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Confucianism Portal


Temple of Confucius of Jiangyin, Wuxi, Jiangsu. This is a wénmiào (文庙), that is to say a temple where Confucius is worshipped as Wéndì (文帝), "God of Culture".

Confucianism, also known as Ruism, is described as tradition, a philosophy, a religion, a humanistic or rationalistic religion, a way of governing, or simply a way of life. Confucianism developed from what was later called the Hundred Schools of Thought from the teachings of the Chinese philosopher Confucius (551–479 BCE), who considered himself a recodifier and retransmitter of the theology and values inherited from the Shang (c. 1600–1046 BCE) and Zhou dynasties (c. 1046–256 BCE). In the Han dynasty (206 BCE–220 CE), Confucian approaches edged out the "proto-Taoist" Huang–Lao as the official ideology, while the emperors mixed both with the realist techniques of Legalism.

A Confucian revival began during the Tang dynasty (618–907). In the late Tang, Confucianism developed in response to Buddhism and Taoism and was reformulated as Neo-Confucianism. This reinvigorated form was adopted as the basis of the imperial exams and the core philosophy of the scholar official class in the Song dynasty (960–1297). The abolition of the examination system in 1905 marked the end of official Confucianism. The intellectuals of the New Culture Movement of the early twentieth century blamed Confucianism for China's weaknesses. They searched for new doctrines to replace Confucian teachings; some of these new ideologies include the "Three Principles of the People" with the establishment of the Republic of China, and then Maoism under the People's Republic of China. In the late twentieth century Confucian work ethic has been credited with the rise of the East Asian economy.

With particular emphasis on the importance of the family and social harmony, rather than on an otherworldly source of spiritual values, the core of Confucianism is humanistic. According to Herbert Fingarette's conceptualisation of Confucianism as a religion which regards "the secular as sacred", Confucianism transcends the dichotomy between religion and humanism, considering the ordinary activities of human life—and especially human relationships—as a manifestation of the sacred, because they are the expression of humanity's moral nature (xìng 性), which has a transcendent anchorage in Heaven (Tiān 天) and unfolds through an appropriate respect for the spirits or gods (shén) of the world. While Tiān has some characteristics that overlap the category of godhead, it is primarily an impersonal absolute principle, like the Dào (道) or the Brahman. Confucianism focuses on the practical order that is given by a this-worldly awareness of the Tiān. Confucian liturgy (called 儒 , or sometimes 正統/正统 zhèngtǒng, meaning 'orthoprax') led by Confucian priests or "sages of rites" (禮生/礼生 lǐshēng) to worship the gods in public and ancestral Chinese temples is preferred on certain occasions, by Confucian religious groups and for civil religious rites, over Taoist or popular ritual.

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Temple of Confucius of Jiangyin, Wuxi, Jiangsu. This is a wénmiào (文庙), that is to say a temple where Confucius is worshiped as Wéndì (文帝), "God of Culture".
Read more about Confucian art and Confucian temples

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Statue of Yan Hui in the temple dedicated to him in Qufu.

Yan Hui, also Yen Tzu or Yanzi (simplified Chinese: 颜回; traditional Chinese: 顏回; pinyin: Yán Huí; courtesy name Zi Yuan (Chinese: 子淵; pinyin: Zǐ yuān); 521 BC - 490 BC) was one of the disciples of Confucius.

Yan Hui was a native of State of Lu, the favorite of his master, whose junior he was by thirty years, and whose disciple he became when he was quite a youth. «After I got Yan Hui», Confucius remarked, «The disciples came closer to me». We are told that once, when he found himself on the Nang hill with Yan Hui, Zi-lu, and Zi-gong, Confucius asked them to tell him their different aims, and he would choose between them. Zi-lu began, and when he had done, the master said, «It marks your bravery».

Zi-gong followed, on whose words the judgment was, «They show your discriminating eloquence». At last came Yan Hui, who said, «I should like to find an intelligent king and sage ruler whom I might assist. I would diffuse among the people instructions on the five great points, and lead them on by the rules of propriety and music, so that they should not care to fortify their cities by walls and moats, but would fuse their swords and spears into implements of agriculture. They should send forth their flocks without fear into the plains and forests. There should be no sunderings of families, no widows or widowers. For a thousand years there would be no calamity of war. Yu would have no opportunity to display his bravery, or Ts'ze to display his oratory». The master pronounced, «How admirable is this virtue!».

When Yan Hui was twenty-nine, his hair was all white, and at the age of 32 he died. After the death of Yan Hui, Confucius lamented, Heaven has bereft me! «Heaven has bereft me!». When told by other students that he was showing "excessive grief", the old philosopher replied: «Am I showing excessive grief? Well, for whom would I show excessive grief if not for this man?». Even years later, Confucius would say that no other student could take Yan Hui's place, so gifted and dedicated Yan Hui had been.

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Portrait of Zhu Xi.

Li (禮 pinyin: ) is a classical Chinese word which finds its most extensive use in Confucian and post-Confucian Chinese philosophy. Li encompasses not a definitive object but rather a somewhat abstract idea; as such, it is translated in a number of different ways. Most often, li is described using some form of the word "rite" or "ritual", or "ritual propriety. It can also be translated as "custom", "mores", and "rules of proper behavior", among other terms.

Li embodies the entire web of interaction between humanity, human objects, and nature. Confucius includes in his discussions of li such diverse topics as learning, tea drinking, titles, mourning, and governance. Xunzi cites "songs and laughter, weeping and lamentation... rice and millet, fish and meat...the wearing of ceremonial caps, embroidered robes, and patterned silks, or of fasting clothes and mourning clothes... spacious rooms and secluded halls, soft mats, couches and benches" as vital parts of the fabric of li.

Confucius envisioned proper government being guided by the principles of li. Some Confucians proposed the perfectibility of all human beings with learning li as an important part of that process. Overall, Confucians believed governments should place more emphasis on li and rely much less on penal punishment when they govern.

The word li meaning "ritual" or "ritual propriety" should not be confused with another word, pronounced exactly the same way: li (理, pinyin lǐ) meaning "principle," "pattern," or "order." This word became a central concept in "Neo-Confucianism," beginning in the Song dynasty (960-1279). For more on this concept see Li (Neo-Confucianism).

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Holy Confucian Church of China (Kongshenghui) logo.svg

The Holy Confucian Church (孔圣会 Kǒngshènghuì) is a movement of Confucian churches in China. It was initiated by Zhou Beichen, a disciple of the Confucian philosopher Jiang Qing, who founded the first holy church in Shenzhen in 2009. The aim of the movement is to develop a network of local Confucian churches throughout the country, eventually unifying into a national body and becoming the state religion of China. The nationwide Church was formally established in 2015 by the joint effort of Confucian leaders.

The Holy Church has received support from the Confucian Academy of Hong Kong, although it has developed independently from the latter. In 2010 the Kongshengtang was officially registered as a non-governmental non-profit (fēi qǐyè 非企业) organisation of public interest (gōngyì 公益) affiliated with the Federation of Confucian Culture of Qufu City. The Holy Church maintains close relations with local government officials and high-ranking dignitaries of the State Administration of Religious Affairs attend its ceremonies.

Selected scripture

An edition of the Analects of the year 1533.

The Analects, or Lunyu (simplified Chinese: ; traditional Chinese: ; pinyin: Lún Yǔ; literally: 'Selected Sayings'), also known as the Analects of Confucius, is the collection of sayings and ideas attributed to the Chinese philosopher Confucius and his contemporaries, traditionally believed to have been written by Confucius' followers. It is believed to have been written during the Warring States period (475 BC–221 BC), and it achieved its final form during the mid-Han dynasty (206 BC–220 AD).

By the early Han dynasty the Analects was considered merely a "commentary" on the Five Classics, but the status of the Analects grew to be one of the central texts of Confucianism by the end of that dynasty. During the late Song dynasty (960-1279) the importance of the Analects as a philosophy work was raised above that of the older Five Classics, and it was recognized as one of the "Four Books". The Analects has been one of the most widely read and studied books in China for the last 2,000 years, and continues to have a substantial influence on Chinese and East Asian thought and values today.

Confucius believed that the welfare of a country depended on the moral cultivation of its people, beginning from the nation's leadership. He believed that individuals could begin to cultivate an all-encompassing sense of virtue through ren, and that the most basic step to cultivating ren was devotion to one's parents and older siblings.

He taught that one's individual desires do not need to be suppressed, but that people should be educated to reconcile their desires via rituals and forms of propriety, through which people could demonstrate their respect for others and their responsible roles in society. He taught that a ruler's sense of virtue was his primary prerequisite for leadership. His primary goal in educating his students was to produce ethically well-cultivated men who would carry themselves with gravity, speak correctly, and demonstrate consummate integrity in all things.

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Hall of worship with an altar for Confucius and disciples, in the Temple of Confucius (Kongmiao) of Cicheng, Ningbo, Zhejiang.

The Rectification of Names (Chinese: ; pinyin: Zhèngmíng; Wade–Giles: Cheng-ming) is the Confucian doctrine that to know and use the proper designations of things in the web of relationships that creates meaning, a community, and then behaving accordingly so as to ensure social harmony is The Good (Tian). Since social harmony is of utmost importance, without the proper rectification of names, society would essentially crumble and "undertakings [would] not [be] completed".

Confucius believed that social disorder often stemmed from failure to perceive, understand, and deal with reality. Fundamentally, then, social disorder can stem from the failure to call things by their proper names, and his solution to this was the rectification of names. He gave an explanation to one of his disciples:

A superior man, in regard to what he does not know, shows a cautious reserve. If names be not correct, language is not in accordance with the truth of things. If language be not in accordance with the truth of things, affairs cannot be carried on to success. When affairs cannot be carried on to success, proprieties and music do not flourish. When proprieties and music do not flourish, punishments will not be properly awarded. When punishments are not properly awarded, the people do not know how to move hand or foot. Therefore a superior man considers it necessary that the names he uses may be spoken appropriately, and also that what he speaks may be carried out appropriately. What the superior man requires is just that in his words there may be nothing incorrect.

— Confucius, Analects, Book XIII, Chapter 3, verses 4-7, translated by James Legge[1]


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  1. ^ James Legge (1971). Confucian analects: The great learning, and The doctrine of the mean. Dover Publications. pp. 263–264.