Confucius, or Kong Fuzi in Chinese, is without a doubt the most important philosopher in Chinese history. His beliefs have played a vital role in the development of modern Chinese thought and much of Chinese social norms refer in some way to Confucianism. More widely, Confucius’ significant influence over East Asian thought cannot be denied.
Born during the Spring and Autumn Period around 551 B.C., Confucius grew up in what is now Shandong Province in the northeastern part of China. He worked many different jobs during his life, but eventually rose to the position of Justice Minister for the Lu State. During later years, he traveled around to many nearby regions, advising the local states on political theory. When most of these states did not implement his tactics, he became disillusioned and returned to his hometown where he spent the last years of his life composing the Five Classics, a set of texts that laid out the ancient wisdom that Confucius had compiled throughout his life.
The Analects of Confucius were written in the succeeding years, probably by several students and followers of Confucius who wanted to preserve his teachings. These included a series of rules and regulations that, when implemented correctly, were supposed to produce a harmonious, peaceful society. Much of the Analects’ text takes the form of proverbs and short sayings that were attributed directly to Confucius.
Confucian thought revolves around a set of ethics and morality that should be strictly observed by each member of society to produce a harmonious social order. He felt that all human beings had an innate sense of morality and duty that should be heeded at all times. He also emphasized the importance of respect for elders and advocated a violence-free society that could only be achieved through a hierarchical order. Interestingly, Confucius’ commitment to pacifism led him to promote the use of chopsticks, since he thought that using knives at the dining table was too barbaric.
Though the popularity of Confucian teachings has waned in modern times, the influence of his thought is still extremely pervasive within Chinese culture. Confucius is considered the father of Chinese culture and is revered as the nation’s most important philosopher and teacher.