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Confucianism is a social and political doctrine of China. It appeared more than two thousand years ago; its founder was a Chinese philosopher Confucius (K’ung Ch’iu). Confucianism has a special view of the leader’s treatment of his nationals and ethical characteristics of both the ruler and the subjects. The doctrine of Confucius is of high importance for the Chinese people, and even if some individuals are Taoists or Buddhist, sometimes they can be attributed to Confucianism as well. The teachings of Confucius are still the dogma of China. In the ancient times, every functionary or public person needed to pass an exam and show his/her skills in major concepts of the doctrine. Moreover, the rules and principles of Confucianism became the representation of the true China. Confucius distinguished four main concepts of his study: self-cultivation, harmonious order, theodicy, and morality. These concepts became the essential principles of Confucianism and are valued till now. The major ideas of Confucius study may be found in his writings Analects, where he tells about his personality and character, his sense of mission, his teaching, and his view on personal virtues.

The Concepts of Confucianism

The aim of the notion of self-cultivation is to bring order and peace to the world, family, and social relationships. Confucius distinguished two kinds of people – thoughtful and minor. Each person had to cultivate him/herself to achieve the order in the family, as well as in the state. The philosopher believed that only noble individuals could have wisdom and be well-educated. The highest knowledge was intrinsic knowledge. Besides, Confucius had faith in Lord of Heaven and fate accordingly.

The relations between people were of high significance for the philosopher. He believed that the state should be built in the following way:

  1. the relationships between man and woman;
  2. farther and son, as well as mother and daughter;
  3. children of parents;
  4. ruler and subject;
  5. terms with friends.

The sons have to obey the fathers and hold them in respect. Rites and rituals are also essential for the family and the society. Yao writes, “Confucianism is known as a tradition of ritual/propriety”. Confucius represents the traditional ideology of China, and according to it, the Tao is the way of customs and rites. It means that every existence is subordinated to a ritual, and if something in nature is wrong, the ritual is violated. On the other hand, human beings should behave in accordance with the etiquette; it becomes their ritual. The rules of etiquette are different for each group of people. It means that every person should act accordingly to his or her social rank.

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Another idea is the concept of theodicy, according to which tian (or Heaven) is the absolute power on the planet. This concept includes the “correction of names” for the balance in the society. Confucianism affirms that people will have all the advantages and happiness of the world. Instead of that, a person admits that he or she is just a constituent of the established social system. One of the essential conceptions of Confucius was an appropriate use of names. It, in turn, leads to an appropriate use of language and order in the state. Otherwise, “if names be not correct, language could not be fluently used. If language be not fluently used, affairs could not be carried on to success”. If a person or a thing does not correspond to its name, such person or thing should be renamed to save order and balance in the society. One can read the example of this idea in the Analects, where Confucius writes, “Let
ruler; the
minister, a minister; the father, a father; the son, a son” (“Selections from the Confucian Analects”1). If a ruler behaves in accordance with his dao, there will be order in the state. If the governor acts like a minister or some other person, there will be no order. The aim of Confucius was to educate every human being that he or she should know their personal place in the state and family.

The concept of harmonious order implies moral, social, and esthetic order. Every part of it is bounded to another with li (ritual/propriety). Li is the central idea of Confucius’s doctrine. The philosopher distinguished “noble men”, who had to follow the rules of li. The main purpose of the “noble man” is to live in conformity with the law and the rituals, as well as moral norms. Such individual has to possess the following features: respect for parents and elder brothers, humaneness, politeness, obligation, fairness, and awareness of destiny. However, with the help of self-cultivation and education, a person of low origin could become a noble person. The exact opposite of a “noble man” is a “fallen man,” or a low man.

Thus, for Confucius it was impossible to achieve order in the society without li. By this principle, the ancient kings implemented “the laws of heaven and regulated the expressions of human nature”. When interpreting the word li, one distinguishes the notion of the rite, norm, and discipline. Confucius believed that there could be no order and wealth in a state without li. Li was the ritual that made the differences and determined a proper order between the rulers and subjects, people of high and low origin, the aged and adolescents. The philosopher was sure that the most significant part of human’s life was li. It helps people to understand how they should behave in the family and the society; respect the heaven’s spirits; make their duties, and deal with each other. The concept of li shows people where their place in this world is and who should be the leader in the family and state. If every person lives under the rules of li, the dao is also fulfilled, and everything is in the proper place.  

Another concept of Confucianism is that of ren – the essential virtue of human beings. Ren has several meanings; some of them are the following: humaneness, humanity, love, goodness, benevolence, openheartedness, etc. If a person possesses both li and ren, he/she is able to act in accordance with the etiquette and have a kind attitude toward others. Confucius believed that the unity of these two virtues would bring harmonious order and freedom to the world. Thus, the perfect “noble man” in Confucianism must have the following characteristics. First, he should be a kind father and a devotional and respectful son. Second, a husband should be merited, and a wife should obey him. Then, an elder brother should be polite, and a younger brother – modest and respectful. Moreover, an aged person should be humane, and a young individual should be obedient. Besides, the subjects should be devoted to their rulers, and the rulers should be benevolent.

Another significant concept of Confucius is morality, or moral force. In Chinese culture it is called de (virtue). The philosopher confirmed that de includes such features as fidelity, confidence, responsibility, and justice.

The governor does not possess higher morality than the noble man does. The ruler should regulate the state not with the help of war, punishment, and physical force but using moral power and his personal good character. The principle of this rule may be comprehended through the next words:

The Master said, ‘Lead them by means of regulations and keep order among them through punishments, and the people will evade them and will lack any sense of shame. Lead them through moral force (de) and keep order among them through rites (li), and they will have a sense of shame and will also correct themselves’.

According to these words, the real master has virtue and morality; people obey him/her and listen to his/her words. At the same time, he/she does nothing for it openly; he/she influences his/her subordinates insensibly. A man or a woman (in ancient times, it was only a man) possesses such moral power that other people honor him/her without superfluous words. Such individuality does not need to prove his/her relevance or perfection; people believe him/her anyway. A person, who possesses de, does not need to satisfy other human beings; however, the other people feel pleased near him/her. “Moral force is not solitary, it has neighbors”. It means that personalities with de attract others; they cannot be lonely.

Although Confucius respected rites and customs, he had no interest in the world’s origin, as well as he did not think of life after death. “When you do not know yet life, how can know about death?”. This statement shows that one should think about life and live properly, without looking into the future and searching for the afterlife. At the same time, he insisted that people should perform rituals thoroughly. One of the most essential rites for the philosopher was that of sacrifice to the progenitors. By sacrificing, people showed deep respect to their ancestors. By observing this tradition, human beings can achieve the rebirth of the best time and create a harmonious and fair state.

Confucius taught his descendants to respect their parents and teach their children to be obedient and modest. He explained his followers the importance of the old traditions of China; told them that they should honor their teachers. An essential part of his studying was morality and etiquette. If a student obeys his/her teacher, there will arise no problems. The philosopher advocated the significance of teachings and blamed those who were lazy and stupid. However, he did not admit compulsion. On the contrary, Confucius tried to show as many examples as possible to achieve better understanding of his words.


The teachings of Confucius became not only philosophical and moral dogmas but also a part of faith. His main ideas were that one can teach and learn goodness and that only with the protection of wisdom the society can achieve harmonious order and peace. The major concepts of Confucianism are self-cultivation, harmonious order, theodicy, and morality. There are also other notions, such as dao, li, and ren, which accompany and complete the other concepts. All together, they develop a complex of sets and rules for a harmonious existence.

To sum up, it is necessary to add that Confucius and his teachings provide better understanding of life and the relations within the family and the society. One can distinguish personal aim in the community, the place among people and attitude towards others. The philosophy of Confucius gives his followers the important canons and rules which can help them to live in harmony and peace. One can find this rules and advices in his Analects. The book became a holy scripture of the Confucians and, probably, of the most part of China. It helps to preserve morality and order in their state and overcome all the obstacles and difficulties.

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