Confucianism, the Literati, and Chinese Imperial Traditions

Religious Beliefs

Do Confucians believe in angels? What about devils?

Confucius and his disciples preferred not to speculate about the existence of the countless beings which in popular belief animated the spirit world. If there is good in the world, human beings can take some of the credit. When evil gets the upper hand, human beings must acknowledge their responsibility and set about reestablishing a just order. Confucian tradition does not explicitly deny that spirits, both satisfied and malevolent, regularly pass unseen and generally undetected through the lives of ordinary people. In fact, its insistence on the centrality of ancestor veneration is a clear, if implicit, acknowledgment of the spirit world. But apart from that, the tradition emphasizes the need for human beings to focus on the more immediate facts of life. Follow the example of the virtuous, strive to establish justice every day, and build all relationships on honesty. There will always be events human beings cannot explain simply, and circumstances beyond human control. Some of them may be attributable to spirits, but the important thing is not to become distracted from the ongoing demands of the call to personal virtue and responsibility.

Carved and painted scenes depicting the principal Confucian virtues on the roof beams of the inner gate of the Confucius temple in Taipei, Taiwan.


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