Analysis of the Philosophy of Confucius

The philosophy of Confucius helped to establish the ethics and morals of the Chinese people.  Confucius lived from 551 B.C.  to 479 B.C. however, his sayings and wisdom still remain relevant within China today.  His beliefs and values found in the Analects, provided the Chinese people with the foundations for ethical thinking.  Disciples of Confucius prepared the Analects to maintain the thrust of Confucian thought within the nation.

Scholars consider Chinese philosophy nearly a religion.  Confucius, as the founder of such thought, introduced the question of Dao to the Chinese people.   The Dao, or way, opened the door to critical ethical and moral reflection.  Since the day of Confucius, the goal for Chinese philosophers was to establish the Dao.

There is discussion within Chinese philosophy as to the nature of the Dao.  Many scholars saw the Dao in relationship to the Ren. The Ren translated into the idea of benevolence, virtue and love. In philosophy prior to Confucian thought, the Ren referred to the idea of kindness.

Confucius took the term Ren and made it a central idea of his philosophy.  He distinguished between Ren as it applied to ones character, and Ren, as it applied to the individuals disposition.  Most often Ren meant the quality of character.  This quality was important to the Chinese as one would lay down his life to attain Ren.  Scholars saw Ren as the inner quality that made a person human.

In Confucian thought, individuals achieved excellence by using traditional values.  Confucius believed that to gain Ren, one must gain Li.  Li meant the cultural and rituals developed within the Zhou Dynasty.  At the center of Li was the hierarchy modeled on family.  If one returns to Li, it meant they practiced traditional values.  These traditional values, found within ancient texts, led individuals on the path to Dao.

Confucius took the early writings of those that came before, and studied and edited their work.  These documents became the basic tenets of the Confucian school.  Confucius believed that he had a divine mission to preserve culture and restore the Dao to the Chinese society.

Confucius called himself a transmitter, because he used classic philosophy to draw out the Dao from within them.  He pulled out norms, and values, found their significance and arranged them for study.  He saw the retrieval of the Dao from the classics as the time to ask questions and reflect.

The vision of Confucius regarding the Dao and Ren helped to shape the establishment of ethics and Chinese philosophy.  The idea of heaven is small within the scope of Confucian ethics.  At the time of the overthrow of the Shang Dynasty, scholars justified the coup due to Shang misrule.  Chinese scholars believed the Shang gave up their heavenly mandate.  The Zhou Dynasty, however, did no better.  It oversaw the collapse of the political and moral order of the day.

Early scholars believed philosophy was the key in the establishment of positions on sociopolitical issues, while organizing the life of the Chinese along traditional values.  According to V.V.  Maliavin, The absolute Dao is deeply impersonal and to accumulate its power, which corresponds to a full revelation of human nature requires superhuman effort.

In order for the individual to gain the absolute or Dao, he must ascend through the hierarchy of the state in stages.  The Chinese saw the state as a patriarchal family.  The leaders of the nation were the first ancestors.  At the center of attention was that state-patriarchal values developed on Earth by interpersonal relationships.

Confucianism was the first experiment to harmonize the state and society using family virtues.  He promoted moral responsibility, repentance, and choice.  He said that humans had the energy to live harmoniously within the universe.

According to Confucius, the most important ideas governing life are individuality, community and the state, followed by morality, custom and law.  He saw state and family as important as it organized ethnic populations across the land.  It also assisted in the defense of the civilization at a time when the Chinese faced challenges from what they saw as barbarians. (Rakhmankulova, 2004, p.  48). Nevertheless, the system of government established provided legitimacy for ruling dynasties by linking them to the deity.

These values became the cornerstone of Chinese culture.  Confucius gained power as a teacher, and not as a politician.  He believed that all people needed an education regardless of their economic or social status.  The system gave a chance for all people to advance within society if they were capable.  (Rakhmankulova, 2004).  According to Albert Schweitzer, What the Chinese ethics has achieved in educating its people is magnificent.  No where else is there a culture based on ethical ideas that could be compared.

His ideas provided lasting influence among the Chinese people.  He was a modest man, who inspired others for generations.  Chinese culture embraced the idea of intelligence, and human value to do good things for the home, state and nation.

Confucius tried to bring morals back to the government during the Zhou Dynasty.  The norms and values adopted then were further developed by his disciple Mencius.  But it was during the reign of the Han Dynasty that the state ideology became Confucianism.  For years the ideology existed and struggled for dominance with Buddhism and Taoism.  It was not until the Song Dynasty that Confucianism was restored to rule.

During the 20th Century, Confucianism came under attack by critics.  Nevertheless, it still remained a factor in Chinese life and culture.  For example, examination systems developed throughout China to determine who was best and brightest led to social mobility, principles of conduct, morality and wisdom.  (Facts on File, 2010).  Many past revolutionaries saw Confucianism as a detriment to progress.  However, in the Analects Confucius provided ways to change society, and not merely preserve it.  In the Analects, Confucius preached radical change based of on the idea of moving politics from that of force, to that of moral rectitude.

In Confucianism, all individuals play a role within society.  In fact, important relationships were constructed around the family.  The Chinese value family, relationships and saving face.

Michael Bond, professor at Chinese University in Hong Kong, developed a study to determine the Chinese values of today.  The results featured such ideas as, obedience to parents, hard work, harmony, tolerance, loyalty, humility, observation of rites, reciprocation of favors, and kindness.  These values show how powerful Confucianism still remains today.

The Communist Party in China today embraces many of the Confucian ideas, especially that of the harmonious society. (Mooney, 2007, p.  46). However, scholars have little doubt that if Confucianism threatened the power structure, the government would strike it down.  Yet, the Communist ideas do not conflict with Confucian ideas of a central government, and order coming from the hierarchy.

Because China was never fully colonized by the west, the ideas of Confucianism remained strong.  Today, government involvement in business is a positive factor, according to the Chinese.  The Chinese continue to uphold the Confucian ideas of hard work, education, ethics and harmony.

The nation continues to have a system of exams instituted to find the best talent to serve the nation.  However, there remains a separation of roles and responsibilities, although permeable, where the individual must perform effectively.

In conclusion, Confucius and his values remain ingrained within the Chinese people.  One student stated that Confucianism is a burden that all Chinese carry.  It is important if one is to do business in China today, to understand the role Confucius played in its culture.  Confucius influenced culture especially in the areas of living patterns, social values, respect, international development and peace.  Today the Chinese practice Confucianism based on benevolence, wisdom, and social progress without violence.

Those who do business with China today must understand how Confucianism plays into commerce.  To the Chinese, family comes before money.  Although it takes time to build relationships, to succeed in China one must understand the importance of family, values, morals, and education in the nation.  Although attacked over the years by Chinese revolutionaries, Confucianism remains imbedded within the mind of the people of China.


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