Who was Confucius and who do people still quote him?

Confucius Read more from
Chapter Philosophy

Confucius (551–479 B.C.) was a Chinese philosopher whose real name was K’ung Ch’iu; Confucius is the Latinized version. Born into a class of lesser nobility in the province of Lu, his father died before Confucius had turned three and he was raised in humble circumstances by his mother. He lived in the middle of China’s feudal period, when there were enormous problems, including famine and poverty, which had been brought on by weak emperors and, consequently, chronic warfare among rival feudal states. Because of his upbringing, Confucius possessed a profound sympathy for the common people. In his view, the feudal princes, only interested in their own personal gain, were responsible for the suffering of the people. Confucius set out on a reform mission: Believing that good government can only be achieved by ethical leaders, Confucius endeavored to train a new generation of them. He taught literature and music (important in building character), conduct, and, most importantly, ethics, to anyone who wanted to learn. He is regarded as the first Chinese teacher to offer education freely, that is to say, to all comers, rather than just the privileged. The great philosopher is revered for his belief that the family is the model for all human relations. Confucianism regards the chief relations in life to be those between ruler and subject, father and son, elder and younger brother, husband and wife, and friends. Most importantly, he taught students that rulers are responsible for the happiness of their subjects. He believed that government leaders need not be expert administrators. Instead, they must be humane, honest, and above corruption and personal gain. Some of his students went on to hold positions of power in city governments.

Over the centuries, he became the most venerated person in Chinese history, but his teachings transcend cultural lines, which is why Confucian wisdom, including the principle “What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others,” is often quoted. The philosophy’s maxims are set forth in the work Lun-Yü (Analects), recorded by his followers.


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