Confucius (孔夫子 py: Kǒng Fūzǐ, literal meaning: "Master Kong") (traditionally 551 BC - 479 BC) is the famous great sage of China. His influence on Chinese civilization cannot be underestimated and has spread widely over Japan, Korea and Vietnam, especially through Confucianism, the doctrine developed by disciples and commentators.

He was born in the Chinese State of Lu (魯國) in 551 BC (Hundred Schools of Thought, Spring and Autumn Period) and was the son of a noble family who had recently fled from the State of Song. His parents, however, died when he was three and he grew up in very poor conditions as an orphan. He spent his time attempting to learn everything there was to know, and then passing on those knowledge he possessed onto others.

Table of contents
1 Names
2 Theory of Ethics
3 Political Theory
4 Temples
5 Successors and descendants
6 External links


  • "Confucius" is a Latinized form of the name
  • In systematic Romanizations:
    • Kong fuzi (in pinyin) or with space, Kong fu zi.
    • K'ung fu-tze (in Wade-Giles) or less accurately, Kung fu-tze.
      • Fuzi means teacher. Since it was disrespectful to call the teacher by name according to Chinese culture, he is known as just "Master Kong" or Confucius even in modern days.
      • The character 'fu' is optional, so he is commonly also known as 'Kong Zi'.

  • His actual name was 孔丘 (kong3 qiu1). 'Qiu1' means "mound".
  • His Zi was 仲尼 (zhong4 ni2, sounds like Johnny).
  • In 1 CE (first year of the Yuanshi period of the Han Dynasty), he was given his first posthumous name: Lord Baochengxun Ni (褒成宣尼公 bao1 cheng1 xun1 ni2 gong1), which means "Laudably Declarable Lord Ni."
  • His most popular posthumous name, Zhisheng Xian shi (至聖先師), meaning "The Former Teacher who Reached Sainthood," comes from 1530 (the ninth year of the Jianing period of the Ming Dynasty).
  • He is also commonly known as the Model Teacher for Myriads of Generations (萬世師表) in Taiwan.

Theory of Ethics

The Confucian theory of ethics is based on three important concepts:


While Confucius grew up li referred to three aspects of life, that of sacrificing to the gods, social and political institutions, and daily behaviour. It was believed that li orginated from the heavens. Confucius redefined li arguing it flowed not from heaven but from humanity. He redefined li to refer to all actions committed by a person to build the ideal society. Li to Confucius became every action by a person aiming at meeting their surface desires of a person. These can be either good or bad. Generally attempts to obtain short term pleasure are bad while those that in the long term try to make your life better are generally good.


To Confucius, yi (義) was the origin of li. Yi can best be translated a righteousness. While doing things because of li, your own self interest, was not by necessarily bad, you would be a better, more righteous person if you base your life upon following yi. This means that rather than pursuing your own selfish interests you should do what is right and what is moral. Yi is based upon reciprocity. An example of living by yi is how you must mourn your father and mother for three years after their death. Since they took care of you for the first three years of your life you must reciprocate by living in mourning for three years.


Just as li flows out of yi, so yi flows out of ren (仁). Ren can best be translated as human interconnectedness. His moral system was based upon empathy and understanding others, rather than divinely ordained rules. To live by ren was even better than living by the rules of yi. To live by ren one used a Confucian version of the Golden Rule: he argued that you must always treat your inferiors just as you would want your superiors to treat you. Virtue under Confucius is based upon harmony with others, very different from the Aristotelian view of virtue being personal excellence.

Political Theory

Confucius' political thought is based upon his ethical thought. He argues that the best government is one that rules through "rites" and people's natural morality, rather than using bribery and force. He explained this in one of the most important analect : 1. "If the people be led by laws, and uniformity sought to be given them by punishments, they will try to avoid the punishment, but have no sense of shame. If they be led by virtue, and uniformity sought to be given them by the rules of propriety, they will have the sense of shame, and moreover will become good." (Translated by James Legge) This "sense of shame" is somewhat an internalization of duty, where the punishment precedes the evil action, instead of following it in the form of laws as in Legalism.

While he supported the idea of the all powerful Emperor, probably because of the chaotic state of China at his time, his philosophies contained a number of elements to limit the power of the rulers. He argued for according language with truth - thus honesty was of the most paramount importance. Even in facial expression, one sought always to achieve this. Discussing about relationships between a son and his father, or between a subject and his King, he underline that not giving advices to the superior if he's going in the wrong way is going against the due respect to superiors.

This was built upon by his disciple Mencius to argue that if the King was not acting like a King, he should no longer be King and lost the Mandate of Heaven. Therefore, a tyranicide is justified because a tyrant is more a thief than a King.

In many ways his political theory resembles that of Roman Stoicism.


The following is a list of temples that are dedicated to Confucius:

Successors and descendants

Confucius' philosophical school was first continued by his direct disciples and by his grandson Zisi. Mencius and Xun Zi are his two great followers, one on each "side" of his philosophy, let's say idealism and realism. They built upon and expanded his ethico-political system.

His descendants were tracked down by the imperial government. They were honoured the rank of a marquis 35 times since Gaozu of the Han Dynasty, and they were promoted to the rank of duke 42 times from the Tang Dynasty to 1935. One of the most common title is Duke Yansheng (衍聖公 Yǎnshèng gōng), which means "overflowing with sainthood." The latest descendant is K'ung Te-ch'eng (孔德成 Kǒng Déchéng) (born 1920), who is the 77th generation and a professor in the National Taiwan University.

See also: Analects of Confucius

External links

zh-cn:孔子 zh-tw:孔子/繁