Confucius was one of the most important and highly praised Chinese philosophers of all time. Even today, we can come across his famous sayings everywhere. With his philosophy mostly focusing on how one can live happily and in harmony with others, he has written many important books and has created the basis of Chinese education. Even though he was considered a very important philosopher, he did not have an easy life. What has led him to come up with the ideas he has, and how did he become such a well-known person? Let’s take a look at the intriguing life story of Confucius.
Confucius was born in 551 BCE in today's China, Shandong. His real name was Qui, and his real surname was Kung. In China, he is famously known as ‘Kung Fuzi’ or ‘Kung Fu Tzu’. In Chinese, the word ‘fuzi’ means teacher, master, philosopher. The name we know him by today, which is ‘Confucius,’ is the Latinized version of ‘Kung Fuzi’ and means Kung master or Kung philosopher. Confucius was born into a poor yet well-known and respected family. In one of his books titled Lun Yu (The Analects of Confucius) he states that he had a rough childhood and that he had to battle poverty. His father, Shu Liang was a successful soldier. With his first wife, he had nine daughters. In hopes of having a son, he married Yan zhengzai from the Yan xiang family. When Confucius was just 3 years old, his father died. He was raised by his mother and grandfather. His mother spent a lot of effort on her son’s education, and even with all the hardships, she made sure that he was raised well.
Since his childhood, he has always been a hardworking person. At just twelve years old, he managed to master the six arts that were considered very important in Chinese culture. These were; music, archery, calligraphy, math, horse riding, and painting. At nineteen years old, he married Ji Shi and had two daughters, one of which unfortunately passed away at a young age. He started gaining attention for his hardworking and determined personality. He was given important positions such as being in charge of the government fields at just 21 years old.
At that time, people were facing many hardships due to bad government structure and selfish leaders. Confucius really wanted to change this and wanted to find ways to have people live in peace. In the city he lived, there was a big library where ancient books were conceived. He had the chance to read them and try to find answers to how people can live happily. What is interesting is that he always sought answers from old books and did not try to invent completely new strategies.
At 23 years old, he was already considered a wise person and people from all over China came to visit him to seek answers. When he lost his mother in 529, he isolated himself for three years to mourn. After three years, he did not go back to his job in the government. He tried to figure out how in the old times, people managed to live a happy and peaceful life. He could not become a government official, but with the request of most people, he became a teacher. At just 29 years old, he opened his own school. His method of teaching was different from others. He made his students think and discuss certain books and ideas rather than trying to make them memorize information. He soon was the teacher of more than 3000 disciples. Before Confucius’s school, only people from wealthy families had the chance to become government officials or have important roles. He showed that in order to have a good position, you do not have to come from a wealthy family, but instead you need to be hardworking and kind. His disciples were from all kinds of backgrounds, and he treated them all equally.
As the government was getting weaker and the people were suffering more and more, Confucius tried to explain his ideas to the officials in order to help them. However, no one listened to him, and things kept getting worse. So at 54 years old, Confucius and some of his disciples decided to go from city to city in order to find officials that would listen to his ideas and help the people. His idea was that the leader must be well educated and must be close to ‘Jun Zi’ which means a person of noble character. The leader must be loving and caring towards the public instead of trying to force it into doing work. He traveled for 13 years and yet could not find an official who was willing to listen to him. So at 67 years old, he returned home. He spent the rest of his life reading and teaching at his school. His wish before he died was that his works were written down and turned into books. His disciples fulfilled his wish after Confucius died in 479.
In the next few centuries, his books (The Analects of Confucius, Spring and Autumn Annals, and Mencius are some of the most well-known) were used as the primary source of education for children in China. His ideas and his philosophy were named ‘Confucianism’ known in China as “K’ung Chiao” and was soon known all over China. After the communist revolution in China, his ideas were considered too traditionalist, and officials wanted people to forget about him. So, in the 21st century, even though his ideas and philosophy do not have the same effects as before, they still continue to be a big part of Chinese culture.
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Confucius
Accessed: 24 August, 2022
Encyclopædia Britannica, Confucius
Accessed: 25 August, 2022
Confucius: The Sage Who Shaped The East | Confucius | Timeline
Accessed: 23 August, 2022
Four Books and Five Classics
Accessed: 25 August, 2022
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