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Religion Library: Confucianism

Community Organization

Written by: Jeffrey Richey

De (moral charisma) a quality of the successful ruler, because he rules at the pleasure of Tian (Heaven), which for Confucians is resolutely allied with morality, and to which they attribute every human being's inner de. De is the virtue of the successful ruler, without which he could not rule at all.

After the initial persecution of Confucians during the short-lived Qin dynasty (221-202 B.C.E.), the succeeding Han emperors and their ministers seized upon Confucianism as a vehicle for the legitimation of their rule and the social control of their subjects. The Wujing (Five Classics) -- five ancient texts associated with Kongzi -- were established as the basis for the imperial civil service examinations in 136 B.C.E., making memorization of these texts and their orthodox Confucian interpretations mandatory for all who wished to obtain official positions in the Han government. The state's love affair with Confucianism carried on through the end of the Han in 220 C.E., after which Confucianism fell out of official favor as a series of warring factions struggled for control of China during the "Period of Disunity" (220-589 C.E.) and foreign and indigenous religious traditions such as Buddhism and Taoism rivaled Confucianism for the attentions of the elite.

After the restoration of unified imperial government with the Tang dynasty (618-907 C.E.), however, the future of Confucianism as a symbol of the Chinese cultural and political establishment became increasingly secure. State-sponsored sacrifices to Kongzi and other Confucian saints formed part of the official religious complex of temple rituals, from the national to the local level, and orthodox hagiography and history cemented his reputation as cultural hero among the masses. The Song dynasty Confucian scholar Zhu Xi (1130-1200 C.E) institutionalized the study of the Lunyu as one of "Four Books" required for the redesigned imperial civil service examinations, and aspiring officials continued to memorize the text and orthodox commentaries on it until the early 20th century.

Lee Kwan Yew, Confucian revivalist and prime minister of Singapore (1959-1990): Public DomainWith the fall of the last Chinese imperial government in 1911 C.E., Confucianism toppled from its state-imposed pedestal -- but not for long. Within a short time of the abdication of the last emperor, monarchists were plotting to restore a Confucian ruler to the throne. Although these plans did not materialize, the Nationalist regime in mainland China and later in Taiwan promoted Kongzi and Confucianism in a variety of ways in order to distinguish itself from the iconoclastic Communists who followed Mao to victory and control over most of China in 1949. Today, the Communist government of China spends a great deal of money on the reconstruction and restoration of old Confucian temples across the country, and has even erected many new statues of Kongzi in areas likely to be frequented by tourists from overseas. The appeal of Confucianism for the present regime may arise from a tacit recognition that contemporary China is in dire need of social harmony, and that China's oldest system of social ethics may hold the key to regaining and sustaining it.

 


Study Questions:
     1.     How do Confucians see the relationship between family life and political life?
     2.     What is expected of a Confucian leader?
     3.     What role has Confucian thought played in East Asian political history?
     4.     Why is Confucianism being revived in contemporary

 

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