Confucius (circa 551-479 BC)

According to tradition, Confucius was born in the province of Lu in China in 551 BC. In spite of his father's death when he was very young and the family's fall into poverty, Confucius (actually named K'ung Ch'iu and later called Master K'ung or K'ung Fu-tzu) received a good education. His education helped him to start a successful political career at an early age. His goal was to restore peace and orderliness to Lu, but he was dismissed from his job because corrupt individuals were jealous of his influence.

Confucius decided to give up public service and became a teacher, believing that he could change the world better by influencing the leaders of the future. The overlying message to all that Confucius taught was if people are to achieve a state of orderliness and peace, they must return to traditional values of virtue. He taught that a person's job was to focus on the highest concepts of behavior, even if that appeared to be impractical or foolish. A person can learn what is right and good behavior by studying the lives of the sage-kings and following rituals thoroughly and carefully.

At the age of 52, Confucius finally had the opportunity to put his ideas into practice when he became the chief magistrate of the city of Chung-tu. There was so much improvement in the behavior of the people that the next year he became the Minister of Crime for the province of Lu. The results were that crime was nearly eliminated and warring barons were brought under the ruler's control. Lu became a powerful and influential province, which only ended because the people eventually began to neglect Confucius' teachings.

Despite popular belief, Confucius never claimed to be a religious leader or divine being. Elements of Confucianism can be seen in every form of government, religion, or culture. His influence could be surprising since Confucius did not write any of his teachings down. His students wrote down what he taught in The Analects.

Quotations from the Analects:

"To have friends come from far away--isn't that a joy?"

"To see what is right and not to do it, is want of courage."

"The essence of knowledge is, having it, to apply it; not having it, to confess your ignorance."

"To be wronged is nothing unless you continue to remember it."

"It is only the wisest and the stupidest that cannot change."

"Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it."

"Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising every time we fall."

Discussion Questions

If Confucius were alive today, how would he answer the question, "Truth or beauty, which has a greater impact on society?"

In a historical context, what would Confucius think was the greatest
challenge facing humankind during his lifetime?

Choose your favorite quote listed above, or search for others at
Why do you like the quote you chose and how does it apply to the world today?

If Confucius was President of the United States, what do you think his plan would be to fight the war on terror?

What would Confucius say to students who are not willing to work hard in school?

What is one place in the United States government that you see Confucius' influence?

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