17 Facts about the Life and Contributions of Confucius
Confucius (551 BCE- 479 BCE) was arguably the greatest philosopher to come from ancient China. His humanistic approach to living and treating others earned several followers from not just China but from Japan, Korea and Vietnam. Today, his ideas and philosophy continue to shape numerous societies across the world. But how much do you know about Confucius- the Great Sage? In this article, we explore 17 major facts about the life and contributions of Confucius.
- Confucius grew up in an era called the “golden era of intellectual reasoning”. This was during the Zhou dynasty (1046 BCE-256 BCE).
- He went by different names. He has been called Kong Qui or K’ung Fu-tzu (Kong Fuzi). Others called him “Master Kong” (Kongzi). “Confucius” is the Latin version of “Kǒng Fūzǐ” (孔夫子 – meaning “Master Kǒng”). The Jesuit missionaries to China were responsible for coming out with the Latin form of his name. Confucius was also called “Zhong”, which is a name usually given to second born child in a family.
- The Han dynasty (c. 202-220 CE) embraced his ideas and made Confucianism the official philosophy of the government. Other dynasties such as Tang dynasty (618-907 CE) and Song (960-1279 CE) took similar steps to instill Confucius’ ideas and philosophy as the dominant school of thought among the populace.
- Today, there are still many devout followers of Confucius in China, Vietnam, Korea and Japan.
- Confucius was once imprisoned for five days due to mistaken identity. While he waited for the authorities to get to the bottom of his case, he remained calm and played a musical instrument.
- The Great Sage never regarded the philosophies that he propagated as his. Rather, he believed that he was simply a conduit for those teachings of the ancients to flow to people.
- Confucianism almost vanished off the face of the earth during the Qin dynasty (221-206 BCE), particularly during the reign of Emperor Qin Shi Huang. However, it bounced back under the Han dynasty (202- 220 CE). The Han rulers made it the dominant school of thought for China.
- The Analects of Confucius (also known as Lunyu) is one of Five Classics that form the basis of Confucianism. The other four books are: Book of Documents, Spring and Autumn Annals, Book of Rites, and Book of Documents (Shujing). Other immediate followers of Confucius also put into writing his teachings and philosophy in the Book of Odes (Shijing).
- More often than not, those books and documentation of Confucianism are considered not the direct writings of Confucius himself. Rather, the books came centuries after his death.
- The Analects is the greatest source of documentation that we have about the teachings of Confucius. In addition to this, there are three other very important sources that form the basis of Confucianism- Mencius, Great Learning and Mean. Collectively, these four Books of Confucianism (also known as Shishu) make up the foundation of Confucian Classics.
- Confucianism refers to a practical way of living that focuses on morality and ethics. Practitioners thrive to live in a manner that lets one take charge of his environment or transform his environment into a harmonious place that promotes good morals and ethics. Thus, the more one is morally harmonious within, the more cosmic harmony there is.
- In Confucianism, bad state decisions inevitably lead to disharmony and chaos in the form of natural disasters.
- Throughout his life, it is estimated that Confucius taught about 3,000 students. And he did not charge any fee for his services. Some ancient Chinese writers believe that in exchange for his services, Confucius only requested dried meat from his students. Yan Hui was Confucius’ most beloved disciple/student.
- He maintained an open-door policy and accepted all categories of people, regardless of social or economic status.
- It is estimated that Confucius has about 3 million descendants. Some of these descendants live all across Asia in countries such as Korea, Japan and Vietnam. There are several descendants of Confucius that live in Qufu, Shandong, China.
- The Analects contain most of Confucius’ teachings about ethics and morality. It focuses less on metaphysical or logical constructs of human life. The Analects became an integral part of Chinese history and civilization.
- Mencius (Mengzi) and Xunzi (Hsun Tzu) were the two main philosophers that helped to propagate Confucius’ ideas.