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Understanding Religion in Late-Imperial China

Understanding Religion in Late-Imperial China - SUBTOPICS...

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SUBTOPICS Who Was Confucius? What Did Confucius Teach? The Ideal Ruler Ritual ( Li ) The Emergence of “Confucianism” during the Han Dynasty The Classical Texts State Sponsorship Dong Zhongshu’s Cosmological Framework Genealogy of the “Confucian Tradition” and What It Reveals The text of this topic, Confucius and the “Confucian Tradition,” was adapted, with the author’s permission, from “The Spirits of Chinese Religion,” by Stephen F. Teiser. Portrait of Confucius , Late 14th century Unknown artist RELATED LINKS • ASIA FOR EDUCATORS Asian Topics: Confucian Teaching • ASIA FOR EDUCATORS Asian Topics: The Confucian Tradition • THOMAS A. WILSON, HAMILTON COLLEGE The Cult of Confucius: Images of the Temple of Culture Confucianism is perhaps the most well-known of the textual traditions in China. The classical Confucian texts became key to the orthodox state ideology of the Chinese dynasties, and these texts, though they were mastered only by a scholarly elite, in fact penetrated society deeply. Through the interpretation of the scholar Dong Zhongshu, who lived during the Han dynasty from around 179-104 BCE, Confucianism became strongly linked to the cosmic framework of traditional Chinese thought, as the Confucian ideals of ritual and social hierarchy came to be elaborated in terms of cosmic principles such as yin and yang . WHO WAS CONFUCIUS? The myth of origins told by proponents of Confucianism (and by plenty of modern historians) begins with Confucius , whose Chinese name was Kong Qiu and who lived from 551 to 479 BCE. Judging from the little direct evidence that still survives, however, it appears that Kong Qiu did not view himself as the founder of a school of thought, much less as the originator of anything. The portrayal of Kong Qiu as originary and the coalescence of a self-conscious identity among people tracing their heritage back to him took place long after his death. [See The Emergence of “Confucianism” during the Han Dynasty below.] WHAT DID CONFUCIUS TEACH? What does emerge from the earliest layers of the written record is that Kong Qiu sought a revival of the ideas and institutions of a past golden age. Kong Qiu transmitted not only specific rituals and values but also a hierarchical social structure and the weight of the past. Employed in a minor government position as a specialist in the governmental and family rituals of his native state, Kong Qiu hoped to disseminate knowledge of the rites and inspire their universal performance. The Ideal Ruler . That kind of broad-scale transformation could take place, he thought, only with the active encouragement of responsible rulers. The ideal ruler, as exemplified by the legendary sage-kings Yao and Shun or the adviser to the Zhou rulers, the Duke of Zhou, exercises ethical suasion, the ability to influence others by the power of his moral example. To the virtues of the ruler correspond values that each individual is supposed to cultivate: 1) benevolence toward others; 2) a general sense of doing what is right; and 3) loyalty and diligence in serving one’s superiors.
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