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Confucius And Management

December 13, 2012
The Life of Confucius
Of all eastern philosophers, Confucius, born in 550 B.C., is considered the greatest. His
teachings are foundational to Asian cultures. His writings, The Five Classics, the collection
of ancient Chinese literature, and The Four Books, a collection of Confucius and his
disciples teachings, was for centuries the standard curriculum for Chinese education.
Confucius teachings and biography were written many years after his death and were
edited by his disciples. Although historians present various accounts of his life, there are
some basic facts that we are reasonably sure of, and from which we can outline the major
events of his life.
Confucius was born in the province of Lu, in northern China. He was born into a family of
humble circumstance, and his father died at a young age. He began studying under the
village tutor and at the age of fifteen he devoted his life to study. At twenty, he married but
soon divorced his wife and had an aloof relationship with his son and daughter. In his
twenties, he became a teacher and gathered a group of loyal disciples.
Confucius lived during the Chou Dynasty (1100 B.C. to 256 B.C.). At this time, the land
was divided among feudal lords. The moral and social order was in a state of decay.
Confucius sought a way to restore the cultural-political order. He believed that reform
would come through educating the leaders in the classics and in his philosophy. He
therefore sought a political position of influence, from which he could implement his
Tradition teaches that the Duke of Lu appointed him to a cabinet position at the age of
fifty. Several historians believe he eventually ascended to higher positions of public office.
Due to political disagreements and internal conflicts, he resigned his post at fifty-five and
left the province of Lu. He then traveled for thirteen years from state to state seeking to
persuade political leaders to adopt his teachings. Although many lords respected him, no
one gave him a position. Discouraged from the response, he devoted his final years to
teaching and writing. Before his death in 479 B.C., he expressed his discouragement and
disillusionment regarding his career.
However, his disciples were able to gain significant positions in government after his
death. They modified his teachings and added their own insights. Centuries later,
Confucianism became the official religion of China, shaping Chinese culture. The values
he espoused--education, family loyalty, work ethic, value of traditions, conformity to
traditional standards, honoring of ancestors, and unquestioning obedience to
superiors--remain entrenched in Asian culture.
There is much to appreciate regarding the life and teachings of Confucius. Christians
would agree on several points with his philosophy of ethics, government, and social
conduct. However, there are some major differences between Christianity and Confucian
thought, which we will investigate in the following sections.
The Metaphysics of Confucius
Confucianism, as its founder taught, is not a religion in the traditional sense. It is an ethical
code. Chinese culture was steeped in the religion of animism, a belief that gods and spirits
dwell in natural formations. Along with an animistic world view, there was a belief in
ancestor worship. The spirits of the dead needed to be honored and cared for by the living
family members.
However, in his teachings, Confucius avoided spiritual issues. He can be categorized as an
agnostic who believed in spirits and the supernatural but was not interested in them. He
was humanistic and rationalistic in his outlook. "His position on matters of faith was this:
whatever seemed contrary to common sense in popular tradition and whatever did not
serve any discoverable social purpose, he regarded coldly."{1} The answer to the cultural
and social problems was found in humanity itself, not in anything supernatural.
A disciple of Confucius wrote, "The master never talked of prodigies, feats of strength,
disorders or spirits." (Analects 7:20) Confucius himself stated, "To devote oneself
earnestly to ones duty to humanity, and while respecting the spirits, to keep aloof from
them, may be called wisdom." (Analects 6:20) "Our masters views concerning culture and
the outward insignia of goodness, we are permitted to hear; but about mans nature and the
ways of heaven, he will not tell us anything at all." (Analects 5:12)
Confucius occasionally mentions the "Mandate of Heaven." He appears to interpret this to
mean the natural law or moral order within things. Men must seek to live within this order.
One must be careful not to violate the will of heaven. Confucius wrote, "He who put
himself in the wrong with Heaven has no means of expiation left." (Analects 3:13)
In the Confucian system, a divine being does not have a significant role; his philosophy is
man-centered and relies on self-effort. Man is sufficient to attain the ideal character
through education, self-effort, and self-reflection. The goal of life was to live a good moral
life. After his death, Confucianism evolved, combining with Chinese traditional religions
and Buddhism to add a spiritual component.
In contrast, Christianity is God-centered. It is built on a relationship with a personal God
who is involved in the world. Confucius focused on life here on this earth. Jesus focused
on life in eternity. For Jesus what happens in eternity has ramifications for life here on
earth. In Matthew 6:19 Jesus stated, "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth,
where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for
yourselves treasure in heaven where moth and rust do not destroy and where thieves do not

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