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Jiangyin wenmiao dachengdian
Temple of Confucius of Jiangyin, Wuxi, Jiangsu. This is a wenmiao (文庙), that is to say a temple where Confucius is worshipped as Wendi, "God of Culture" (文帝).
Datong Wenmiao 2013.08.29 11-33-25
Gates of the wenmiao of Datong, Shanxi

Confucianism is a system of thought and behavior originating in ancient China. It is sometimes described as a tradition, philosophy, religion, or way of life. Confucianism developed from teachings of the Chinese philosopher Confucius (551–479 BCE).

Confucianism promotes the harmony of the family and the society as a whole. The followers of Confucianism believe that human beings are fundamentally good, and teachable, improvable, and perfectible through personal and communal endeavor, especially self-cultivation and self-creation.

Confucian ethical codes are encompassed by the Five Constants. They are:

  • Ren (benevolence, humaneness)
  • Yi (righteousness, justice)
  • Li (propriety, rites)
  • Zhi (; zhì: wisdom, knowledge)
  • Xin (sincerity, faithfulness)

These are accompanied by the classical four virtues (四字; sìzì), one of which (Yi) is also included among the Five Constants:

There are many other traditionally Confucian values, such as ; chéng; 'honesty', ; yǒng; 'bravery', ; lián; 'incorruptibility', ; shù; 'kindness, forgiveness', a ; chǐ; 'sense of right and wrong', ; wēn; 'gentleness', ; liáng; 'kindheartenedness', ; gōng; 'respect', ; jiǎn; 'frugality', and ; ràng; 'modesty').

Traditionally, cultures and countries in the East Asian cultural sphere are strongly influenced by Confucianism, including China, Taiwan, Korea, Japan, and Vietnam.


Strictly speaking, there is no term in Chinese which directly corresponds to "Confucianism". The closest catch-all term for things related to Confucianism is the word ru (; ). Its literal meanings in modern Chinese include 'scholar', 'learned', or 'refined man'. In Old Chinese the word had a distinct set of meanings, including 'to tame', 'to mould', 'to educate', and 'to refine'.


Social harmony results in part from every individual knowing his or her place in the natural order, and playing his or her part well.

Particular duties arise from one's particular situation in relation to others. The individual stands simultaneously in several different relationships with different people: as a junior in relation to parents and elders, and as a senior in relation to younger siblings, students, and others. While juniors are considered in Confucianism to owe their seniors reverence, seniors also have duties of benevolence and concern toward juniors. The same is true with the husband and wife relationship where the husband needs to show benevolence towards his wife and the wife needs to respect the husband in return. This theme of mutuality still exists in East Asian cultures even to this day.

The Five Bonds are: ruler to ruled, father to son, husband to wife, elder brother to younger brother, friend to friend. Specific duties were prescribed to each of the participants in these sets of relationships. Such duties are also extended to the dead, where the living stand as sons to their deceased family. The only relationship where respect for elders is not stressed was the friend to friend relationship, where mutual equal respect is emphasised instead. All these duties take the practical form of prescribed rituals, for instance wedding and death rituals.

Filial piety

Fourteenth of The Twenty-four Filial Exemplars

In Confucian philosophy, ; xiào is a virtue of respect for one's parents and ancestors, and of the hierarchies within society: father–son, elder–junior and male–female.

In more general terms, filial piety means to be good to one's parents; to take care of one's parents; to engage in good conduct not just towards parents but also outside the home so as to bring a good name to one's parents and ancestors; to perform the duties of one's job well so as to obtain the material means to support parents as well as carry out sacrifices to the ancestors; not be rebellious; show love, respect and support; the wife in filial piety must obey her husband absolutely and take care of the whole family wholeheartedly. display courtesy; ensure male heirs, uphold fraternity among brothers; wisely advise one's parents; display sorrow for their sickness and death; and carry out sacrifices after their death.

Filial piety is considered a key virtue in Chinese culture, and it is the main concern of a large number of stories. One of the most famous collections of such stories is "The Twenty-four Filial Exemplars". These stories depict how children exercised their filial piety in the past. While China has always had a diversity of religious beliefs, filial piety has been common to almost all of them; historian Hugh D.R. Baker calls respect for the family the only element common to almost all Chinese believers.


Confucius himself did not propose that "might makes right", but rather that a superior should be obeyed because of his moral rectitude. In addition, loyalty does not mean subservience to authority. This is because reciprocity is demanded from the superior as well. As Confucius stated "a prince should employ his minister according to the rules of propriety; ministers should serve their prince with faithfulness (loyalty)."

If the ruler is evil, then the people have the right to overthrow him. A good Confucian is also expected to remonstrate with his superiors when necessary. At the same time, a proper Confucian ruler should also accept his ministers' advice, as this will help him govern the realm better.


君臣魚水 - 劉備與諸葛亮
Statue of Liu Bei and Zhuge Liang, considered the ideal example of the loyalty, integrity and shared governance between a lord and minister in Chinese history
Yushima Seido 002
Yushima Seidō in Bunkyō, Tokyo, Japan

The Master said, "He who exercises government by means of his virtue may be compared to the north polar star, which keeps its place and all the stars turn towards it."

A key Confucian concept is that in order to govern others one must first govern oneself according to the universal order. When actual, the king's personal virtue (de) spreads beneficent influence throughout the kingdom. By being the "calm center" around which the kingdom turns, the king allows everything to function smoothly and avoids having to tamper with the individual parts of the whole.

This idea may be traced back to the ancient shamanic beliefs of the king being the axle between the sky, human beings, and the Earth. The emperors of China were considered agents of Heaven, endowed with the Mandate of Heaven, one of the most vital concepts in imperial-era political theory.

Chinese martial arts

After Confucianism had become the official 'state religion' in China, its influence penetrated all walks of life and all streams of thought in Chinese society for the generations to come. This did not exclude martial arts culture. Though in his own day, Confucius had rejected the practice of Martial Arts (with the exception of Archery), he did serve under rulers who used military power extensively to achieve their goals. In later centuries, Confucianism heavily influenced many educated martial artists of great influence, such as Sun Lutang, especially from the 19th century onwards, when bare-handed martial arts in China became more widespread and had begun to more readily absorb philosophical influences from Confucianism, Buddhism and Daoism.

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