Confucius, the Latinized name of the Chinese philosopher Kung-fu-tse (Reverend Master Kung), a man who stands in a relation to the civilization of China similar to that which Moses and Socrates combined hold to western civilization. He was born, according to the best Chinese authorities, June 19, 551 B. C, in the small kingdom of Loo, which now forms a portion of the province of Shantung. Having lost his father when only three years old, his education was left to his mother, who directed his studies, and seems to have cherished in him a strong sense of morality. In his 17th year he entered the public service, but quit it at the age of 24 in order to mourn the death of his mother for three years. During this time he devoted himself to a careful study of the ancient writings, the morality of which impressed him with the idea of restoring the former usages and the doctrines of the sages of old. Having prepared himself for this task, he set himself up as a teacher at the age of 30. His fame soon spread, and his scholars and admirers increased in numbers. In order to propagate his doctrines still more extensively, he visited neighboring countries, preaching and teaching wherever he went.
About 506 B. C. he returned to his native country, where he was once more called into public office and attained the high position of prime minister. But he remained in it only a short time, the intrigues of a neighboring prince having succeeded in compelling him to retire into private life. Accompanied by a number of his disciples, he moved into the dominions of the prince of Wei, and devoted the rest of his life to the dissemination of his ideas. His death occurred at the age of 72, in 479 B. C, about 10 years before Socrates was born. More fortunate than he, Confucius had during his lifetime already obtained an unbounded popularity, bordering almost on worship. Posthumous honors in great variety were conferred on him. He left a single descendant, his grandson, Tsetse, through whom the succession has been transmitted to the present day. In A. D. 1671 there'were 11,000 males alive bearing his name, most of them of the 74th generation. These descendants of Confucius constitute a distinct class in Chinese society. The city of Kiofoo-hien, which contains his tomb, is chiefly inhabited by his descendants, four fifths of its families bearing his surname. A magnificent temple, the most superb in China, occupies the site of his residence.
In it is a statue of the sage, from which it appears that he was a tall man of imposing presence, with a large head and a red face. His tomb is a huge mound overgrown with trees and shrubs. - Considering the vast number of those by whom the doctrines of Confucius have been and are implicitly taken as the highest authority, and the influence they have exerted on the entire social and political edifice of a nation comprising fully one fourth of mankind, there is no founder of any religion who can boast of success greater than that of Confucius. He was not, however, the originator of a religious creed. While striving to introduce a ritual more minute than that of Moses, he rejected divine revelation, and erected a structure of moral philosophy founded upon the wants and tendencies of human nature. There was a time when European philosophers vied with one another in extolling the merits of Confucius as one of the sublimest teachers of truth among mankind. This was especially done by the French encyclopaedist philosophers of the 18th century, who, in order to strengthen the position they had taken against divine revelation, proposed to prove by the examples of Confucius, Socrates, and others, that the holiest truths had found their best interpreters among pagan philosophers.
Certain it is that the doctrines of Confucius bear a strong resemblance to those of his Greek contemporaries, not merely in their ethical tendency, but also in the abstruse metaphysical reasoning upon which they are apparently founded. The books containing them, partly written by Confucius himself, partly by his disciples (see China, Language and Literature of;, bear almost the same relation to the Chinese world as the Bible does to the Christian. The knowledge of one's self is, according to Confucius, the basis of all real advance in morals and manners. The duties man owes to society and himself are minutely defined by him; and there are many passages in his writings closely approaching the Christian standard of morality. Having been asked whether any one sentence could express the conduct most fitting for one's whole life, he replied: "Do not unto others what you would not have them do to you." "It cannot be denied," says Dr. Williams, "that among much that is commendable, there are a few exceptionable dogmas among his tenets; but compared with the precepts of Grecian and Roman sages, the general tendency of his writings is good; while in their general adaptation to the society in which he lived and their eminently practical character, they exceed those of western philosophers".
Confucius. (From the image in the temple of Confucius at Canton).