Kong Fu Zi


  • Kong Fu Zi was born to a poor family in China during the collapse of the Chou Dynasty, which had ruled China for 600 years. As a result, China was in a state of disarray, with warlords ruling over small kingdoms in a constant state of warfare. China, a formerly stable advanced state, was descending into feudal anarchy as Confucius began to develop his teachings.
  • Confucius had a strange dream that consumed him—to be a government bureaucrat. He was constantly passed over or quickly removed from office, either because he was too boring, or because he was too harsh in his governance. He was rarely tolerated for long in any position.He traveled China and collected a group of followers, as did Socrates. His informal education was about the governance of society. Many of his disciples passed beyond their master in terms of jobs, but he was revered by them—and they spread his teachings.
  • In many ways, Confucius regarded himself as a failure at death. He did not achieve many of his personal ambitions. However, he is widely considered to be one of the “most influential men who ever lived.” (Paul Strathern)
  • Most important work: The Analects


  • The central concept of Confucian thinking is the concept of jen , which is not easily translated into English. It has been translated as “a conceptual blend of magnamity, virtue, and love of humanity (Strathern), or more simply, “”humanness”. Literally it is a combination of the characters for “human being” and for “two”.
  • Primarily, jen is concerned with the idea that superiors should govern well. The Chinese believed in the Mandate of Heaven, which suggested that those who govern must govern in the interest of those governed. Confucius clarified this concept with the ideas of shu (reciprocity) and chung (doing one’s best).
  • If the government leads well, the people will be moral
  • Secondarily, jen consists of the other characteristics of moral life
    • li, or properly doing all of the rituals that govern day to day life
    • yi, or right action
    • hsin, or making one’s actions conform to one’s deeds
    • ching, or reverence, seriousness
  • Jen is acquired through learning. Confucius believed that we are all born with different capacities for moral action; our obligation is to maximize this potential.

Wa (Social or Group Harmony)

  • Wa is social, harmony. It is the mellow feeling that comes when people are getting along. It is working together in a state of mutual understanding. It is the absence of confrontation.
  • For much of Asia, Wa (the Chinese character for peace) is the preeminent value.
  • In the Confucian formulation, avoidance of confrontation, resolving disputes by negotiation, searching for solutions that serve all interested parties rather than totalvictory for one side and total defeat for the other are preferred.

Filial Piety

  • Confucius believed that good family relationships were the key to reforming society, and thus reforming government
  • Confucius said that filial piety consisted of obedience to, respect for, and loyalty to one’s parents. A man would be truly filial if he did not stray from his father’s occupation and behavior for several years after his father’s death.
  • Confucius believed that society functioned best if everyone respected laws and behaved according to their positions. He taught that parents were superior to children, men superior to women, and rulers superior to subjects. He believed that society functioned best if every person respected laws and behaved according to his or her position.
  • Confucius said, “Let the ruler rule as he should and the minister be a minister as he should. Let the father act as the father should and the son act as the son should.”

The Five Relationships

  • Parent/Child, Older Sibling/Younger Sibling, Husband/Wife, Elder/Junior, Ruler/Subject
  • The key to life is living appropriately in each of these relationships. Confucius called this process the “rectification of names.”
  • In each of these 10 attitudes, one should act out the ideal in reality.

Additional Resources

  • Analects of Confucius Study Guide
  • Full Text of the Analects of Confucius
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