Look into China in general and Chinese philosophy in particular, and you will inevitably encounter Confucius (551–479 BC) and the philosophy named after him, Confucianism. The Confucian school (rujia) was originally just one movement competing with the other Hundred Schools of Thought. Only later, at the time of the Han Dynasty (206 BC–220 AC) would Confucianism, as state Confucianism, become a means of preserving the country’s power relationships. From that time on, it became important to distinguish between Confucius and his ideas on the one hand and the doctrinal dogma of State Confucianism on the other.
Confucius: his Life
Confucius or, in Mandarin, Kongzi, was born the descendant of an impoverished family of the lower military nobility in the principality of Lu in 551 BC. His boyhood was spent in straitened circumstances: he was largely self-taught. Tradition has it that he was appointed administrator of the public granaries of Lu at the age of twenty and at this time began a paid career in teaching. Later, Confucius as the first travelling scholar, he travelled the country with many of his disciples and attempted to win over the feudal lords to his theory. He did not meet with great success, however. Confucius died without a written legacy in 479 BC.
Although Confucius did not live to see any great success in the dissemination of his teachings, he became a pioneer for generations of scholars and philosophers. As Fung explains:
”Confucius was the first man in China to make teaching his profession, and thus popularize culture and education. It was he who opened the way for the many travelling scholars and philosophers of succeeding centuries. It was also he who inaugurated, or at least developed, that classes of gentleman in ancient China who was neither farmer, artisan, merchant nor actual official, but was a professional teacher and potential official."
(Fung p. 48.)
Thus, Confucius was not only the first professional teacher in China, but also trained his pupils as teachers. This created the new social class of the scholars (shì). The scholars and their new way of life met with strong resistance. They were accused of being unproductive and in consequence, totally dependent on society. Thus, Han Feizi wrote:
”The literati [Confucians] with their learning, throw the laws into confu- sion. The knights-errant, with their pugnaciousness, transgress the prohibitions. ... Now if one pursues literary studies and practises the arts of conversation, one has none of the labor of cultivating the soil and has the actuality of possesing riches; one has none of the dangers of war and has the honour of noble position. Who, then, would not do this?"
(Fung p. 52).
Despite this criticism of their way of life, the scholars were able to gain a foothold. It was the beginning of a radical change in Chinese society.
The Old Zhou Recalled
Confucius perceived his era as one of rapid decay. The Zhou Dynasty (1122–481 BC) had to all intents collapsed, the country had disintegrated into numerous principalities and was in the grips of discord. The desire for stability drew Confucius’s thinking in its foundations back to the early Zhou period. In the collection of statements his pupils garnered from discussions with the master as the Analects (Lunyu), we read in this respect:
”The Zhou Dynasty looks back upon two dynasties. Consequently, its entire education has been refined. I follow the Zhou." (Wilhelm p. 54).
With that avowal Confucius stands resolutely against his times with an invocation of times past. It is consistent that his doctrine is not a creation of something new, but the attempt to preserve or rouse to new life the old moral and ritual concepts. He characterises his own attitude with the words:
”To transmit, but not to create, to be loyal and to love antiquity.“
(Wilhelm p. 81).
As a condition for restoring the Way indicated by Antiquity, Confucius recommended a patriarchal society in analogy to the hierarchical relationships within families, with clearly assigned roles.
”Let the prince be a prince,
the servant a servant,
let the father be a father,
the son a son.“
(Wilhelm p. 125).
Some Essential Terms
In contrast to the Classical philosophers of the West, Confucius is little concerned with metaphysical or epistemiological enquiry. His eye is chiefly on shaping human relations. With that aim he develops three essential concepts and elucidates how these are to be regulated:
1) To regulate by instilling morals, i.e., by taking to heart the right standards of behaviour
2) to regulate by ritualising roles and patterns of behavior
3) to regulate by the rectification of names.
(Weggel p. 21)
1) Regulation by moralisation is represented by the term, ren. The word does not translate directly, but the two components of the ideogram consist of that for ‘(hu-)man’ and that for ‘two’ and so immediately invokes a context of human relations.
The translated literature duly renders it as human kindness, humanity, morals and the like. But none of the translations covers the entire scope of ren. Ren should be understood as the sum of the interpersonal virtues demanded in Confucianism. They include, for example, filial piety (xiao), trust (xin), conscientiousness (zhong), honesty (cheng), altruism (shu), the reestablishment of rites (li) and justice (yi). Ren is inherent in human nature but must be brought out by education and guidance. Confucius does not satisfy his disciples’ requests for definitions of ren, but illuminates different aspects from case to case. Thus he says, for example:
- ”It is to love your fellow men.“
- ”The firm of spirit, the resolute in character, the simple in manner, and the slow in speech are not far from ren.“
- ”Ren is the denial of self and the response to the right and proper (li)“
(Fung p. 69f).
2) Li, the rituals, ceremonies and standards of the Zhou, are the second aspect that Confucius advocates as a governing principle in human relations. Performing the rites as accurately and appropriately as possible is seen as a way of making social life a predictable quantity. Purely performing the rites to the letter is not the main goal, however. The crux is to be inwardly wholly at one with the rites in order to become a gentleman (junzi).
”If I am not present when I give my sacrifice, it is as if I had not sacrificed at all.“
(Wilhelm p. 53)
3) Another fundamental rule of Confucianism is the accordance of names and truth to names, so that the king or father, for instance, behaves as one might justifiably expect of a king or father. By following this rule Confucius is in accord with the expectations implicit in the names and creates a state of order. This is important, as the society thus shaped will be one built on calculability and predictability. Thus, after Confucius, it is a ruler’s duty to rectify the names (zhenming). In the Analects we read:
"For, truly, if the prince is no prince and the servant no servant, the father no father and the son no son: then, though I have my revenues, can I partake of the benefits?"
(Wilhelm p. 125).
In the Beginning there was Study
The master said:
and at due times to repeat what one has learned,
is that not after all a pleasure?“
(The Analects p. 2)
The above initial statement in the Analects highlights one of the essential aspects of Confucius’ teaching. Weggel elaborates:
”Day by day to recognise what knowledge one still lacks, and, month by month, to ascertain what one has mastered to date. Only those who learn unceasingly will remain on the right way (dao)."
(Weggel p. 182)
Here the love of study (haoxue) is defined as a desire fulfilled only by an enduring process. According to Confucius, learning takes place in a close teacher-student relationship in which the student shows the teacher respect and the teacher’s attitude to the student is one of love, emotional warmth and attention. The teacher is not to treat all students alike, but each according to his qualities.
As to what form this learning should take, Confucius aimed not at the acquisition of certain techniques, skills or practical know-how in the sense of professional training. The sole aim of study is moral refinement. This is the path to the state of a gentleman (junzi) as distinct from the common man (xiaoren). The master said:
”The gentleman has morality as his basic stuff and by observing the rites puts it into practice, by being modest gives it expression, and by being trustworthy in words brings it to completion. Such is a gentlemen indeed!“
(Lau p. 134).
The Master said:
”The Gentleman makes demands of himself; the common man makes demands of (other) people.“
(Wilhelm p. 158).
By constant self-refinement, the gentleman de- velops a particular position that in Confucius’s eyes places him even above the classical nobility. The Master said:
”Whosoever does not strive assiduously,I shall not aid him in his progress, he who does not struggle for the expression, I shall not reveal it to him. If I show a corner and he cannot transfer it to the other three, I shall not repeat it.“ (Wilhelm p. 83).
The didactic method practised by Confucius de- mands a high input from the student. Weggel elaborates:
”Regarding Confucius’s teaching methods, they were designed above all to promote intuitive understanding, that is, not to present the cardinal principles in abstract terms but to illus- trate them in examples again and again."
(Weggel p. 185).
Combined with the ideal of perseverance (mo), this teaching method leads to sure learning results and independence in action.
As a philosopher of statehood, Confucius certainly did not enjoy any great success during his own lifetime; but as an educator and as a model for all teachers, he entered the cultural history of his country. To this day, joy in learning is a par- ticular characteristic of the Chinese. Horst Hensel is among the writers to have been struck by it, writing on modern Chinese schooling in 1997:
”Chinese schoolchildren seem fundamentally to approve of school – including the mental effort nherent in the process of education. School is socially acknowledged and receives considerable kudos."
(Pädagogik 10, p. 85)
Love of study and respect for its institutions is a legacy that remains alive and well to the present day.
Taijiquan and Confucius
Just as he endowed Chinese society in general with the love of study, Taijiquan without doubt absorbed this bequest too. Do we not read in The Song of the Thirteen Basic Movements (Shisanshi gejue):
„Ceaseless practice (gongfu) is the method of self-cultivation"
Or as Ma Yueliang specifies:
”Whether or not the weather is cold or burning hot, you should train regularly. It is a process of testing the character and strength of mind of the student."
(Wagner and Klüfer p. 13).
But elements from his teaching are not the only connection with Confucius to be found in Taijiquan. The Taijiquan classics also quote him directly or allude to him. The Taijiquan Classic (Taijiquan jing) has this:
”Recognise it silently, try to explore it until one is free to follow the desires of the heart (xin)."
In the Analects (Lunyu) we read:
”At fifteen I set my heart upon learning. At thirty, I had planted my feet firm upon the ground. At forty, I no longer suffered from per- plexities. At fifty, I knew what were the biddings of Heaven. At sixty, I heard them with docile ear. At seventy, I was free to follow the desires of the heart; for what I desired no longer overstepped the boundaries of right."
(Analects p. 10)
· Fung Yu-Lan, A History Of Chinese Philosophy, Princeton University Press (Princeton 1952)
· Lau D.C. (ed.), The Analects, Confucius (Penguin Books, London 1979) · Pädagogik 10 (Pädagogische Beiträge Verlag, Hamburg 1997)
· The Analects (Hunan People ́s Publishing House, Changsha 1999) · Wagner Nina, Klüfer Werner, Wu Style Tai Chi Chuan,
Mach:Art (Ratingen 2000)
· Weggel Oskar, Das nachrevolutionäre China,
Mitteilungen des Instituts für Asienkunde, Hamburg (1996)
· Wilhelm Richard (ed.), Kungfutse, Gespräche (Diederichs, Munich 1996)