(Latinized by the Jesuit missionaries from Cong-fu-tse or Koong-foo-tse), a Chinese reformer and moralist, was born about 551 B.C. at the village of Tseu-se, in the small kingdom of Lu (now a part of the province of Shantung), and died B.C. 479. He is said to have been a descendant of the emperor Hoang-ti, who reigned B.C. 2600. When he was three years old his father died, but his mother trained him with great care, and was rewarded by the rapid progress and filial tenderness of her son. At seventeen he was called to public life as inspector of the grain-markets. He was married at nineteen, but, according to some accounts, subsequently divorced his wife (after she had borne him a son) in order to devote himself to the study of the ancient writings, and prepare for the work of restoring the usages and doctrines of the old sages. He was soon after promoted to the office of inspector general of agriculture. At twenty-four, having lost his mother, he resigned his public employments that he might pay the respect to her memory prescribed by the ancient traditions. During the three years passed in mourning he was a diligent student. China at that period was divided into a number of feudal kingdoms but slightly under the control of the central authority, whose constant quarrels filled the land with disorder, while the social and moral condition of the people had fallen so low that the ancestral religious rites were no longer observed. To restore the proper observance of these, rather than to introduce any new religious system, was the task to which Confucius determined to devote himself. About the age of thirty he began his public teachings, making journeys through the various states of China, instructing all ranks of the people, and gaining fame and disciples, though meeting often with opposition, and even persecution, in his efforts to reform the manners and better the condition of his countrymen. When fifty-five years old he re-entered public life as prime minister of his native kingdom, Lu, with opportunity and authority to test the efficacy of his proposed means of amelioration. In three years, it is said, he brought about a complete change in its social and moral condition. His success, however, excited the jealousy of neighboring princes, and through their intrigues he was obliged to flee to the north of China. After several unsuccessful efforts to obtain office and opportunities to teach the people, he retired to the kingdom of China, where he lived in great poverty. His doctrines, however, had taken root, but his rigid principles and practice made him many enemies. When full of years, in company with some chosen disciples, he retired from the world, that he might complete and arrange the works which, under the name of the King (or Books), constitute the sacred books of the Chinese, and, standing at the head of their literature, have for more than 2000 years been the recognized authority in moral and political conduct for nearly one third of the human race. Soon after the completion of these works he died, leaving a single descendant, his grandson, Tse-Tse, whose offspring, numbering A.D. 1671 about 11,000 males, mostly of the seventy-fourth generation, form a distinct caste in Chinese society, the only instance of a hereditary nobility among them. The veneration of the Chinese for Confucius amounts to worship, to which the second and third months are devoted. In every district and every department there is a temple erected in his honor (Culbertson, p. 41).
The Rev. Dr. Wentworth, Methodist Episcopal missionary at Fuh-Chau, gives an account of the worship as witnessed by himself in a temple in that city, from which we make the following extracts: "The temple is one of the finest buildings in the city. It is one storied, in the form of a hollow square, with a spacious court in the center, apartments on each side, and the main temple at the end. It has a fine portico, and the roof within is sustained by columns of solid granite of enormous size. There are no idols, but ancestral tablets supply their places in the gilded shrines. In the center is that of Confucius, on the sides are those of twelve of his most celebrated disciples, six on each side. The worship of the philosopher is monopolized by the literati; and the mandarins, who are literary graduates of the highest distinction, are the only priests who officiate upon the occasion. The sacrifice takes place twice a year, in the second and eighth months. It is performed before daylight in the morning, and the common people are rigidly excluded. We were an hour too early, but better that than five minutes too late. The mandarins had not yet made their appearance. A burst of music indicated the coming of the magnates. Their first business was to get the 'whang-kee-angs,' 'foreign babies,' out of the sacred precincts, and a mandarin of high rank came to request us to go outside. We asked him to let us stand next one of the great doors on the portico outside. To this he consented. The platform was cleared and the ceremonies began. The darkness was dispelled by rows of gaudy lanterns and a forest of blazing torches. The court was filled with mandarins and their servants. Privileged spectators from the literary classes, with their attendants, crowded all the available space below. In front of the great central door of the temple, on the portico, was a band of musicians, with flutes and 'soft recorders,' and another of boys fantastically dressed. Within were musicians chanting vocally, accompanied by the instruments without, the praises of the sage. The loud voice of a crier within the temple, and the loud response of a herald below, indicated that all was ready. Clouds of incense filled the temple, while two or three mandarins, in full official dress and caps, preceded by attendants, ascended the steps and entered the lofty doors on either side, prostrating themselves with the head to the pavement before the shrines successively, and offering the various articles placed in their hands by the attendants for that purpose to Confucius and his favorite followers. This was repeated three times in succession, the officers retiring and reentering with the same stately ceremony on each occasion. The offerings were animal and vegetable. On a broad table in front of the shrine and altar of Confucius lay shrouded the carcase of a whole ox, denuded of his skin, and on either side of him a pig and a goat. On the altar were vases of flowers and plates of cooked provisions. At one point in the ceremony an official kneeled before the shrine of Confucius at a respectful distance, and in a loud voice chanted a prayer or a hymn of praise. The ordinary chants were very simple, consisting of four notes perpetually repeated, thus: (notes shown on a scale)
The last offering was material for clothing; a sort of coarse silk, in large patches, first offered bodily in the temple, and then taken down into the court and burned, that it might become spirit-silk in the other world. The Buddhists usually offer ready-made clothing, stamped on paper. The mandarins send Confucius the raw material. About the first gray streakings of the dawn of a cloudy morning the ceremonies ended, the torches were suddenly extinguished, and the officers and their retinues slowly retired" (Christian Advocate and Journal, 1859).
"It was the great object of Confucius to regulate the manners of the people. He thought outward decorum the true emblem of excellence of heart; he therefore digested all the various ceremonies into one general code of rites, which was called Le-ke, or Ly-king, etc. In this work every ritual in all the relations of human life is strictly regulated, so that a true Chinese is a perfect automaton, put in motion by the regulations of the Ly- king. Some of the rites are most excellent: the duties towards parents, the respect due to superiors, the decorum in the behavior of common Life, etc., speak highly in favor of Confucius; but his substituting ceremony for simplicity and true politeness is unpardonable. The Ly-king contains many excellent maxims and inculcates morality, but it has, come to us in a mutilated state, with many interpolations" (Gutzlaff, Sketch of Chinese History).
In the writings of Confucius the duties of husbands towards their wives were slightly dwelt upon; the duties and implicit submission of children to their parents were most rigidly inculcated. Upon this wide principle of filial obedience the whole of his system, moral and political, is founded. A family is the prototype of the nation; and, instead of the notions of independence and equality among men, he enforces the principles of dependence and subordination — as of children to parents, the younger to the elder. By an easy fiction, the emperor stands as the father of all his subjects, and is thus entitled to their passive obedience; and, as Dr. Morrison observes, it is probably (he might say certainly) this feature of his doctrines which has made Confucius such a favorite with all the governments of China, whether of native or Tartar origin, for so many centuries. At the same time, it should be observed that this fundamental doctrine has rendered the Chinese people slavish, deceitful, and pusillanimous, and has fostered the growth of a national character that cannot be redeemed by gentleness of deportment and orderliness of conduct.
Confucius was a teacher, of morals, but not the founder of a religion. His doctrines constitute rather a system of philosophy in the department of morals and politics than any particular religious faith (Davis). Arnauld and other writers have broadly asserted that he did not recognize the existence of a God (Bayle, Dict. in art. Maldonat). In his physics Confucius maintains that "out of nothing there cannot be produced anything; that material bodies must have existed from all eternity; that the cause or principle of things must have had a co-existence with the things themselves; that therefore this cause is also eternal, infinite, indestructible." The system of Confucius is essentially ethical and political, and cannot be called a religion or a philosophy. He disclaims originality in doctrine. His object was to re-establish the ancient cultus of China, and to mould the manners of her people by minute regulations, embodying the usages of the past, and digested into one general code of rites (Li-ki), in which the proper ritual for all the relations of life is prescribed. To the influence of this code may be referred the automatic character of Chinese life. While many of his doctrines are deserving of high praise, and may justly claim to rank, in a moral point of view, above the ethics of Greece and Rome, they fall short of the elevation and ameliorating power of the Mosaic and Christian codes, which the encyclopaedist writers of the eighteenth century asserted were equaled, if not surpassed by them. To show the falsity of such statement, we need only contrast the results achieved by the development of the two systems, starting from what has been claimed to be cognate doctrinal bases. Founding his system upon the duty enjoined in the fifth commandment of the Decalogue, Confucius inculcates in such wise dependence and subordination, first of children to parents, then of citizens to the emperor, the representative father of the state, as to give to the imperial power that despotic cast which, while it has made him so great a favorite with all governments in China, native or Tartar, has nevertheless undoubtedly tended to check progress and make the people deceitful and pusillanimous, though the long-continued existence of their nationality vindicates the promise made by God of long life to those who honor their parents, for this injunction, it would seem, the Chinese obey beyond all nations of the earth. His celebrated maxim of negative reciprocity, "What you would not wish done to yourself, that do not to others" (Anal. 15:23), fitly contrasts the immobile, selfish spirit of Confucianism, limited in its aims to China only, with the active reciprocity of Christ's golden rule, whose progressive spirit embraces all the world.
Whether Confucius recognized the existence of a personal God has been questioned, though the religious ceremonies observed by him, and certain expressions of his (Anal. 3, 13, and 14:13) — "He who offends against Heaven has none to whom he can pray," "But there is Heaven that knows me" — are urged as proofs that he did (see preface to the Amer. ed. of the recent translation by Dr. Legge). He maintained that ex nihilo nihilfit, and consequently that matter is eternal; that the cause or principle of things had a coexistence with the things themselves, and therefore also is eternal, infinite, indestructible, omnipotent, and omnipresent, having the blue firmament (Tien) as the central point; therefore offerings, particularly at the equinoxes, should be made to Tien. Neither Confucius nor his true followers have ever represented the Great First Cause by any image. "The images and idols of China belong to other faiths." The doctrine of the soul's immortality is implied in the worship paid to ancestors, and the absence of the word death from his philosophy. When a person dies, the Chinese say "he has returned to his family." The spirits of the good were, according to him, permitted to visit their ancient habitations on earth, or such ancestral halls or places as were appointed by their descendants, to receive homage and confer benefactions. Hence the duty of performing sacred rites in such places, under the penalty, in the case of those who, while living, neglect such duty, of their spiritual part being deprived after death of the supreme bilss flowing from the homage of descendants. The aim of the living should be the attainment of perfect virtue by the observance of the five fundamental laws of the relation between ruler and subject, parents and children, husband and wife, friends and brothers, and the practice of the five cardinal virtues — humanity, justice, order, rectitude, and sincerity, or good faith." Of the five canonical books composing the King, three (I-King, Shi-King, and Shu-King) were compiled, and one (Chun-Tsien) was composed by Confucius, while one (Li-Ki) was compiled from his teachings by his disciples, and brought to its present form some centuries after him. The first (I-King, Book of Changes), assigned by tradition to the mythical emperor Fuhi (B.C. 2800) as its author, is "simply a number of figures made up of straight lines, entire and broken, variously put together in parallel arrangement," and which "are regarded as typifying the elements and processes of nature, and the great truths of the moral and intellectual world," and "expressing the earliest cosmical philosophy of the Chinese. To the brief early interpretation of these emblematic figures Confucius added a fuller one of his own." The second (Shi-King, Book of Songs) is a selection of 311 pieces of lyric poetry, relating to moral sentiments, public and private affairs, as harvesting, marriage, etc., with praise of the good and censure of the wicked. The third and most important (Shu-King, Book of Annals) is a historical work, recording not only events but the maxims, conversations, decrees, and institutions of the sovereigns of ancient China, drawn confessedly from authentic sources, and coming down to about 200 years before Confucius. The fourth (Chun-Tsien, Spring and Autumn), composed by Confucius as a supplement to the third, records from memorials of his native kingdom Lu the events from Pingwang to B.C. 560. This is the only work coming directly from the hand of Confucius. The fifth (Li-Ki, Book of Rites) is a "compilation, brought into its present form some centuries after Confucius, and made up from material of very different age and character." It is a text-book especially of ceremonial and etiquette, in which the personal teachings of Confucius occupy an important place. His doctrines are also set forth in the Hiao-King (Filial Piety), by an anonymous writer, which contains apothegms of Confucius, collected during his conversations with his disciple Tsang-Tsan, and in the four Chinese classics termed Sse-shu, viz.
(1) Tahis (Great Learning, or doctrine for adults), consisting of seven verses of text from Confucius, with ten chapters of commentary by Tsang;
(2) Chung-Yang (the Doctrine of the Mean), by Tse-tse, the grandson of Confucius;
(3) Lung-yu (conversations — replies), conversations of Confucius, written by two disciples after his death;
(4) the Meng-tse-shu, the work of his great disciple Meng-tse (Mencius), who lived about B.C. 370, and ranks among the Chinese next to Confucius as moralist and philosopher.
Dr. Legge is now publishing all the Chinese classics, giving original texts, versions, and literary apparatus. Four volumes have appeared (Hong Kong); see also his Life and Teachings of Confucius (Lond. 1867, Phila. 1867, 12mo); Huc, Trav. in the Chinese Empire (N. Y., Harpers, 2 vols. 12nmo); New-Englander, Feb. 7,1859, p. 116-121; Edinb. Rev. April, 1855, p. 223-5 (Amer. ed.); Quart. Rev. 11:332; Culbertson, China, its Religions and Superstitions (N. Y. 1857, 1 vol. 12mo); Bibl. Sacra, May, 1846, art. 3; The Chinese Classics; pt. 1, Confucius, Worcester, Mass. (a translation of the Analects, the Great Learning and the Doctrine of the Mean), taken from Dr. Legge's larger work; Marshman, Works of Confucius (Serampore, 1809, 4to); Plath, Confucius u. seiner Schidler Leben u. Lehren (Munich, 1867, vol. i); Maurice, Religions of the World (Lond. 1846); Christ. Examiner, Sept. 1858; Hardwick, Christ and other Masters, bk. 3, ch. 1; Loomis, Confucius and the Chinese Classics, 1867; Brit. Quart. Rev. Jan. 1867. SEE CHINA.