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Confucius (孔夫子 pinyin: Kǒng Fūzǐ, literal meaning: "Teacher/Master Kong") (traditionally 551 BC - 479 BC) is one of the best-known of ancient Chinese philosophers. His philosophy, called Confucianism, was extremely influential in China and still is to some degree, especially in Taiwan.

He was born in the Chinese State of Lu[?] (魯國) in 551 BC (Spring and Autumn Period) and was the son of a noble family who had recently fled from the State of Song[?]. His parents, however, died when he was three and he grew up in very poor conditions as an orphan. He spent his time attempting to learn everything there was to know, and then passing on those knowledge he possessed onto others.

Table of contents


  • "Confucius" is a Latinized form of the name
  • In systematic Romanizations:
    • Kong fuzi (in pinyin) or with space, Kong fu zi.
    • K'ung fu-tze (in Wade-Giles) or less accurately, Kung fu-tze.
      • Fuzi means teacher. Since it was disrespectful to call the teacher by name according to Chinese culture, he is known as just "Master Kong" or Confucius even in modern days.
        • The character "fu" is optional, so he is commonly also known as "Kong Zi," which means "Philosopher Kong" in Taiwan.
  • His actual name was 孔丘 (kong3 qiu1). His Zi was 仲尼 (zhong4 ni2, sounds like Johnny).
  • In 1 CE (first year of the Yuanshi period of the Han Dynasty), he was given his first posthumous name: Lord Baochengxun Ni (褒成宣尼公 bao1 cheng1 xun1 ni2 gong1), which means "Laudably Declarable Lord Ni."
  • His most popular posthumous name, Zhisheng Xian shi (至聖先師), meaning "The Former Teacher who Reached Sainthood," comes from 1530 (the ninth year of the Jianing period of the Ming Dynasty).
  • He is also commonly known as the Model Teacher for Myriads of Generations (萬世師表) in Taiwan.

Theory of Ethics

The Confucian theory of ethics is based on three important concepts:


While Confucius grew up li referred to three aspects of life, that of sacrificing to the gods, social and political institutions, and daily behaviour. It was believed that li orginated from the heavens. Confucius redefined li arguing it flowed not from heaven but from humanity. He redefined li to refer to all actions committed by a person to build the ideal society. Li to Confucius became every action by a person aiming at meeting their surface desires of a person. These can be either good or bad. Generally attempts to obtain short term pleasure are bad while those that in the long term try to make your life better are generally good.


To Confucius, yi (義) was the origin of li. Yi can best be translated a righteousness. While doing things because of li, your own self interest, was not by necessarily bad, you would be a better, more righteous person if you base your life upon following yi. This means that rather than pursuing your own selfish interests you should do what is right and what is moral. Yi is based upon reciprocity. An example of living by yi is how you must mourn your father and mother for three years after their death. Since they took care of you for the first three years of your life you must reciprocate by living in mourning for three years.


Just as li flows out of yi, so yi flows out of ren (仁). Ren can best be translated as human interconnectedness. His moral system was based upon empathy and understanding others, rather than divinely ordained rules. To live by ren was even better than living by the rules of yi. To live by ren one used a Confucian version of the Golden Rule: he argued that you must always treat your inferiors just as you would want your superiors to treat you. Virtue under Confucius is based upon harmony with others, very different from the Aristotelian view of virtue being personal excellence.

Political Theory

Confucius' political theory is based upon his ethical theory. He argues that the best government is one that rules through people's natural morality, their ren, rather than using bribery and force. He believed that people were naturally good, and needed to be pushed by outside influences to act badly.

While he supported the idea of the all powerful Emperor, his philosophies contained a number of elements to limit the power of the rulers. He argued for according language with truth. This was built upon by his disciple Mencius to argue that is the King was not acting like a King, he should no longer be King and lost the Mandate of Heaven[?].


Confucius outlined a society based strongly upon hierarchy. To him, women were firmly at the bottom of that hierarchy. He intended virtually all of his philosophy and ethical system to apply only to men.


The following is a list of temples worldwide that are dedicated to Confucius.

Successors and descendants

Confucius' philosophical school was continued by his grandson Zisi[?] and then Mencius. They built upon and expanded his philosophical system. This is referred to today as the Si-Meng School[?].

His descendants were tracked down by the imperial government. They were honoured the rank of a marquis[?] 35 times since Gaozu of the Han Dynasty, and they were promoted to the rank of duke 42 times from the Tang Dynasty to 1935. One of the most common title is Duke Yanheng (衍聖公 yan3 sheng4 gong1), which means "overflowing with sainthood." The latest descendant is K'ung Te-ch'eng (孔德成 Kǒng Déchéng) (born 1920), who is the 77th generation and a professor in the National Taiwan University.

External links

  • Confucian Analects (http://digital.library.upenn.edu/webbin/gutbook/lookup?num=4094) (Project Gutenburg release of James Legge's Translation)
  • 孔子世系 (Confucius' Genealogy) (http://www.gdjh.tcc.edu.tw/wcjswebcai/87cai/01/t2-4.htm) (in Chinese) a table shows the ancestors and descendants of Confucius.

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