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Without exaggerating its impact, it is best to approach Confucianism primarily as the source of moral values and ritual practices that have influenced personal development, family life, social relations, and political behavior in East Asia. Its main moral values have included filiality obedience and respect toward elders, especially parents , loyalty, humaneness, just action, mutual trust, reciprocity, and moral courage.
Its ritual practices, derived from Chinese texts more than 2, years old, have influenced East Asian weddings, banquets, funerals, coming-of-age ceremonies, and official protocols into the twenty-first century. Moreover, as indicated by this list of activities, Confucian rituals have often concerned human interrelations rather than relations between humans and divine beings. Of course, Confucianism has been more than a system of social values and public rituals.
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In particular it has served as a path of spiritual cultivation for individuals. It has also been a philosophical tradition within which different schools of thought have pursued competing interpretations of the Confucian heritage. The latter remains especially vibrant today, with various new interpretations of the Confucian heritage having been inspired by the challenge of Western thought. The history of a religious tradition begins when it becomes conscious of itself as a tradition and when it seeks to preserve and develop the teachings of its founder s.
In the case of the Confucian tradition, historians see this happening in the century after the death of Master Kong. It should nonetheless be noted that followers of the tradition have often stressed a sacred history that traces its origins to ancient sage rulers, such as the legendary emperors Yao and Shun supposedly prior to b. In the centuries following his death, during the late Zhou and early Han b.
During the same period, the Confucians established themselves as custodians of ancient China's ritual, political, and historical traditions.
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In addition to Master Kong's sayings known as the Analects , they preserved records of teachings attributed to other early sages, such as Master Meng also Mencius; c. This process of formulating sacred books neared culmination during the Han period, just as the tradition was becoming a major social and political force in China. At the start of the Han period the Confucian tradition's imminent success was not self-evident to its proponents.
Rulers of the preceding Qin Dynasty — b. Han literati debated which texts to accept as well as what the texts meant. Nevertheless, they agreed that Master Kong was a great sage. They considered him not only the source of the famous Analects but also the author or editor of the texts that would come to be known as the Five Scriptures also Five Classics. These books grew in importance to the point that, in c.
The Confucians also benefited from becoming the custodians of ancient rituals. Chinese rulers knew that magnificent ceremonies held an air of majesty, and in their way of thinking, the ritual dimension of statecraft was as important as its practical aspects. In the case of sacrificial offerings, it kept a ruler in good standing with his royal ancestors and the forces of nature such as Heaven, Earth, Sun, and Moon. In the case of audience rites ceremonial meetings a ruler grants to persons who wish to encounter him , it also brought order to a ruler's relations with his government officials and foreign neighbors.
The Chinese character ru, meaning "scholar" or "literatus," is a common symbol of Confucianism. It is from this character that Confucianism gets its Chinese name, ru-jiao "tradition of scholars". Among the earliest Confucians to gain imperial favor was Dong Zhongshu c. On Dong's advice the emperor established positions for the study of Confucian scriptures as well as the national university in front of which Han Xiaoling would later erect his famous stelae.
In developing an examination for aspiring imperial scholars, Dong established the basis for the state examinations that later East Asian governments used to recruit government officials. Dong was himself an expert on the sacred book Chunqiu Spring and Autumn Annals , and his famous commentary on it, Chunqiu fanlu Luxuriant Dew of the Spring and Autumn Annals , indicates key trends in Han Confucian thought. In his view Master Kong—the Annal's reputed author—was a great sage and uncrowned king. This portrayal matched ongoing efforts to deify Kong and develop the practice of performing sacrificial rites at his tomb and in Master Kong temples and government schools.
Synthesizing yin-yang thought of the late Zhou era with Confucian ideas, Dong also established numerological and cosmological correspondences between Heaven Tian and humanity within a microcosm-macrocosm theory a microcosm is a miniature model of the larger universe, or macrocosm.
Yin-yang thought was based on the idea of pairs of complementary opposites in the world, including in yin-yang order dark and light, cold and hot, wet and dry, female and male, winter and summer, night and day, and the sun and the moon.
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Exemplifying the microcosm-macrocosm theory, a balance of yin and yang made for a healthy person a microcosm as well as for a harmonious universe the macrocosm. Dong also further developed the old idea of a Mandate of Heaven tianming , according to which Heaven granted the right to rule to a line of rulers and expressed its evaluation of them through natural phenomena or other omens. This corresponded to a fundamental Confucian belief that social order must follow cosmic order in the harmonious relations between its parts and in the hierarchical structuring of its high and low parts for example, Heaven and Earth, yang and yin.
To maintain harmony with Heaven, people must observe the doctrine of the Three Bonds: subject to ruler, son to father, and wife to husband. Many Han Confucians followed Dong's cosmological ideas, which implicitly supported autocratic rule. Some Han emperors supported Confucian thought but ruled in the autocratic fashion of the first emperor of the Qin Dynasty, who had burned Confucian texts.
Later, Confucian scholars would play a dual role, supporting the emperor as a "Son of Heaven" yet reminding him that Heaven wanted its "Son" to practice benevolence and justice ren and yi. In later history political and social trends favored the spread of authoritarian tendencies in the Confucian tradition rather than the flowering of its moral ideals. In the name of Master Kong leaders stressed views of harmony and filiality that held that people should subordinate themselves to social units family, clan, and state and remain subservient to those who ranked higher in generation, age, or gender.
Biographies of Exemplary Women presented women in their role as upholders of social morality but also included negative examples of women whose selfish, sensual demands destroyed social morality, their husbands, and even dynasties. Ideal figures were mothers who reared their sons well and gave their husbands moral guidance.
On the one hand, Lessons for Women contained strong statements against spousal abuse and stressed male respect for women. On the other hand, it painted a picture of the ideal marriageable girl as a model of obedience who possesses the "four virtues": "womanly virtue" itself, which involves being chaste and demure; "womanly words," which are always polite and never quarrelsome; "womanly bearing," which is ever erect and clean, never slovenly or dirty; and "womanly work," which is domestic and industrious.
Available evidence indicates that, by the time of the Han Dynasty texts just mentioned, families already preferred newborn boys to girls, clans expected wives to be completely obedient to their husbands and in-laws, and social leaders excluded women from positions of power. In the centuries that followed, Confucian scholars did little to challenge these social values.
Some later wrote to condemn the most egregious abuses against women, such as wife beating and foot binding. In late imperial history there were rare individuals, such as Li Zhi — and Tang Zhen — , who advocated that women have educational and life opportunities similar to those afforded men. Mainstream Confucian scholars, however, mainly reinforced the patriarchal values of traditional society in China and, later, in Vietnam, Korea, and Japan.
Typically, the Confucian Way for a man meant a life of public service, informed by the study of Confucian scriptures and the practice of inner cultivation. For a woman the Confucian Way involved a search for personal fulfillment through a life of service to the men in her life.
Excluded from the path of formal study that led to government service, most women took this prescribed path. If a woman wanted a less domestic spiritual life, she had to seek it on another path, such as that of a Buddhist nun or Taoist priestess. For families, ritual traditions based on Confucian scriptures spread among social elites before ultimately reaching society's lower levels.
Having a Confucian-style marriage for one's daughter, coming-of-age ceremony for one's son, or funeral for one's deceased parent marked upward social movement. Over time the Confucian tradition came under the influence of Taoism and Buddhism, the latter having gained strength in post-Han China. By the time of the Tang Dynasty — c.
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Some felt the true Confucian Way had been lost, however. By the time of the Song Dynasty — , this view became more widely held, and a major Confucian renaissance movement began. The movement had so many new elements that modern scholars came to call it Neo-Confucianism. Despite the Neo-Confucian's avowed opposition to Buddhism and Taoism, the new elements can be traced mainly to those religions.
Of special importance was the fact that Neo-Confucians adopted the originally Indian idea that ascetic self-denial should play a necessary role in spiritual development. This development tended to undermine certain salutary elements of early Confucian thought, with its positive evaluation of human emotions, the human body, and the natural world.
It affected the behavioral ideals promoted by Confucians for women as well as men. While Song literati did not themselves advocate foot binding or seclusion for women, the ascetic turn in their thinking had subtle links to the development and spread of such practices. Looking beyond China, these later developments played a key role in determining which Confucian beliefs and practices would be adopted in Vietnam, Korea, and Japan and thus had a momentous effect on the lives of men and women throughout East Asia.
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For example, Zhu Xi — , the leading Song Confucian thinker, presented the tension between the ideal of heavenly principle tianli and the actuality of human desires renyu as the basic problem of philosophical understanding and moral cultivation. Moreover, when Confucian teachings were transmitted to Vietnam, Korea, and Japan from China's Song, Yuan — , and Ming — dynasties, Zhu Xi's new orthodoxy held a central place in both its social and philosophical aspects.
The Confucian tradition first arrived in Vietnam long before China's Song era, for the area was frequently under Chinese control. Chinese writing was introduced to Vietnam as early as the Han period. Later, Vietnamese scholars competed in state examinations and became officials of the Chinese government.
Nonetheless, as in Korea and Japan, the extensive Confucian penetration of Vietnam occurred later, during the Ly — , Tran — , the second Le — , and Nguyen — dynasties. Despite the fact that the country's society was originally less patriarchal than that of China, Vietnamese leaders encouraged adoption of the rituals and values in Confucian scriptures as interpreted by Zhu Xi and other Chinese Neo-Confucians.
State ceremonies, like state administrative practice, followed Chinese models. Vietnamese leaders idealized the hierarchical pairings in father-son, husband-wife, ruler-subject, and, in addition, teacher-student relationships. Korea's history reveals a situation similar to that in Vietnam. Following earlier exposure to isolated elements of the Confucian tradition, Korean leaders would ultimately adopt Neo-Confucian ideals in attempting a full-fledged transformation of their state and society. They introduced examinations for the recruitment of officials, rules to establish honesty in government, ceremonies to add civility to public life, and the ideal of benevolent rule.
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At the same time Korean Confucian loyalists sought conformity to social norms that deprived women of established social privileges in the areas of inheritance, freedom of movement outside the home, relations with their natal families, and status within their marriages. Chinese Confucian influence in Japan also predated the Song period. During the seventh and eighth centuries Japan adopted various social norms, administrative practices, and intellectual trends of China's Tang Dynasty.
Confucian governmental traditions borrowed directly from the Tang Dynasty state codes were particularly important in Japan's first attempts at centralized rule. Nonetheless, it was later Confucian influence in the post-Song era that led to the creation of lasting philosophical schools and that had widespread social effects in Japan.
During the Kamakura — and Muromachi — periods in Japan, Zen Buddhists helped spread new Confucian ideas and practices. The meditative practices of Buddhist zazen and Confucian seiza quiet sitting; from the Chinese jingzuo became popular, along with the synthesis of other Buddhist and Confucian personal development practices.
Against this background, Bushido Way of the Warrior later developed as the way of the feudal knights known as Samurai. The Samurai ascended to power under Tokugawa rule — , and their rise was accompanied by Tokugawa support for Confucian scholars who followed Zhu Xi's Neo-Confucian orthodoxy. Yamaga SokM —85 , admired for formulating the Bushido code, was once banished from the capital Edo for ten years —75 for advocating that Confucians overlook Zhu Xi in favor of the "ancient learning" kogaku of early Confucian sages. Japanese political conservatives usually preferred Zhu Xi's orthodoxy, while progressives adopted the activist and intuitionist alternative associated with the scholar Wang Yangming — of China's Ming Dynasty.
Progressive Confucians were among those who brought about the Meiji Restoration of , which marked the beginning of Japan's era of modernization. Confucian teachings thus affected Japan's male world of warriors and statecraft.