• Confucius was a contemporary of Lao Tzu, they had similar philosophies (e.g. the importance of harmony and balance)
  • Confucius mastered the six arts: ritual, music, archery, charioteering, calligraphy, and arithmetic
  • His father died when he was a child, his mother died when Confucius was in his early 20’s.
  • After this, he became a teacher and built a reputation as a man of virtue (high morals) who cherished Chinese culture and values.
  • Confucius was upset by the lack of morality in his province and encouraged people to take responsibility for their actions
  • Like Taoism, it is unclear whether Confucianism is a philosophy or a religion
  • Confucianism teaches that people should live in harmony with the “Way of Heaven” – each individual must act with virtue and serve as a living example to others
  • Asks members to develop an alert mind, a healthy body, and a pure soul
  • Confucians do not believe in or pray to, gods.  Instead, people need to remain grounded, live in the present, and “walk the path of righteousness for the sake of the way”
  • People are naturally good.  Evil is learned
  • Hsun Tzu – a later philosopher who wrote 32 essays that clarified the Confucian belief system
  • He believed that human nature is inherently evil and easily corrupted unless people were taught otherwise. – Which view of human nature is right?


  • Confucius gave advice that was precise and wise
  • Encouraged people to act with virtue, with empathy and justice
  • Confucius took no credit for his wisdom.  He said he got it from studying the ancients.
  • Nature and acting within its laws is encouraged (like Taoism)
  • Self-improvement and learning from the ancestors are encouraged (way of heaven)
  • Humans have a duty to act as guardians of heaven’s creation

The Five Virtues

  • Jen – goodwill, empathy, generosity
  • Yi – rightness, duty as guardians of nature and humanity
  • Li – right conduct and propriety, demonstrating your inner attitude with your outward expressions
  • Chih – wisdom
  • Hsin – faithfulness and trustworthiness
  • These virtues are a requirement for everyone, especially leaders

The Five Relationships

  • Father/Son
  • Ruler/Citizen
  • Husband/Wife
  • Older Brother/Younger Brother
  • Friend/Friend
  • Each relationship must contain mutual respect and recognition in order for the relationship to work
  • Each of us has a moral obligation to perform our role to the best of our ability
  • Ancestor Veneration – honoring and remembering the members of one’s family who have died.  Ancestors are not seen as gods.  Instead, remembering is seen as an important act of  Hsin (faithfulness)

Milestones and Symbols


  • At birth, the spirit of the fetus protects the mother from harm
  • Mother is given one month of complete rest after the birth
  • Family members provide for the baby’s needs for the first year


  • At the proposal, details of the individuals’ birth (hour, day, month, year) are checked.
  • If anything negative happens to the woman’s family during the 3 days after the proposal, the offer is rejected
  • The families exchange gifts
  • The wedding day involves a procession to each family’s home, breakfast, and a ceremony
  • At the ceremony, the bride serves the groom’s parents tea, and they do the same for her


  • Relatives cry loudly to inform the community of the death
  • The deceased is placed in a coffin with food and significant objects
  • The family of the deceased wear clothing of course material
  • Visitors bring incense and money to the funeral
  • A willow branch is carried behind the coffin on the way to the cemetery.
  • Later, the willow branch is placed on an altar in a shrine in the family home to signify the presence of the spirit of the deceased

Sacred Writings

  • A vast body of literature (importance of learning)
  • The Five Classics (Wu Wing) and the Four Books (Si Shu) are considered the most important
  • The Five Classics pre-date Confucius
  • Includes the I Ching or “Book of Changes”, a fortune-telling instruction manual

Cultural Impact

  • Confucianism is influential in Korea and Japan
  • Suffered persecution during the Chinese Cultural Revolution
  • About 6 million Confucian in the world, 26, 000 in N. America
  • Confucian ethics, ideals and wisdom are becoming popular in the West
author avatar
William Anderson (Schoolworkhelper Editorial Team)
William completed his Bachelor of Science and Master of Arts in 2013. He current serves as a lecturer, tutor and freelance writer. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, walking his dog and parasailing. Article last reviewed: 2022 | St. Rosemary Institution © 2010-2024 | Creative Commons 4.0


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