Confucius’ life was of tremendous importance in the forming of Chinese culture. Confucius’ plan and simple approach to life, revealed his deep seeded beliefs that through great human effort one can shape their own future. He had great faith in the ordinary man and believed that they are teachable and perfectible. Confucius believed that ordinary humans could be come awe-inspiring with wisdom and great knowledge. The quest to improve one’s “self” became deeply rooted in the Confucian heritage. Confucius’ concept of moral rectitude was considered part of the pursuit to becoming the perfected person. Confucius was devoted to learning and teaching. His teaching emphasized self-improvement and moral rectitude. When his words “for the sake of the self” are explored it becomes clear Confucius was constant in his belief of self-improvement through out his life and his work.
Confucius was a philosopher, teacher and political figure that lived from (551-479 BC) in the state of Lu, now know as the Shandong province. He was a member of the minor aristocracy and bureaucratic class during that time. By the time of his birth, his family had apparently become poverty-stricken. He was known for his conservation of the traditions of ritual and music of the Chou civilization.
At an early age, it was apparent that Confucius was dedicated to learning. Confucius’ father died when he was three years old and this probably had a huge impact on his family’s class. The lose of his father and his family being poverty-stricken must have been key factors that set him upon his ambitious journey to improve human kind, governments and society. His mother was his first teacher and he developed an emphatic quest for knowledge.
It was a common practice for aristocratic families to hire tutors to educate their sons, but Confucius was one of the first persons to devote himself totally to learning and teaching for the sole purpose of transforming and improving society. Confucius was also a dedicated government servant. He served in government posts where he managed stables and kept books. At the age of nineteen Confucius married a woman of similar background. Confucius’ early influences are all contributing factors that made him a young and wise scholar during his time.
Confucius concept of “moral rectitude” was evident because he wanted to make education available to all men. He believed everyone could benefit from learning and self-cultivation. Confucius established a humanities program for leaders, paved the way for education to all and redefined learning as not only the acquisition of knowledge, but also as a character builder. Confucius primary role of education was to provide the proper way of training noblemen. This education would consist of continuous self-improvement and frequent social interaction. To personally achieve the goal “for the sake of the self”, Confucius mastered six arts: ritual, music, archer, charioteering, calligraphy and arithmetic. The art that became most important was that of “ritual”.
Confucius was actively involved with the government. It was his desire to have a rebirth of the ideas and institution of a past golden age. Confucius hoped to integrate the ritual of those times into the government and family life. He believed this could only happen with ideal rulers such as the legendary sage-kings Yao and Shun. Confucius believed that the ethic of an ideal ruler would translate to a moral state. The ideal ruler would cultivate virtues of benevolence toward others, a general sense of doing what is right, loyalty and diligence in serving one’s superiors.
The “moral rectitude” according to Confucius could also be taught and handed down by performing rituals. Ritual acted as guidelines for people to follow in any given social situations. Ritual could vary considerably depending on age, social status and gender. Confucius contributed to some specific rituals and values but also the importance of the past and hierarchy of the social classes. Rituals be came “the way” to act.
Most East Asian societies continue to be influenced by Confucius teachings, valuing the community, the family, and other social relationships over individuality and uniqueness. The Confucius influence encourages support of education and learning from books and from the past, refinement of social rituals to smooth the relationships of people in a community. The western culture has vastly deviated from Confucius teaching. Each day the western culture ignores more rituals and become more self-absorbed. A glance at today’s headlines or reality TV makes this obvious. Today there are still some existing rituals and moral behavior, but the boundaries blur with each generation.
What Confucius provided was a definition of ethics and morally characterized by personal actions and rituals. A simple way to understand Confucius thoughts is to gain an appreciation of the varying levels of honesty. Over time, they developed into the following form:
*Li – ritual. Propriety or politeness, Etiquette. This concept originally meant to sacrifice. The term later expanded to secular ceremonial behaviors and then even more diffuse mean, that of propriety or politeness. This expanded the term to everyday life situations. Confucius was revered as the authority on ritual behavior.
*Ziao or Hsiao – filial piety. Respect and obedience. The was considered to be the greatest virtue and was shown towards the living and dead. The term ‘filial’ means “of a son” and therefore denotes that a son should have respect and obedience to his parents. This term was expanded to other relationships such as ruler and subject, husband and wife, elder brother and younger brother, and that between friends. The duties and ritual where prescribed for each of these relationships. Eventually this term was integrated into the Chinese legal system. An example of this would be that a child would be punished more harshly if the crime were against a parent.
*Zhong or Chung – loyalty. This term is equivalent to filial piety, but on a different level. This term apply predominantly to the social classes of ruler and minister. In a case of Zhong, a minister should obey the ruler because he has the higher (anointed by god) authority and therefore that maked it the right thing to do.
*Ren or Jen – humanness. The relates to the “Golden Rule” This term is best described by Confucius version of the Golden Rule, “Do not do to other what you would not like them to do to you.”
*Junzi or Chun-Tzu – the gentleman. The ideal towards which all strive. This term mean “son of a ruler”. This term implies that a gentleman are always expected to act as moral guides to the rest of society. Gentlemen are those who cultivate themselves morally and who personify the other characteristics of honestly. Confucius is exclamatory of this concept
Confucius was a man of great vision. The politics of his time did not allow his philosophy to flourish, but he did provide an awakening to human king. He was perceived then and now as a heroic conscience. Confucius teaching remains enormously influence today, but unfortunately, they are not always taken to heart or practiced. Today’s politicians could learn much from his teaching. One of Confucius’s principal legacies, the notion of the enlightened civil servant, is not a prevalent as it should be in the modern word. Humankind moves forward, but sometimes we forget to bring the greatness of our history with us.