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By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest. — Confucius

Confucianism is an ethical and philosophical system that originated from the teachings of the Chinese philosopher, Confucius (551–479 BCE). It has heavily influenced several countries, including China and Vietnam. For two millennia, it has influenced religion, thought, and culture. When you learn Chinese languages and culture, it is important to understand past influences on the Chinese way of life.

What is Confucianism?

Confucianism focuses on a humanistic core, in which the secular is sacred. Confucianism teaches a practical order in a this-worldly awareness of the Tian—the cosmos and the source— and respect of the shen—the gods. It teaches the importance of family, advocating social order through social constructions such as the family, the school, the community, and the state. A humanized sort of virtue is essential in this outlook, espousing human relations and human betterment. Central to this is the belief that human beings are teachable and improvable through self-cultivation and self-creation.

What are the main tenets of Confucianism?

  • Ji: a human goodness; the need to be human to one another.

  • Li: a guide to everyday human life, based on proprietary and ritual norms.

  • Yi: Following morals and staying righteous

  • Zhi: The ability to assess right and wrong

There is much more complexity to the school of Confucianism. We hope that this has given you a taste of the rich philosophy and culture found in China and in other nations.


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