Background: Confucius was born around 550 BC in Shandong province. He traveled around China working as a Civil servant, excelling in all his pursuits. People sought his counsel and he founded a school at the age of 22. He taught his pupils basic ethical principles that would create a good society and responsible government. His aim was not to become a great religious leader, but instead to tell stories from the past, so that the successes could be applied to the present.
After the death of Confucius, two major schools of thought emerged. One was led by Mencius, who continued Confucius’ teachings on the innate goodness of human nature. The other school of thought was led by Hsun-tzu, who claimed men were born with an evil nature, but could regain goodness through moral education. Throughout Chinese history, many other different variations of Confucianism emerged and flourished.
Sacred Book: The main literature of Confucians is The Five Classics (Wu Ching) and the Four Books (Shih Shu). These books were either written by Confucius or one of his disciples.
The Nature of God: Early Chinese writings indicate belief in a supreme or higher god. Confucius seemed to share this belief. Today, most Chinese look at Confucius as an atheist- someone who thought there was no God.
Human Condition: Confucius encouraged people to embrace their faults and shortcomings in order to become better. The goal of his teachings was to spur mankind onto moral perfection. As a foundation for this life of goodness, he relied on the values of love, goodness, humanity and “human-heartedness.”
Eternity: Confucius’ teachings did not address the issue of eternity in depth. He focused on this life, attaining moral goodness on earth.
What is Salvation? According to modern interpretations of Confucianism, a person is saved through their own moral goodness. However, Confucianism is lived out more as a lifestyle than a religion with definable beliefs about the afterlife.
How is a person saved? Moral goodness and sincerity are central to Confucianism. According to Hsun-tzu, man could eradicate his evil nature through moral education.
Notes: Confucianism is in many ways, a lifestyle. Confucius emphasized veneration or ancestors. He believed that people should keep a high moral standard. Confucianism taught that loyalty combined with reciprocity will bring people to act humanely. Sincerity, seriousness, wisdom, and faithfulness are other virtues that Confucius taught. He believed a life that combines these values will influence everyone who is around him. Having right relationships is central to Confucianism.
During the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), Confucianism was suppressed. However, it has become acceptable again in recent years as an alternative to Western thinking. Many Chinese cultural values seem to have roots in the ideals of Confucius’ thinking. Some examples include family loyalty and valuing others above oneself.