K’ung Fu Tzu (commonly pronounced Confucius in English) was born in 551 B.C.E. in the state of Lu (modern day Shantung Province). He lived during the Chou dynasty, and era known for its moral laxity. Later in life, he wandered through many states of China, giving advice to their rulers. He accumulated a small band of students during this time. The last years of his life were spent back in Lu, where he devoted himself to teaching. His writings deal primarily with individual morality and ethics, and the proper exercise of political power by the rulers.
In China, and some other areas in Asia, the social ethics and moral teachings of Confucius are blended with the Taoist communion with nature and Buddhist concepts of the afterlife, to form a set of complementary, peacefully co-existent and ecumenical religions.
Confucian ethical teachings include the following values:
Li: includes ritual, propriety, etiquette, etc.
Xin: honesty and trustworthiness
Jen: benevolence, humaneness towards others; the highest Confucian virtue
Chung: loyalty to the state, etc.
Confucianism does not contain all of the elements of some other religions, like Christianity and Islam. It is primarily an ethical system to which rituals at important times during one’s lifetime have been added.
Since the time of the Han dynasty (206 CE) four life passages have been recognized and regulated by Confucian tradition: Birth: The T’ai-shen (spirit of the fetus) protects the expectant woman and deals harshly with anyone who harasses the mother to be. A special procedure is followed when the placenta is disposed of. The mother is given a special diet and is allowed rest for a month after delivery. The mother’s family of origin supplies all the items required by the baby on the first, fourth and twelfth monthly anniversary of the birth. Reaching maturity: This life passage is no longer being celebrated, except in traditional families. It takes the form of a group meal in which the young adult is served chicken. Marriage: This is performed in six stages: Proposal: the couple exchange the eight characters: the year, month, day and hour of each of their births. If any unpropitious event occurs within the bride-to-be’s family during the next three days, then the woman is believed to have rejected the proposal. Engagement: after the wedding day is chosen, the bride announces the wedding with invitations and a gift of cookies made in the shape of the moon. Dowry: This is carried to the groom’s home in a solemn procession. The bride-price is then sent to the bride by the groom’s parents. Gifts by the groom to the bride, equal in value to the dowry, are sent to her. Procession: The groom visits the bride’s home and brings her back to his place, with much fanfare. Marriage and Reception: The couple recite their vows, toast each other with wine, and then take center stage at a banquet. Morning after: The bride serves breakfast to the groom’s parents, who then reciprocate. Death: At death, the relatives cry out aloud to inform the neighbors. The family starts mourning and puts on clothes made of a course material. The corpse is washed and placed in a coffin. Mourners bring incense and money to offset the cost of the funeral. Food and significant objects of the deceased are placed into the coffin. A Buddhist or Taoist priest (or even a Christian minister) performs the burial ritual. Friends and family follow the coffin to the cemetery, along with a willow branch which symbolizes the soul of the person who has died. The latter is carried back to the family altar where it is
used to “install” the spirit of the deceased. Liturgies are performed on the 7th, 9th, 49th day after the burial and on the first and third anniversaries of the death.
Sacred Texts- These were assembled by Chu Hsi (1130-1200 CE) during the Sung dynasty. They include: The Si Shu or Four Books: The Lun Yu the Analects of Confucius, The Chung Yung or the Doctrine of the Mean, The Ta Hsueh or the Great Learning, The Meng Tzu the writings of Meng Tzu (371-289 B.C.E.) a philosopher who, like Confucius, traveled from state to state conversing with the government rulers The Wu Jing or Five Classics: Shu Ching or Classic of History: writings and speeches from ancient Chinese rulers The Shih Ching or Classic of Odes: 300 poems and songs The I Ching or Classic of Changes: the description of a divinatory system involving 64 hexagrams. The hexagrams are symbols composed of broken and continuous lines; one is selected to foretell the future based on the casting of 49 sticks. The Ch’un Ch’iu or Spring and Autumn Annals: a history of the state of Lu from 722 to 484 B.C.E.. The Li Ching or Classic of Rites: a group of three books on the LI the rites of propriety
Legalism achieved what all the other philosophies strove for–unification of China. The Qin Dynasty, operating under the Legalist philosophy, finally unified China in 221 BC. In this light, Legalism was a success. However, the Qin Dynasty dissolved only 14 years after its founding. The Qin emperor was ruthless in his use of Legalism, punishing even small crimes with decapitation or the loss of a hand or foot. Books and scholars which held beliefs against Legalism (such as Confucianism) were destroyed. The people were heavily taxed and forced into labor on major government projects. He successfully put the fear and respect of the law and government into the people, but it was too much. After his death, a combination of plotting ministers and peasant rebellions caused the end of Legalism as the ruling philosophy of China. The harshness of the Legalist Qin would be remembered afterwards, and in response the following dynasty, the Han, distanced itself from Legalism and made its main rival, Confucianism the official philosophy. So although many parts of Legalism seem to make good sense (such as equality under the law, and government according to merit), memories of the abuse of the law under the Qin has kept Legalism in a bad light throughout Chinese history. Legalism Founded by: Han Feizi, Shangzi Like Daoism, Legalism had no single founder but instead, a couple of people who had similar ideas. Han Feizi, as a student, was taught in the Confucian tradition. Because of a problem with stuttering, he did not go the way most wandering philosophers of this age did: making the rounds of kings’ courts and making speeches. Instead, he wrote. His book, the Han Feizi, brought him some prominence during his life and ended up being the main text of the school of Legalism. Han Feizi died as a result of political intrigue in 233 BC, but Legalism would go on to become the philosophy which finally managed to unify China. Shangzi (Gungsun Yang) also contributed to Legalism. He traced the cause of the chaos of the time back to a growing population. According to him, this caused a scarcity of resources which led to war and strife. Shangzi saw a strong government according to law as the solution to the problem. Summary of the Philosophy Legalism holds law as the supreme authority. There are three components to Legalism: fa (law), shi (legitimacy), and shu (arts of the ruler). fa- The law. Previously, the law was pretty much at the discretion of the ruler. No one was really sure what the law was, since the ruler could make and change the rules as he saw fit. Supposedly, this was to give the ruler the opportunity to show benevolence in certain circumstances. But obviously, this system made for easy corruption. In Legalism, the law code was written out and made public. All people under the ruler were equal in the eyes of the law. In addition, the system of law ran the state, not the ruler. The ruler and his ministers were simply parts of the state machine–a machine which would ideally run so well that no matter how unworthy the ruler was, the laws would still keep the state going. Laws were enforced by strict reward/punishment.
shi- Legitimacy of Rule. Unlike other philosophies, which sought out the wise and virtuous to rule, Legalism puts the emphasis on the power of the position, not the person filling it. Legalism is a pessimistic philosophy–while conceding that it would be wonderful to have a sage for ruler, the reality was that there just weren’t many sages around. The practical thing would be to have a system where even an average man could rule and the state would stay intact. Keeping order was the first priority. In other words, whoever was ruler was powerful because the position held power, not because the person possessed any special qualities.
shu- Discussions of morality and human nature are irrelevant in Legalism. Benevolence has no place in ruling a state because unless people are ruled by a strong, strict hand, they grow lazy and disrespectful of authority. Policies based on benevolence might work for the short term, but inevitably led to disorder and failure. Daoism and Confucianism looked to the past as the ideal and tried to recreate the past. Confucius’ rituals came from the Zhou Dynasty and the Dao is the original state of all things. Legalism disregards the past–conditions were different back then, so what worked back then would not necessarily work in the present time.
The Han Feizi is considered the main text of Legalism. It is a comprehensive guide to ruling directed at kings. It consists of 55 chapters, each with its own theme. Some chapters are, strangely enough, Daoist in style, others deal with xing ming, and others tell the ruler what pitfalls to avoid while running a state. Many of the chapters contain lists of specific things to avoid (the 8 Villainies, the 5 Vermin, the 10 Faults), such as putting too much trust in your ministers and concubines, or offending more powerful states. Others discuss techniques of ruling–”Two Handles” talks about power over reward and punishment as the key to staying in power. If the ruler lets go of this power, he puts himself in danger of losing order in his state.
Tao (pronounced “Dow”) can be roughly translated into English as path, or the way. It “refers to a power which envelopes, surrounds and flows through all things, living and non-living. The Tao regulates natural processes and nourishes balance in the Universe. It embodies the harmony of opposites (i.e. there would be no love without hate, no light without dark, no male without female.)”
The founder of Taoism was Lao-Tse (604-531 B.C.E.), a contemporary of Confucius. (Alternate spellings: Lao Tze, Lao Tsu). He was searching for a way that would avoid the constant feudal warfare and other conflicts that disrupted life during his lifetime. The result was his book: Tao-te-Ching.
Taoism started as a combination of psychology and philosophy but evolved into a religion in 440 CE when it was adopted as a state religion. At that time Lao-Tse became popularly venerated as a deity. Taoism, along with Buddhism and Confucianism, became the three great religions of China. With the end of the Ch’ing Dynasty in 1911, state support for Taoism ended. Much of the Taoist heritage was destroyed during the next period of warlordism. After the Communist victory in 1949, religious freedom was severely restricted. “The new government put monks to manual labor, confiscated temples, and plundered treasured. Several million monks were reduced to fewer than 50,000″ by 1960. During the cultural revolution in China from 1966 to 1976, much of the remaining Taoist heritage was destroyed. Some religious tolerance has been restored under Deng Xiao-ping from 1982 to the present time.
Taoism currently has about 20 million followers, and is primarily centered in Taiwan. About 30,000 Taoists live in North America; 1,720 in Canada (1991 census). Taoism has had a significant impact on North American culture in areas of “acupuncture, herbalism, holistic medicine, meditation and martial arts…”
There is a long history involvement by Taoists in various exercise and movement techniques. Tai chi in particular works on all parts of the body. It “stimulates the central nervous system, lowers blood pressure, relieves stress and gently tones muscles without strain. It also enhances digestion, elimination of wastes and the circulation of blood. Moreover, tai chi’s rhythmic movements massage the internal organs and improve their functionality.” Traditional Chinese medicine teaches that illness is caused by blockages or lack of balance in the body’s “chi” (intrinsic energy). Tai Chi is believed to balance this energy flow.