Any student studying Chinese should have a basic understanding of the continuing development of Confucianism, especially within the past thirty years. The title of our blog, “From Afar” comes from the opening lines of The Analects of Confucius, “to have friends come from afar, is this not happiness?” Confucianism has meant different things since the man, Kongzi (孔子) was alive in the fifth century BCE.
Confucianism, The Idea
Confucian philosophy, thought, and religion is recovering in China after a long period of decline. The idea and name of Confucius has come to mean traditional Chinese culture. Today, the international nonprofit Confucian Institute works to educate the international community in traditional Chinese culture and Mandarin language under the control of the Office of Chinese Language Council International within the Government of the People’s Republic of China. The Confucian Institute takes the name of the sage and represents the importance of education in traditional Chinese culture, but beyond these aspects, much of conservative Confucian thought has been left behind.
During the Cultural Revolution, Confucianism was denounced as an evil tradition. Students were encouraged not only criticize but to punish teachers and parents. This directly goes against the Confucian tradition of respect for elders and education. Confucianism had been the state religion for millennia, and revolutionary movements from the Taiping Rebellion to the May 4th Movement sought to destroy China’s dependence upon Confucian thought.
Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty (156-87BCE) was the first ruler to set up a Confucian government, but political institutions based upon Confucian thought persisted until the fall of the Qing Dynasty in 1911 AD. Ideas such as “be harmonious without necessarily agreeing” (和而不同) and “governing with virtue can be compared to being the North Star: the North Star remains stationary while the multitude of stars pay tribute” (为政以德，譬如北辰，居其所而众星共之) worked as the foundation for the unification and creation of the Empire of China. Historically, China has been fragmented upon cultural lines that can be traced back to ancient kingdoms, but Confucian thought was able to bring together diverse groups within one national body.
Kong Qiu, The Man
Kong Qiu (孔丘) was the common name of Confucius. He was born in the Spring and Autumn Period in the town of Qufu in the State of Lu, which is now part of modern Shandong Province. The Spring and Autumn Period arose out of the decline of the Zhou Dynasty, when many kingdoms vied for control within the turbulent politics of the time. Kong Qiu worked as a teacher and philosopher, traveling from kingdom to kingdom to spread his teachings and continue to learn from the leaders of the time.
Although Kong Qiu never found great acceptance in his time, his followers recorded his teachings which became important during the Han Dynasty, nearly three hundred years later. Although he never gained acceptance in life, in death, Confucius has been recognized as the founder of a world religion. Even today, the residents of Qufu protect the town as a holy site, not just the birthplace of a great teacher.
Confucius not only had great experience in politics but in philosophy and personal relationships as well. The origin of our title comes from the very beginning of his Analects:
“The Master said: ‘Having studied, to then repeatedly apply what you have learned, is this not a source of pleasure? To have friends come from distant quarters, is this not a source of enjoyment? To go unacknowledged by others without harboring frustration, is this not the mark of an exemplary person?”
(translation from Ames and Rosemont; 子曰：学而时习之，不亦说乎？有朋自远方来，不亦乐乎？人不知而不愠，不亦君子乎？)
The idea of “exemplary person” or Junzi (君子) is a complex one, sometimes translated as “gentle” or “noble person”. It has come to signify an individual dedicated to the teachings of Confucius. Although the teachings are a creation of their time and place, they remain valuable to any student studying abroad in China. We at Lotus hope that anyone who chooses to study abroad, not only in China, can appreciate the friends they meet along the way, and find them as not only friends but teachers.
The Analects of Confucius. translated by Roger T. Ames and Henry Romsemont, Jr. New York: Random House Publishing, 1998.