Confucius

Master Kong Qiu, as his name translates from Chinese, lived from 551 to 479 BC, and remains the most important single philosopher in the Eastern history. He espoused significant principles of ethics and politics, in a time when the Greeks were espousing the same things.

We think of democracy as a Greek invention, a Western idea; Confucius wrote in his Analects that “the best government is one that rules through ‘rites’ and the people’s natural morality, rather than by using bribery and coercion.

This may sound obvious to us today, but he wrote it in the early 500s to late 400s BC. This is the same principle of democracy that the Greeks argued for and developed: the people’s morality is in charge; therefore, rule by the people.

Confucianism appeals to practical men. It lauds the present world and calls upon all to cultivate such virtues as are seemly in citizens - industry, modesty, sobriety, gravity, decorum and thoughtfulness. It also counsels men to take part in whatever religious services have been established of old. "There may be some meaning in them, and they may affect your welfare in a way you do not know of. And for the genii and spirits, sacrifice unto them; I have nothing to tell regarding them, whether they exist or not; but their worship is a part of an august and awful ceremonial, which a wise man will not neglect or despise." Confucianism, in consequence, almost immediately after the death of its author, became the religion of the state, to which it proved an admirable ally.

Confucius was of the opinion that moderation was the only way to stay between life's extremes. He believed that each person in the world should maintain the respect of his or her position - for instance, a father should behave like a responsible person and not dodge away from his duties. For Confucius, family was very important and he believed that a man should always honor the relationship between master and servant, father and son, husband and wife, elder and younger siblings and two friends. Last but not the least, he urged people to honor the aged people.

Confucius also devised his own, independent version of the Golden Rule, which had existed for at least a century in Greece before him. His phrasing was almost identical, but then furthered the idea: “What one does not wish for oneself, one ought not to do to anyone else; what one recognizes as desirable for oneself, one ought to be willing to grant to others.” The first statement is in the negative, and constitutes a passive desire not to harm others. The second statement is much more important, constituting an active desire to help others. The only other philosopher of antiquity to advocate the Golden Rule in the positive form is Jesus of Nazareth.

Confucius defended the idea of an Emperor, but also advocated limitations to the emperor’s power. The emperor must be honest and his subjects must respect him, but he must also deserve that respect. If he makes a mistake, his subjects must offer suggestions to correct him, and he must consider them. Any ruler who acted contrary to these principles was a tyrant, and thus a thief more than a ruler.

After leaving the state of Lu, Confucius wandered for about twelve years, from one state to the other, with the hope that at least somewhere would he be able to put his principles of politics into use. However, his wish never got fulfilled. At the age of 68, Confucius returned to his native land of Lu and stayed there, refusing to accept any government position during his stay. It was at 72 years of age, in 479 BC, that Confucius breathed his last.