Confucianism as a system of ethical philosophy and religion had significant importance for China and the Chinese nation. Being established by Confucius and developed by his followers, the ideology was treated with respect by the people. Moreover, Confucianism positively affected Chinese culture encouraging people to follow its teachings concerning loyalty, honor, humanity, family, etiquette, and justice. At the same time, philosophy has a beneficial impact on education as well as a governmental system of China. Although Confucianism is usually treated as philosophical thinking, it is also regarded as a religion. To be precise, many temples were constructed in the honor of Confucius. Nevertheless, the fall of the imperial government of China resulted in the decline of Confucianism. Therefore, Confucianism, as an ideology promoting respect and harmony, positively influenced the culture of the country and changed its social and political life.
Background and Development of Confucianism
Throughout the centuries, China was governed by a series of dynasties. While the power was transmitted from one ruler to another basing on heritage, one family could govern the country for centuries. For instance, the Shang was the first great dynasty to manage the state for about 400 years (Billioud 53). Moreover, the Zhou Dynasty that ruled China for about 800 years followed the Shang dynasty (Billioud 53). When Barbarian tribes invaded the country, the Zhou Dynasty was forced to leave the capital and establish it in another place. That event allowed nobles to fight for control over specific parts of the country despite their loyalty to the ruling dynasty. Therefore, China plunged into disorderly time that poorly affected the entire society. People suffered from high taxes, constant wars, starvation, and insecurity. Those hard times forced the nation to find solutions for their difficult life situations. Consequently, many thinkers appeared offering their ideas for establishing a better society. Thus, Confucianism has considered the most important and influential ideological school is ultimately the most powerful ideology and then religion.
Confucianism arose in China with the teachings of Kong Qi, a man known to the entire world under the name of Confucius (Gan 117). The ideology was based on the traditional culture of the early Zhou Dynasty. To heal Chinese society from the miseries of the time, the philosophy recommended turning to the ancient traditions of the aforementioned ruling family. The founder of Confucianism lived a simple life teaching other people classic Chinese works. To make society better, Confucius traveled around China studying the Five Classics that were Chinese books on history, poetry, music, and rituals (Gan 117). The philosopher believed that society should adopt ancient truths in order to obtain peace and harmony. During the years of his studying, Confucius influenced many people who became his pupils and followed his teachings. Mencius and Xun Zi were those among them who developed the ideology further (Edwards 4). During the reign of Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty, Confucianism became a state ideology. Therefore, it has been followed by the Chinese people for more than two millennia and continues to be followed in the present day.
Major Events in Confucianism Development
The most important event connected to Confucianism is the day when it has been founded, namely the 6th-5th century BCE. The founder of the ideology lived between 551-479 BCE. His thoughts and beliefs were further developed by the two followers of the philosophy, namely, Mencius and Xunzi, attributed to the 5th BCE and the 3rd century BCE respectively (Edwards 12). While the idea of Confucianism grew, it became a subject of worship and then a state religion. The event took place during the ruling of the Han Dynasty (206 BCE-220 CE). In 120 BC, a civil service exam based on major principles of Confucianism was introduced. At the same time, in 450 AD - 650 AD, the ideology of Confucianism was spread through Asia (Edwards 14). In addition, the temples in the honor of Confucius were established during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 CE). Therefore, Confucianism as a philosophy and state religion played a significant role in the history of China and entire Asia.
Effect of Confucianism on Chinese Culture
Confucianism has deeply influenced the spiritual, political, and cultural life of China. To be precise, Confucian thoughts have become of great importance and value for the common people of the country. The basic teachings of Confucianism concerning justice, honesty, loyalty, and humanity were daily practiced by the majority of the Chinese (Billioud 54). While Confucius believed that every individual had his or her place in society, Ancient China was transformed into a structured community. As Chinese society had a stable structure, it became an example of the perfect community for many centuries. In addition, the ideology influenced Chinese culture by teaching people social values as well as establishing important religious and state institutions. At the same time, the particular philosophy positively impacted the cultural life of the society encouraging respect for the elderly, establishing schools, and elevating teachers (Gan 118). Thereby, Confucianism brought stability to China and its citizens.
Furthermore, the Five Classics of Confucianism became the basis of education in Ancient China. The school created by the philosopher educated young boys according to the teachings of Confucianism. The students of the school were taught Calligraphy; thus, many of them could continue their studying and become scholars. Moreover, the emperor, Wudi, continued to establish schools in order to study the populace teachings of Confucius. It positively influenced Chinese society because not only elites but also local people were provided with the opportunity to learn and understand the values of China. Thus, the public education system was established under the impact of Confucianism. At the same time, during the ruling of the Han Dynasty, the first civil service exam was created with Confucianism as a major subject (Edwards 8). A young man who wanted to promote himself and become a gentleman had to study hard to pass the particular exam. Therefore, Confucianism greatly impacted Chinese culture by stimulating people to learn and follow the indigenous traditions of the country.
Confucianism and Changes it Caused
Confucianism changed the Chinese attitude toward life establishing new standards of living and social value. Confucius' teachings on ethics, ancestor worship, social and familial obligations and respect for rites greatly supported the durability of the Chinese civilization. To be precise, when Confucianism became the official state philosophy, it changed school teachings and government. Since Confucius lived in times when the established social norms were not valued, the philosopher helped people maintain etiquette and respect social behavior (Billioud 60). Moreover, the ideology taught Chinese citizens to honor their rulers. At the same time, an ideal man should possess strong morals to be a worthy member of society. In addition, Confucianism changed the government, specifically the rules according to which the officials were accepted. Before the establishing of the ideology, the officials had to be born in a royal family whereas, after its setting, the government took gentlemen scholars to the position of the court official (Gan 125). Therefore, even poor people had an opportunity to occupy high-ranking offices. Thus, Confucianism improved the established social order in Ancient China.
Nevertheless, with the fall of the imperial government of China and the rise of the Republic of China, the decline of Confucianism in China began. This happened in the early 1900s when the country was on the edge of revolution (Billioud 53). Becoming a modernized nation, China had to rearrange some of its ancient traditions and beliefs. The revolutionary temper in China contradicted the Confucian idea of living in harmony as the most ancient Chinese ideology did not fit the new spirit of the state. With the establishment of the Republic of China, the main Confucian beliefs and principles were replaced by the Nationalist Party of China (Billioud 62). Thus, Confucianism existed in China since ancient times until the rise of the new governmental order in the country.
Confucianism as a Religion
When Confucianism transformed into the Han state cult, religious elements of the ideology were introduced. Although Confucius did not mention the gods in his teachings, he stated that he accepted the religious beliefs of the time. The thinker did not challenge the existing beliefs concerning the gods and the spirit world of ancestors in society. However, Confucianism became the official religion of imperial China. Its theories, philosophies, and ideas were valued by the ordinary Chinese people and elites. It was a religion of the imperial officials and political philosophy of Chinese rulers. According to Confucian ideology, Heaven chose a particular individual and his descendants who will be an agent between the state and Heaven (Gan 129). Thus, the man was a transmitter of the god's power whose actions influenced the fate of the empire. Regardless Confucius never taught people about gods, there were temples built in his honor (Billioud 63). In addition, Confucianism did not have a separate church though its institutions included community, family, and state. Thereby, Confucianism was part of the Chinese social, political, and cultural life; to Chinese people, it was a religion to believe and follow.
Confucianism was of paramount importance in Ancient China since its establishment as a state religion. Being a conservative state ideology that valued ancient imperial traditions, it kept the history of the Chinese nation. At the same time, Confucian teachings were highly appreciated by ordinary Chinese people as well as elites. Having a positive impact on Chinese society, Confucianism changed educational and governmental systems allowing gentlemen scholars to participate in the social and political life of the country. In addition, the ideology is widely treated as a religion in China and other Asian countries.