Confucianism, the Literati, and Chinese Imperial Traditions

Religious Beliefs

Do millennialism or messianism have a place in Confucian thinking?

Confucius was far more concerned about the present and its relation to the past than about possible but distant futures. He was keenly interested in offering people hope through the cultivation of a balanced society. Some have suggested that Confucius was very much a utopian, in that the society he sought to foster was destined to remain an unattainable ideal. In any case, Confucius did not envision any kind of inevitable cataclysm, an end of time at which the world of history would implode in a cosmic conflagration. Confucian thought has been intimately associated with a traditional Chinese reckoning of time that includes cycles of sixty years, but those cycles do not carry apocalyptic implications. There have been millennialist and messianic movements in Chinese history, but none of importance has arisen out of Confucian or Literati circles. However, some scholars detect in Confucian history elements that have a messianic tone. According to that view, Confucius himself may have fulfilled expectations of a messianic ruler nurtured as far back as the legendary Shang dynasty.


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