By Vickie Chao

1     In the long history of China, there is one dominant school of thought that Chinese have followed closely for more than 2,000 years. That school of thought was established by Confucius (551 B.C. - 479 B.C.), the most respected teacher and philosopher in China.
2     Confucius was born during an era of chaos. At the time, the emperor of the Eastern Zhou dynasty became a mere figurehead. He did not have full control of the country. Instead, he was like a puppet domineered by hundreds of warlords. These military powerhouses spilt China into smaller states and fought among themselves endlessly. The on-going wars put the society in disarray. Moral values were low. Divides between rich and poor were wide. And crime rates were high. Historians call this chaotic time the Spring and Autumn Period (770 B.C. - 476 B.C.)
3     It was against this backdrop that Confucius formed his philosophy and set out to publicize it.
4     Confucius believed "ren" () is the highest attainable level in ethics that people must strive to achieve. The word "ren" means "benevolence," "humanity," or "kindness" in Chinese. To practice "ren," Confucius encouraged his followers to love others, to honor one's parents, to adore one's siblings, and to do what is right. He had extensive conversations with his students on this topic. One time, a disciple asked if there is a word a person can use as a rule of conduct; Confucius replied, "Reciprocity." He then explained, "What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others." This seemingly simple verse underlies the core meaning of "ren."
5     Throughout Confucius' lifetime, he was looking for an opportunity to put his theories to the test. He first tried as a civil servant. But that did not really work out. Most of the positions Confucius held were minor, low-ranking ones. Then a big break came when he was in his fifties. Confucius was promoted to be the Minister of Crime in his home state, Lu. He introduced many reforms. He carried out justice fairly. And he managed to lower the crime rate. Unfortunately, that success was short-lived. Quickly, the ruler of Lu lost interest in governing. He began to spend more of his time playing around. Confucius tried to counsel the ruler of Lu, but his advice was ignored. Frustrated, Confucius resigned from the post and left the state of Lu.
6     Accompanied by his disciples, Confucius traveled from one state to another to advocate his philosophy. The wandering led to no fruitful result. He never came across another opportunity to put his theories to the test. After being on the road for 14 years (some said 13 years), Confucius returned to his home state. He dedicated the rest of his life to teaching and editing historical texts. Confucius was a kind teacher. He taught everybody with the same enthusiasm. He selected five ancient Chinese literatures for his students to study. He called the collection the "Five Classics." Confucius died at the age of 72.
7     After Confucius passed away, his students published a book recording their master's wisdom and ideology. That book became known as Lun Yu or Analects.
8     Though Confucius never got to realize his ideas in full swing during his lifetime, his philosophy turned mainstream 200 years later. The emperor from the Western Han dynasty (206 B.C. - 8 A.D.) canonized Confucianism (Confucian's school of thought) as the official doctrine. Ever since then, Confucianism has become the standard of ethics. Lun Yu has become the must-read book.
9     Many people think Confucianism is a religion. They are wrong. Confucianism is actually a set of behavioral and moral guidelines. Its ultimate goal is to make people understand, embrace, and practice "ren."
10     Confucius is a very important figure in Chinese history. To bestow him the deepest respect, Chinese don't refer to Confucius by his birth name, Kong Qiu. Instead, they call him Kong Zi or Kong Fu Zi, meaning "Master Kong" in Chinese. That reverent title later took on a Latin form and became known as Confucius to people living outside of China.

Copyright 2011 edHelper

Name _____________________________
Date ___________________

1.   What period was Confucius from?
  The Spring and Summer Period
  The Summer and Winter Period
  The Spring and Autumn Period
  The Summer and Autumn Period
2.   China was not a unified country during the time Confucius lived. There were hundreds of warlords dividing China into smaller states.
3.   What is Confucius' birth name?
  Kong Zi
  Kong Qiu
  Kong Fu Zi
4.   Which of the following is not a meaning of "ren"?
5.   Confucius never saw his ideology being adopted as the official doctrine during his lifetime.
6.   Confucius wrote the book Lun Yu (or Analects) to advocate his philosophy.
7.   Which dynasty was the first to canonize Confucianism as the official doctrine?
  The Western Han dynasty
  The Ming dynasty
  The Tang dynasty
  The Eastern Han dynasty
8.   What was Confucius' last political position before he left to travel around China?
  The Minister of Finance
  The Minister of Internal Affairs
  The Minister of Defense
  The Minister of Crime


Name _____________________________
Date ___________________

9.   Which of the following about Confucius is correct?
  He was a great teacher.
  He was born during a peaceful time.
  He created a religion called Confucianism.
  His home state was the state of Chu.
10.   How many years did Confucius travel around China to advocate his school of thought?


Confucius - Answer Key

1    The Spring and Autumn Period
2    True
3    Kong Qiu
4    Selfish
5    True
6    False
7    The Western Han dynasty
8    The Minister of Crime
9    He was a great teacher.
10    14