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Confucianism is often characterized as a device of social and also ethical philosophy rather 보다 a religion. In fact, Confucianism constructed on an ancient religious foundation to develop the social values, institutions, and also transcendent ideals of timeless Chinese society. It was what sociologist Robert Bellah called a "civil religion," (1) the sense of spiritual identity and also common moral expertise at the foundation of a society"s central institutions. That is also what a Chinese sociologist referred to as a "diffused religion"; (3) its organizations were not a separate church, however those of society, family, school, and also state; its clergymans were not different liturgical specialists, but parents, teachers, and also officials. Confucianism was component of the Chinese social fabric and means of life; come Confucians, daily life to be the arena of religion.

The founder that Confucianism, grasp Kong (Confucius, 551-479 B.C.E.) did not intend to uncovered a new religion, but to interpret and revive the unnamed faith of the Zhou dynasty, under i m sorry many people thought the old system of religious rule to be bankrupt; why couldn"t the gods prevent the social upheavals? The burning worry of the day was: If it is no the genealogical and nature spirits, what then is the basis of a stable, unified, and enduring society order? The leading view the the day, espoused by Realists and also Legalists, was that strict law and statecraft were the bases the sound policy. Confucius, however, thought that the communication lay in Zhou religion, in that is rituals (li). He understood these not as sacrifices questioning for the blessing of the gods, however as ceremonies performed by person agents and embodying the civilized and also cultured fads of behavior occurred through generations of human wisdom. Castle embodied, because that him, the moral core the Chinese society. Moreover, Confucius applied the hatchet "ritual" to actions past the formal sacrifices and spiritual ceremonies to encompass social rituals: courtesies and accepted standards of behavior-- what we today contact social mores. He observed these time-honored and also traditional rituals as the communication of person civilization, and he feel that just a civilized culture could have a stable, unified, and also enduring society order.

Thus one side of Confucianism was the affirmation of accepted values and also norms of behavior in primary social organizations and basic human relationships. All human being relationships involved a set of characterized roles and also mutual obligations; each participant need to understand and also conformto his/her suitable role. Beginning from individual and family, human being acting rightly can reform and perfect the society. The blueprint of this process was explained in "The great Learning," a ar of the standard of Rituals:

Only once things room investigated is understanding extended; only when knowledge is extended are thoughts sincere; only when thoughts are sincere are minds rectified; only as soon as minds room rectified are the characters of people cultivated; only when character is cultivated are our families regulated; just when families are regulation are says well governed; only when states are well administer is there peace in the world.(3)

Confucius" ethical vision ran against the serial of the legalistic mind collection of his day. Only under the Han Emperor Wu (r. 140-87 B.C.E.) did Confucianism come to be accepted as state ideology and also orthodoxy. From that time on the imperial state advocated Confucian worths to maintain law, order, and also the condition quo. In late classic China, queens sought come establish town lectures ~ above Confucian ethical precepts and to give civic awards come filial sons and also chaste wives. The imperial family and other notables funded the publication of morality publications that motivated the exercise of Confucian values: respect because that parents,loyalty come government, and keeping come one"s location in society—farmers should remain farmers, and practice the ethics of farming. This next of Confucianism was conservative, and also served to bolster created institutions and long-standing social divisions.

There was, however, an additional side to Confucianism. Confucius not only stressed society rituals (li), but also humaneness (ren). Ren, sometimes analyzed love or kindness, is not any kind of one virtue, however the source of every virtues. The Chinese personality literally represents the relationship in between "two persons," or co-humanity—the potential come live together humanely fairly than scrapping choose birds or beasts. Ren keeps ritual forms from becoming hollow; a routine performed with ren has not just form, yet ethical content; it nurtures the inner character of the person, furthers his/her ethical maturation. Therefore if the "outer"side the Confucianism was conformity and also acceptance of social roles, the "inner" side was cultivation of conscience and also character. Cultivation involved broad education and also reflection top top one"s actions. It was a life time commitment come character building carving and also polishing the stone of one"s character till it was a lustrous gem. Grasp Kong described his own lifetime:

At fifteen, I set my heart on learning. At thirty, ns was firmly established. In ~ forty, I had actually no an ext doubts. At fifty, i knew the will certainly of heaven. In ~ sixty, i was ready to listen to it. In ~ seventy, I can follow mine heart"s desire there is no transgressing what was right. Analects, 2:4

The inside pole that Confucianism was reformist, idealistic, and also spiritual. It produced a high right for family members interaction: members to be to act each other with love, respect, and also consideration for the needs of all. That prescribed a lofty ideal for the state: the leader was to be a father to his people and also look after ~ their an easy needs. It compelled officials to slam their rulers and refuse to serve the corrupt. This inner and idealist soup spawned a Confucian reformation well-known in the West together Neo-Confucianism. The movement developed reformers, philanthropists, committed teachers and officials, and social theorists from the eleventh v the nineteenth centuries.

The idealist soup of Confucianism had a religious character. Its ideals to be transcendent, no in the sense that castle were various other worldly (the Confucians were not interested in a far-off heavenly realm), however in the feeling of the transcendent ideal—perfection. On the one hand, Confucian values room so very closely linked with everyday life that they periodically seem trivial. Day-to-day life is so familiar that we execute not take its moral content seriously. We are each a girlfriend to someone, or aparent, or certainly the child of a parent. On the various other hand, Confucians remind united state that the familiar ideals that friendship, parenthood, and also filiality are far from trivial; in real life we just rarely achieve these ideals. We all too often just go through the motions, too preoccupied to give our complete attention to the relationship. If we consistently and wholeheartedly realized our potential to be the an extremely best friend, parent, son, or daughter humanly possible, us would develop a level of caring, of moral excellence,that would method the utopian. This is Confucian transcendence: to take the action of day-to-day life seriously together the arena that moral and also spiritual fulfillment.

The outer and inner aspects of Confucianism—its conforming and also reforming sides—were in stress throughout Chinese history. Moreover, the tensions in between social and political realities and the high-minded moral ideals that the Confucians were an ongoing resource of concern for the leader of this tradition. The risks of ethical sterility and hypocrisy were always present. Confucianism, lock knew well, offered both as a conservative state orthodoxy and also a stimulus because that reform. Great Confucians, like religious leaders everywhere, seek periodically to revive and renew the moral, intellectual, and also spiritual vigor the the tradition. Until the 1890s, serious-minded Chinese experienced Confucianism, despite its failures to realize its ideal society, as the source of hope for China and the main point of what it supposed to it is in Chinese.

Although since the revolution, the public ideology of the People"s Republic has actually abandoned Confucian teachings, one can say that there is a continually of form: choose Confucianism prior to it, Maoism teaches a commitment to transforming the people by using the lessons of autopian ideological background to the actions and also institutions of day-to-day life. This is no to case that Mao to be a "closet Confucian," yet to emphasize that the Confucian way was virtually identified with the Chinese way.


Robert Neelly Bellah, The damaged Covenant: American Civil faith in a Time the Trial, new York: Seabury Press, 1975.C. K. Yang, Religion in Chinese Society, Berkeley: university of California Press, 1961, pp. 20-21.Excerpted and adjusted from de Bary, Sources, I: 115-16.For a rather fuller philosophical (but readable) discussion, watch Herbert Fingarette, ConfuciusThe Secular together Sacred, brand-new York: Harper and Row, 1972, chapter one.

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Note: This article and also the one top top Dao/Taoism to be written during the Indiana religious beliefs Studies task Institute because that Teaching about Religion in the second Social researches Curriculum. The drafts were critiqued by the social researches teachers that attended with an eye come supplementing and correcting the details in textbooks and also other materials used through teachers. The two articles should read as a pair; they match each various other in lot the same method these two religious beliefs complemented each other throughout Chinese history.