Life of Confucius
Life of Confucius – The History of K’ung the Master
The life of Confucius begins with a man named K’ung Ch’iu who was born in northeastern China in 551 BC. It was a time when China was being sliced into feudal states by the warlord “princes” who raised armies, waged battles, oppressed slave laborers, and heavily taxed subjects. Ch’iu was a self-educated youth, raised by a poor family in the state of Lu. In his teenage years, he had an administrative position with the local noble, managing his agricultural accounts. It was here that Ch’iu started developing a passion for ethical philosophy.
As an adult, Ch’iu left his homeland and began wandering from state to state in China. His ambition was to share his philosophy with the ruling princes, believing that these powerful leaders had an obligation to lead their people with virtue. Rather than leading for power, control, money, or ego, the princes of China must understand their higher purpose, which was to do “right” and lead by selfless example.
Over the years, Ch’iu was (understandably) rejected by the entrenched warlords. However, during his travels, Ch’iu (understandably) won the hearts of the oppressed people. He ultimately returned to his home state and started an informal school where he taught his principles to a growing number of followers. He taught in areas of ethics, leadership, history, psychology, and the arts. His strategy was to train-up young men in virtuous education and then watch them take positions in government throughout China, where they could have a true impact on transforming the land.
As a teacher, Ch’iu became known as K’ung Fu-tzu (K’ung the Master). He trained many “disciples” over the years, and helped install many of them in state government positions. The Master viewed political systems as the broadest way to apply his transformational ethics across China. By the time he died in 478 BC, K’ung Fu-tzu was considered, alongside Buddha, as one of the two greatest ethical minds in the East.
At a time when Aeschylus and Socrates were spawning the ethical philosophies of the Greek world, and Haggai and Zechariah were encouraging the Jews to return to Jerusalem, K’ung Fu-tzu (later Latinized as “Confucius”) was popularizing a philosophy of ethical humanism that would have a huge impact on the social, political, and philosophical structure of China for years to come.
Life of Confucius – The Sayings of Confucius
The life of Confucius and his teachings were first translated into English by James Legge in 1867. It wasn’t until 1907 that a more readable and authoritative translation was first published through Oxford University by Lionel Giles, Keeper of Oriental Books and Manuscripts in the British Museum. When we actually read the “Sayings of Confucius,” we quickly realize that the life of Confucius goes far deeper than fortune cookie fodder:
“There are three things which the wise man holds in reverence: the Will of Heaven, those in authority, and the words of the sages. The fool knows not the Will of Heaven and holds it not in reverence: he is disrespectful to those in authority; he ridicules the words of the sages.1
“Confucius said: ‘When the Empire is well governed, ceremonies and music and warlike operations are controlled by the Son of Heaven. When the Empire is in disorder, these things are controlled by the feudal princes, and will seldom outlast ten generations.’2
“The Master said: ‘He who does not understand the Will of God can never be a man of the higher type. He who does not understand the inner law of self-control can never stand firm. He who does not understand the force of words can never know his fellow-men.’”3
Life of Confucius – The Depth of His Philosophy
The ethical system developed during the life of Confucius is truly remarkable considering the tumultuous time in which he lived. Even more remarkable are some of his conclusions, these from a man who lived in a world of ancestor worship and territorial gods, with no knowledge of Greek thought or the ancient Jewish scriptures.
1 The Analects of Confucius, Translated from the Chinese by Lionel Giles, The Easton Press, 1976, 89.
2 Ibid. 14.
3 Ibid. 94.
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