CONFUCIUS (S5o or 551-478 B.c.), the famous Sage of China. He was born, according to the historian Sze-ma Chien, in the year 550 B.C.; according to Kung-yang and Kuh-liang, two earlier commentators on his Annals of Lu, in 551; but all three agree in the month and day assigned to his birth, which took place in winter. His clan name was Kung, and Confucius is merely the latinized form of Kung Fu-tze, meaning "the philosopher or mas ter K`ung." He was a native of the state of Lu, a part of the modern Shantung, embracing the present department of Yen chow and other portions of the province. Shuh-liang Heih, the father of Confucius, was commandant of the district of Tsow. Confucius was the son of Heih's old age.
Heih died in the child's third year, leaving his family in strait ened circumstances. Long afterwards, when Confucius was com plimented on his acquaintance with many arts, he accounted for it on the ground of the poverty of his youth. When he was five or six, people took notice of his fondness for playing with his companions at setting out sacrifices, and at postures of cere mony. He tells us himself that at fifteen his mind was set on learning; and at 19 he was married,—his wife being from his ancestral state of Sung. A son was born in the following year; and he had subsequently two daughters. Immediately after his marriage we find him employed under the chief of the Ki clan to whose jurisdiction the district of Tsow belonged, first as keeper of stores, and then as superintendent of parks and herds.
On his return to Lu, in the same year, that State fell into great disorder. The marquis was worsted in a struggle with his minis ters, and fled to the neighbouring state of Tsi. Thither also went Confucius, for he would not countenance by his presence the men who had driven their ruler away. He was accompanied by many of his disciples. As they passed by the T`ai mountain, the atten tion of the travellers was arrested by a woman weeping and wail ing at a grave. The sage stopped, and sent one of his followers to ask the reason of her grief. "My husband's father," said she, "was killed here by a tiger, and my husband also, and now my son has met the same fate." Being asked why she did not leave so fatal a spot, she replied that there was there no oppressive Gov ernment. "Remember this," said Confucius to his disciples, "re member this, my children, oppressive government is fiercer and more feared than a tiger." He did not find in Ts'i a home to his liking. The marquis of the State was puzzled how to treat him. The teacher was not a man of rank, and yet the prince felt that he ought to give him more honour than rank could claim. Some counsellors of the court spoke of him as "impracticable and conceited, with a thou sand peculiarities." It was proposed to assign to him a consider able revenue, but he would not accept it while his counsels were not followed. Dissatisfactions ensued, and he went back to Lu.
There for 15 more years he continued in private life, prose cuting his studies, and receiving many accessions to his disciples. He had a difficult part to play with the different parties in the State, but kept aloof from them all; and at last, in his 52nd year, he was made chief magistrate of the city of Chung-tu. A marvel lous reformation, we are told, forthwith ensued in the manners of the people; and the marquis, a younger brother of the one that fled to Ts'i and died there, called him to higher office. He was finally appointed minister of crime,—and there was an end of crime. Two of his disciples at the same time obtained influential positions in the two most powerful clans of the State, and co operated with him. He signalized his vigour by the punishment of a great officer, and in negotiations with the State of Ts'i he laboured to restore to the marquis his proper authority, and as an important step to that end, to dismantle the fortified cities where the great chiefs of clans maintained themselves like the barons of feudal Europe. "He strengthened the ruler," it is said, "and repressed the barons. A transforming Government went abroad. Dishonesty and dissoluteness hid their heads. Loyalty and good faith became the characteristics of the men, and chastity and docility those of the women. He was the idol of the people, and flew in songs through their mouths." But the marquis of Ts'i and his advisers saw that if Confucius were allowed to prosecute his course, the influence of Lu would become supreme throughout the kingdom, and Ts'i would be the first to suffer. A large company of beautiful women, trained in music and dancing, and a troop of fine horses, were sent to Lu. The bait took; the women were welcomed, and the sage was ne glected. Confucius felt that he must leave the State. The neglect of the marquis to send round, according to rule, among the minis ters portions of the flesh after a great sacrifice, furnished a plaus ible reason for leaving the court. He withdrew, though very un willingly and slowly, hoping that a change would come over the marquis and his counsellors, and a message of recall be sent to him. But no such message came; and he went forth in his 56th year to a weary period of wandering among various States.
His Ideas of Government.—A disciple once asked Confucius what he would consider the first thing to be done, if entrusted with the government of a State. His reply was, "The rectification of names." When told that such a thing was wide of the mark, he held to it, and indeed his whole social and political system was wrapped up in the saying. He had told the marquis of Ts'i that good government obtained when the ruler was ruler, and the min ister minister; when the father was father, and the son son. Society, he considered, was an ordinance of Heaven, and was made up of five relationships—ruler and subject, husband and wife, father and son, elder brothers and younger, and friends. There was rule on the one side of the first four, and submission on the other. The rule should be in righteousness and benev olence; the submission in righteousness and sincerity. Between friends the mutual promotion of virtue should be the guiding principle. It was true that the duties of the several relations were being continually violated by the passions of men, and the social state had become an anarchy. But Confucius had con fidence in the preponderating goodness of human nature, and in the power of example in superiors. "Not more surely," he said, "does the grass bend before the wind than the masses yield to the will of those above them." Given the model ruler, and the model people would forthwith appear. And he himself could make the model ruler. He could tell the princes of the States what they ought to be ; and he could point them to examples of perfect virtue in former times. With his own lessons and those patterns, any ruler of his day, who would listen to him, might reform and renovate his own State, and his influence would break forth be yond its limits till the face of the whole kingdom should be filled with a multitudinous relation-keeping, well-fed, happy people. "If any ruler," he once said, "would submit to me as his director for is months, I should accomplish something considerable ; and in three years I should attain the realization of my hopes." His Disciples.—His professed disciples amounted to 3,000, and among them were between 7o and 8o whom he described as "scholars of extraordinary ability." The most attached of them were seldom long away from him. They stood or sat reverently by his side, watched the minutest particulars of his conduct, studied under his direction the ancient history, poetry and rites of their country, and treasured up every syllable which dropped from his lips. They have told us how he never shot at a bird perching nor fished with a net, the creatures not having in such a case a fair chance for their lives; how he conducted himself in court and among villagers ; how he ate his food, and lay in his bed, and sat in his carriage ; how he rose up before the old man and the mourner; how he changed countenance when it thundered, and when he saw a grand display of viands at a feast. He was free and unreserved in his intercourse with them, and was hurt once when they seemed to think that he kept back some of his doc trines from them. Several of them were men of mark among the statesmen of the time. It was they who set the example of speak ing of him as the greatest of mortal men.
Thirteen years elapsed before Confucius returned to Lu. In this period were comprised his travels among the different States, when he hoped, and ever hoped in vain, to meet with some prince who would accept him as his counsellor, and initiate a Govern ment that should become the centre of a universal reformation. Several of the princes were willing to entertain and support him; but for all that he could say, they would not change their ways.
It was in his 69th year, 483 B.C., that Confucius returned to Lu. One of his disciples, who had remained in the State, had been suc cessful in the command of a military expedition, and told the prime minister that he had learned his skill in war from the master,—urging his recall, and that thereafter mean persons should not be allowed to come between the ruler and him. The State was now in the hands of the son of the marquis whose neglect had driven the sage away ; but Confucius would not again take office. Only a few years remained to him, and he devoted them to the completion of his literary tasks, and the delivery of his lessons to his disciples.
His Death.—The next year was marked by the death of his son, which he bore with equanimity. But on the death of his favourite disciple, Yen Hwui, in 481 B.e., he wept and mourned beyond what seemed to his other followers the bounds of pro priety, exclaiming that Heaven was destroying him. His own last year, 478 B.C., dawned on him with the tragic end of his next beloved disciple, Tze-lu. Early one morning, we are told, in the fourth month, he got up, and with his hands behind his back, dragging his staff, he moved about his door, crooning over: The great mountain must crumble, The strong beam must break, The wise man must wither away like a plant.
Tze-kung heard the words, and hastened to him. The master told him a dream of the previous night, which, he thought, presaged his death. "No intelligent ruler," he said, "arises to take me as his master. My time has come to die." He took to his bed, and after seven days expired. He uttered no prayer, and he betrayed no apprehension.
When their master thus died, his disciples buried him with great pomp. A multitude of them built huts near his grave, and remained there, mourning as for a father, for nearly three years; and when all the rest were gone, Tze-kung, the last of his favourite three, continued alone by the grave for another period of the same duration. The news of his death went through the States. The man who had been neglected when alive seemed to become all at once an object of unbounded admiration.
The grave of Confucius is in a large rectangle separated from the rest of the K`ung cemetery, outside the city of k'iuh-fow. A magnificent gate gives admission to a fine avenue, lined with cypress trees and conducting to the tomb, a large and lofty mound, with a marble statue in front, bearing the inscription of the title given to Confucius under the Sung dynasty : "The most sagely ancient Teacher; the all-accomplished, all-informed King." A little in front of the tomb, on the left and right, are smaller mounds over the graves of his son and grandson, from the latter of whom we have the remarkable treatise called The Doctrine of the Mean. All over the place are imperial tablets of different dynasties, with glowing tributes to the one man whom China delights to honour; and on the right of the grandson's mound is a small house said to mark the place of the hut where Tze-kung passed his nearly five years of loving vigil. The adjoin ing city is still the home of the K'ung family; and there are said to be in it some 4o,000 or 5o,000 of the descendants of the sage.
His Influence on China.—The dynasty of Chow finally perished two centuries and a quarter after the death of the sage at the hands of the first historic emperor of the nation,—the first of the dynasty of Ts'in, who swept away the foundations of the feudal system. State after State went down before his blows, but the name and followers of Confucius were the chief obstacles in his way. He made an effort to destroy the memory of the sage from off the earth, consigning to the flames all the ancient books from which he drew his rules and examples (save one), and bury ing alive hundreds of scholars who were ready to swear by his name. But Confucius could not be so extinguished. The tyranny of Ts'in was of short duration, and the next dynasty, that of Han, while entering into the new China, found its surest strength in doing honour to his name, and trying to gather up the wreck of the ancient books. It is difficult to determine what there was about Confucius to secure for him the influence which he has wielded. He left no writings in which he detailed the principles of his moral and social system. The Doctrine of the Mean, by his grandson Tze-sze, and The Great Learning, by Tsang Sin, the most profound, perhaps, of his disciples, give us the fullest infor mation on that subject, and contain many of his sayings. The Lun-Yii, or Analects, "Discourses and Dialogues," is a compila tion in which many of his disciples must have taken part, and has great value as a record of his ways and utterances; but its chap ters are mostly disjecta membra, affording faint traces of any guiding method or mind. Mencius, Hsiin King and writers of the Han dynasty, whose works, however, are more or less apocryphal, tell us much about him and his opinions, but all in a loose and unconnected way.
The sage, probably, did not think it necessary to put down many of his own thoughts in writing, for he said of himself that he was "a transmitter, and not a maker." Nor did he lay claim to have any Divine revelations. He was not born, he declared, with knowledge, but was fond of antiquity, and earnest in seeking knowledge there. The rule of life for men in all their relations, he held, was to be found within themselves. The right develop ment of that rule, in the ordering not of the individual only, but of society, was to be found in the words and institutions of the ancient sages.
China had a literature before Confucius. All the monuments of it, however, were in danger of perishing through the disorder into which the kingdom had fallen. The feudal system that had subsisted for more than 1,5oo years had become old. Confucius did not see this, and it was impossible that he should.
China was, in his eyes, drifting from its ancient moorings, and the expedient that occurred to him to arrest the evil was to gather up and preserve the records of antiquity, illustrating and com mending them by his own teachings. For this purpose he lectured to his disciples on the histories, poems and constitutional works of the nation. What he thus did was of inestimable value to his own countrymen, and all other men are indebted to him for what they know of China before his time, though all the contents of the ancient works have not come down to us.
He wrote, we are told, a preface to the Shu King, or Book of Historical Documents. The preface is, in fact, only a schedule, without any remark by Confucius himself, giving the names of oo books, of which it consisted. Of these we now possess 59, the oldest going back to the 23rd century, and the latest dating in the 8th century B.C. The credibility of the earlier portions, and the genuineness of several of the documents, have been questioned, but the collection as a whole is exceedingly valuable.
The Skih king, or Ancient Poems, as odsting in his time, or compiled by him (as generally stated, contrary to the evidence in the case), consisted of 311 pieces, of which we possess 3o5. The latest of them dates 585 years B.c., and the oldest of them ascends perhaps twelve centuries higher. It is the most interest ing book of ancient poetry in the world, and many of the pieces are really fine ballads. Confucius was wont to say that he who was not acquainted with the Shih was not fit to be conversed with, and that the study of it would produce a mind without a single depraved thought. This is nearly all we have from him about the poems.
The Li ki, or Books of Rites and Ancient Ceremonies and of Institutions, chiefly of the Chow dynasty, have come down to us in a mutilated condition. They are still voluminous, but they were edited, when recovered under the Han dynasty, with so many additions, that it is hardly worth while to speak of them in con nection with Confucius, though much of what was added to them is occupied with his history and sayings.
Of all the ancient books not one was more prized by him than the Yi-king, or "The Book of Changes," the rudiments of which are assigned to Fuh-hi about the 3oth century B.C. Those rudi ments, however, are merely the 8 trigrams and 64 hexagrams, composed of a whole and a broken line (—, — —), without any text or explanation of them earlier than the rise of the Chow dynasty. The leather thongs, by which the tablets of Confucius's copy were tied together, were thrice worn out by his constant handling. He said that if his life were lengthened he would give 5o years to the study of the Yi, and might then be without great faults. This has come down to us entire. If not intended from the first for purposes of divination, it was so used both before and after Confucius, and on that account it was exempted, through the superstition of the emperor of the Ts'in dynasty, from the flames. It is supposed to give a theory of the phenomena of the physical universe, and of moral and political principles by the trigrams and the different lines and numbers of the hexagrams of Fuh-hi. Almost every sentence in it is enigmatic. As now published, there are always subjoined to it certain appendixes, which are ascribed to Confucius himself. Pythagoras and he were contemporaries, and in the fragments of the Samian philosopher about the "ele ments of numbers as the elements of realities" there is a remark able analogy with much of the Yi.
A greater and more serious difficulty is presented by his last literary labour, the work claimed by him as his own, and which has already been referred to more than once as the Annals of Lu. Its title is the Chitin Ch'iu, or "Spring and Autumn," the events of every year being digested under the heads of the four seasons, two of which are used by synecdoche for the whole. Mencius held that the composition of the Ch'un Ch'iu was as great a work as Yu's regulation of the waters of the deluge with which the Shu King commences, and did for the face of society what the earlier labour did for the face of nature. This work also has been pre served nearly entire, but it is excessively meagre. The events of 242 years barely furnish an hour or two's reading. Confucius's annals do not bear a greater porportion to the events which they indicate than the headings in our Bibles bear to the contents of the chapters to which they are prefixed. Happily Tso K'iu-ming took it in hand to supply those events, incorporating also others with them, and continuing his narratives over some additional years, so that through him the history of China in all its States, from year to year, for more than two centuries and a half, lies before us. Tso never challenges the text of the master as being incorrect, yet he does not warp or modify his own narratives to make them square with it; and the astounding fact is, that when we compare the events with the summary of them, we must pro nounce the latter misleading in the extreme. Men are charged with murder who were not guilty of it, and base murders are re lated as if they had been natural deaths. Villains, over whose fate the reader rejoices, are put down as victims of vile treason, and those who dealt with them as he would have been glad to do are subjected to horrible executions without one word of sym pathy. Ignoring, concealing and misrepresenting are the charac teristics of the Spring and Autumn.
And yet this work is the model for all historical summaries in China. The want of harmony between the facts and the state ments about them is patent to all scholars, and it is the knowl edge of this, unacknowledged to themselves, which has made the literati labour with an astonishing amount of fruitless ingenuity and learning to find in individual words, and the turn of every sentence, some mysterious indication of praise or blame. But the majority of them will admit no flaw in the sage or in his annals. His example in the book has been very injurious to his country. One almost wishes that critical reasons could be found for denying its authenticity. Confucius said that "by the Spring and Autumn men would k9ow him and men would condemn him." It certainly obliges us to make a large deduction from our esti mate of his character and of the beneficial influence which he has exerted. The examination of his literary labours does not on the whole increase our appreciation of him. We get a higher idea of the man from the accounts which his disciples have given us of his intercourse and conversations with them, and the attempts which they made to present his teachings in some systematic form. If he could not arrest the progress of disorder in his country, nor throw out principles which should be helpful in guiding it to a better state under some new constitutional system, he gave important lessons for the formation of individual char acter, and the manner in which the duties in the relations of society should be discharged.
The Golden Rule.—Confucius on several occasions gave his "golden rule" deduced from his study of man's mental constitu tion. "What you do not like when done to yourself do not do to others." It has bees said that he only gave the rule in a nega tive form to give force to a positive statement.
Another valuable contribution to ethical and social science was the way in which he inculcated the power of example, and the necessity of benevolence and righteousness in all who were in authority. He taught emphatically that a bad man was not fit to . As a father or a magistrate, he might wield the instruments of authority and punish the transgressors of his laws, but no force would countervail the influence of his example.
A few of his more characteristic sayings may here be given, the pith and point of which attest his discrimination of character, and show the tendencies of his views: "What the superior man seeks is in himself ; what the small man seeks is in others." "The superior man is dignified, but does not wrangle ; social, but not a partisan. He does not promote a man simply because of his words, nor does he put good words aside because of the man." "A poor man who does not flatter, and a rich man who is not proud, are passable characters ; but they are not equal to the poor who yet are cheerful, and the rich who yet love the rules of propriety." "Learning, undigested by thought, is labour lost; thought un assisted by learning, is perilous." "In style all that is required is that it convey the meaning." "Extravagance leads to insubordination, and parsimony to mean ness. It is better to be mean than insubordinate." "A man can command his principles ; principles do not master the man." "The cautious seldom err." Sententious sayings like these have gone far to form the ordi nary Chinese character. Hundreds of thousands of the literati can repeat every sentence in the classical books ; the masses of the people have scores of the Confucian maxims, and little else of an ethical nature in their memories,—and with a beneficial result.
His Ethics and Philosophy.—Confucius laid no claim, it has been seen, to Divine revelations. Man as he is, and the duties belonging to him in society, were all that he concerned himself about. Man's nature was from God; the harmonious acting out of it was obedience to the will of God ; and the violation of it was disobedience. But in affirming this, there was a striking dif ference between his language and that of his own ancient models. In the King the references to the Supreme Being are abundant. With Confucius the vague, impersonal term, Heaven, took the place of the Divine name.