Confucius


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Extraordinary HistoryMaker: Confucius

Confucius (Kong Fu Zi), a humble man from poor beginnings, became so influential that his teachings inspired a philosophy, a religion, and a way of life that has lasted until today.

His ancestors came from the royal state of Song. His great grandfather, fleeing the turmoil in his native Song, had moved to Lu, somewhere near the present town of Qufu in southeastern Shandong, where the family became impoverished.

Confucius was born in answer to his parents' prayers at a sacred hill called Ni. Confucius' surname Kong (which means literally an utterance of thankfulness when prayers have been answered), his tabooed given name Qiu, and his social name Zhongni, all appear connected to the miraculous circumstances of his birth.

At the age of fifty, when Duke Ding of Lu was on the throne at Lu, Confucius' talents were recognized and he was appointed Minister of Public Works and then Minister of Crime. It seemed that Confucius’ dream of a position of influence in government had come true. But Confucius apparently offended members of the Lu nobility and he was forced to leave office and go into exile.

Confucius returned to Lu in 484 BCE and spent the remainder of his life teaching, putting in order the Book of Songs, the Book of Documents, and other ancient classics.

He gathered students around him and taught the basics of what is today called Confucianism. He taught decorous, courtly behavior, duty to rulers, parents, and older brothers. He taught that you should not do to others, what you would not want done to yourself. In Book X of the Analects we see an intimate view of Confucius’ life. Here are a few examples, worded as a guide to others:

Confucius, at home in his native village, was simple and unassuming in manner, as though he did not trust himself to speak. But when in the ancestral temple or at Court he speaks readily, though always choosing his words with due caution.

When at court conversing with the officers of a lower grade, he is friendly, though straightforward; when conversing with officers of a higher grade, he is restrained but precise. When the ruler is present he is wary, but not cramped.

On entering the Palace Gate he seems to contract his body, as though there were not sufficient room to admit him. If he halts, it must never be in the middle of the gate, nor in going through does he ever tread on the threshold.

When fasting in preparation for sacrifice he must wear the Bright Robe, and it must be of linen. He must change his food and also the place where he commonly sits. He does not object to his rice being thoroughly cleaned, nor to his meat being finely minced.

When sending a messenger to enquire after someone in another country, he bows himself twice while seeing the messenger off.

In bed he avoided lying in the posture of a corpse … On meeting anyone in deep mourning he must bow across the bar of his chariot.

Confucius, Analects, Book X

The Analects of Confucius, a philosophical translation
by Roger Ames

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Following up on his groundbreaking work with David Hall in Thinking Through Confucius, Roger Ames has teamed up with Henry Rosemont to put theory into practice, portraying Confucius in light of his communitarian leanings. In a translation that comes off as surprisingly relaxed and colloquial, gone are the adherence to strict rules of propriety and righteous moralizing. Confucius has long been the victim of a certain unwitting Christianization, having been interpreted through the lens of Western philosophical assumptions. Ames and Rosemont scale away these assumptions, revealing a flexible and subtle thinker whose ideas of how to live well in a harmonious community have much to offer a fragmented society tied to reductive atomism and the exclusive exaltation of the individual.

Thinking Through Confucius is probably the best examination of Confucius available today.

Thinking Through Confucius by Roger Ames and David Hall
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