Throughout history, the great civilisation of China has made many contributions to the development of human thought and flourishing. However, perhaps none have been as influential, long-lasting and widely known as the teachings of Confucius. Still, to this day, the ideas that Confucius laid out on education, morality, social organisation and virtue have sustained and inspired the Chinese people for centuries. In this part of the course we will look in more detail at the enduring legacy and ideas of this remarkable thinker and will consider the relevance of his teachings for today’s world. As well as considering Confucian notions such as ethics as the foundation of social order and good relationships in society, we will also refer to Confucian ideas of the Junzi (or noble human being) and look at the book attributed to him known as The Analects.
“Political order is the product of an ethical order.”
Probably the most well-known of all ancient Chinese thinkers is Confucius, K’ung-fu-tzu (Master K’ung). Tradition says that he was born in 551BC in the state of Lu and that he was a descendant of the ancient royal house of Yin. There are traditional legends and folklore around his birth which often arise with special figures in history. Born during a time of conflict known as the ‘Warring States Period’ he stood out from an early age in his studies and in the pastimes that he enjoyed. As a young man he developed his reputation through good conduct and skill in public office and by the age of 25 he was widely known. If we were to describe the philosophy of Confucius in familiar terms, we could say that whilst his character was of the highest nobility, his approach is at the same time very ‘down to earth’.
The Junzi or Chün-tzu is the Confucian ideal of the ‘noble human being’ and for Confucius all the rulers and leaders in society should strive to become like the ‘Chün-tzu’.
“A Chün-tzu cultivates his intelligence day and night to prepare himself to give the counsel sought from him. He cultivates integrity and honesty of character, being ready for the time when he has to govern.”
The Junzi would make a conscious effort to develop their understanding of the highest ideals and virtues; they would work hard on developing their character and moral conduct in order to give these ideals their proper expression in life, and on being an example within their communities.
“A Chün-tzu lives with the moderns, but studies the ancients. What he does today will become an example for the generations following him.”