Sunday, February 13, 2011


Chinese Confucianism reached it's pinnacle during Qing dynasty from 1644-1911.  The first emperor to study and worship the philosophy of Confucianism was Emperor Kangxi, whose reign began in the year 1669.  Confucianism is centered upon two main themes: the importance of creating and establishing virtue in the individual, and the relationships that one encounters in his/her life.

A portrait of Confucius
Essentially, Confucius and his followers believed that inside, all of humanity is good. In Confucianism, all humans have a sense of “the right thing” and if one could make decisions based on this sense, one could achieve moral perfection.  Confucians believe that humans do not need laws to govern their actions.  Instead, they believe that one’s own “voice in their head” should be enough to govern oneself.  The promotion of Confucianism by the Imperial powers of China became a fine line due to the embedded belief of self-government in Confucian teachings, but it was a line that Emperor Kangxi and many other emperors succeeded in walking with apparent ease.

The other theme of Confucian teachings is the idea of Filial Piety, or in simpler terms, the respect for one’s parents and elders.  Filial Piety states that there are five key relationships.  These are ruler and ruled, father and son, husband and wife, older brother and younger brother, and friend and friend.  In all but the friend and friend relationship, one party is superior to the other.  According to Confucian tradition, one should honor your superior and respect their views and ideas.  This piece of Confucianism proved much easier for the Chinese to establish in their government, as it just further solidified the power of the presently ruling emperor.

With the philosophy of Confucianism came the system of meritocracy.  Meritocracy is a government in which people are chosen for positions based upon their merit (hence the name).  This idea was first put into action by the use of the Imperial Examination system.  In the system, one must pass a test or series of tests that were designed to prove one’s merit as well as their ability to not be lured into the world of government corruption.  Anyone could take these tests, a symbol of equality that is reflected in Confucianism. 

Throughout most of the Qing Dynasty, the teachings of Confucius had a great effect on the day-to-day life of Chinese citizens.  This was mainly centered on the five relationships, as this was the guide to many interactions throughout China.  From the market to the rice field, one always did as one's father or husband told, and one never disobeyed one’s ruler.  Today, this method of living has been all but abolished in China and throughout the rest of the world, but the work of Confucius is still rooted in the way that the Chinese respect and care for their elders.

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