thinking.
  • Confusion looked back to the ancient writings for inspiration; for him, history was his guide. In fact, the one person he looked back to was Zhougong, a political figure during the Zhou Dynasty. Confucius believed that he and Zhougong wanted essentially the same things – social harmony, political stability grounded in trust, and mutual moral obligations.
  • Confucius had some important disciples, many of them much younger than him. These disciples followed him and believed his teachings. His disciples came from a wide range of social classes such as sons of Aristocats, children of gentlemen, merchants, farmers, artisans, and even criminals and sons of criminals. All of these disciples deeply believed in what Confucius was teaching them.
  • Confucius’s disciples left behind their homes, families, and career opportunities to journey with Confucius to spread his doctrine, vision, and philosophy. This journey lasted for many years as Confucius, and his disciples went from state to state.
  • Upon his return from his journey, the government made Confucius “states elder.”
  • Many would come to Confucius and his disciples to ask moral questions on virtue, moral and ethical issues, or the meaning of certain words and phrases; Confucius became known as a great teacher.
  • Until the very end of his life, Confucius continued to teach. His thoughts and philosophy are in The Book of Analects.
  • Confucius died at the age of 73 in 479 BCE.

The Book of Analects

Confucius and his disciples left important writings of his thought, teaching and philosophy called the Book of Analects. The Book of Analect is a fragmented collection of Confucius’s life and thoughts; the book is divided into 20 different sections. It is also known as the Analects of Confucius or simply Analects.

The sections in the Book of Analects contain descriptions of Confucius’s character and moments of his life in exile or at home. It also includes conversations he had with others, such as his disciples.

This book of Analect is not a story you can just read from cover to cover; instead, it is a collection of many of Confucius’s sayings and ideas. This book is believed to have been compiled and written by some of Confucius’s disciples and followers.

A handful of Confucius’s young disciples initiated the project of the Analects. But it was really another 200 to 300 years later after some passages were omitted and others modified that the Analects became known as it is today.

In other words, like many other important authors. Confucius never understood during his lifetime the influence he would have upon China and East Asia. This influence happened because his thoughts, sayings, and writings were left in the form of some books, but most importantly, the Book of Analects.

Confucius’s Own Family and Women

As an interesting note, as Confucius spent most of his life traveling with his disciples, the Analects does not mention his family. We know that Confucius was married and had a son and daughter; we do not know much about his wife.

Many find that odd as Confucius was a great believer that the family unit was the foundation of society, yet he spent most of his life with his disciples. We really do not know whether his family traveled with him or whether his wife was alive or had passed away; there is not much written about his family.

One criticism of Confucius’s teaching is how women are treated and viewed. In Confucian societies, giving birth to a son is favored with more importance than a daughter.

Confucianism and Confucius’s teachings are usually referred to as why Asian women were not treated very well in many parts of Asia. Confucius did not say a lot about women, but what he did say was not very positive.

marbe statues iin a row
Te 72 Followers Statues at Confucian Temple in Nagasaki, Japan

Interesting Facts About Confucianism

Confucianism is the ancient Chinese belief system that focuses on the importance of personal ethics and morality. It is a philosophy and belief system from Ancient China. Confucianism is important as it laid the foundation for the belief system of Ancient China.

Here Are Some Interesting And Important Facts About Confucianism.

  • Confucianism is a western term that has no counterpart in the Chinese language.
  • Confucianism thought is practiced worldwide because it includes thoughts on social ethics and political ideology.
  • Confucianism believes that the family unit is the foundation of society.
  • Confucianism believes in filial piety to family and elderly family members; filial piety is the Confucianism attitude of obedience, devotion, and care towards your family.
  • Confucianism is sometimes referred to as a philosophy and moral code. This is very different from Christianity, which believes in Jesus Christ and is always viewed as a religion.
  • Confucianism is a way of life and moral thought and not a religion. People who follow or believe in Confucianism also profess to be Buddhists, Muslims, or even Christians. For example, when a person converts to Christianity, they will not cease believing in Confucianism thought. This is because Confucianism is about social morality or a way of life.
  • Confucianism is a moral code that is ingrained in the societies of China and East Asia.
  • Confucianism spread under the influence of Chinese literature, culture and exerted a profound influence on the spiritual and political lives of many of China’s neighbors, including Korea, Japan, and Vietnam.
  • Confucianism is about how we live in society; it is about human interactions between individuals, communities, and nations.
  • Confucianism believes that people should do the right thing as it is the right thing to do, and doing the right thing, helps society as a whole.

Importance of Confucius And Confucianism Today

Confucius is important because his teachings continue to impact a quarter of the world’s population. Confucious teachings continue to be central in the moral code of how societies live together and interact with one another politically, morally, and socially.

To really understand Asia, you need to understand a bit about Confucius and his teachings. Most of the cultural aspects you see in Asia can be seen as part of Confucianism as bowing, ancestor worship, family, social, and political relationships.

In many parts of Asia, parents must be given complete and total respect and have ultimate authority. That is why you may still see some Asians who will marry who their parents tell them to marry.

The Koreans have a traditional Korean wedding ceremony called Paebaek; the bride and groom will take a lowly bow in front of their parents to receive a blessing for the marriage. The parents would then toss walnuts and dates at the skirt of the bride to encourage fertility.

In fact, Confucius spoke about obedience to the emperor, social hierarchy, and having complete loyalty. Confucianism believes what is good for the individual is not always good for society, so people need to look at what is good for society as a whole, not the just individual.

Confucian thought affects how people interact with each other even today. This is why in the Confucian-based countries in Asia, when people are asked to wear masks, most do without complaining or feeling their “individual rights” are being violated. This is because Confucius thought is about a harmonious society.

Confucius is important because he was a man that lived thousands of years ago but yet he continues to have this dramatic effect upon the lives of nearly a quarter of humanity. Confucian teachings continue to shape and touch the human and social relationships of everyday people. Confucius thought affects how people view their rulers, government, political power, and social norms.

Confucius continues to influences even the younger Asian generation. I have seen people study a subject at a University because it is something their parents want them to study, not something they had a talent or interest in.

Because Confucianism and Confucius thought affects so many aspects of society in China and Asia, it can not be discounted. Understanding a bit about Confucianism is the first step to understanding Asia.

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Anita L Hummel

Hi, I live in Hanoi, Vietnam but spend time traveling the region. I love to share with you things I see and learn through my travels.

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