Confucius continues to be one of the world’s most influential philosophers and educators despite having lived over 2000 years ago. His theories on politics, philosophy, and family life remain of massive importance to several East Asian civilizations today, most notably the Chinese.
Confucius was born in 551 BCE near the eastern coast of China. He lived during the ‘Spring and Autumn Period’ which was a turbulent period in Chinese history when China was not a single united country, but was made up of several smaller states, who were constantly at war with one another. Confucius was born into an aristocratic family who had fallen on hard times and had become impoverished. Confucius was an extraordinary student and made it his life’s ambition to master the six arts of ritual, music, archery, charioteering, calligraphy, and arithmetic, as well as mastering poetry and history. After Confucius’ mother died, he dedicated himself to his relatively minor role in local government, and quickly rose up through the ranks. During this period, he also proved himself to be an extraordinary teacher, attracting students from all over China.
Confucius was one of the first people in China who wanted to make education available to everyone. Before Confucius, only wealthy aristocratic families could afford to educate their sons. Confucius believed that education could transform and improve society. He believed that teaching future leaders could help improve not only their character, but also help society. Confucius taught that everyone in society had their own special position, and each position had a special way of behaving. He believed that society was heavily influenced by those who ruled it. If a country or a city was ruled by someone who was wise and strong and always carried out their duties as ruler, then there would be peace and harmony among the people. But if the ruler was violent, brash, and neglected their duties, the people would behave in a similar manner, ultimately leading to chaos. Confucius believed that this philosophical approach also applied to family life. If the head of the family was respectful and fulfilled his duties as husband and father, then his family would be happy and fulfill their duties to one another in return.
Although Confucius tried very hard throughout his life to live according to his philosophy, life was not always simple for him. The province that he lived in was particularly chaotic and there were frequent power struggles between the king and the local powerful families. Eventually Confucius resigned from his position and lived in self-imposed exile for twelve years. He traveled throughout northeast and central China, teaching and promoting his philosophy everywhere he went. Many people followed Confucius as he traveled and they stayed with him when he returned to his home province as an old man. He died at the age of seventy-two in 479 BCE. His teachings were preserved in the Analects which are still studied by students all over the world today.
“By three methods we may learn wisdom: first, by reflection, which is noblest; second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.”
“The superior man is modest in his speech, but exceeds in his actions.”
“When you meet someone better than yourself, turn your thoughts to becoming his equal. When you meet someone not as good as you are, look within and examine your own self.”
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