I have to admit that the only thing I knew about Confucius was that he was considered a very wise man in ancient China. Other than that, about the only time that I heard of him was, “Confucius say…” followed by a joke of some kind.
This is a fairly short biography, but since Confucius was born in 551 BCE, there is obviously only his legacy passed down through history to go on. His main belief was that people generally weren’t able to govern themselves very well, so the concept that he tried to convey to the rulers of his day was that if they acted virtuously, their subjects would follow their example and act in that manner themselves.
Confucius also authored and edited many texts including the Five Classics which advocated the fact that a virtuous society should function much like a virtuous family. The principles espoused in these Five Classics had a basis in Chinese tradition, which championed loyalty, ancestor veneration, respect of elders by their children, and respect of husbands by their wives. Public service was also another one of his strong beliefs.
When threatened by those who disagreed with him, he exiled himself and spread his teachings throughout northeast and central China. The teachings evolved over the years, but much to the disappointment of Confucius, they were never seriously adopted by the leaders of the day during his lifetime. During the Song Dynasty, ideas from Daoism and Buddhism were added to Confucianism and the result was what scholars refer to as Neo-Confucianism.
Following his death, the disciples of Confucius turned his teachings into a set of rules and practices. They organized them into Analects, and his only grandson, Zisi, ran a philosophical school using these teachings. Students of this school of thought later became officials in many of the royal courts in China, thus continuing the legacy of Confucius throughout the centuries, something that he probably never would’ve imagined.
Of course in the modern day, with Communism ruling China the teachings of Confucius are not practiced at all, with rulership being by martial law instead. There is a lot more about his teachings and the history of them expanded upon in the book, and the concluding chapter contains a number of his actual sayings, which may have been my favorite part of the biography. The main content of the book may not have been one of the most interesting topics that I’ve read in the Hourly History series, but it was quite informative and well written. I’d recommend it to anyone who has any interest in learning about Confucius.