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Confucius and How He Impacts China Today?

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Confucius had a profound influence on China socially and politically.  He is to the East what Aristotle or Socrates would be for the West.

Confucius believed that the key to self mastery was through scholarship and self study.  To this day, his teachings on scholarship and study is very much engrained in Chinese society. Confucius stated “He who learns but does not think is lost. He who thinks but does not learn is in great danger.” (Analects 2.15) He encouraged men to be gentlemen by recommending diligent study under a master familiar with the rules of correct behavior and learning from the classics. In time, Confucius’s emphasis on education and his belief that position and rank should be based on merit, led to the establishment of an imperial bureaucracy in which admission was based not on birth but on how well the applicant did on the civil service examinations.

This was an admirable education system which in theory at least rewarded merit and therefore recruited the best candidates; however in practice, the school curriculum, which was based on meeting the requirements of the civil service examinations stifled society. Too great an emphasis was placed on knowing and being able to quote classical authors while science and economics were neglected. Although this had not been Confucius’s intent, the result was that China’s education system produced a traditionalist bureaucracy which was ill equipped to deal with military and economic problems.

Confucius taught that people should have compassion for one an other, and to avoid treating others in ways that they themselves would not wish to be treated: “What you do not wish for yourself, do not do to others.” (Analects 12.2)
He taught that the key to achieving proper self-mastery was adherence to proper ritual. In Confucius’ teachings, ritual encompassed the veneration of dead ancestors, as well as the broader concept of etiquette and correct social interaction. Confucius taught mutual respect arising between members of social relationships, for example as between Husband and Wife, Parents and Children, Older Brother and Younger Brother, and so on. Respecting one’s elders would guarantee a harmonious relationship between them and also serve as the foundation of a just and stable society.

Although the subordinate members of a relationship (children to their parents, wives to their husbands) were required to be obedient, their obedience was not absolute and depended upon the superior member of the relationship (parent, husband for example) acting in accordance to the golden rule. To this day (even with the one child policy), the idea of respecting your elders and hierarchy is still very much a part of the Chinese society.


Irene Tieh
Cross-Cultural Connector and
Founder of USA College Connection

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