Confucianism, the Literati, and Chinese Imperial Traditions

Signs and Symbols

Are there any signs or symbols that might identify an individual as a Confucian?

Confucian tradition consists far more of actions and the preservation of proper relationships than on the expression of specific doctrines. The tradition so pervades Chinese and other Asian cultures that it is like the air one breathes, rather than a distinct set of beliefs. As a result, it is virtually impossible to tell who among Chinese, Japanese, or Koreans think of themselves as Confucians. There are still some people who identify themselves as disciples of the Master, but they are relatively few in number. Since so many rituals that Chinese and other east Asians perform are common to members of various religious traditions, the fact that an individual practiced ancestor veneration, for example, offers no clues in this regard. There are, however, a number of symbols connected with daily life originally associated with Confucius that still appear in popular arts of Asia. The so-called “Four Treasures of the Literary Apartment,” for example, include an ink stick, ink block, brush, and paper.


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