2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Philosophy

Confucianist  temple Thian Hock Keng in Singapore
Confucianist temple Thian Hock Keng in Singapore

Confucianism ( Traditional Chinese: 儒學; Simplified Chinese: 儒学, pinyin: Rúxué [ Listen  ], literally "The School of the Scholars"; or 孔教 Kŏng jiào, "The Teachings of Confucius") is a Chinese ethical and philosophical system originally developed from the teachings of the early Chinese sage Confucius. It is a complex system of moral, social, political, and religious thought which has had tremendous influence on the history of Chinese civilization up to the 21st century. Some people in the West have considered it to have been the " state religion" of imperial China because of the Chinese government's promotion of Confucist values.

Debated during the Warring States Period and forbidden during the short-lived Qin Dynasty, Confucianism was chosen by Emperor Wu of Han for use as a political system to govern the Chinese state. Despite its loss of influence during the Tang Dynasty, Confucianist doctrine remained a mainstream Chinese orthodoxy for two millennia until the 20th century, when it was attacked by radical Chinese thinkers as a vanguard of a feudal system and an obstacle to China's modernization, eventually culminating in its repression and vilification during the Cultural Revolution in the People's Republic of China. After the end of the Cultural Revolution, Confucianism has been revived in mainland China, and both interest in and debate about Confucianism have surged.

The cultures most strongly influenced by Confucianism include those of China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam, as well as various territories (including Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Macau) settled predominantly by Chinese people.

Confucianism as passed down to the 19th and 20th centuries derives primarily from the school of the Neo-Confucians, led by Zhu Xi, who gave Confucianism renewed vigor in the Song and later dynasties. Neo-Confucianism combined Taoist and Buddhist ideas with existing Confucian ideas to create a more complete metaphysics than had ever existed before. At the same time, many forms of Confucianism have historically declared themselves opposed to the Buddhist and Taoist belief systems.

Development of early Confucianism

K'ung Fu Tzu (Confucius) ( 551– 479 BCE) was a famous sage and social philosopher of China whose teachings deeply influenced East Asia for twenty centuries. The relationship between Confucianism and Confucius himself, however, is tenuous. Confucius' ideas were not accepted during his lifetime and he frequently bemoaned the fact that he remained unemployed by any of the feudal lords.

As with many other prominent figures such as Siddhartha Gautama, Jesus, or Socrates, humanity does not have direct access to Confucius' ideas. Instead, humans have recollections by his disciples and their students. This factor is further complicated by the " Burning of the Books and Burying of the Scholars", a massive suppression of dissenting thought during the Qin Dynasty, more than two centuries after Confucius' death. What we now know of Confucius' writings and thoughts is therefore somewhat unreliable.

However, we can sketch out Confucius' ideas from the fragments that remain. Confucius was a man of letters who worried about the troubled times in which he lived. He went from place to place trying to spread his political ideas and influence to the many kings contending for supremacy in China.

In the Eastern Zhou Dynasty (771-221 BCE), the reigning king of the Zhou gradually became a mere figurehead. In this power vacuum, the rulers of small states began to vie with one another for military and political dominance. Deeply persuaded of the need for his mission — "If right principles prevailed through the empire, there would be no need for me to change its state" Analects XVIII, 6 — Confucius tirelessly promoted the virtues of ancient illustrious sages such as the Duke of Zhou. Confucius tried to amass sufficient political power to found a new dynasty, as when he planned to accept an invitation from a rebel to "make a Zhou dynasty in the East" (Analects XV, 5). As the common saying that Confucius was a "king without a crown" indicates, however, he never gained the opportunity to apply his ideas. He was expelled from states many times and eventually returned to his homeland to spend the last part of his life teaching.

The Analects of Confucius, the closest we have to a primary source for his thoughts, relates his sayings and discussions with rulers and disciples in short passages. There is considerable debate over how to interpret the Analects.

Unlike most Western philosophers, Confucius did not rely on deductive reasoning to convince his listeners. Instead, he used figures of rhetoric such as analogy and aphorism to explain his ideas. Most of the time these techniques were highly contextualised. For these reasons, Western readers might find his philosophy muddled or unclear. However, Confucius claimed that he sought "a unity all pervading" (Analects XV, 3) and that there was "one single thread binding my way together." (op. cit. IV, 15).

The first occurrences of a real Confucian system may have been created by his disciples or by their disciples. During the philosophically fertile period of the Hundred Schools of Thought, great early figures of Confucianism such as Mencius and Xun Zi (not to be confused with Sun Zi) developed Confucianism into an ethical and political doctrine. Both had to fight contemporary ideas and gain the ruler's confidence through argumentation and reasoning. Mencius gave Confucianism a fuller explanation of human nature, of what is needed for good government, of what morality is, and founded his idealist doctrine on the claim that human nature is good (性善). Xun Zi opposed many of Mencius' ideas, and built a structured system upon the idea that human nature is bad (性悪) and had to be educated and exposed to the rites (li), before being able to express their goodness for the people. Some of Xunzi's disciples, such as Han Feizi and Li Si, became Legalists (a kind of law-based early totalitarianism, quite distant from virtue-based Confucianism) and conceived the state system that allowed Qin Shi Huang to unify China under the strong state control of every human activity. The culmination of Confucius' dream of unification and peace in China can therefore be argued to have come from Legalism, a school of thought almost diametrically opposed to his reliance on rites and virtue.

The spread of Confucianism

Confucianism survived its suppression during the Qin Dynasty partly thanks to the discovery of a trove of Confucian classics hidden in the walls of a scholar's house. After the Qin, the new Han Dynasty approved of Confucian doctrine and sponsored Confucian scholars, eventually making Confucianism the official state philosophy (see Emperor Wu of Han). Study of the Confucian classics became the basis of the government examination system and the core of the educational curriculum. No serious attempt to replace Confucianism arose until the May 4th Movement in the 20th century.

After its reformulation as Neo-Confucianism by Zhu Xi, Wang Yangming and the other Neo-Confucians, Confucianism also became accepted as state philosophies in Korea and Japan. Korea of the Chosun Dynasty has been termed a "Confucian state."

Many sources, including the Baltimore Sun (U.S.), have called Singapore the modern world's "only Confucian state." However, this is dubious since Singapore is a multicultural society in which only a portion of the society is committed specifically to Confucian ideals. The actual influence of Confucianism on South Korea, however, is still very great. The Asian values debate of the 1990s stems in large part from the question of the role of Confucian social approaches in modern societies, especially economic development.


"Lead the people with administrative injunctions and put them in their place with penal law, and they will avoid punishments but will be without a sense of shame. Lead them with excellence and put them in their place through roles and ritual practices, and in addition to developing a sense of shame, they will order themselves harmoniously." (Analects II, 3)

The above explains an essential difference between legalism and ritualism and points to a key difference between Western and Eastern societies. Confucius argues that under law, external authorities administer punishments after illegal actions, so people generally behave well without understanding reasons why they should; whereas with ritual, patterns of behaviour are internalised and exert their influence before actions are taken, so people behave properly because they fear shame and want to avoid losing face.

"Rite" ( Lǐ) stands here for a complex set of ideas that is difficult to render in Western languages. The Chinese character for "rites" previously had the religious meaning of "sacrifice" (the character 禮 is composed of the character 示, which means "altar", to the left of the character 曲 placed over 豆, representing a vase full of flowers and offered as a sacrifice to the gods; cf. Wenlin). Its Confucian meaning ranges from politeness and propriety to the understanding of each person's correct place in society. Externally, ritual is used to distinguish between people; their usage allows people to know at all times who is the younger and who the elder, who is the guest and who the host and so forth. Internally, they indicate to people their duty amongst others and what to expect from them.

Internalisation is the main process in ritual. Formalised behaviour becomes progressively internalised, desires are channelled and personal cultivation becomes the mark of social correctness. Though this idea conflicts with the common saying that "the cowl does not make the monk", in Confucianism sincerity is what enables behaviour to be absorbed by individuals. Obeying ritual with sincerity makes ritual the most powerful way to cultivate oneself. Thus "Respectfulness, without the Rites, becomes laborious bustle; carefulness, without the Rites, becomes timidity; boldness, without the Rites, becomes insubordination; straightforwardness, without the Rites, becomes rudeness" (Analects VIII, 2). Ritual can be seen as a means to find the balance between opposing qualities that might otherwise lead to conflict.

Ritual divides people into categories and builds hierarchical relationships through protocols and ceremonies, assigning everyone a place in society and a form of behaviour. Music, which seems to have played a significant role in Confucius' life, is given as an exception as it transcends such boundaries, 'unifying the hearts'.

Although the Analects promotes ritual heavily, Confucius himself often behaved otherwise; for example, when he cried at his preferred disciple's death, or when he met a fiendish princess (VI, 28). Later more rigid ritualists who forgot that ritual is "more than presents of jade and silk" (XVII, 12) strayed from their master's position.


"To govern by virtue, let us compare it to the North Star: it stays in its place, while the myriad stars wait upon it." (Analects II, 1)

Another key Confucian concept is that in order to govern others one must first govern oneself. When developed sufficiently, the king's personal virtue spreads beneficent influence throughout the kingdom. This idea is developed further in the Great Learning and is tightly linked with the Taoist concept of wu wei: the less the king does, the more that is done. By being the "calm centre" around which the kingdom turns, the king allows everything to function smoothly and avoids having to tamper with the individual parts of the whole.

This idea may be traced back to early shamanistic beliefs, such as that the king (wang, 王) being the axle between the sky, human beings and the Earth. (The character itself shows the three levels of the universe, united by a single line.) Another complementary view is that this idea may have been used by ministers and counsellors to deter aristocratic whims that would otherwise be to the detriment of the population.


"In teaching, there should be no distinction of classes."
(Analects XV, 39)

Although Confucius claimed that he never invented anything but was only transmitting ancient knowledge (see Analects VII, 1), he did produce a number of new ideas. Many western admirers such as Voltaire and H. G. Creel point to the (then) revolutionary idea of replacing the nobility of blood with one of virtue. Jūnzǐ (君子; see below), which had meant "noble man" before Confucius' work, slowly assumed a new connotation in the course of his writings, rather as " gentleman" did in English. A virtuous plebeian who cultivates his qualities can be a "gentleman", while a shameless son of the king is only a "small man". That he allowed students of different classes to be his disciples is a clear demonstration that he fought against the feudal structures in Chinese society.

Another new intense idea, that of meritocracy, led to the introduction of the Imperial examination system in China. This system allowed anyone who passed an examination to become a government officer, a position which would bring wealth and honour to the whole family. Though the European enthusiasm toward China died away after 1789, China gave Europe one very important practical legacy: the modern civil service. The Chinese examination system seems to have been started in 165 BCE, when certain candidates for public office were called to the Chinese capital for examination of their moral excellence by the emperor. Over the following centuries the system grew until finally almost anyone who wished to become an official had to prove his worth by passing written government examinations.

Confucius praised those kings who left their kingdoms to those apparently most qualified rather than to their elder sons. His achievement was the setting up of a school that produced statesmen with a strong sense of state and duty, known as Rujia 儒家, the 'School of the Literati'. During the Warring States Period and the early Han dynasty China grew greatly and the need for a solid and centralized corporation of government officers able to read and write administrative papers arose. As a result Confucianism was promoted and the corporation of men it produced became an effective counter to the remaining landowner aristocrats otherwise threatening the unity of the state.

Since then Confucianism has been used as a kind of "state religion", with authoritarianism, legitimism, paternalism and submission to authority used as political tools to rule China. In fact most emperors used a mix of legalism and Confucianism as their ruling doctrine, often with the latter embellishing the former. They also often used different varieties of Taoism or Buddhism as their personal philosophy or religion.

Themes in Confucian thought

A simple way to appreciate Confucian thought is to consider it as being based on varying levels of honesty. In practice, the elements of Confucianism accumulated over time and matured into the following forms:


Ritual (, 禮) originally signified "to sacrifice" in a religious ceremony. In Confucianism the term was soon extended to include secular ceremonial behaviour before being used to refer to the propriety or politeness which colours everyday life. Rituals were codified and treated as an all-embracing system of norms. Confucius himself tried to revive the etiquette of earlier dynasties, but following his death he himself became regarded as the great authority on ritual behaviour. (Cf. contemporary term lǐmào 禮貌, "polite"; mào 貌 = "appearance")


One theme central to Confucianism is that of relationships, and the differing duties arising from the different status one held in relation to others. Individuals are held to simultaneously stand in different degrees of relationship with different people, namely, as a junior in relation to their parents and elders, and as a senior in relation to their children, younger siblings, students, and others. While juniors are considered in Confucianism to owe strong duties of reverence and service to their seniors, seniors also have duties of benevolence and concern toward juniors. This theme consistently manifests itself in many aspects of East Asian culture even to this day, with extensive filial duties on the part of children toward parents and elders, and great concern of parents toward their children.

Filial piety

Filial piety, filiality, or filial devotion (xiào 孝) is considered among the greatest of virtues and must be shown towards both the living and the dead. The term "filial", meaning "of a child", denotes the respect and obedience that a child, originally a son, should show to his parents, especially to his father. This relationship was extended by analogy to a series of five relationships or five cardinal relationships (五倫 Wǔlún):

  1. ruler and subject (君臣),
  2. father and son (父子),
  3. husband and wife (夫婦),
  4. elder and younger brother (兄弟),
  5. between friends (朋友)

Specific duties were prescribed to each of the participants in these sets of relationships. Such duties were also extended to the dead, where the living stood as sons to their deceased family. This led to the veneration of ancestors.

In time, filial piety was also built into the Chinese legal system: a criminal would be punished more harshly if the culprit had committed the crime against a parent, while fathers exercised enormous power over their children. Much the same was true of other unequal relationships.

The main source of our knowledge of the importance of filial piety is The Book of Filial Piety, a work attributed to Confucius but almost certainly written in the third century BCE. Filial piety has continued to play a central role in Confucian thinking to the present day.


Loyalty (zhōng, 忠) is the equivalent of filial piety on a different plane, between ruler and minister. It was particularly relevant for the social class to which most of Confucius' students belonged, because the only way for an ambitious young scholar to make his way in the Confucian Chinese world was to enter a ruler's civil service. Like filial piety, however, loyalty was often subverted by the autocratic regimes of China. Confucius had advocated a sensitivity to the realpolitik of the class relations that existed in his time; he did not propose that "might makes right", but that a superior who had received the " Mandate of Heaven" (see below) should be obeyed because of his moral rectitude.

In later ages, however, emphasis was placed more on the obligations of the ruled to the ruler, and less on the ruler's obligations to the ruled.


Confucius was concerned with people's individual development, which he maintained took place within the context of human relationships. Ritual and filial piety are the ways in which one should act towards others from an underlying attitude of humaneness. Confucius' concept of humaneness (rén, 仁) is probably best expressed in the Confucian version of the Golden Rule phrased in the negative: "Do not do to others what you would not like them to do to you".

Rén also has a political dimension. If the ruler lacks rén, Confucianism holds, it will be difficult if not impossible for his subjects to behave humanely. Rén is the basis of Confucian political theory: it presupposes an autocratic ruler, exhorted to refrain from acting inhumanely towards his subjects. An inhumane ruler runs the risk of losing the "Mandate of Heaven", the right to rule. Such a mandateless ruler need not be obeyed. But a ruler who reigns humanely and takes care of the people is to be obeyed strictly, for the benevolence of his dominion shows that he has been mandated by heaven. Confucius himself had little to say on the will of the people, but his leading follower Mencius did state on one occasion that the people's opinion on certain weighty matters should be polled.

The perfect gentleman

The term "Jūnzǐ" (君子) is a term crucial to classical Confucianism. Literally meaning "son of a ruler", "prince" or "noble", the ideal of a "gentleman", "proper man", "exemplary person" or "perfect man" is that for which Confucianism exhorts all people to strive. A succinct description of the "perfect man" is one who "combine[s] the qualities of saint, scholar, and gentleman" ( CE). (In modern times, the masculine bias in Confucianism may have weakened, but the same term is still used; the masculine translation in English is also traditional and still frequently used.) A hereditary elitism was bound up with the concept, and gentlemen were expected to act as moral guides to the rest of society. They were to:

  • cultivate themselves morally;
  • participate in the correct performance of ritual;
  • show filial piety and loyalty where these are due; and
  • cultivate humaneness.

The great exemplar of the perfect gentleman is Confucius himself. Perhaps the greatest tragedy of his life was that he was never awarded the high official position which he desired, from which he wished to demonstrate the general well-being that would ensue if humane persons ruled and administered the state.

The opposite of the Jūnzǐ was the Xiǎorén (小人), literally "small person" or "petty person." Like English "small", the word in this context in Chinese can mean petty in mind and heart, narrowly self-interested, greedy, superficial, and materialistic.

Rectification of Names

Confucius believed that social disorder resulted from failing to call things by their proper names, and his solution was "Rectification of Names/Terms" (zhèngmíng, 正名). When Duke Jing of Qi asked about government, Confucius replied, "There is government, when the prince is prince, and the minister is minister; when the father is father, and the son is son." (Analects XII, 11, tr. Legge). He gave a more detailed explanation of zhengming to one of his disciples.

Tsze-lu said, "The ruler of Wei has been waiting for you, in order with you to administer the government. What will you consider the first thing to be done?" The Master replied, "What is necessary is to rectify names." "So! indeed!" said Tsze-lu. "You are wide of the mark! Why must there be such rectification?" The Master said, "How uncultivated you are, Yu! A superior man, in regard to what he does not know, shows a cautious reserve. If names be not correct, language is not in accordance with the truth of things. If language be not in accordance with the truth of things, affairs cannot be carried on to success. When affairs cannot be carried on to success, proprieties and music do not flourish. When proprieties and music do not flourish, punishments will not be properly awarded. When punishments are not properly awarded, the people do not know how to move hand or foot. Therefore a superior man considers it necessary that the names he uses may be spoken appropriately, and also that what he speaks may be carried out appropriately. What the superior man requires is just that in his words there may be nothing incorrect." (Analects XIII, 3, tr. Legge)

Xun Zi chapter (22) "On the Rectification of Names" claims the ancient sage kings chose names (ming 名 "name; appellation; term") that directly corresponded with actualities (shi 實 "fact; real; true; actual"), but later generations confused terminology, coined new nomenclature, and could no longer distinguish right from wrong.


Promotion of corruption

Different from many other political philosophies, Confucianism is reluctant to employ laws. In a society where relationships are considered more important than the laws themselves, if no other power forces government officers to take the common interest into consideration, corruption and nepotism will arise. As government officers' salary was often far lower than the minimum required to raise a family, Chinese society has frequently been affected by those problems, and still is. Even if some means to control and reduce corruption and nepotism have been successfully used in China, Confucianism is criticized for not providing such a means itself.

One major argument against this criticism is that the so-called Confucian East Asian societies such as Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, Singapore, South Korea and China have exhibited the high economic growth. Singapore has also consistently been noted as one of the most corruption-free states on earth. Critics point to continuing problems with nepotism and corruption in those countries and slowing economic growth in the past decade, not only in Japan, but also, to a lesser extent, in the others. Furthermore, Singapore may be classed as an example of a Western, Kantian system of rule by law, or perhaps a Legalist system, rather than Confucian.

Was there a Confucianism?

One of the many problems in discussing the history of Confucianism is the question of what Confucianism is. In this article, Confucianism can be understood roughly as largely "the stream of individuals, claiming Master Kong to be the Greatest Master" while it also means "the social group following moral, political, and philosophical doctrine of what was considered, at a given time, as the orthodox understanding of Confucius". In this meaning, this "group" can be identified, during periods of discussions with others doctrines, like Han and Tang dynasty, with a kind of political party. During periods of Confucian hegemony, such as during the Song, Ming and Qing dynasties, it can be identified roughly with the social class of government officials.

But the reality of such a grouping is debated. In his book, Manufacturing Confucianism, Lionel Jensen claims that our modern image of Confucius and Confucianism, which is that of a wise symbol of learning and a state-sponsored quasi-religion, did not exist in China from time immemorial, but was manufactured by European Jesuits, as a "translation" of the ancient indigenous traditions, known as "Ru Jia", in order to portray Chinese society to Europeans. The notion of Confucianism was then borrowed back by the Chinese, who used it for their own purposes.

Therefore, we could define Confucianism as "any system of thinking that has, at its foundations, the works that are regarded as the ' Confucian classics', which was the corpus used in the Imperial examination system". Even this definition runs into problems because this corpus was subject to changes and additions. Neo-Confucianism, for instance, valorized the Great Learning and the Zhong Yong in this corpus, because their themes are close to those of Taoism and Buddhism.

Is Confucianism a religion?

It is debatable whether Confucianism should be called a religion. While it prescribes a great deal of ritual, little of it could be construed as worship or meditation in a formal sense. Confucius occasionally made statements about the existence of other-worldly beings that sound distinctly agnostic and humanistic to Western ears. Thus, Confucianism is often considered an ethical tradition and not a religion. However the United Nations recognizes Confucianism as a religion.

Its effect on Chinese and other East Asian societies and cultures has been immense and parallels the effects of religious movements, seen in other cultures. Those who follow the teachings of Confucius say that they are comforted by it. It includes a great deal of ritual and (in its Neo-Confucian formulation) gives a comprehensive explanation of the world, of human nature, etc. Moreover, religions in Chinese culture are not mutually exclusive entities — each tradition is free to find its specific niche, its field of specialisation. One can be a Taoist, Christian, Muslim, Shintoist or Buddhist and still profess Confucianist beliefs.

Although Confucianism may include ancestor worship, sacrifice to ancestral spirits and an abstract celestial deity, and the deification of ancient kings and even Confucius himself, all these features can be traced back to non-Confucian Chinese beliefs established long before Confucius and, in this respect, make it difficult to claim that such rituals make Confucianism a religion.

Generally speaking, Confucianism is not considered a religion by Chinese or other East Asian people. Part of this attitude may be explained by the stigma placed on many "religions" as being superstitious, illogical, or unable to deal with modernity. Many Buddhists state that Buddhism is not a religion, but a philosophy, and this is partially a reaction to negative popular views of religion. Similarly, Confucians maintain that Confucianism is not a religion, but rather a moral code or philosophic world view.

The question of whether Confucianism is a religion, or otherwise, is ultimately a definitional problem. If the definition used is worship of supernatural entities, the answer may be that Confucianism is not a religion, but then this definition could also be used to argue that many traditions commonly held to be religious (Buddhism, some forms of Islam, etc.) are also not, in fact, religions. If, on the other hand, a religion is defined as (for example) a belief system that includes moral stances, guides for daily life, systematic views of humanity and its place in the universe, etc., then Confucianism most definitely qualifies. As with many such important concepts, the definition of religion is quite contentious. Herbert Fingarette's Confucius: The Secular as Sacred is a good treatment of this issue.

Names for Confucianism

Several names for Confucianism exist in Chinese.

  • "School of the Scholars" ( pinyin: Rújiā)
    • 儒家 ( Traditional and Simplified Chinese)
  • "Religion of the Scholars" ( pinyin: Rújiào)
    • 儒教 ( Traditional and Simplified)
  • "Study of the Scholars" ( pinyin: Rúxué) [ Listen  ]
    • 儒學 ( Traditional) / 儒学 ( Simplified)
  • "Teaching of Confucius" or "Religion of Confucius" ( pinyin: Kǒngjiào)
    • 孔教 ( Traditional and Simplified)

Three of these four (namely Rujia, Rujiao, Ruxue) use the Chinese term Ru, meaning a scholar. These names do not use the name "Confucius" (Kong Zi) at all, but instead centre on the central figure/ideal of the Confucian scholar. However, the suffixes of jia, jiao and xue carry different implications as to the nature of Confucianism itself.

Rujia contains the term jia, which literally means "house" or "family". In this context, the jia is more readily construed as meaning "school of thought", since it is also used to construct the names of philosophical schools contemporary to Confucianism: for example, the Chinese names for Legalism and Mohism end in jia.

Rujiao and Kongjiao contain the Chinese term jiao, the noun "teaching", used in such as terms as "education" or "educator". The term jiao, however, is notably used to construct the names of religions in Chinese: the terms for Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Shintoism and other religions in Chinese all end with jiao.

Ruxue contains xue, meaning literally "study" or "studies". The term xue is parallel to "-ology" in English, being used to construct the names of academic fields: the Chinese names of fields such as physics, chemistry, biology, political science, economics, and sociology all end in xue.

Confucianism and other schools of thought

Inter-religious or inter-philosophical dialogue has occurred in the modern period between scholars of Confucianism and scholars of several religions, including Islam and Christianity.

Confucianism and Catholicism

Representing a relatively traditionalist-humanist viewpoint of Catholic thought, the 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia declares: "In Confucianism there is much to admire." The Encyclopedia praises its "noble conception of the supreme Heaven-god" as well as the high standard of morality, and the "refining influence of literary education and of polite conduct" it holds Confucianism to have brought about. The Encyclopedia goes on to say, however, that Confucianism is nonetheless "encumbered" with serious defects deriving from what it calls the "imperfect civilization of its early development." The work has criticized Confucianism's association of the Supreme Being or Heavenly Being (Tian or Tien) with nature spirits, its "superstitious" use of divination, and sacrifices to spirits and ancestors. It suggests that Confucianism cannot "answer fully to the religious needs of the heart and soul by decree" since it deemphasizes active participation in worship of the deity, has "little use of prayer," recognizes no concept of grace, and has "no definite teaching" regarding the afterlife. The social system promoted by traditional Confucianism, it claims, "has lifted the Chinese to an intermediate grade of culture, but has blocked for ages all further progress.



  • The Master said, "I have been the whole day without eating, and the whole night without sleeping — occupied with thinking. It was of no use. The better plan is to learn." (Analects XV. 30. tr. Legge)

On Spirits

  • Zilu (an impetuous disciple of Confucius) asked how one should serve ghosts and spirits. The Master said, "Till you have learnt to serve men, how can you serve ghosts?" Zilu then ventured upon a question about the dead. The Master said, "Till you know about the living, how are you to know about the dead?" (Analects XI. 11. tr. Waley)
  • "Show respect to the spirits and deities, then keep away from them." (Confucius is said to have refused to discuss the subject of magic, devils, hell, and Heaven).
  • The Master said, "For a man to sacrifice to a spirit which does not belong to him is flattery." (Analects II. 24.)

Examples of Ritual - from Book 10 of Analects

  • He [Confucius] hastened forward, with his arms like the wings of a bird.
  • When he entered the palace gate, he seemed to bend his body, as if it were not sufficient to admit him.
  • He ascended the reception hall, holding up his robe with both his hands, and his body bent; holding in his breath also, as if he dared not breathe.
  • When he was carrying the scepter of his ruler, he seemed to bend his body, as if he were not able to bear its weight. He did not hold it higher than the position of the hands in making a bow, nor lower than their position in giving anything to another. His countenance seemed to change, and look apprehensive, and he dragged his feet along as if they were held by something to the ground.
  • The superior man did not use a deep purple, or a puce colour, in the ornaments of his dress.
  • He did not eat meat which was not cut properly, nor what was served without its proper sauce.
  • He did not partake of wine and dried meat bought in the market.
  • When eating, he did not converse. When in bed, he did not speak.

Taoist addition within the Analects

  • The Master said, "The Fang bird does not come; the river sends forth no map:-it is all over with me! (Analects IX)

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