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An overview of the history of china and the influence of confucius philosophy

Clearly, the Chinese like this guy. To understand the Chinese mind, you need to start with Confucius 552-479BC. Arguably the most influential person in Chinese historyConfucius and his teachings continue to exert a deep influence on society even in modern China today.

First, what Confucianism is not. Nor are there priests, shrines or churches. In fact, he was mostly silent on the afterlife though over the centuries his teachings were melded with Daoist and Buddhist tenets and rituals. His attitude on the subject is perhaps best summed up in his statement: Confucius lived during a time of great chaos and conflict, known as the Spring and Autumn era.

The great question of the day was: He believed that mankind would be in harmony with the universe if everyone understood their rank in society and were taught the proper behaviors of their rank.

Similarly, he believed that the social order was threatened whenever people failed to act according to their prescribed roles. If he had catchphrase, it might have been: Confucius devised a system of interdependent relationships— a structure in which the lower level gives obedience to the higher extending from the family level to the national. As a result, Chinese culture tends gives a considerable amount of reverence for authority and age though not necessarily sincere, especially in a changing modern China.

  1. Study of the Confucian classics became the basis of the government examination system and the core of the educational curriculum. Grandparents and any other older relatives are not shy about giving their two cents.
  2. Although Confucianism may include ancestor worship, sacrifice to ancestral spirits and an abstract celestial deity, and the deification of ancient kings and even Confucius himself, all these features can be traced back to non-Confucian Chinese beliefs established long before Confucius and, in this respect, make it difficult to claim that such rituals make Confucianism a religion.
  3. If Confucianism promotes corruption, how can such rapid growth be possible? They tend to respect hierarchy and differences in status much more than Westerners, who tend to be more egalitarian and open towards strangers.
  4. Those who follow the teachings of Confucius are comforted by it; it makes their lives more complete and their sufferings bearable. If Confucianism promotes corruption, how can such rapid growth be possible?

Ruler and minister Elder brother and younger brother Husband and wife Friend and friend In one sense, the Confucian ethic is egalitarian, though not in Western sense where everyone has equal standing and opportunity within society. Though modern China has moved past these narrowly defined roles, the Chinese today are still used to thinking in terms of hierarchy.

They tend to respect hierarchy and differences in status much more than Westerners, who tend to be more egalitarian and open towards strangers. Americans in particular, tend to value people who treat everyone with equal respect, regardless of their relative socio-economic statuses.

Many American managers—preferring informal, egalitarian relationships—try to get their subordinates to call them by their first names. The point is that they very much respect the chain of command. Incidentally, this is sort of the opposite advice I was given in Southeast Asia about bribing the police if I got into trouble: Pay your bribe as early as possible, otherwise it gets more expensive as more higher-ups get involved.

In the interest of social harmony, it was important to behave with reverence and obedience according to your rank. Indeed, it was not just the polite thing to do in traditional Chinese society.

Saying the wrong thing to the emperor or a powerful official could literally cost you your life. Individual expression is encouraged from an early age and culturally reinforced in Western cultures.

SO WHO WAS THIS CONFUCIUS DUDE ANYWAY?

In contrast, collectivism is inherent in a Confucian society. Instead, an individual was defined by his or her relationship to the group. For millennia, the Chinese have been culturally conditioned to suppress own personal needs and think in terms of collective responsibility—first, to their families, then community, clan, and nation at large.

Modern Chinese society is rapidly changing however. But cultural values are remarkably persistent.

Confucius 101: A key to understanding the Chinese Mind

For instance, Asian cultures—despite Westernization—still have a strong value around modesty and humility. Overt displays of individualism and bragging are still extremely repelling to the Chinese foreigners get more leeway since they expect it more.

  • In fact, he was mostly silent on the afterlife though over the centuries his teachings were melded with Daoist and Buddhist tenets and rituals;
  • Modern movements such as New Confucianism seek to find new inspiration from the thought system of Confucius and his followers;
  • Pay your bribe as early as possible, otherwise it gets more expensive as more higher-ups get involved;
  • If, on the other hand, a religion is defined as for example a belief system that includes moral stances, guides for daily life, systematic views of humanity and its place in the universe, etc;
  • Zhu Xi, Wang Yangming and the other Neo-Confucians gave Confucianism a more thorough system of metaphysics and distilled a more clearly codified value structure from the ideas of Confucius and his early disciples.

Just look at the humility of Yao Ming compared to his American counterparts, despite his All-star status. The Chinese are effusive compliment givers. Where is this supposed excellent Chinese to which you refer? For the first time in their lives, they feel like a celebrity since random people on the street want to have their pictures taken with them but after a while, they start to get annoyed and dickish….

I recall a funny scene in the movie The Joy Luck Club that illustrated this cultural difference in modesty. A Chinese-American daughter brings her white boyfriend home to meet the family. However, she forgets to properly school him on the finer points of Chinese etiquette. Instead, the boyfriend tries to console her by saying that it just needs more soy sauce…. Hard to recover from that. Grandparents and any other older relatives are not shy about giving their two cents.

Without getting into the pros and cons rote memorization, lack of creativity, etcI want to give a bit of insight into the roots of this classroom diligence. Confucius placed a heavy emphasis on scholarship. This aspect of Confucianism is still very much in practice in China, as well as other deeply influenced countries such as South Korea, Japan, Taiwan and Singapore.

Though it continued be refined and tweaked by future dynasties, the exam system was significant in that it was the only method by which a person specifically, males could move up in the world. Confucius wanted to replace hereditary rule by the aristocracy with one based on scholarship and learning a meritocracy.

The series of exams were notoriously grueling—with a heavy emphasis on memorization of Confucian writing and classic works of literature.

But if you studied hard enough and passed, you could earn yourself a spot as a government official, bringing your family considerable wealth and face. But like everything in China, you could work around the system with the right guanxi. With limited number of spots at the top universities—and over a billion people—you can imagine how insane the competition is. I would NOT want to be a student in China.

He was too ahead of his time and was only mourned by a small group of his followers at his funeral. He was even mocked by his contemporary Lao Zi and future Daoistswho took a more egalitarian and less artificially-imposed view of societal relations.

During the Tang Dynastyhowever, it lost its official sanction.

Culture Insider: How Confucianism shaped China

But over the last two millennia, Confucianism has remained the dominant orthodoxy in Chinese society. Fast forward to the early 1900s. As the China and the Imperial System was going into a death spiralConfucianism once again fell out of favor.

Way out of favor. Similarly, Mao Zedong vilified him as a symbol of the old China that was holding the country back. He even launched a mass smear campaign that presented Confucius as a man whose hide-bound, anti-egalitarian ideas had done great harm to many generations of Chinese men, and even more damage to Chinese women. His emphasis on harmonious societal relations is a good fit with the modern CCP leadership desire for stability and social harmony.

In 2006, Hu Jintao called on government officials to return to Confucian moral ethics as a way to counter corruption and growing inequality. Promoting the subtext of respect for hierarchy, the film bombed. Some blamed it on bad timing since it went head-to-head with 3D Avatar, which ended up smashing box office records in China.

In a minor scandal, the government pulled 2D Avatar from many theaters and replaced it with Confucius.