At nearly the same time as Pythagoras, Confucius was teaching his practical approach to life. He emphasized ethics, morality, and the importance of the family. Confucius was born in the province of Lu (what is now Shantung, China). The exact day of his birth is unknown but Sept 28 (Teachers Day) is celebrated in his honor. Apparently poor but related to the royal family, Confucius was large, strong, and a hard worker. He was 3 when his father died; his mother raised and taught him. When he was 19, he found a job as the land manager for a rich nobleman, got married and began a family (a son and two daughters).
Confucius is the Latin version of K’ung-fu-tzu (Master K’ung). His family name was K’ung, and he was called Ch’iu K’ung or simply K’ung. He devoted his life to learning and teaching. To be well-learned in his day was to have mastered the six arts: arithmetic, music, calligraphy, archery, chariot handling and ritual. In addition to the six arts, Confucius studied justice and history, particularly the ways of Emperors Yao (2300 BC) and Shun (2200 BC). He was interested in rituals and how they met the needs of the community. He reasoned that traditions should not be discarded but revitalized.
Confucius was born during the Chau Dynasty (1100-221 BC) which had once been a powerful force. Chou Kung, the Duke of Chou (d. 1094 BC), had developed a cultural system similar to the original organization of the United States of America. The Chou dynasty encouraged strong states with agreement for interstate commerce and mutual defense. The cohesiveness of the system was maintained by a strong king who had both ethical and religious power. More often than not, the king ruled through moral persuasion. If one state was out of sync, the king would martial the power of the other states to bring it back into line.
The kings received their power from Heaven. The states were ruled by the king who in turn was ruled by the Lord-on-High of Heaven. If the kings misused their power, God would remove them and entrust someone else with power to rule. By the time of Confucius, the Chou Dynasty had degenerated into such corruption that it was in danger of being replaced by divine intervention. Confucius sought to revitalize society by emphasizing both personal and corporate virtue.
Confucius identified 5 essential virtues: kindness, decorum, wisdom, faithfulness and honesty. His focus was not on the supernatural but on reason and self-cultivation. Confucius believed that ordinary people can do great things. People can be taught and can shape their destiny by continuous self-improvement. Consequently, all men should be educated. Education should be a life-long process that improves the individual and ultimately leads to public service and the restoration of the nation. Confucianism is more of an inclusive humanism than an organized religion. It is a belief that inspires moral behavior and political action.
When he was 22, he began the first private school; a sort of an executive finishing school specializing in teaching personal conduct, government and justice. In 518 BC, when he was 33, Confucius moved to the imperial capital of Lu (Lo-yang) but fled to a neighboring feudal state with the prince of Lu when an uprising occurred. When the rebellion was put down, Confucius returned to Lu and studied music. In his early 50s, Confucius was in government service, including as prime minister of Lu. In his late 50’s and most of his 60s, Confucius continued teaching and learning, wandering through China and sharing his philosophy. He was in his late 60s when he returned to Lu. Confucius died at the age of 73.