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Confucius Tang Dynasty.jpg


Tsze-lu said, "The ruler of Wei has been waiting for you, in order with you to administer the government. What will you consider the first thing to be done?"
The Master replied, "What is necessary is to rectify names." "So! indeed!" said Tsze-lu. "You are wide of the mark! Why must there be such rectification?"
The Master said, "How uncultivated you are, Yu! A superior man, in regard to what he does not know, shows a cautious reserve.
"If names be not correct, language is not in accordance with the truth of things. If language be not in accordance with the truth of things, affairs cannot be carried on to success.
"When affairs cannot be carried on to success, proprieties and music do not flourish. When proprieties and music do not flourish, punishments will not be properly awarded. When punishments are not properly awarded, the people do not know how to move hand or foot.
"Therefore a superior man considers it necessary that the names he uses may be spoken appropriately, and also that what he speaks may be carried out appropriately. What the superior man requires is just that in his words there may be nothing incorrect."


"Confucius" is the name given to an unknown - like Shakespeare, to take an English example - but influential Chinese philosopher who lived in the 6th century BC. After his death, his teachings were compiled in a work known in the English-speaking world as the Analects of Confucius (Chinese: Lún Yǔ, lit. "discussion over Confucius' words" — though "analects" means "a collection of excerpts from a literary work" and is thus an inaccurate translation).

The name "Confucius" comes from the 16th century Latin translation of the Analects by the Jesuit scholar Matteo Ricci, who introduced him to the Catholic world. The Mandarin is Kǒng zǐ or Kǒng Fūzǐ, "Master Kong". He is known as Koshi in Japan.

Confucius's enduring legacy is the codification of an ethos that predated him by centuries - if not millennia, to indulge in a spot of nationalist hyberbole - into a system of relatively coherent moral codes. In a sense, Confucianism isn't so much a philosophy as a model of behavior. There have been several cycles of decay and revival in the history of Confucianism, but the latest wave of Neo-Confucianism is at the core of what has been claimed as 'traditional' values in East Asia: a strong emphasis on family life and loyalties (filial piety), deference to authority and personal responsibility in authority (feudal loyalty). Associated with these are the prizing of self-discipline and (academic) learning.

The Analects begin thus:


The Master said, "Is it not pleasant to learn with a constant perseverance and application? Is it not delightful to have friends coming from distant quarters? Is a gentleman not a man of complete virtue, who feels no discomposure though men may take no note of him?"


The (supposed) descendants of Confucius have carefully maintained their family records for the past 2,500 years and are now in their 83rd generation.

Tradition says that Laozi was a contemporary of his and that they met. Historical evidence seems to be that this is impossible, with Laozi either being a mythic figure or living rather later.

In Western popular culture, the name of Confucius is often attached to joke proverbs expressed in mangled English, e.g. "Confucius say: He who no take candle not very bright." It hopefully goes without saying that the genuine article's thoughts were somewhat deeper; one problem with translations into European languages is that classical Chinese is a notoriously laconic and nuanced language, as if being of a completely different language group wasn't enough. In any case, "Confucius say..." or "Wise man once say..." are prefaces to facetious 'quotes'; texts that actually reference Confucius generally begin more eloquently, e.g. "The Master said..."

Confucius provides examples of the following tropes:
  • Agent Scully: Was vaguely agnostic, treating funeral rites and such as a means of instilling discipline and cultivating order rather than exercises in spiritualism.
  • Due to the Dead[context?]
  • Evil Is Stylish: "The Master said, 'Fine words and an insinuating appearance are seldom associated with true virtue.'"
  • Gentleman and a Scholar: The Confucian ideal.
  • Humble Hero: Confucius himself, with his insistence that only his perseverance and love of learning set him about from other men of learning.
  • Intrepid Merchant: to Confucius' chagrin Zigong, one of his disciples. Trade is rarely considered an honourable profession by Confucians as merchants do not produce anything for themselves or others, but instead deal in the fruits of others' labours. Nevertheless he was one of Confucius' important disciples, one who used his money and influence to protected Confucian sects in the 'age of martial philosophies'.
  • Manly Tears: "He did not sing on the same day in which he had been weeping."
  • Renaissance Man: Confucianists were expected to enjoy music, art, and the contemplation of nature.
  • Ret-Gone: Removed from his place on the Chinese curriculum post-PRC, although he's being rehabilitated.
  • Shout-Out: Confucius' moral philosophy was founded on the Book of Songs, from which he drew a bunch explanatory metaphors.
  • Take That[context?]
  • Thicker Than Water: Filial Piety. Serious Business back in the day. Conflicts between it and one's feudal loyalties were deadly serious business, such that suicide is one of the few acceptable solutions to such a clash.
  • Too Good for This Sinful Earth: His favorite disciple Yen Hui died young. ("There was one, Yen Hui, who loved to learn. He never transferred his anger, nor repeated an error. Sadly his appointed time was short, and he died; now, there are none like him. I have yet to hear of anyone who loves to learn as he did.")
  • True Companions: The core group of disciples who studied under Confucius and compiled the Analects.
  • "Well Done, Son" Guy: The latest wave of Neo-Confucianism holds that a gentleman is supposed to be (somewhat) aloof from his sons-- who're hoped to be paragons of achievement and filial piety, partly as a result of said aloofness and their consequent desire to please.