Why Is Confucius so Admired?
Confucius dedicated his life to attempting to relieve the suffering of the people of China, where he lived between 551 and 479 BC. He was a philosopher and political theorist, whose ideas have deeply influenced the civilization of Eastern Asia.
This great teacher was deeply distressed by the misery he saw on every hand. The Chinese were oppressed by wars, taxes and hunger. Confucius believed the solution must lie in the creation of a form of government which would have as its objective not the pleasure of the rulers, but the happiness of the people.
He advocated such measures as the reduction of taxes, the mitigation of severe punishments and the avoidance of unnecessary war. He tried to secure a position of administrative influence, but in this he failed because the Chinese rulers thought his ideas were dangerous. So he taught his beliefs to younger men and sought government posts for these disciples.
Confucius was the first man in China to use teaching as an instrument of reform. But he was not dogmatic or authoritarian. He merely asked questions and insisted that the students found the answers for themselves. He declared: “If, when I point out one corner of the subject the student can not work out the other three for himself, I do not go on.”
His belief that the state should be a wholly co-operative enterprise was quite different from the ruling ideas of his time. Aristocrats were believed to rule by virtue of the authority and the powerful assistance of their divine ancestors. The right to govern, Confucius held, depended upon the ability to make the people governed happy.
Confucius’s teachings were later turned into an elaborate set of rules and practices by his numerous disciples and followers, who organized his teachings into the Analects. Confucius’s disciples and his only grandson, Zisi, continued his philosophical school after his death. These efforts spread Confucian ideals to students who then became officials in many of the royal courts in China, thereby giving Confucianism the first wide-scale test of its dogma.
Two of Confucius’s most famous later followers emphasized radically different aspects of his teachings. In the centuries after his death, Mencius and Xun Zi both composed important teachings elaborating in different ways on the fundamental ideas associated with Confucius. Mencius (4th century BC) articulated the innate goodness in human beings as a source of the ethical intuitions that guide people towards rén, yì, and lǐ, while Xun Zi (3rd century BC) underscored the realistic and materialistic aspects of Confucian thought, stressing that morality was inculcated in society through tradition and in individuals through training. In time, their writings, together with the Analects and other core texts came to constitute the philosophical corpus of Confucianism.
In the Analects, Confucius presents himself as a “transmitter who invented nothing”. He puts the greatest emphasis on the importance of study. Far from trying to build a systematic or formalist theory, he wanted his disciples to master and internalize older classics, so that their deep thought and thorough study would allow them to relate the moral problems of the present to past political events (as recorded in the Annals) or the past expressions of commoners’ feelings and noblemen’s reflections (as in the poems of the Book of Odes).
The works of Confucius were first translated into European languages by Jesuit missionaries in the 16th century during the late Ming dynasty. The first known effort was by Michele Ruggieri, who returned to Italy in 1588 and carried on his translations while residing in Salerno. Matteo Ricci started to report on the thoughts of Confucius and a team of Jesuits—Prospero Intorcetta, Philippe Couplet, and two others—published a translation of several Confucian works and an overview of Chinese history in Paris in 1687.
François Noël, after failing to persuade Clement XI that Chinese veneration of ancestors and Confucius did not constitute idolatry, completed the Confucian canon at Prague in 1711, with more scholarly treatments of the other works and the first translation of the collected works of Mencius. It is thought that such works had considerable importance on European thinkers of the period, particularly among the Deists and other philosophical groups of the Enlightenment who were interested by the integration of the system of morality of Confucius into Western civilization.
In the modern era Confucian movements, such as New Confucianism, still exist, but during the Cultural Revolution, Confucianism was frequently attacked by leading figures in the Communist Party of China. This was partially a continuation of the condemnations of Confucianism by intellectuals and activists in the early 20th century as a cause of the ethnocentric close-mindedness and refusal of the Qing Dynasty to modernize that led to the tragedies that befell China in the 19th century.
Confucius’s works are studied by scholars in many other Asian countries, particularly those in the Chinese cultural sphere, such as Korea, Japan, and Vietnam. Many of those countries still hold the traditional memorial ceremony every year. The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community believes Confucius was a Divine Prophet of God, as were Lao-Tzu and other eminent Chinese personages.
In modern times, Asteroid 7853, “Confucius”, was named after the Chinese thinker. Although Confucianism is often followed in a religious manner by the Chinese, many argue that its values are secular and that it is, therefore, less a religion than a secular morality. Proponents argue, however, that despite the secular nature of Confucianism’s teachings, it is based on a worldview that is religious.
Confucianism discusses elements of the afterlife and views’ concerning Heaven, but it is relatively unconcerned with some spiritual matters often considered essential to religious thought, such as the nature of souls. However, Confucius is said to have believed in astrology, saying: “Heaven sends down its good or evil symbols and wise men act accordingly”.