Confucius, the world famous Chinese philosopher, whose ideas have shaped Chinese culture immensely and even to this day has a large following. Confucius festivals are held across China every year to celebrate his ideas. But what about the man himself, what was his life like?
Born in a small province near modern day Beijing 551 B.C. into a dark part of China’s history during the ‘warring states period.’ Many historians believe Confucius had a deformed head as all portraits of Confucius depict his head as very large and oddly shaped. He lived his early life as a scholar and a teacher where he read and translated a large amount of texts from Arabic to Chinese.
After becoming a fruitful and respected figure in his community, he changed his vocation and became a governor. There he began to implement his philosophies which he had formed over the years.
He focused on schooling during his time as governor as he believed that education was the most important thing to give to the younger generation. He started schools for all classes of children which was a novel idea as classes stayed separate at all times and only nobles were educated in China until Confucius’ reforms. He believed education for all classes would help relationships between the peasants and the progression of society as a whole.
These reforms, however, angered the nobles and Confucius was banished for his ideas. While he was in exile for 14 years, he went all around China and told different communities about his philosophies. He gathered a large following while in exile. This drew the attention of several tribe leaders who were growing concerned with the growing support of Confucius’ socialist ideology. As the nobles and leaders saw Confucius as a dangerous revolutionary, who could inspire an uprising from the peasants.
During his travels, Confucius met Laozi (the founder of Daoism) where they discussed their views and ideas. Confucius was captured by hostile troops while heading to a warlord’s court before being rescued by helpful soldiers.
He was invited to his hometown by a new leader and while teaching he received an out of the blue offer from a high-ranking Duke. Duke Ding who derived from a wealthy royal family begged Confucius to leave his teaching and advise him. Duke Ding made Confucius a governor and Confucius began to implement his beliefs once again.
The backbone of Confucius’ ideology was to see life as a human in concentric circles; first the person, then to family, neighborhood, society, nation and beyond.
He applied these beliefs to his new policies which were seen as years ahead of the time. He had the state provide food and money to the elderly and impoverished children as well as providing school education to all classes just like he did years ago. A rather peculiar policy from Confucius was to say that men and women should walk on separate sides of the street.
It is said that crime went down and society prospered under Confucius.
The death of Confucius
At the age of 73 Confucius died. He died believing that his life was a failure as he felt he had not improved China as much as he wanted. He wrote very little about his philosophy like many philosophers. But his followers explained his ideas and quotes from Confucius in a book called the ‘Analytics.’
Understanding Confucius’s views is fundamental to understanding the Chinese mindset. His philosophy has been influential to millions of Chinese people over thousands of years. Without Confucius modern day China would be a very different place than it is today.