Confucianism, Rújiā “school of the literati” then Rúxué “teaching of the literati”, is one of the greatest philosophical, moral, political and to a lesser extent religious schools of China. It developed over two millennia from the work attributed to the philosopher Kongfuzi, “Master Kong” (551-479 BC), known in the West as the Latinized name of Confucius. Having been confronted with competing schools of thought during the Warring States Period and violently opposed under the reign of Qin Shi Huang, founder of the First Empire, it was imposed by Emperor Han Wudi (-156 ~ -87) as a state doctrine and remained so until the founding of the Republic of China (1911). It has also penetrated to Vietnam, Korea and Japan where it has been adapted to local circumstances.
From the middle of the 9th century, various currents of Neoconfucianism emerged (Lǐxué, Dàoxué, Xīnxué, etc.), which became the official version in the 13th century. During the Qing Dynasty, the Hainxue criticism of neo-Confucianism appeared, and in the twentieth century the new Confucianism.
China has been governed for thousands of years by a complete system of thought consisting of Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism, with Confucianism exercising the greatest influence.
The influence of Confucius in East Asia is such that it can be compared to those of Plato and Jesus in the West. He is not the founder of a religion, but has created with his followers, on the basis of the thought of his time, a completed ritual system and a doctrine at once moral and social, capable of remedying according to him to the spiritual decadence of China at the time.
During the Chinese Cultural Revolution, a political propaganda initiated by Mao Zedong in 1973 criticized Confucius, systematically associated with that of Lin Piao, under the name Pi Lin, Pi Kong.
(Temple of Confucius of Jiangyin, Wuxi, Jiangsu. This is a wénmiào, that is to say a temple where Confucius is worshipped as Wéndì, “God of Culture”.)
Confucius believes that community reform is only possible through the family and the individual. The men of antiquity, he says, “who wanted to organize the state, regulated their family circle; those who wanted to settle their family circle, first aimed to develop their own personality; those who wanted to develop their own personality first made their noble heart; those who wished to ennoble their hearts first rendered their thought worthy of faith; those who wanted to make their thought worthy of faith first perfected their knowledge.”
In light of the analysis of classical Confucian literature which is to be considered as the support of Confucian precepts, it is clear that Confucianism has served in the history of Eastern as a political tool for the rulers allowing the formation of hermetic barriers between the various social groups, but particularly instituted a very marked hierarchical order within the same family circle, where the wife must be subjected to the orders of her husband, to she must show her respect and gratitude on a daily basis. Thus, according to Confucian morality, in this same dynamic of pacification of the social body, of order and of harmony, the children must be obedient to their elders and show in any situation a filial piety, “to love his parents”. More generally, Confucianism allows the emergence of a very advanced vertical classification of the layers of society, establishes as dogma obedience to the powerful, and helps to place the man in the center, the woman having little voice in the chapter with regard to classical texts. Although the importance of Confucian moral principles has declined somewhat in the People’s Republic of China following the Cultural Revolution, the latent influence that Confucianism still exerts today on the social model of South Korea also of Japan (respect of the ancestors, filial piety, obedience to the elders, patriarchy, etc.), is central.
Confucius has given a very important role to music, synonymous with order and harmony, and the expression of noble and elevated feelings. Confucian classical music, with its instruments, still exists today in Asia, mainly in Korea.
The ren (“sense of the human”) is an important notion of the thought of Confucius. It manifests itself above all in the relationship to others and first and foremost in the relationship of the son to the father (filial piety). It serves as a model for any relationship: relationship of the prince and subject, older brother and younger brother, husband and wife, and friends. The set is called the Five Relationships (wulun) or Five Constants (wuchang). Their respect induces trust and kindness. From the family unit, the ren can thus extend to all humanity, illustrating the word of Confucius: “Between the Four Seas, all men are brothers” (Interviews, XII, 5). The ren cannot be separated from the respect of rites (li).
Confucianism and nature
Confucius teaches a moral and does not present a metaphysics or a cosmology. He seeks harmony in human relations. Nature does not occupy a place in her thought. It was in the 10th century that neo-Confucianism created its cosmology. It appears as a sketch of a scientific theory of the universe or even a rationalistic explanation of the world. It considers that the interaction of the forces of nature is responsible for all phenomena and mutations. Each organism fulfills with precision its function, whatever it may be, within a larger organization of which it is only a part.