The Human Truth Foundation


By Vexen Crabtree 2022

#atheism #china #chinese_religion #confucianism #japan #monotheism #polytheism #vietnam

Links: Pages on Confucianism, Other Religions
The symbol of Confucianism
God(s)Atheist / Monotheist / Polytheist / Other
HeritageChinese religion
Area of OriginChina
When-551 to 479
FounderBy Confucius
Numbers in the UK (Census results)
2001 832011 124
Confucianists Worldwide (Pew & WM)
World: 0.101%. South Korea (10.9%), Brunei (1.88%), Myanmar (Burma) (1.48%), Thailand (0.36%), Australia (0.252%), Japan (0.0956%), Belgium (0.0815%), Sweden (0.065%), Austria (0.0176%), Germany (0.00247%) 1

A Chinese religion that demands the strict observant of social rituals, the pursuit of humanness, virtuous behaviour and veneration of elders, and obedience2,3 as a means to achieve peace. Those in power are commanded to rule justly, in order to create as harmonious system as possible. The key virtues are filial piety (respect for parents and ancestors), honor, integrity, study, self-reflection, and most important of all, ren - benevolence4. There is much emphasis on the correct observance of formal social rituals4.

Confucianism is counted as one of the world's great religions5,6,7. Confucian ideas are essential parts of the cultures of China, Korea, Japan and Vietnam4. In addition to South-East Asia, there are also some followers in Europe.

1. Beliefs

Confucians instead participate in a shared but constantly changing conversation centered around a loosely defined canon. Of special importance are the Five Classics (the Books of Odes, Rites, History (or Documents), and Changes (I Ching) and the Spring and Autumn Annals) and the Four Books (the Analects, the Mencius [a collection of conversations of the fourth-century BCE master Meng Ke, known as Mengzi (Mencius), Master Meng], and The Great Learning (Daxue) and The Doctrine [or Practice] of the Mean (Zhong-Yong), chapters of the Book of Rites that became separate parts of the canon in the twelfth century.

"Universal Human Rights in Theory and Practice" by Jack Donnelly (2013)8

It is often the case that Confucian communities absorb local superstitious folk practices; see the chapter on this page on religion in China for a case example.

2. Founders

2.1. Confucius (551-479 BCE)


Confucius (551-479BCE)4,2) is the Latinized version of the name what can be written in English as Kong Fuzi or K'ung Futzu4, or Kung Fu Tzu, or Kong Qiu.

Kung Fu Tzu is well recorded in history, not least because his followers often opposed Taoism. Confucius... was considered a failure during his lifetime. It was only after his death that his disciples slowly gained power as the philosophers and bureaucrats of emerging imperial China.

"Religions of the World" by Breuilly, O'Brien & Palmer (1997)2

"Kong Qiu made a heroic effort to preserve and codify the ancient learning and then transmit it, along with his own contributions. The record of some of his sayings, the Analects (Lun Yu), is one of the central texts of Chinese civilization"8.

The Five Classics are the first books of Confucianism, and although it was originally said that Confucius compiled them, many historians think much of the work was that of his early followers after his death. They are:4

2.2. Mencius (372-289 BCE)

"Mencius" is the Western-friendly name of Meng Tzu, or Mengzi, who is often called the second sage of Confucianism10, and he emphasized that people have an inherently good nature, are uncomfortable with others' pain, but sometimes need guidance and support to let our good natures out. This is best achieved as part of a well-ordered society9. As a result of his teachings, the Four Books entered the Confucianist canon:

2.3. Zhou Dunyi (1017-1073 CE)

#china #taoism

Zhou Dunyi was responsible for an updated Neo-Confucianism that permitted a resurgence in Chinese Confucianism, but also included some Daoist-sounding elements that derived from more ancient and traditional Chinese beliefs: Self-mastery can put an individual in harmony with the universe, by mastering their qi.11

3. Confucianism in China

#buddhism #china #confucianism #eastern_religion #japan #religion_in_china #taoism

Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism and Chinese folk religion are the four main forms of religion in China; their beliefs and practices have intermingled and interchanged over thousands of years, and most local communities combine parts of all of them12,3,13,11,14. China's earliest dynasties continued folk practices that have existed since pre-history, with religious leaders being shamans and guides speaking on behalf of the spirit world15 and a multitude of local gods and practices, and some of those ancient practices persist today in rural areas. Despite liberalisation over the past several decades, large numbers of Chinese - two thirds - do not consider themselves religious at all16 and most new religious movements are suppressed17,18.

Confucius didn't have much influence during his lifetime (551-479BCE)2, but he did gain a post in government as a Minister for Crime, where he enacted reforms4.

After his death, followers collected his writings and Confucianism became a distinct movement. It was violently suppressed by the Qin dynasty (221-206 BCE)19. But Han emperor Wu Di (141-87 BCE declared Confucianism to be state ideology20, "with exemplary rulers governing a people whose civil actions stem from an internalized sense of duty", leading four centuries of prosperity and expansion. But this didn't last forever, and during famine and uncertainty, a new sect of "religious Daoists" arose, called the Yellow Turbans, who indirectly helped end the Han dynasty. Daoism and Buddhism took the place of Confucianism.10

By the 17th century CE, Neo-Confucianism dispelled a large portion of Buddhist ideas, and wound itself more tightly into the Chinese state in every area, with its prescribed rites, formal rules of etiquette and social rigidity. Confucianism was the central doctrine of the civil service and used as the basis for entrance and employee exams20. With such a large country to rule, the Confucian approach allowed strong central control.

Confucianism remained popular until the 19th Century. Its rigidity had slowed dynamism, and Chinese society had not adapted, leading to a series of disastrous encounters with external powers, especially with British forces in the Opium Wars, and then Japan between 1894-1895. In 1912, the final imperial dynasty collapsed. When the Communist Party under Mao Zedung rose to power, they dismissed Confucianism and burnt its books.20

Confucianism has, in total, enjoyed over 2000 years of hefty influence over Chinese culture2 and is again undergoing a revival, "Xi´s predecessor, Hu Jintao, based his 'harmonious socialist society' doctrine, which was designed to counter the inequality created by rapid economic growth, on Confucian teachings. As of [2018], the Chinese government has established 525 Confucius Institutes around the world. (The goal is to have 1,000 by 2020.) And since taking power, Xi has repeatedly extolled Confucianism in his speeches as they key to understanding China's history and distinctive national character"21.

For more, see:

Confucians say that Taoism is "emotional, irrational and magical, while the Taoists regarded Confucian teachings as bureaucratic and imperialistic"2.

Confucianism and Buddhism both "spoke much of endeavouring to live a life of virtue, and they held some definitions of virtue in common"20 but there's some hefty differences too. "In general, Buddhism looked inward toward the development of the individual spirit, whereas Confucianism looked outward and saw virtue primarily manifested in the context of society, though one's actions in relationship to others"20. Buddhist retreats and its hermits horrify Confucians, who define virtue through social interactions - which are therefore almost impossible, if living a secluded life.

4. Destined to Undermine Good Governance

#good_governance #government #politics

It would be wonderful if the Confucian way could lead us into a peaceful, harmonious future where quietude and productivity could flourish, with us happy with our roles and the parts we play. But it can never do so. Confucianism leads inherently to brutal top-down abuses, for the simple reason that it's just not enough to tell people that all you have to do is rule justly, and follow your rulers. It builds a system that is destined to become treacherous.

Imagine, as is often the case, that Confucian thinkers come to power, and rule justly. The people are happy. All seems well. But over time, the good people retire or die. Power-hungry, selfish and sneaky politicians are waiting to take over, and eventually, some of them do so. With a system of rigid obedience in place, they can command total control, easily bending the state for their own corrupt ends. They have powerful institutions that will do as they say without question, sharp tools to attack disobedients, and a populace that doesn't know that the system has turned against them.

To keep government good, the people must be able to boldly criticize government, to insult those in charge so that the rulers can tell when they're unhappy, to accuse their leaders of mismanagement without being punished, to loudly question policies and be heeded, to scrutinize the actions of those in power so that they are not given free reign, and finally, if the government cannot be thusly improved, to replace the government with another one.

"How to Govern Well: 4.2. The People Must be Free to Be Boldly Outspoken"
Vexen Crabtree

Confucianism's hierarchy of obedience teaches that almost every stage of that process is fundamentally wrong, and therefore, makes it almost certain that those in power are not truly acting in the people's interests.

Confucianism has the same problem as communism: In enthusing everyone with the idea that the system has haughty intellectual and moral merit and is for the good of all, it becomes easy to accuse opponents and critics of heresy. Once society sings the same song in this way, the leadership can get away with anything. And once corruption and vice takes hold, it requires a complete abandonment of the system in order to re-instate the necessary ability of the general masses to steer government.

For more, see How to Govern Well: