4: Confucianism


  • Adherents: Considered a Traditional Chinese Religion
    • 394 million (5th largest)
  • Do They Proselytize? No.
  • Dogmatic? No.
  • Theistic? No.
  • Major populations: China & Taiwan


I. Confucianism & History

Confucian Temple

Key Terms

  • Rectification of Names
  • Five Relationships
  • Junzi
  • Li
  • Ren
  • A. Confucians in History: Kong Fuzi
    Cultural Influences: China
    • Born Kong Qui, 551-479 BCE
    • Posthumously called Kong-fu-tzu, Tzu meaning ‘master.’
    • Latinization of Kong-fu-tzu by Jesuit missionaries to Confucius
    • Humble beginnings, recruited and trained civil servants in matters of public administration and political and social theory
    • Self-described lover of antiquity; felt it informed us about the present
    • One of the five most influential people in recorded history

  • B. Confucians in History: Rise and Fall in Popularity
    Cultural Influences: Buddhism
    • Originated in China during the Zhou Dynasty (1046-256 BCE)
    • Originally called Rujia, “School of the Scholars”
    • Feudal states - conflict and division among the Chinese people
    • Han Dynasty (206 BCE-220 CE), Confucianism becomes the official ideology of the state
    • Tang Dynasty (618-907), China is unified; Daoism and Buddhism become popular

  • C. Confucians in History: Neo-Confucianism
    Cultural Influences: Communism
    • Song Dynasty (969-1279), Neo-Confucianism emerges, popularized by what is known as the Four Books; The Yin-Yang symbol becomes popular during this time
    • When China adopted Communism, Confucianism declined again


Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves


Do not impose on others what you yourself do not desire.

  • D. Confucians in History: But Is It a Religion?
    • Argument for Philosophy
      • Few people in China consider Confucianism as a religion
      • It is a way of life
      • Not recognized by the current Chinese government as a religion
      • No formal religious hierarchy and no priesthood
      • Important texts focus on the mundane
      • Lack of interest in the divine
      • Stronger focus on the present than the hereafter
      • Rituals focus on community building, not miraculous events
    • Religion or Philosophy: Argument for Religion
      • Confucianism is a “this–worldly” religion
      • It attempts to find the sacred hidden in plain sight
      • Avoids the western division between the sacred and the secular
      • Religious humanism


II. The Texts of Confucianism


Hexagram 9 
from the I Ching

  • A. The Five Classics
    • I Ching, Book of Changes
    • Book of Documents
    • Book of Odes
    • Book of Rites
    • Spring–Autumn Annals

  • B. The Four Books
    • Great Learning
    • Analects of Confucius
    • Book of Mencius
    • The Doctrine of the Mean

III. Key Concepts in Confucian Texts

Cult of Personality
Confucianism’s absolute respect for  authority encouraged the Chinese to embrace Communism under Mao Zedong, the “paramount leader” .
Beijing, China (PRC)

  • A. In Brief: Social Roles in Chinese Culture
    • Proper behavior is priority
    • If people knew their roles, there would be no conflict
    • The State carries out the Mandate of Heaven
    • Citizens abide by the Five Relationships

  • B. Propriety
    • Propriety: Li
    • Living according to order and rightness
    • Emphasis social governance, harmony, and interpersonal relationships

  • C. Know Your Role: On the Rectification of Names
    • Acknowledging roles in society that create community 
    • Acting in such a way that fits with that role to ensure social harmony

  • D. Know Your Duties: On the Five Relationships
    • Ruler–Subject
    • Parent–Child
    • Husband–Wife
    • Elder Brother–Younger Brother
    • Friend–Friend


VI. Enacting Confucianism

  • A. The Five Virtues
    • Wisdom (Zhi)
    • Justice (Yi)
    • Goodness or Human-heartedness (Ren)
    • Faithfulness, reverence for family (Xin)
    • Propriety, etiquette, and courtesy (Li)

  • B. Becoming a Junzi
    • Through education, one can become a gentleman (a social example)
    • The educated person follows the rules and seeks social harmony (Li)
    • Through this propriety, he develops compassion for others (Ren)
    • Filled with Ren and practicing Li, he becomes an exemplar (Junzi)
    • Through the influence of their superior example, society is made better
    • In their 5 relationships, educated people seek to be a Junzi