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date: 13 December 2018

Classical Confucianism I: Confucius

Abstract and Keywords

This article provides an introduction to Confucianism. Confucius (551–479 bce) was born during the Spring and Autumn period in Qufu, a town in the state of Lu in central China, when the glory of the early Zhou dynasty was declining but still in fresh memory in the minds of the people. Confucius considered himself a “transmitter” rather than a creator. The wisdom that he taught, according to himself, was already entailed in the ancient traditional rituals, the history, music, poetry, and limited written works, which were, though corrupted in the ages of turmoil, still available at the time. He is believed to have edited some of the most basic Chinese classic books, including the Book of Rites, the Book of History, the Book of Odes, the Book of Music, and the Book of Changes. There is a spiritual and religious dimension in Confucianism, which contains a strong sense of mission, a journey that is not supposed to end before one's death, and an aim even more important than life itself.

Keywords: Confucianism, Confucius, Chinese philosophers, Chinese philosophy, religion, mission

Confucius (551–479 bce) was born during the Spring and Autumn period in Qufu, a town in the state of Lu in central China, when the glory of the early Zhou dynasty was declining but still in fresh memory in the minds of the people. The founders of the Zhou, King Wen and his brother Duke Zhou, laid the foundation of a humanitarian government in emulation of the ancient sage kings and refined the feudal ritual system. By the Spring and Autumn period, however, the social order of the Zhou was crumbling. It was with this historical background that China had its most fertile and glorious period in philosophy.

The word “Confucianism” is unknown to most Chinese, because in China it is generally referred to as “ru jia 儒家”—the school of ru, where “ru” refers not to Confucius, but to the practices and the way of life most distinctively represented by Confucius. Confucius's family name is Kong 孔, and his given name Qiu 丘. “Confucius,” a Latinized term for “Kong Fu-zi 孔夫子,” literally means “Master Kong” in Chinese. He lost his father when he was only three. His mother, from whom he received his primary education, raised him in a relatively humble situation. Confucius set his heart upon learning at the age of fifteen, and he became a determined learner. He started his teaching career in his early thirties, and is said to have had over three thousand students during his life. Among them, seventy-two became conversant with the “Six Arts” that he taught—ritual, music, archery, charioteering, writing, and arithmetic.

Confucius considered himself a “transmitter” rather than a creator. The wisdom that he taught, according to himself, was already entailed in the ancient traditional rituals, the history, music, poetry, and limited written works, which were, though corrupted in the ages of turmoil, still available at the time. He is believed to have edited (p. 27) some of the most basic Chinese classic books, including the Book of Rites, the Book of History, the Book of Odes, the Book of Music, and the Book of Changes. His own major teachings were recorded by his students and collected into the book known as Lunyu, the Analects. Confucius spent a considerable amount of his life traveling, trying to implement his humanistic ideas in political affairs. Deeply disappointed with contemporary rulers and having survived several life-threatening situations, he returned to his home state Lu at the age of sixty-eight, and died five years later with no anticipation of his subsequent fame as China's first and foremost teacher, a supreme sage, and a “king without a crown.” His teachings were taken in China as the principles of morality, law, government, education, and life in general, which everyone was supposed to follow, from the emperor down to the ordinary people. Yet at the beginning of the twentieth century, he was also taken to be responsible for all that was backward and benighted in China, because most of the repressive practices of feudal China were conducted under the name of Confucianism, though in most cases they were contrary to the real spirit of the Master's own teachings.

The Analects, the “Bible” of Confucianism, consists of excerpts put together with no apparent logical order, and yet the passages in it are related like different sides of a crystal that reflect the lights of each other. To “unpack” and reorganize the philosophy entailed in it in our familiar style of discourse risks simplifying the interconnectedness of the passages. Readers are therefore cautioned to take this chapter as a guide and not as a substitute for reading the original work.1

The Unity between Heaven and Human Being

There is a spiritual and religious dimension in Confucianism, which contains a strong sense of mission, a journey that is not supposed to end before one's death (8.7), and an aim even more important than life itself (15.9). But there is neither deity worship nor priesthood in Confucianism. Confucian temples are more like monuments than monasteries.

Confucius's own attitude toward issues regarding deities and life after death is skeptical and pragmatic. “The Master did not talk about strange phenomena, … or spiritual beings” (7.21). His advice is to “Keep a distance from spiritual beings while showing them due reverence” (6.22). “If you are not yet able to serve people, how can you serve spiritual beings?” “If you do not yet understand life, how can you understand death?” (11.12). Zi Gong once asked Confucius whether those who were (p. 28) dead had consciousness. The Master said, “When you die, you will eventually know. It will not be too late to know by then.”2 These responses show a strong this-worldly attitude, with an openness to the possibility of the other world. They also show that for the Master, living a decent human life in this world will not cause regret regardless of whether or not there is an afterlife.

The spirituality of Confucianism is mostly associated with tian 天, usually translated as “Heaven.” Confucius's Western Zhou predecessors had already replaced and gradually depersonalized the Shang dynasty notion of Shang Di 上帝, “Lord on High,” with the notion of Heaven, without losing its sense of being a reality that governs worldly affairs, and they had brought the being from on high down to the human realm. Human beings began to be seen as a part of Heaven. The will of Heaven was no longer the will of an anthropomorphic deity that issued orders and gave blessings and sanctions from above; it immanently exhibited itself in popular consensus and in regular patterns of discernible social and natural events, and it could be affected by the moral undertakings of people. Under such a notion, rulers were considered sacred only so long as they were able to continue to be entrusted with the Mandate of Heaven (tian ming 天命).

Because Heaven is immanent, it is possible for humans to know its Mandate. Confucius says: “At the age of fifty, I knew the Mandate of Heaven (tian ming 天命)” (2.4). He did not explain specifically how he came to know it, but “Does Heaven speak? And yet the four seasons turn and the myriad things are born and grow within it” (17.19), says the Master. The will of Heaven is displayed through patterns of social and natural events, but unlike laws of nature, it seems inexplicable through words and needs to be experienced directly and embodied before one is able to know it. The Master shows a strong confidence that Heaven has bestowed virtue in him (7.23). Since the word for virtue, de 德, also means power, his confidence is derived from his faith in the power of the virtue given to him by Heaven. Even though otherwise Heaven often appeared to be at odds with him, the Master believed that “It is the human who is able to make the Way great, not the Way that can make the human great” (15.29). This statement also sheds light on “the Way” (dao 道), because it suggests that the Way is more a trajectory, a mode of acting, which is itself road building, than a metaphysical entity that is purely objective and external to human conduct.

Confucius sometimes talked about ming 命, a term usually translated as “destiny.” Since the word for mandate is also the same character, and it is sometimes used interchangeably with tian (Heaven), it is easy to confuse it with tian ming. Ming is different from the Mandate of Heaven in that the latter is more of a moral imperative, and the former is more of a determination of certain phenomena, usually in a particular order or sequence. For instance, when a natural event happens beyond a person's control, it would be considered ming (see, for example, 6.10 and 12.5). Similarly, whether the Way eventually prevails or not, given the human efforts (p. 29) involved, is determined by ming (14.36). Since Heaven is more like nature that is beyond personal control, so what is by “ming” is also by “tian,” Heaven.


Variously translated as “benevolence,” “human-heartedness,” “authoritative person/conduct,” “altruism,” “humanity,” “goodness,” and so forth, ren 仁 is a concept most prominent in Confucius's philosophy. Yet the Master never offered a precise definition of it, nor have translators been able to come up with a uniform English translation.

Some observations, however, can help us understand it. First, the word “ren” is occasionally used in Confucian texts as somewhat synonymous to “human” or “person”—ren 人—which is, in Chinese, homophonic to it (see Mencius, 1B.15 and Zhongyong 20). This fact shows that “the distinction between the two terms [人 and 仁] must be qualitative: two distinguishable degrees of what it means to be a person” (Hall & Ames, 114). Thus, the word “ren 仁” can be interpreted as a quality that makes a person an authentic human being, which every biological human needs to strive toward. Second, the word consists of two elements, “person 人” and the number “two 二.” This etymological analysis, says Ames and Rosemont, “underscores the Confucian assumption that one cannot become a person by oneself—we are, from our inchoate beginnings, irreducibly social” (Ames & Rosemont, 48). Indeed, many descriptions of ren in the Analects are about interpersonal relations. “Ren” is to “love people” (12.22), says the Master, and the method to be ren is “shu 恕”—comparing one's own heart with other hearts with compassion (6.30). Third, we observe that when asked about ren, Confucius gave different answers to different disciples according to their particular needs for personal development. This fact suggests that ren is more like an art that needs to be mastered, embodied, and displayed in one's gestures and manners, rather than a formula to be understood or accepted by the intellect. Ren, then, is a quality pertaining to one's caring dispositions toward others that has to be developed and fully embodied before a biological person can become an authentic human being.

Twice when asked about ren, Confucius answers in the form of the negative version of the “Golden Rule”—“Do not impose upon others what you yourself do not want” (12.2, 15.24)—and he endorses a positive version of it also, for he says: “If you want to establish yourself, establish others. If you want to promote yourself, promote others” (6.30). However, while taking the “Golden Rule” as a rule has the problem of basing rights and wrongs on unqualified personal likes and dislikes, Confucius never took it as a rule, much less as “Golden.” He states clearly that a morally exemplary person, jun zi 君子, “is never for or against anything invariably. He is always on the side of the appropriate” (4.10). Confucius “rejects … inflexibility and rigidity” (9.4, see also 15.37). Confucius himself was characterized as a sage who (p. 30) acted according to circumstances rather than rules (Mencius, 5B.1). The art of flexibility is deemed by the Master so high that he says to find a partner good enough in the exercise of quan 權 (discretion) is more difficult than finding a partner good enough in taking a stand or in the pursuit of the Way (9.30). The word “quan” originally means “scale,” and thus the action of “weighing” as well. According to Gong Yang Zhuan 公羊傳, a Chinese classic from as early as the Zhou dynasty, “quan means moral goodness resulting from transgressing well-established classics” (“The 11th Year of the Duke of Huan”).

Confucius is not uncritical of desires and wants. In fact, one of Confucius's major descriptions of ren is “To restrain the self” (12.1). When a disciple asked, “Is there one expression that can be acted upon throughout one's entire life?” the Master replied, “There is shu 恕. Do not impose on others what you yourself do not want” (15.24). In another passage, right after the statement of his positive version of the “Golden Rule,” the Master says: “Taking an analogy near at hand is the method of becoming ren” (6.30). The word “shu” consists of two parts: the upper part, “ru 如,” means “like,” “as if,” or “resemble,” and the lower part, “xin 心,” means “heart-mind.” This etymological analysis helps us to understand that for Confucius, the application of the “Golden Rule” is to take one's own heart as an analogy near at hand and to extend one's considerations to the wants and needs of others empathically.

According to such a reading, the “Golden Rule” is no different from “shu,” a method to be ren. Even though there is no guarantee for the method to lead to right actions all the time, it helps a person to become sensitive to the interests of others. In contrast to a rule, which allows no exceptions and is imposed upon the agent as an obligation, proscribing certain acts, a method is mastered by the agent, enables the agent to perform the right action, and is not to be used when its application is unwarranted.

Confucius also characterizes ren as to “love the people” (12.22). Extending beyond personal interest and into interpersonal caring, love is characteristic of human-heartedness. Love must be from the heart and not merely from the rational faculty of the mind. Whether in daily life or in governmental affairs, a ren person is always considerate and has others’ interests in mind. In running a government, the ren ruler “is frugal in his expenditures and loves his subordinates, and puts the common people to work only at the proper season of year” (1.5). In daily life, he “loves the multitude broadly” (1.6).3

One of the Confucian qualifications for proper love is to love with distinction. Confucius differentiates according to relationships and social roles. “When his stables caught fire, the Master hurried back from court and asked, ‘Was anyone hurt?’ He did not inquire after the horses” (10.17). It does not mean that he cared nothing about animals. “The Master fished with a line, but did not use a net; he used an arrow and line, but did not shoot at roosting birds” (7.27). Among humans, he also believes (p. 31) that one should start with loving one's own parents and gradually extend the love to others according to degrees of closeness in relations. Filial piety (xiao 孝) is considered the very root of a proper social order. “The morally exemplary person concentrates his efforts on the root; for the root having taken hold, the Way will grow therefrom. Aren't filial piety and fraternal deference the roots of becoming human-hearted indeed?” (1.2). Here we find the love to be both a characteristic of the ren person and a method of becoming ren. By practicing ren, ren grows. If we do not start our love from the immediate context of our life and with those whom we immediately encounter, it will not start at all. As a method, it is not to be confused with a moral imperative or principle. Confucius's reference to his fellow villagers' way of dealing with one's own family member's misconduct by mutual concealment (13.18) becomes a defense of injustice if we take it to be an ethical principle, but it becomes sacrificing a branch for the sake of saving the root when we treat it as a method.

Confucius also differentiates love according to circumstances. He would rather help the needy than make the rich richer (6.4). Unlike “eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth” or Jesus Christ's exhortation to turn the other cheek, Confucius repays ill will with uprightness or straightforwardness (zhi 直). If you repay ill will with kindness, says the Master, “then how would you repay kindness?” (14.34). In classic Chinese grammar many words can serve as verb, noun, or adjective; thus, zhi may also mean “to straighten” or “to correct.”

Ren is also what makes a person worthy of respect. According to Kant, rational beings are ends in themselves because they can make free choices and are therefore the source of value. For Confucius, however, one earns reverence from others by being respectful oneself. “If one is respectful, one will not suffer insult” (17.6, 1.13). Confucius says, “The exemplary person does not speak more than what he can accomplish, and does not behave across the line of proper conduct, people revere him without being forced to” (Book of Rites, ch. 27). The respect one deserves is therefore in proportion to the level of one's cultivation. But this teaching aims at reminding everyone to cultivate oneself rather than serving as a reason for disrespecting others. Repeatedly Confucius reminds his students to set strict standards for themselves and to be lenient to others (see 15.15, 4.14, 14.30, 15.19, and 15.21).

Yi and Li—Appropriateness and Ritual Propriety

While ren is the internal quality or disposition that makes a person an authentic person, yi 義 is the appropriateness of actions that typically originates from ren. For being appropriate in one's action, however, one also needs the guidance of li 禮, ritual propriety; otherwise, a person of ren can still go astray. Confucius says, “not being mediated by the observance of the ritual propriety, in being respectful a (p. 32) person will wear himself out, in being cautious he will be timid, in being bold he will be unruly, and in being forthright he will be rude” (8.2).

The word li originally meant holy ritual or sacrificial ceremony. It was used more broadly by Confucius to mean behavior patterns established and accepted as appropriate through history by a community, including what we call manners, etiquette, ceremonies, customs, rules of propriety, and so forth. The metaphor of holy ritual serves as a reminder that the most ordinary activities in our life can also be ritualistic or ceremonial. When a disciple asked about filial conduct, the Master replied: “Those who are called filial today are considered so because they are able to provide for their parents. But even dogs and horses are given that much care. If you do not respect your parents, what is the difference?” (2.7). By serving and dining with respect and appreciation in a proper setting, the mere physical nourishment becomes a ceremony, and thereby becomes human. Learning rituals is therefore no different from learning to be human. Through ritual propriety, social activities and human relations are coordinated in a civilized way. The relevance of a ritual setting to humanity is further illustrated by the Master's interesting comparison of a disciple to a sacrificial vase of jade (5.4), for the vessel's sacredness does not reside in the preciousness of its material or in its beauty. It is sacred “because it is a constitutive element in the ceremony. … By analogy, Confucius may be taken to imply that the individual human being, too, has ultimate dignity, sacred dignity by virtue of his role in rite, in ceremony, in li” (Fingarette, 75).

Confucius values ritual proprieties so highly that he says, “If for a single day one were able to return to the observance of ritual propriety, the whole empire would defer to ren” (12.1). One reason for this is that humans are like raw materials—they need to be carved, chiseled, grounded, and polished to become authentic persons (1.15). Learning ritual propriety is such a process. By practicing ritual propriety, a person can be transformed and established (8.8). Most people learn their basic moral lessons in their youth, not by studying Kantian formulations of the categorical imperative or utilitarian calculations, but by repeated use of rituals such as saying “thank you,” which increases one's sense of appreciation, and “I am sorry,” which increases one's sensitivity to others' pain.

This learning is basic but not at all primitive. The skill of dealing with subtle and sophisticated human relationships has to be learned from actual life. It is more a knowing “how” than knowing “what.” Only from this perspective can we understand and appreciate the passages in the Analects that give detailed accounts of how the Master greeted his guests, dressed himself, ate, sat, and so forth. The subtlety and complexity of the coordinated ritual acts are certainly beyond what can be encapsulated in any abstract principle.

Though Confucius advocated the traditional ritual proprieties, nowhere did he say that they must be unchangeable (see, for example, 9.3). When asked about the root of observing ritual propriety, the Master replied, “What an important question! In observing ritual propriety, it is better to be modest than extravagant; in mourning, it is better to express real grief than to worry over formal details” (3.4). The principle behind this is the humanitarian spirit, ren, not the mere traditional formality (see also 11.1).

(p. 33) Zheng—Social and Political Philosophy

Just as the role of a vessel in a ceremony is specific, ritual proprieties also serve as fabrics of a social order. In the ideal Confucian society, everyone knows his or her own social position and conducts his or her life according to the rituals appropriate to it, though this does not entail the rigidity of one's social position. The Master is himself a role model: “At court, when speaking with lower officials, he was congenial, and when speaking with higher officials, straightforward yet respectful. In the presence of his lord, he was reverent though composed” (10.2). In these rituals the social roles and relationships are confirmed and communicated, the responsibilities that come with them are taken, and the human-heartedness is displayed.

Confucius explicitly regarded administrative rules and law enforcement as inferior to the way of ritual propriety and moral excellence for achieving social order. “Lead the people with administrative injunctions and keep them orderly with penal law, and they will avoid punishments but will be without a sense of shame. Lead them with excellence (de 德) and keep them orderly through observing ritual propriety, and they will develop a sense of shame, and moreover, will order themselves” (see 2.3). The Master said, “In hearing litigation, I am no different from anyone else. But if you insist on a difference, it is that I try to get people to have no need to resort to litigation in the first place” (12.13). In public affairs, if those who are in superior positions are fond of ritual propriety, the common people will be easy to command (14.41), so easy that they will even follow without any command (13.6, 15.5). Confucius believed that the way to conduct zheng 政 (to govern) requires one to be zheng 正, a homophone that means “being proper,” “straight,” “orderly,” “to correct,” or “to make straight.” The two words are not merely homophonous; they have an intrinsic affinity. “Being proper (zheng 正) in their own position, what difficulty would the rulers have in governing? But if not able to set themselves proper, how can they set others proper?” (13.13; see also 12.19 and 12.17). This is the Confucian notion of wu wei 無為—action by nonaction, a notion more well known for its Daoist affiliation. While the Daoist wu wei is to do things naturally and spontaneously, the Confucian wu wei is to accomplish intended results by ritual proprieties enlivened by moral virtue.

The kind of order secured by ritual propriety and moral excellence is also totally different from what law and administrative enforcement can achieve. It is not only more penetrating and less coercive, but more importantly, it harmonizes. “Achieving harmony is the most valuable function of observing ritual propriety” (1.12). Harmony (he 和) is different from conformity (tong 同). “The exemplary person pursues harmony rather than conformity; the petty minded is the opposite” (13.23). While the parts forced into conformity are in agreement with each other at the cost of their individuality, the parts of a harmonious whole mutually enhance each other without sacrificing their uniqueness. People in harmonious relations participate in social activities and construction, not merely being constituents of them. In this order there is hierarchy, but it is supposed to be one of deference to excellence and reciprocity rather than an order of aristocracy.

(p. 34) Exemplary persons do search for agreement on principal matters such as human-heartedness and dao, the way, as “People who have chosen different ways (dao) cannot make plans together,” says the Master (15.40). But the way is not formulated as a set of abstract universal principles. The agreement is based on zhengming 正名, ordering or rectifying names, so that each person will know what is expected of him or her in a given web of particular relationships. When asked about what would be the priority in bringing order to a state, Confucius replied, “Without question it would be to order names properly” (13.3). Using names, for Confucians, is like implementing strategies or devices that stipulate expectations. “The ruler must rule, the minister minister, the father father, and the son son” (12.11). Each “name” carries with it a norm that whoever bears the name is expected to follow. When Confucius was editing the Spring and Autumn Annals, he paid special attention to the use of words, since words carry the force that can affect reality 名可制實. That is why Confucius advises people to “speak cautiously” (2.18). In the Confucian rectification of names, reality is supposed to match words, and the aim of rectification is to ensure that, as pegs of role expectations, the names are acceptable. In contrast, in the referential use of language familiar to philosophies preoccupied with obtaining truth and knowledge, words are supposed to match reality, and the aim of rectification is to ensure that they represent reality.

It would be inadequate to take Confucius's teachings as merely advocating a social and political moral theory, because they also aim at achieving personal freedom and aesthetic creativity. In his famous short autobiography, Confucius says, “At the age of seventy, I was able to follow my heart-mind's (xin 心) will (yu 欲) without overstepping the line” (2.4). Unlike the freedom of indifference in which one does not know which choice is better, this freedom of cultivated spontaneity frees one even from making choices! Just like any decent human being would not deliberate on whether or not to kick an innocent child for fun, a well-cultivated person will have no need for deliberation in most cases. Of course, for Confucius freedom is not a personal matter, for a person is so inseparable from others that her domain of choice is itself defined and transformed by her interaction with others.

Xue—Learning to Be Human

As a system of teachings that oriented toward personal cultivation and manifestation of ren and li, the topics of learning, thinking, and attaining knowledge are important to Confucianism.

One distinctive feature of the Confucian way of dealing with learning, thinking, and knowledge is that they all contain the heart part of the xin 心, heart-mind. The heart is engaged in the process of reaching a deeper understanding, of critical evaluation, and of appropriating what is learned so that one is able to apply it creatively and artistically. Responding to a disciple's question about mourning his parents, (p. 35) Confucius asked, “Would you feel at ease?” (17.21). This question forces the disciple to bring whatever feelings and ideas that he encounters in front of his moral subjectivity and examine whether or not he can accept them at ease. When another disciple asked Confucius about the exemplary person, the Master said, “The exemplary person is free from worry and apprehension. … If there is nothing to be ashamed of upon self-reflection, what can the person be worried about and afraid of ?” (12.4). It is no coincidence that the Chinese language contains lexicons that can be illustrative of the bodily characteristic of the Confucian way of thinking and knowing, such as “ti yan 體驗,” bodily experience; “ti hui 體會,” bodily understanding; “ti cha 體察,” bodily examination; “ti zhi 體知,” bodily knowing; and “ti ren 體認,” bodily recognition. The subject does not passively receive impressions, nor does she merely reason intellectually. She experiences with the body engaged, understands with her heart in empathy, examines with the sensitivity of the body, and knows with the body dispositioned to act upon what is known.

The entire process of learning and reflection involves the body, and thus requires practice. The outcome is not an accumulated body of propositional knowledge but a set of abilities, which Song and Ming dynasty Confucians call “gongfu 功夫” (kungfu), usually obtained through receiving training from masters and through one's own diligent practice. The Analects shows that when asked about ren by the disciples, Confucius never tried to describe ren per se. He talked about what a ren person would be like and how she would act, and he gave instructions according to each disciple's particular condition, letting them know on which level and which aspect they should start or continue their practice. The teaching method is indeed more typical of gongfu masters than of philosophy teachers in the common sense of the term.

The Confucian gongfu culminates with zhongyong (see 6.29). “Zhong 中” means “centrality,” or “not to be one-sided.” “Yong 庸” means “ordinary” or “commonality,” “practicality,” and “constancy.” When “zhong” and “yong” are used together as one term, it can be translated as “centering the commonality.” There is considerable overlap between the Confucian doctrine of zhongyong and the Aristotelian Golden Mean. Both mean the virtue (not necessarily moral virtue), or excellence, of avoiding two extreme vices—deficiency and excess (see 11.16, 11.22, and 20.1), and not a state of being mediocre. By associating “zhong” with “yong,” Confucius advises people to constantly practice zhong in the ordinary or common life that makes our heart-mind always at ease when we do the appropriate things. Since everyday life situations are dynamic and there is no rigid rule to follow, the person has to embody the gongfu to respond to differing situations in a consistent way, and be creative, as a cocreator of the universe. After all, the unity between Heaven and humanity is not a combination of two entities, or a human's ascendance to another world. It is rather one's becoming truly human in serving parents, taking care of children, respecting teachers, helping friends, and finding enjoyment in these activities (see 7.19).

Unlike the common conception of art that associates artworks with studios and galleries, the Confucian art is a way of life itself. If a master of conventional arts is one who dissolves the opposition between the mind and the “hands” and between (p. 36) the hands and the objects, the Confucian aesthetic life is one in which the person achieves unity with Heaven and is able to participate with Heaven in creation. The person embodies zhi, knowledge or wisdom, and is therefore not perplexed; she embodies ren, human-heartedness, and is therefore not worrisome; she is courageous, and is therefore not timid (9.29). The person enjoys water, for wisdom is like water, dynamic and creative. The person enjoys mountains, for human-heartedness is like the mountains, enduring and full of dignity (6.23). The Confucian artistic creation is displayed in one's entire life, including ordinary daily activities.


Ames, Roger T., and Henry Rosemont, Jr. (1998) The Analects of Confucius: A Philosophical Translation. New York: Ballantine Books.Find this resource:

Book of Rites (Li Chi). (1967) Translated by James Legge. New Hyde Park, NY: University Books.Find this resource:

Chen, Wing-tsit. (1963) A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Find this resource:

Fingarette, Herbert. (1972) Confucius—The Secular as Sacred. New York: Harper and Row.Find this resource:

Graham, A. C. (1989) Disputers of the Tao. La Salle, IL: Open Court.Find this resource:

Hall, David L., and Roger T. Ames. (1987). Thinking Through Confucius. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.Find this resource:

Ni, Peimin. (2002) On Confucius. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.Find this resource:


(1.) The translations in this article are based on the books listed in the bibliography at the end, with some occasional modifications. Citations from the Analects are given in parentheses with the chapter and section numbers. For example, “(2.1)” means chapter 2, section 1 from the book of the Analects.

(2.) Sun Xing Yan and Guo Yi, Kong Zi Ji Yu Jiao Bu [孔子集语校补 Collected Sayings of Confucius, Proofread and with New Additions] (Shangdong: Qi Lu Shu She, 1998), p. 21.

(3.) Indeed, the statement that all men “should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood” in the United Nations' Declaration of Human Rights is derived from the Confucian saying that “all within the four seas are brothers” (12.5).