The Chinese philosopher Confucius, the latinised name of Kongfuze, is said to have been born on this day, 28 September 551 BCE. Although factual details of his life are scarce, his teachings have endured the test of the time and he is considered to this day one of the greatest philosophers in history. Confucianism, as his philosophy is known, is said to be the guiding influence underpinning East Asian civilization.
A history compiled during the Han dynasty (206 BCE-220 CE) tells us that Confucius was born into an impoverished family in Qufu in the state of Lu–in the present day province of Shandong. His educational background is sketchy, but by middle age he, like other philosophers of the time, had gathered around him a group of disciples. His teachings, as recorded by his disciples–especially in the Analects–concern goodness, learning, and the importance of practical moral values. His thoughts on how the ideal person should live in harmony with others are considered the bedrock of Chinese philosophy.
During the reign of Emperor Wudi (141-86 BCE), Confucianism become the official imperial philosophy, influencing everything from the educational curriculum for aspiring bureaucrats to official behavior and family relationships. Proper day-to-day conduct, according to the standards of Confucianism, was achieved through a lifetime of practice. Through this practice a person seeks to achieve peace and harmony both individually and in wider society. One of the more famous aphorisms attributed to Confucius is: “What you do not wish for yourself, do not do to others.” Words still familiar today as the Golden Rule.
Confucianism was concerned with more than the ideal individual. The philosophical theories touch upon everything from respectful family interaction to the hierarchy of government and the structure of society. The influence of Confucianism on governments throughout Chinese history has been compared to that of Socrates in the West.
Like Socrates, Confucius preached the need to pursue wisdom despite the potential accompanying hardships. “Learning without thought is labor lost; thought without learning is perilous,” it is written in the Analects. Hard work and even suffering, like in so many philosophical and religious traditions, is prevalent throughout Confucius’s legend and quotes.
Today, Confucianism is still prevalent in China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore and elsewhere throughout East Asia. His birthday is cause for celebration throughout the world, especially at the Confucius Temple dedicated to his memory and teachings in his birthplace, Qufu.
Caption: Statue of Confucius at the Confucian Temple in Beijing, China.