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The Confucius for Dummies

Updated on August 12, 2015

Being one of the four greatest thinker , philosopher , and educator ever lived (the other three are Buddha , Jesus , and Muhammad ), to the western world, Confucius is primarily known for his quotations (not all of them were attributed to him directly). For example:

山中有直樹 世上無直人
There are straight trees in the mountain,
There is no straight man in the world.
易漲易退山溪水 易反易覆小人心
A vile person's mind changes constantly, 
Like the Mountain streams ebb and flow.
水太清則無魚 人太緊則無智
Clear water supports no fish, 
Strict person bears no wisdom.
人貧不語 水平不流
Water does not flow on flat surface,
The poor does not talk too much.
利刀割體痕易合 惡語傷人恨難消
Wound caused by a sharp knife heals quickly,
Hatred caused by other's ferocious comment never diminishes.
莫信直中直 須防仁不仁
Do not believe in the up-most uprightness,
Be careful about the full-hearted kindness.
人生不滿百 常懷千歲憂
Humans do not live over a hundred year but have worries to last a thousand year.

To understand the teachings of Confucius is to understand the essence of the Chinese culture. The teachings start by emphasizing the importance of cultivating and raising each person’s moral character .

In the family, the father is the authoritative figure who shall protect and provide for its members. The sons and daughters shall obey their parent strictly and have compassion toward one another. In the society, each person shall respect the elders, treat others the way one wants to be treated, and obey the laws of the governance . In the imperial court, even though the emperor has the absolute power to rule over his people, their well beings shall be the emperor’s top priority. Like the father in the family, the emperor is entrusted with the duty to provide and protect his people.

The roles for each individual in the family, in the society, and the imperial court are well defined based on a set of value system (justice, courtesy, righteous ) and moral standard (honesty, benevolence ). Following the teachings of Confucius, the country will be strong and prosperous with a harmonious society populated by well educated and contented civilians.

The teachings of Confucius have not only guided the Chinese people’s morality but also become part of their ways of life over the millennium . Even though the country had endured its shares of poverties and civil wars , being one of the oldest known civilizations on Earth, history has shown that the Chinese civilization is the only one that has lasted uninterrupted and stayed independent till the present day.

Life of Confucius

Confucius was a Latinized name given by a westerner. His true name is Kong Qiu (孔丘). Confucius was born 2551 years ago in the Zhou dynasty during the Spring-Autumn period. It was a time of unrest and war lords due to the decline of the Zhou dynasty after 500 years of rule. His preaching of a benevolent government policy fell on deaf ears. Disillusioned by the politics, Confucius turned his attention to writing and teaching.

Confucius wrote a book called Spring-Autumn analyzing the political events and the people involved at the time. Since the book was the first of its kind in details and fairness chronologically , later historians named that period of time (BC770- BC402 ) after the title of his book, Spring-Autumn. His other significant works were the compilation and editing of important thoughts and treatises by the scholars of the past. Through his endeavors , those literatures were preserved and passed down to the future generations.

However, Confucius’ greatest and long lasting contribution was his teaching philosophy. In his time, going to school to learn was reserved only to the rich and the powerful. Confucius opened private school to tutor anyone who had a desire to learn. It was documented that he had more than 3000 pupils many of whom took up important political positions in various war lords’ courts later.

Confucius passed away when he was around 73 years old. His thoughts and teachings were written into the so called The Four BooksThe Great Learning, The Doctrine of the Mean, The Mencius, and The Analects - by his pupils. Over the millennium, Confucius was honored as the Teacher of Virtues for All Ages. His statue was erected at the entrance to the schools. Even temples were built to worship him as a deity of Learning. Moreover, The Four Books were and still are the required studying subjects in most schools.

The Great Learning

This book teaches the importance of cultivating and raising each person’s moral character . First, he needs to understand the nature of things and set a goal of lofty achievement. Then, he will be patient and attain a clear conscience. After that, he will be able to think straight before attaining a good moral character. After attaining a good moral character, he can then raise a good family. After raising a good family, he can then contribute to the welfare of the country.

The Doctrine of the Mean

This book is about the discovery and understanding of the harmony and equilibrium in nature and how to act accordingly. Learn to treat everything in nature with tolerance and interact objectively. Learn not to show emotion and know one’s limitation . To be one with nature, know when to give, how much to take, and adhere to one’s position and function.

The Mencius

This book declares the basic goodness of human beings. It defines four moral values, namely; benevolence , righteousness , courtesy , and resourcefulness . It characterizes four human relationships, namely; the blood relation between father and son, the righteous relation between emperor and his officials, the pecking order among the siblings, and the trust among friends.


The Analects

This book is about Confucius’ teaching techniques and views on ordinary lives which were depicted through his interaction with his pupils. Confucius’ teaching was indiscriminate and with patience. He was able to find the best method to reach each individual with the specific needs. Ultimately, he was always showing a path toward kindheartedness , trustworthiness , loyalty , tolerance , respecting the elders, never talk back to the parents, and preserve , protect , and make proud of the ancestry heritage .


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    • profile image


      3 years ago

      The company I work for just published a book translating the full book of Confucius ideology into English. :)

    • Say Yes To Life profile image

      Yoleen Lucas 

      4 years ago from Big Island of Hawaii

      A few months ago, I finished writing a 4 part hub on the world's 10 most practiced religions. I really enjoyed writing about Confucianism! Confucius began the movement of leadership through merit rather than bloodline. His life story definitely backs up this theory!


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