Confucianism, the Literati, and Chinese Imperial Traditions

Religious Beliefs

How does the notion of Superior Person function as a human ideal?

Confucian teaching describes the epitome of the ideal society as the “superior person” (jun zi). That means an individual who arrives at a high level of personal development through self-discipline and inquiry. The superior person values justice more highly than profit, and prefers to be quiet and serene rather than vulgar and uncongenial. Cultivating a dignified manner, the superior person nevertheless avoids arrogance. Such a person looks first to his or her personal shortcomings rather than blaming others for their lack of understanding or appreciation. It is said that the way of the superior person is a lengthy journey that begins from “right here.” Five “constant virtues” characterize the superior person: self-respect, generosity, sincerity, responsibility, and openness to others. Expanding on the earlier teaching of Confucius, Meng Zi taught that fully developed human life begins with four principles. Compassion leads to true humanity, shame leads to righteousness, reverence and respect to propriety, and a sense of moral value to wisdom. Behind the notion of the superior person lies a deep-seated conviction of human potential for almost unlimited moral growth.


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