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We know that Confucius was a real person who lived in China during the time 551 - 479 BCE.  He had a tremendous influence on Chinese thought and some scholars have compared him with the western philosopher, Socrates.  We also know that he was political figure with strong opinions on education and philosophy, as well as how people should live their lives.  He is regarded as the founder of the a Ru School of Chinese thought and his teachings are preserved in a collection of works know as the Analects. 

The legend of Confucius tells us that his ancestors were once weathly folk who lived in the state of Song.  The family, fleeing political turmoil moved to Lu and became impoverished.  Early accounts of Confucius relate his poverty stricken childhood and how being poor drove him to first seek work at menial jobs, doing accounting for rich farmers and taking care of animals.  Somehow Confucius was able to educate himself and mastered music, among other disciplines.  By the time he was middle-aged, he had begun to teach his philosopy to others. 

His teachings lead to recognition by Duke Ding of Lu when Confucius was about fifty years old and he was tapped as a minister of the court.  The story continues that court rivals forced Confucius, along with his followers into exile.  Confucius had many adventures as he traveled the Chinese states of Wei, Song, Chen, Cai and Chu looking for employment.  The legends have Confucius returning to Lu in 484 BCE and staying there for the remainder of his life, teaching and writing.  He is credited with the classic Chinese texts, the Book of Songs and the Book of Documents, as well as having edited the Spring a Autumn Annals, which record life in the royal court of Lu. 

Confucius was famous for coming up with exactly the right thing to say at the right time.  Some historians portray him as a great sage who probably should have become a king.  Confucius' teachings argue that even though the fate and actions of humans are governed by a supreme being, each person is responsible for his or her own actions.  He taught that we can do little or nothing to "alter our fated span of existence but we alone can determine what we accomplish and what we are remembered for".  While this does not sound radical by today's standards, historians tell us that many of the ideas that Confucius taught were original and new at the time - and were in some cases quite diferent from the ideas and conventions that were traditionally followed. 

The social philosophy that Confucius espoused was based on "ren" - being compassionate and showing love towards others.  He felt that compassionate people were quiet in nature and men or women, of few words.  His social philosophy is basically what we grew up calling “The Golden Rule”, which is simply treating others as you would want to be treated.  Confucius also taught that being respectful of your parents and family was of the utmost importance. 

The political philosophy of Confucius was also radical for the time.  He felt that rulers needed to learn self-discipline and restraint and should rule by example.  He very firmly believed that anyone with responsibility for governing people had the responsibility to treat his or her subjects with love and concern.  Finally, Confucius was a strong supporter of education.  He felt that this was important to all people in all walk of life and that without it, society would eventual decay and the world fall into chaos.  Confucius' philosophy embodied quite a bit of common sense - it is easy to see how his teachings first became so popular and how they continue to be held in high regard in modern times.


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