Confucius – his life

Confucius was born K’ung Fu-tzu in the village of Zou in 551 BC. His family was minor nobility and, as a child and young man, he earned the reputation of being fair, polite and intelligent. He went to the capital of Zhou to study.

He returned to his country of Lu where he became a teacher. However Lu was defeated in a war when he was in his mid thirties so he escaped to Qi, a neighbouring country. He was beginning to get a reputation for wisdom and the Duke of Lu often came to him for advice but was influenced by one of his ministers not to rely too much on him. Some of the Qi nobles plotted against Confucius so he returned to Lu. Things were no better there so he bowed out of public life and concentrated on teaching and studying.

When he was 50, the King of Qi asked for his help in defending his country against a rebellion, but he refused and the new Duke of Lu made him a city magistrate. Under his guidance the city flourished and he was promoted ending up, at the age of 56, as Chief Minister of Lu. Neighbouring countries were jealous of Lu’s power and sent messengers with presents and dancers to distract the Duke. The Duke abandoned his duties to receive the messengers (and dancers) so, disgusted with what he considered dereliction of duty, Confucius resigned and left the country.

For the next five years he and some of his followers wandered the country looking hopefully for a government position. As he began to become established in each court, nobles would start plotting against him so he frequently had to escape. Once he was imprisoned for five days and, when he was 62, had to appeal to a sympathetic king to send an army to rescue him from pursuing soldiers. He finally returned to Lu when he was 67. He was welcomed back but not offered a job. He spent the rest of his life teaching and writing and died at the age of 73 in 479 BC.

He is remembered both for his writings and for his methods of teaching and, above all for his philosophy of life and government, Confucianism.

He left a legacy of writings. As well as a book of songs that he had gathered during his travels round the country, he also wrote books on history and poetry. His most famous book, however, is The Analects (Lunyu) which is made up of many short questions and answers covering his entire philosophy and forms a handbook of the proper behaviour for a ruler.

During his life he taught some 3,000 young men. The brightest 72 spent much time with him and became known as his disciples. He taught the classics and philosophy (including his views on governmental reform), together with poetry and music. His classes were not formal, being more like conversations. He made his students think by frequently asking questions and he believed that forming the student’s personality was important and everything else would flow from getting that right, so he would vary his teaching methods for each pupil.

He wasn’t a religious leader and, during his lifetime he wasn’t powerful nor particularly famous. However today he is known as one of the most famous teachers ever produced in China and his ideas still influence the Chinese today.

His philosophy, Confucianism