The history of Ancient China is rich and highly diverse, with various schools of thought coming to prominence during its existence. With many changes to its internal structure came events that influenced the values held by the people of China. Revolts and dynastic shifts in the government were commonplace, and the county has found itself in a state of deep turmoil. In such a climate, people sought to find a reasonable explanation for continuous strife, as well as to find a suitable way forward. Confucianism, as an ideology, was conceived at a much-needed time in Chinese history. It was a force that could be used to establish and maintain a stable, unified social order for the Asian civilization. The teachings and works of Confucius have had a major impact on contemporary Chinese thought and philosophy. Offering people a legitimate way to seek self-improvement and fulfill their respective civic duties, Confucianism was a philosophic movement that had a generally positive impact on Chinese development. The cultural impact Confucianism has left on history stands as a testament to how big of a role this ideology has played in Ancient China. Confucianism helped to instill order in Chinese society through reinforcing specific moral values and social hierarchies between groups of people. By laying out general courses of action for all people, the movement has created a philosophical backbone of Ancient China.
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The Main Values
The Confucian belief is specifically based on various moral values. Their influence spreads into both the private and social life of any person, affecting their behavior and motivations. Many of the basic principles of Confucianism are said to be part of China’s cultural tradition, but the movement has had a significant hand in reigniting and popularizing them to a larger audience. In the Analects, many of the general principles dictated by Confucius are outlined, with concepts of virtue, honesty, kindness, and respect being especially prominent. Moral concepts are used to guide people on their journeys to self-improvement, and as genuine plans to action for government officials and policymakers. In Confucianism, moral virtues are seen as a sign of a well-developed individual, capable of bringing benefit to their community and having a moral obligation to assist others. The spread of Confucian belief in Ancient China has resulted in many individuals adopting this system of belief, including members of royalty and government workers. Examining the exact values of the Analects, one can begin by noting the importance of honesty, hard work, and trustworthiness.
As stated by the Analects 1:4, “I daily examine myself on three points:– whether, in transacting business for others, I may have been not faithful;– whether, in intercourse with friends, I may have been not sincere;– whether I may have not mastered and practiced the instructions of my teacher.” Confucius places great importance on self-reflection and examination of one’s behavior as a means of improvement and growth. Many more core aspects of self-improvement are explored, including being kind to others, educating oneself, respecting those in higher positions and others. These dogmatic teachings are easily accessible to most readers and allow people an easily understood way of constructing a positive relationship with the rest of society. By rooting global social change in every person’s individual effort to morally better themselves, the Analects have provided a simple solution to the complex, overarching problem of China’s political turmoil. Confucius’s teachings spread through the many literary interpretations and transcriptions of his teachings, including the works of his pupils and followers, such as Zhu Xi and Mencius. The former has re-stated the importance of reflection and education as tools of enlightenment, stating that each person is capable of learning, and their success is primarily dependant on individual effort. Much like in other Confucian texts, Zhu Xi’s Great Learning highlights the importance of good education, citing it as a reason for previous generation’s prosperity: “in the great days of high antiquity, the good government prevailed on high and beautiful customs below, to a degree that later ages have not been able to attain.”.
The Analects work to reinforce and establish specific societal hierarchies that are seen as beneficial to maintain proper relationships between the ruler and their people. Interactions between people were formed from mutual obligations and roles each individual is intended to fulfill within a specific context. Familiar relationships based on strict obedience were meant as a more contained representation of how the whole of China is to be operated, through an equal share of respect and responsibility. Similar to how children were expected to respect their parents and older siblings, common people were expected to act following following following their ruler’s wishes. The Analects describe such a relation to be voluntary, with both sides deriving benefit. Confucian ideology is strictly opposed to punishment, seeing moral obligation and encouragement to be sufficient in motivating the population, as noted in Analects 2:3. Those in a position of power are also ought to set a personal example in behavior and act as to best meet the needs of the many, while the subject is expected to pay due to respect and obey orders. Confucian philosophy was used as a unifying force to bring China under organized rule. The social vertical hierarchy this approach creates contributes to justifying the power of the ruling class and strengthening the relationships between the elites and the common people. Mencius, the disciple of Confucius, in his works discusses the inherent goodness of human nature and the ways for one to practice benevolence. His writing applies broadly to all people, but rulers especially, who are ought to act in pursuit of their subject’s well-being and prosperity. In section 1B5 of his self-titled work relays how the ruler should take into account the actions and desires of other people when enacting policy.
Impact of Confucianism
The ideas of Confucianism, in their moral and structural aspects, have influenced the Ancient Chinese government. The Tang Code is an example of the power Confucianism held, having been created with the Legalist and Confucian interpretation of the law in mind. Acting as an official codification of Chinese law, the document outlined the ways of managing legal situations and punishing crime. The Code was used to institutionalize the Confucian views on social hierarchy and make the power dynamics relayed within the ideology mandatory. Some of Confianism’s core tenets, such as the importance of filiality and the need to perform rites, are raised to the power of law. The Tang Code outlines both the lack of familial filiality and irreverence as two of the “ten abominations” in its sixth article. The Confucian approach has established educated people as the foundation of a prosperous society, with the rulers working to ensure the well-being and success of their nation.
In conclusion, the Confucian ideology has been a significant influence on Ancient Chinese society. Being created as a way to guide people in their day-to-day life and influence government policy, the work manages to effectively appeal to a wide range of people. Making its teachings personal and accessible, the movement allows individuals to grasp the basic values and concepts outlined in the texts, as well as to apply them to interactions with other people. The moral teachings of the ideology serve to promote balance between social casts and encourage masses to seek enlightenment in self-reflection and education. The social hierarchies highlighted by Confucius also serve to preserve and establish a particular order that allows for a positive relationship between the figures of power and common folk. The former are encouraged to act as an example of virtuous behavior and act in the interests of promoting positive qualities in others, while the latter is expected to act with a degree of restraint and respect. The creation of the Tang Code serves as a demonstration of the effectiveness of values promoted by Confucianism and solidifies the reasons for its widespread prominence. The document has officially recognized the Confucian ways of organizing Chinese society as legitimate and allowed them to effectively establish balanced vertical hierarchies of power.