What is Confucianism?

Confucianism is the product of an ancient civilization that flourished in China. According to its doctrine, man is social by nature. The thought of Confucius still holds sway even in today’s modern society. His teachings can be seen on Chinese streets and homes, and they still form the foundation of Chinese social life. “If you want to know how to get along with people, study Confucius,” declares one young American businessman.


“The basic ideas of Confucianism are fairly simple: quietude is better than loud noise, wealth and position are important but not vital, family ties are strong but not extensive, individual values are right just like religious beliefs, and all actions must have a positive impact on society.” In other words, individual happiness is desirable only to the extent that it does not infringe on others’. On the other hand, the government should encourage social harmony and avoid interference. That is why Confucianism celebrates everyday life. It emphasizes practicality, virtue, learning through experience, and endurance. In short, Confucianism seeks to build up the strengths of the individual.


According to some scholars, Confucianism has had a profound effect on the formation of modern Chinese thought and on the Chinese language and culture more generally. One of the things that they claim is that Confucianism contributed to the creation of modern jing, or literary lyric. Another view is that Confucianism created modern day minimalism. The purpose of the rituals in contemporary Chinese society is, according to these rituals, to serve the state and improve everyday life.


According to some believers, Confucianism strengthens the social bond between individuals because it encourages individuals to see the world as a community. Individuals are encouraged to support their friends and families. In return, such support is reciprocated by the community. Thus, the goal of such social ties is to maintain good relationships with the neighbors.


Another view of Confucianism is that it is a religion, but not a cult. A few scholars maintain that Confucianism has been adopted from Buddhism and that the two have a common ancestor. However, it should be noted that despite the claims of these scholars, the religion has never been adopted by the state. As for the claim that it is a form of Buddhism, the fact that the original Buddha was born in India cannot be proven. Nor can it be proven that the original Buddha, when he left India, founded a religion.


A third argument against the view that Confucianism is a religion is the presence of many characteristics of a political system. It is based on family honor, and the expectation of social rank. Thus, the concept of China as the “Oriental league” is an example of such a system. In addition, Confucianism stresses individual freedom of association, both of which are ideals shared by other systems of government.


However, people who base their opinions on Confucianism must also be willing to accept that the system is a very localized form of government. It does not have a national state structure, and there is no centralized administration. Each area of the country has been formed according to local interests. Thus, the term “Confucianism” does not truly convey the essence of the practice. Instead, people must be more specific about what they mean by “Confucianist.”


For some people, Confucianism is simply a localized variant on traditional Chinese values. For others, it is a philosophy devoted to the cultivation of social harmony and polarity within a community. Still others believe it to be a religion that promotes virtue. Whatever the definition, Confucianism has had a tremendous impact upon social thought and action in China and throughout the world.

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