Confucianism is the essential element in the common culture and was the philosophy of Kong Qui (K’ung Chiu). He was known as Confucius and all his life he hoped for a major government post, but the rulers were not impressed by these hopes. Instead, he became a wandering teacher by which he contributed to the mould of an entire culture. Although his teachings did possess some truth, he merely passed on existing wisdom as well as making original contributions to the culture. Confucius stressed many beliefs including belief in family, the role of women in society, education, Mandate of Heaven, Yin-Yang, the 5 relationships and Ancestor worship.
The traditional Chinese family was a larger unit than the nuclear family of today that consisted of 3-4 generations all living in the same home. Family in Chinese culture was considered of great importance. Marriage in Confucianism was arranged and three of the five relationships were seen in families, father-son, husband-wife and brother-brother. These strong family ties developed eventually into an agricultural society and gave rise to the mystical relationship between the family and its land. This relationship was established mostly through ancestral worship. The family was undeniably one of the main beliefs of Confucianism.
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Women in Chinese Confucianism had certain roles and duties within their lives. When a woman was due to be married, the future mother would have complete control over the woman. A girl of strong character in Chinese culture had general disapproval and was seen as a catastrophe to her family. The ideal young lady was one of a great figure as well as small feet-“like the crescent new moon that danced divinely on a large golden lotus flower. A woman with small feet acquired an air of nobility and fragility which enhanced her chances of making a good marriage. It would also ensure that her husband was faithful.
A woman’s mother taught her when she was younger such attributes and behaviour patterns: she must be humble, good-natured and respectful, open her lips as little as possible when she spoke, laugh without being noisy, never raise her voice, make sure she could not be seen if she looked outside, drink no alcohol and never go out at night. These behaviour patterns matched moral qualities seen as important: she should always place herself a little in the background, never mention her own qualities, never make excuses for her faults, accept criticism without defence and always be discreet. This ideal did nothing to develop their personality but prepared her for marriage and to fit into the structure of society. Women’s role in society was positively one of the main beliefs of Confucianism.
There was great importance placed on education in Confucianism and Chinese society although the extent of your education was placed upon wealth. In China, there was an examination system that had an enormous influence on China. It was the way that those of humble backgrounds could rise and become powerful although disadvantaged because of their money. Through the ethics of Confucius which informed the traditional curriculum, it was also a powerful mechanism for implanting the ethical and social norms of society. Education also became a strategy for survival in a country where poverty and hardship challenged the lives of millions for countless millennia.
There were 3 levels of exams: district, provincial and national levels. District exams included testing the candidate on his knowledge of the classics, the ability to compile poetry on specified subjects using set poetic forms and calligraphy. At the provincial level examinations candidates were tested on the span of their studies in the Classics and these examinations regularly lasted up to 72 hours. At the national level exams, candidates were examined on the ability to analyse modern political troubles in addition to the standard examinations based on the Classics. The success rates of these exams were extremely small. An average of 2% passed these exams- “study as if you were never to master it and in fear of losing it”. Education was beyond doubt one of the main beliefs of Confucianism.
The Mandate of Heaven was a conviction that was positioned upon the leader of China. In its untimely form, this political theory asserted that heaven, T’ien, was primarily involved in the interests of human beings. For this motive it has established the governors and rulers who assume the responsibility for the interests of their people. It mandates that firm people are in charge; while they rule justly, fairly, and wisely, heaven upholds that certain rulers or dynasties linger in power. If the dynasty or ruler ceases to rule impartially or astutely and begins to rule only with its own self-interests at heart, heaven eliminates the mandate from that ruler or mandate and passes it on to another family, who is then obligatory to mutiny and overthrow the dynasty.
The Mandate of Heaven, through which heaven worked out its efforts to assure the well-being of humanity, applied to each and every commitment and action one took and so characterized what might be called the moral order of the universe. Allied with this suggestion was the perception of Ming or providence. Heaven also ruled the physical world: earthquakes, sickness, wealth, rain, etc, but it ruled the physical world directly. All things that happen in the physical world are the undeviating results of heaven’s actions and are totally out of human power. The mandate of heaven was, without doubt, one of the main beliefs of Confucianism.
The yin-yang is a circle separated by a curving line into two sectors, one dark (yin), one light (yang). A small fraction of the opposite colour appears in each sector to demonstrate that yin always includes some yang and vice versa. Yin forces are those given to feminine forces; nature, the earth, the moon, passivity, cold, darkness and night. Yang forces are the masculine forces of heavens, the sun, dynamic activity, heat, light and day. The Chinese understood that the seasonal cycle was dependent on the interface of male and female celestial forces. Changes in seasons were a consequence of progression and alteration in the Ying-Yang dynamic. The yin-yang dynamic was intimately associated to the 5 primordial elements; water, fire, wood, earth and metal. Yin Yang was absolutely one of the main beliefs of Confucianism.
The five relationships of Confucianism were father-son, husband-wife, brother-brother, ruler-subject and friend-friend. For centuries Chinese society was imbued with the concept that the social hierarchy embodied in these sayings- an immutable order in which each person has his own station in life- “The virtue of the emperor is like the wind, that is of the common people is like the grass; the grass must bow at the passage of the wind”. Respect for the hierarchy of the social classes, which upheld the structures of the traditional feudal society, was firmly rooted in the family. Power was in the hands of the older generations. The elder generation always dominated their juniors. The power of the older generations was absolute and even gave them the right to inflict harm on others who are inferior. The 5 relationships were unquestionably one of the main beliefs of Confucianism.
Ancestor worship was one of the essential characteristics of the traditional Chinese family. It emphasized the strength of the ties that bound its members even beyond the grave- “We know perfectly well that the souls of the ancestors can not come and dwell in the tablets and cartouches that bear their names, but we try to convince ourselves that we are in their presence”. The Chinese practiced the offering of gifts that varied according to district: pigeons, chickens, fruit, wine, wheat or rice. A component of every house was set aside for ancestor worship and, if the family was wealthy enough a temple would be erected. Ancestor worship was considered a principle belief in Confucianism as they believed in pleasing ancestral spirits.
In summary, the main beliefs of Confucianism were belief in family, the role of women in society, education, Mandate of Heaven, Yin-Yang, the 5 relationships and Ancestor worship. They were all equally important in ensuring the welfare and well-being of the Chinese society, which was their main focus within life.
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