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Confucius | Biography


Confucius is usually credited as the author of The Analects because his ideas define its content and character. However, the pieces that comprise the collection were likely recorded by others. They were collected, compiled, and edited by others after his death to preserve the teachings that attracted Confucius's devoted followers and drew those in power to consult with him during his lifetime.

The name Confucius is a Latinization of Kong fuzi, Chinese for Master Kong, used by the first Western translators of Confucian works. However, modern translations render his name and title to simply "the Master."

Confucius lived in a time before much Chinese history was preserved (beginning in 221 CE with the unification of China), so much of what is known of his life is from later sources of uncertain accuracy. However, he is believed to have been born in 551 BCE in the town of Zhou, near modern Qufu in the eastern Chinese province of Shandong. Some accounts say he was descended from royalty in the state of Song, although others cast doubt on this claim. It is more agreed upon that his family had fallen on hard times and lived in the state of Lu at the time he was born.

Despite growing up in poverty, his words (as recorded in The Analects) indicate he valued learning from the time he was a teenager. He apparently found teachers to instruct him in the important classics, rituals, and arts, finally becoming a teacher in his 30s. He expanded his profession from a tutor teaching specific skills to the wealthy to an instructor devoted to lifelong learning and willing to teach those of all stations in life. His teachings show that he saw serving in public office as the highest achievement for an educated person, and he probably served the duke of Lu in a number of positions in his 40s and 50s. However, his insistence on moral action and loyalty to the legitimate ruler caused him to clash with the Three Families who really controlled Lu. At age 56 he exiled himself from Lu and, accompanied by some of his followers, went in search of a virtuous state where his principles would be valued.

Unfortunately, Confucius never succeeded in finding or creating his ideal virtuous state. He returned to Lu after nearly 12 years away and devoted the rest of his life to teaching and editing classic ancient texts, such as the Book of Songs, which is quoted many times in The Analects. Confucius died in 479 BCE at age 72.

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