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History

One result of Confucianism's establishment as the official ideology of the Han dynasty was the reimagining of Kongzi as something more than a venerable mortal sage. Beginning with Sima Qian (145-86 B.C.E.), Han writers included fantastic elements in their biographies of Kongzi. In such tales, Kongzi's birth was heralded by a qilin (a unicorn-like creature) and dancing dragons, he was born with the texts of the Western Zhou classics inscribed on his body, and he grew to be nine feet tall. After his death, he was alleged to have revealed himself in a glorified state to his living disciples, who then received further esoteric teachings from their apotheosized master. Eventually, and perhaps inevitably, he was recognized as a deity and a cult organized itself around his worship.

#18 Altar at a Confucian temple, Suzhou, ChinaThe 20th century Chinese philosopher Feng Youlan (1895-1990) once suggested that, had these Han images of Confucius prevailed, Confucius would have become a figure comparable to Jesus Christ in the history of China, and there would have been no arguments among scholars about whether or not Confucianism was a religion like Christianity. As things turned out, other images of deity that originated in the Buddhist and Taoist traditions proved to be more powerful in capturing the devotion of Chinese commoners. At any rate, by the end of the Han dynasty, when Buddhism still was largely unknown and Taoism was just beginning to become an organized sect, Kongzi and his tradition had been elevated from an obscure, disorganized, and disenfranchised community of Ruto the most prominent, unified, and politically powerful religious institution in China.


Study Questions:
     1.     What was the status of Confucianism prior to the second century B.C.E.?
     2.     How did Confucianism's endorsement by the state affect its development?
     3.     How did Confucianism's endorsement by the state influence images of Confucius?

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