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