Updated February 21, 2017 | Factmonster Staff

Confucius (K'ung Fu-tzu), born in the state of Lu (northern China), lived from 551 to 479 B.C. He was a brilliant teacher, viewing education not merely as the accumulation of knowledge but as a character-building experience leading to an endless process of self-transformation. His legacy was not an organized religion, but a world view that combined philosophy, social ethics, scholarship, and political ideology.

Anthologies of ancient Chinese classics, along with Confucius's own Analects (Lun Yu), became the basis of Confucianism. These Analects were transmitted as a collection of his sayings as recorded by his students, with whom he discussed ethical and social problems.

In his teachings, Confucius emphasized the importance of an old Chinese concept (li), which means proper conduct. Confucius believed in heaven (t'ien) and encouraged ancestor worship as an expression of filial piety, which he considered the loftiest of virtues.

Attaining humanity (jen) was the cardinal virtue and required liberation from “opinionatedness, dogmatism, obstinancy, and egoism,” and cultivation of the golden rule: “do not do unto others what you would not want others to do unto you!”

Mencius (Meng Tse), who lived around 400 B.C., did much to propagate and elaborate Confucianism in its concern with ordering society. Thus, for two millennia, Confucius's doctrine of state, with its emphasis on ethics and social morality, rooted in ancient Chinese tradition and developed and continued by his disciples, has been standard in China and other parts of Asia.

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