Confucianism is a Chinese ethical and philosophical system developed from the teachings of the Chinese philosopher Confucius, who opened a school and cultivated many students based on the education method of “encouraging.”
Confucius lived and developed his philosophy throughout 551–478 BC. In the beginning, Confucianism was primarily a basic moral standard, but over time Confucian thought has developed into a vast and complete philosophical system and represents what has come to be thought of as the Confucian School of Thought. Confucianism was the greatest mainstream philosophy in ancient China and is today the most important ideology in present-day China and most of East and Southeast Asia. Other parts of the world have also been deeply influenced by this philosophy as the philosophy migrated to some extent into the West via early missionaries returning from visits to China. Cultural norms similar to Confucianism can even be observed in Mexico and Central and South America.
Confucius created Confucianism at the end of the Spring and Autumn Period that roughly coincides with the end of a 1,700 year period of Chinese history – the Xia, Shang and Zhou Dynasties, which are the first historically identified dynasties of China. Confucius’ ideology absorbed some of the traditional culture from the Xia, Shang and Zhou dynasties and then formed a complete system of thought including Confucius’ own major contributions including thorough codification.
Living in the Spring and Autumn Period, a time when feudal states fought incessantly against each other, Confucius was convinced of his ability to restore some order and a better balance to the world. After much travelling around China to promote his ideas among rulers, he eventually became involved in teaching disciples. His school of thought, however, was not well integrated into society until the following Warring States Period, 475–221 BC.
Confucianism compares in impact to the many contributions made by Chinese ancient culture to worldwide civilisation, including The Four Great Inventions: paper-making, the compass, gunpowder and movable type. It has also deeply influenced modern civilisation through text in The Four Books (The Great Learning, The Doctrine of the Mean, The Analects of Confucius and Mencius) and The Five Classics (The Book of Songs, The Book of History, The Book of Changes, The Book of Rites and The Spring and Autumn Annals).
Confucianism in Europe
During the Ming and Qing Dynasties, the hardships endured by European missionaries journeying through China to build bridges with the West were rewarded with Neo-Confucianism, the mainstream thought of the time that was a response by the Confucians to the rising influence of Taoists and Buddhists. Neo-Confucian thought arose in Chinese culture during the 11th century. It had a great influence in Korea and Japan and became well-known in Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries. “Confucianism with European thought” developed during the Italian Renaissance. The combination became part of the leading ideology of European modern civilization and a significant source of The Age of Enlightenment, a cultural movement led by European intellectuals during the 18th century.
Enlightenment figures seized upon Confucian philosophy. Voltaire’s was the most powerful voice advocating Confucianism in Europe. He and his Encyclopaedia of School used Confucianism as an ideological weapon to oppose the theocratic monarchy. Neo-Confucianism, as the part of the basis of classical philosophy founded by German philosopher Leibniz, was also used as a powerful weapon – against the theology of the Roman religious court that wielded considerable influence over philosophy guiding everyday actions of society.
Francois Quesnay, known as the “European Confucius,” helped create a new era of modern political economy in which commercial productivity and efficiency were set within, guided and constrained by the rule of law, social customs and government influence, partly on the basis of Confucianism, by laying a theoretical foundation for the formation and development of British classical political economy in part set forth by Adam Smith in his 1776 book, The Wealth of Nations.
The Science of Success
Confucianism was and is seen by many as the “Science of Success.”
There is a long and steady history of successes in China, and Confucius is regarded in China as the founder of many concepts of success. His teachings rarely rely on reasoned argument, but instead emphasize self-cultivation and emulation of moral exemplars. As a Chinese thinker, he expressed his views through mottos. Compared with ancient Greek and Roman thinkers, his philosophies are conveyed more directly and practically. Indeed practicality is a consistent thread running through much of Confucianism.
One of the deepest teachings of Confucius may have been the superiority of personal moral exemplification over explicit rules of behavior. Confucius’ concept is best expressed in his version of the Golden Rule, “Do not do to others what you would not like yourself, then there will be no resentment against you, either in the family or in the state.” Analects 12:2 (Analects is one of several books written by Confucius.)
The ideas of Confucius are considered a real treasure in China. Confucianism is a humanist system of thought that advocates harmony as fundamental to a successful life. In Confucianism, harmony is the supreme principle to deal with the relationship between nations, countries and individual human beings. For the most part (but with some very significant failings to be discussed later), Confucianism still fits well with the development of modern management in China. That’s why it plays a very significant role in Chinese and other Asian business management control systems.