Confucianism, the Literati, and Chinese Imperial Traditions

Leadership, Authority, and Religious Roles

How do the Sage, Correlate, Worthy One, Scholar, and Superior person differ?

The first four are all stages or levels in the Confucian hierarchy of human striving and perfectibility. They are the ranks of extraordinary individuals judged suitable for inclusion in the Confucian temples’ various memorial halls. All four are, by definition, superior persons. At the pinnacle of the pyramid stands the sage, the Confucian analogy to the saint. Confucian tradition devised the various other terms, such as “worthy one” and “correlate” to describe the historical and “spiritual” proximity of famous scholars and sages to Confucius himself. In most Confucian temples the ranks or levels in the tradition’s memorial hierarchy are indicated by the relative placement of name tablets. Those closest to the Master’s tablet rank highest, and are generally called “sages” or “correlates.” Those in the rooms along the side of the temple compound are the far more numerous “worthies and scholars.” Scholars of sufficient prestige to have their names in the temple qualify as “superior persons,” but that designation is not used in the memorial rankings.


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