Confucius is the Latin name of the Great Master K’ung Chung-ni, an acclaimed and influential Chinese scholar and philosopher, who is recognized for laying the foundations of the very prevalent Chinese discipline of philosophy that is referred to as the ‘Ju’ or more commonly known as Confucianism.
Confucius was born as K’ung Ch’iu, in 551 BCE to the royal family of Shang. His family lived in Lu, a small town in Shantung, north-eastern China. Confucius is said have born from his father’s second marriage, his mother hailed from the Yen clan. His childhood years were marked with destitution as his family’s fortunes had declined considerably. Although Confucius belonged to the Shih, the name given to aristocracy, he had to acquire various different skills in order to survive rather than serve at the Royal court like other members of the shih. He is said to have studied under the tutelage of renowned Daoist Master, Lao Dan, and in addition to that, he also studied music and lute with Chang Hong and Xiang respectively.
Confucius began his professional career as a keeper of the Lu granary, and later, he was appointed as the supervisor of the fields. He had also worked as a book-keeper, clerk, cowherd and shepherd. However, all these occupations were peasantry in comparison with the offices held by other shih members. Confucius lost his mother at the age of 23, and this tragedy broke him down. He spent the next three years in mourning.
Confucius began teaching when he turned 32, he taught the ancient rituals to a minister’s son. Soon, he decided to leave Lu, and travelled to Lo-Yang, which was the imperial capital. In Lo-Yang, he studied the traditions and customs of the Chou Empire. Many historians have reported that Confucius was extremely close to the Prince of Lu, and upon reaching the age of 34, he accompanied the Prince on his voyage to a neighboring state because of the threat posed to the Prince’s life by his rivals.
Upon returning to Lu, Confucius resumed his teachings, and is said to have gathered an extremely large number of disciplines, approximately three thousand people. Everyone was welcome to attend his lectures and sermons. He believed that the teacher must not preach to his students, rather, he must strive to motivate them, and to encourage them to increase their knowledge and excel in their abilities. Confucius’ teachings were based on the six arts: calligraphy, music, chariot-driving, archery, computation and ritual. And above all these things, he gave utmost importance to inculcating in his students, a profound sense of integrity. His teachings strongly advocated the traditional values of propriety, ritual and benevolence. He put great emphasis on morality, government, and encouraged his students to educate themselves in language, speech and arts.
Confucius was appointed the Minister of Justice in Lu upon reaching the age of 51. His political status was eventually enhanced to the Prime Minister of Lu. The Prince of Lu continued to maintain his close ties with Confucius, and often consulted him on trivial matters. Under Confucius’s council, the state of Lu rose among the most prosperous and influential states of the dynasty. However, upon getting embroiled in certain misunderstanding with the Prince, Confucius decided to resign from his position and leave Lu.
Following his departure from Lu, Confucius travelled around for the next twelve years, searching for an opportunity to implement his political principals, however, no such opportunity presented itself, and at the age of 68, Confucius return to his native Lu. He remained there until his death, and refused all offers for a government position. Confucius died in 479 BC, at the age of 72.
Confucius made several literary contributions, which are hugely acclaimed and widely read in China, as well as, various other parts of the world. He has said to have compiled and edited a great number of iconic Chinese traditional classics. He is also credited with compiling a rearrangement of the ‘Book of Odes’ and the ‘Book of Documents’. He wrote historical biographies on the 12 dukes of Lu, entitled ‘Spring and the Autumn Annals’, a book that contains Confucius’ political and philosophical ideologies.