Confucius 01

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Confucius Statue at Encho En Park, Tottori, Japan

Collecting Essays about this Chinese scholar
孔夫子, Kung Tzu, Kung Fu Tzu, Kung Fu Zi, Kǒng fū zǐ.
also called
Sekiten 釈奠 or Sekisai 釈菜



© The Japan Times (C) All rights reserved Sept. 10, 2006

Confucius and his 'golden age'
He shaped civilizations; his ancient values speak to us now

Is what Confucius said true? Can music, poetry and decorum govern the world? Do rulers, by cultivating benevolence in themselves, plant benevolence in their subjects, and harmony in the polity?

The chaos of our time hardly invites us to take such notions seriously. But Confucius' time was chaotic too. The ancient Chou dynasty was crumbling, upstarts vied for power, and morality was falling apart.

In despair, a high government official proposed executing all wrongdoers. Confucius said, "In administering your government, what need is there for you to kill? Just desire the good yourself and the common people will be good."

The same official asked what to do about thieves. Confucius said, "If you yourself were not a man of desires" -- corrupt, in other words -- "no one would steal even if stealing carried a reward."

Asked why he did not take office, Confucius replied, "Simply by being a good son and friendly to his brothers a man can exert an influence upon government."

A society, in Confucius' view, was an extended family in which, ideally, family relationships and family harmony prevailed. "A youth who does not respect his elders will achieve nothing when he grows up." A respectful son grows into a man worthy of respect and therefore a worthy ruler -- of his family certainly, of society as a whole possibly. Rule meant, first and foremost, self-cultivation.

The gentleman "cultivates himself," said Confucius, "and thereby brings peace and security to his fellow men."

* * * * *

Is modern Japan a "Confucian" country? Schools no longer teach Confucian principles; the young no longer defer to the old; the hectic pace of urban life leaves scant room or patience for ritual observance. On the other hand, the world's tallest statue of Confucius (above), standing 4.57 meters high, graces the grounds of Yushima Seido in Ochanomizu 湯島聖堂 御茶ノ水, Tokyo. Yushima Seido is a 17th-century Confucian temple, built by the neo-Confucian scholar Hayashi Razan (1583-1657). Students congregate there in droves to pray for success in their examinations.

* * * * *

Confucius. The name is so familiar that we are apt to forget how little we know the man, though thanks to cryptic snatches of his conversation recorded by his disciples in a book called "The Analects" (from a Greek word meaning "collection") he is, though elusive, not entirely unknowable.

As for his teachings, the general verdict throughout most of the revolutionary 20th century was that they (or their derivatives, legitimate and bastard) accomplished their civilizing mission millennia ago and were best relegated to the remote past, having long since grown moldy in the service of Asian autocrats -- Japanese shoguns among them -- who invoked him with relish, and continue to invoke him, for his supposed emphasis on unquestioning obedience.

The latest in a long line is Chinese President Hu Jintao, who, stymied by social turmoil and the ruling Communist Party's intellectual bankruptcy, last year broke the party's anti-Confucian mold, reminding cadres, "Confucius said, 'Harmony is to be cherished.' "

The fragmentary nature of "The Analects" is conducive to the selective reading that autocrats have habitually given it.

"Never disobey," said Confucius -- it is one of his several definitions of filial piety, and sounds categorical enough. But he also said, in a passage less frequently honored with official quotation, "If a man is correct in his own person, then there will be obedience without orders being given; but if he is not correct in his own person, there will not be obedience even though orders are given."

An old Chinese woodblock print of a statue of Confucius similar to that at Tokyo's Yushima Seido

"Correct" means above all, "benevolent." Benevolence is easy: "Is benevolence really far away? No sooner do I desire it than it is here." But the desire for it, judging by its rarity, is difficult. It commits a ruler above all, but also human beings in general, to the quest for moral perfection, to a "return to the observance of the rites through overcoming the self."

Few rulers in any era are up to such standards, and Confucius' impatience with those who are not is apparent in his advice to a disciple who asked how best to serve a prince: "Tell him the truth even if it offends him."

As for the rulers of his own day, "Oh," said Confucius, "they are of such limited capacity that they hardly count."

* * * * *

Almost alone among the ancient teachers of mankind, Confucius (K'ung Ch'iu in Chinese; Koshi in Japanese) was neither god nor prophet nor, in sharp contrast to his Taoist near-contemporary Lao-tzu, mystic.

"Chi-lu asked how the spirits of the dead and the gods should be served," we read in "The Analects."
"The Master said, 'You are not able even to serve man. How can you serve the spirits?' "

"May I ask about death?"
"You do not even understand life. How can you understand death?"

Revere the gods and spirits, he taught, "but keep them at a distance." They are not man's immediate concern. Moral perfection, whose outward manifestation is "work[ing] for the things the common people have a right to," is its own reward. There is no hint in his teaching of any other reward, natural or supernatural.

* * * * *

The China into which Confucius was born in 551 B.C. was not really China. That name derives from the imperial Ch'in dynasty, whose harsh though brief militarist, legalist, bureaucratic rule three centuries later (221-207 B.C.) represented everything Confucius abhorred. Confucius was a relatively humble citizen of the "state" of Lu, an eastern backwater, one of the least among 12 semi-independent, strife-ridden dukedoms of the tottering Chou dynasty.

It was the Chou dynasty's golden age, 500 years before his birth, that Confucius looked back to with longing, and dreamed of reviving.

"I transmit but do not innovate," he said. What he sought to transmit were the rites, music and poetry that had prevailed in a time, semi-mythical perhaps, when rites, music and poetry -- primarily the poetry preserved in the "Book of Odes," originating in the golden age and expressing the innocence to which Confucius aspired -- in effect ruled, because sage-kings like King Wen, King Wu and the Duke of Chou, the dynastic founders, were virtuous and wise.

"When those above are given to the observance of the rites," Confucius taught, "the common people will be easy to command." Force is unnecessary. Law is superfluous. "There was nothing for him to do," said Confucius of the ruler of a state in which the Way of the sage-kings prevailed, "but to hold himself in a respectful posture and to face due south" in accord with the traditions of ancient cosmology.

It was not the Way, however, but conditions approaching anarchy that prevailed in Confucius' own time. His father was a soldier, a daring and conspicuous figure in the numerous wars of the period. Confucius was orphaned early.

"I was of humble station when young," he later told his disciples. "That is why I am skilled in many menial things. Should a gentleman be skilled in many things? No, not at all."

Very little is known of his childhood, but "at 15," he said, "I set my heart on learning." What the impetus was we don't know, but his absorbing interest, the special focus of his studies, was li -- "the rites." It is a problematic term. No English word quite does it justice, scholars say, and a tendency to translate it as "ritual" has helped fuel modern impatience with Confucius.

Some of the li-soaked sections of "The Analects" are undeniably tiresome to our thinking.

"On going through the outer gates to his lord's court, [Confucius] drew himself in, as though the entrance was too small to admit him. When he stood, he did not occupy the center of the gateway; when he walked, he did not step on the threshold. When he went past [his lord's empty throne], his face took on a serious expression . . . When he lifted the hem of his robe to ascend the hall, he drew himself in, stopped inhaling as if he had no need to breathe . . . "

And so on -- it's a long passage, and there are many others like it.

But, as David Hall and Roger Ames point out in an essay published in "Confucianism for the Modern World" (see accompanying story), " 'The Analects' does not provide us with a catechism of prescribed formal conducts, but rather with the image of a particular historical person [i.e., Confucius] striving with imagination to exhibit the sensitivity to ritualized living that would ultimately make him the teacher of an entire civilization."

The outward manifestation matters less than the spirit animating it. "Appropriately performed," say Hall and Ames, "li elevates the commonplace and customary into something elegant and profoundly meaningful."

* * * * *

A votive ema plaque of Confucius left at Yushima Seido in Tokyo by someone who signed the back, wishing for exam success.

* * * * *

Once a disciple asked Confucius what he would do first if he were ever a ruler. "If something has to be put first," Confucius replied, "it is, perhaps, the rectification of names."

The disciple thought Confucius was joking; it seemed rather a trivial thing -- though it shouldn't to us, living as we do in an age of government by spokespersons and spin-doctors. Confucius (with some asperity at the disciple's "boorishness") explained: "When names are not correct, what is said will not sound reasonable; when what is said does not sound reasonable, affairs will not culminate in success; when affairs do not culminate in success, rites and music will not flourish; when rites and music do not flourish, punishments will not fit the crimes; when punishments do not fit the crimes, the common people will not know where to put hand and foot."

Note the absence of any mention, in connection with crime and punishment, of law.

Confucius was profoundly distrustful of laws. "If you use laws to direct the people," he said, "and punishments to control them, they will merely try to evade the laws, and will have no sense of shame. But if by virtue you guide them, and by the rites you control them, there will be a sense of shame, and of right" -- and social harmony will prevail.

Contemporaneous with Confucius were philosophers called Legalists. Their doctrine -- the rule of law -- seems, in light of future history, progressive, while Confucius' notion of the rule of "rites and music" strikes us as quaint, if not hopelessly reactionary.

But some modern psychologists are learning from the horrors of our time a new respect for Confucius. Simon Leys, in an accompanying commentary to his translation of "The Analects," quotes French psychologist Boris Cyrulnik: "When families are no longer able to generate rites that can interpret the surrounding world and transmit the parental culture, children find themselves cut off from reality, and they have to create their own culture -- a culture of archaic violence . . .

"Incidences of incest are increasing," Cyrulnik continues, "because too many men no longer feel that they are fathers. As family relationships have weakened and roles have changed, individuals do not see clearly what their proper place is. This is the symptom of a cultural breakdown."

* * * * *

"Can I not, perhaps," mused Confucius, "create another Chou in the east?" This was his life's mission, to recreate in the east -- in his home state of Lu -- his no doubt misty-eyed image of the golden age of the Chou dynasty founded by King Wen, King Wu and the Duke of Chou.

Intermittently, he assumed official positions under unsavory usurpers in order to further his goal. He gathered round him disciples -- 77 are known by name -- who might in a sense be called co-conspirators. The conspiracy, in which trickery figured more than violence, was an attempt to undermine the usurpers and return power to the legitimate heirs of the House of Chou. It came undone, and Confucius fled. He spent most of his last years in exile in neighboring states, returning to Lu shortly before his death in 479 B.C.

"For 2,000 years," says Leys, "Confucius was canonized as China's First and Supreme Teacher. This is a cruel irony. Of course, Confucius devoted much attention to education, but he never considered teaching as his first and real calling. His first vocation was politics. He had a mystical faith in his political mission."

It failed. Never has the world known a Confucian state, if by that we mean what Confucius meant -- a state governed by family relationships, nourished by benevolence and regulated by the poetry, music and rites of ancient sage-kings.

Manuscripts burned

Korea under the Choson dynasty (1392-1910) is often said to have come closest, but what much of Asia got instead was imperial Confucianism, a creation of China's Han dynasty (202 B.C.-A.D. 220). The Ch'in dynasty, which the Han overthrew, had burned manuscripts associated with Confucius, but some survived to be favored by a leading Han court philosopher -- who, circa 196 B.C., provoked his emperor's impatience by vigorously advocating their official adoption.

"I conquered my empire on horseback," snapped the emperor, "and I will rule my empire on horseback." Replied the philosopher: "Your Majesty, one may conquer an empire on horseback but one may never rule an empire on horseback."

Very much struck by that, the emperor proceeded to offer the first official sacrifice -- of an ox -- to the tomb of Confucius. This may be said to mark the birth of official Confucianism, an unwieldy collage of Confucian principle, later reinterpretation and imperial expediency. It had an awesome future ahead of it, spreading its influence well beyond China's borders and becoming one of the most extensive and durable systems of government in all history -- but it generally fell short when it came to benevolence.

"Confucius," says Leys bluntly, "was certainly not a Confucianist."

Indeed, the sage apparently died suspecting such would be the case. "I suppose I should give up hope," he sighed. "I have yet to meet the man who is as fond of virtue as he is of beauty in women."
© The Japan Times


Many more PHOTOS !

Confucian Scholars

Confucian Scholar

Click on the photos to see more of Confucius !


Nagasaki's Koshi-byo 孔子廟(こうしびょう)
is one of the few shrines dedicated to the Chinese philosopher Confucius in Japan.
This particular Confucian Shrine was built by Chinese residents of Nagasaki in 1893 and now contains the Museum of Chinese History.
kooshibyoo koshibyo
© Japan Guide Com

Click on the PHOTO below for more pictures of
Confucius Mausoleums!


NEXT - Confucius 02  
CONFUCIUS : A man in the soul of Japan
East and West echo the sage: 'The ideal society is like a family'

NEXT - Confucius 03  
Neo-Confucianism in the Edo period
Hokku by Yosa Buson

Shizutani School, Shizutani Gakkoo 閑谷学校 (しずたにがっこう)in Okayama Pref.
A place for Confucian Learning in the Edo Period

Hiraga Gennai, a Confucian Scholar

- and an external LINK
Confucius and Japanese Art
Mark Schumacher


... which was called Tao by Lao Tzi, Infinite Nirvana by Sakyamuni and Infinite Emptiness by Confucius.

Read more !
Confucius and DaMo Quigong



spring cleaning
Confucius enjoys the ethics
of humanity

Don Baird


CLICK for more photos
SEKITEN - celebration of Confucius
Big Ceremony of Confucius Worship
sekiten ceremony (memorial rites for Confucius)

kigo for late spring

Sekiten 釈奠 (せきてん) Confucius
Kooshi sai, kooshisai 孔子祭(こうしさい)Confucius Festival
okimatsuri おきまつり / Sekisai 釈菜(せきさい)

last Sunday in April

This is held in many places in Japan, where a Chinese community is living.
It is also celebrated in China, Korea and other places where a Chinese community is living.


kigo for mid-autumn

aki no Sekiten 秋の釈奠 (あきのせきてん)
Confucius (festival) in autumn

aki no okimatsuri 秋のおきまつり(あきのおきまつり)
28th day of the eighth lunar month,
now celebrated on September 28.
Famous in Nagasaki.

Reference : Sekiten


“The first reference to the sekiten in a Japanese context appears in the Shoku Nihongi, and is dated 701. The sekiten was initially held twice a year (in the second and eighth months) at the University, as mandated by the relevant section of Taiho Code. Althought imperial interest in the sekiten laspsed in the eighth century; it made a resurgence in the ninth, during a period of great enthusiasm for Chinese culture in general. The Japanese sekiten at this time was, as it had been in China (and would be again when revived by the Tokugawa bakufu), a large-scale, formal, official event.”
(Anne Commons, Hitomaro: Poet as God, p. 99)

And Tokugawa Confucian education exerted great influence on haikai poets.

sekiten rite --
I see father’s face
in the mirror

The use of a mirror in China has a long history, dating back to at least 3500 years ago. Most mirrors in ancient China were made of bronze with two sides, a reflective side and a decorative back side.

The use of a mirror in writing would evoke the following remark:

One may use bronze as a mirror to straighten one's clothes and cap;
antiquity as a mirror to understand the rise and fall of states;
a man as a mirror to correct one's judgment.
--Tang Taizong

And Chinese politicians love to use the mirror metaphor to comment on political affairs:

Here is an example taken from History as a Mirror, the Future as a Window: Japan’s China Debate by David Fouse

"...A summit meeting between Prime Minister Koizumi and China’s new President Hu Jintao in St. Petersburg, Russia on May 31, 2003 emphasized many of these new positive developments. At the meeting, Hu Jintao broke with his predecessor by stating that Japan-China relations in the new century should “take history as a mirror, look toward the future, take a long-term perspective and give consideration to a broad picture.”
The idea of “taking history as a mirror and looking forward to the future” was carried to Japan again by new Chinese foreign minister Li Zhaoxing on August 11, and appears to be the new catchphrase in Sino-Japanese relations."

Chen-ou Liu
August 2010


. Chinese origin of Japanese kigo .

Chinese Food in Japan

中華街 Chuukagai, Chukagai, Chinatown in Japan




Anonymous said...

Korean Confucian art

Korean Confucian art took strong hold with the Yi generals who set in place the Joseon dynasty which distinguished itself in many ways by promoting Confucian thought as the basis for a new national vision.

Differentiating itself by restraint, spartan choices of colour, and design, understatement, and great care and precision, the legacy of this art since the 13th century has been extensive throughout Asia.

Korean flower arrangement is part of the Confucian tradition.


Gabi Greve said...

Confucianism - a LIST of resources

Anonymous said...

Chinese Confucian art

Confucian art is art inspired by the writings of Confucius, and Confucian teachings. Confucian art originated in China, then spread westwards on the silk road, southward down to southern China and then onto Vietnam, and eastwards through northern China on to Korea.

It still maintains a strong influence within Indonesia. Confucian influence on western art has been limited.

Notable elements of this art are calligraphy of Confucian writings and thoughts, often contained within Confucian temples and schools, as well as whiteware ceramics and pottery related to Confucian religious and scholarly practices.

In China, Chinese scholar's rocks were part of this tradition. As most importantly the Korean stone art which continues to this day.

Confucian art may be distinguished between: classical early period, neo-Confucianism, and post-modern Confucian art.

Confucius' birthday, the 27th day of the eighth month in the Chinese calendar,
is celebrated as a holiday in Taiwan and within a community of a million Confucians within Indonesia. Mainland and overseas Chinese have a more limited celebration, mostly among the scholarly community where calligraphy and paintings are done. The month varies between late September and early October in the western calendar. And celebrations provide visuals of contemporary Confucian art, music, and maintenance of the rites.


Anonymous said...


Confucius' motto:
"All within the four seas are brothers and sisters."

Anonymous said...

Confucius said,
“A man can glorify the Way,
but the Way does not glorify a man”

(I. unyu: 15 .28)

When Tzu-chang asked how he should act, Confucius replied,
“To your words be true,
in your conduct be sincere” .

The plum blossom’s association with purity and seclusion was immortalized in the poems of Lin Ho-ching, a Sung-dynasty recluse who lived outside Hangchou.

Zen masters often summarize the Buddhist path with the saying,
“When I first entered the Way I saw mountains.
After a while, I saw that mountains were not mountains.
Now I see that mountains are mountains.”


Gabi Greve said...

The evolution of Japan’s turn away from Confucian ideas
by Hiroshi Watanabe. Translated by David Noble.

“The evolution of political thought in this relatively isolated island nation during the period in question is unique to the point of being somewhat freakish,” writes political thought scholar Hiroshi Watanabe of the University of Tokyo. This book, first published in 2010, has been newly translated into English.

Maybe all ideas are inherently strange, given the nonsense time tends to make of them. Imagine how odd our thinking will seem 100 years from now — or would have seemed 100 years ago. Is “freakish” too strong a word? Whether it is or not, the ideas Watanabe discusses here with such clarity and vigor are the ones that animated two of the most astonishing phases of Japanese and, arguably, world history: the 2½ centuries of peace under the Tokugawa shogunate (1600-1867) and the subsequent national transformation of backwater Japan into superpower Japan.

What were these ideas? You could, simplifying just a bit, divide them into two categories: Confucian and anti-Confucian. For pre-modern Japan, China was civilization itself, and Confucianism was what made it so — “perhaps the most powerful political ideology yet conceived by the human race,” writes Watanabe. To devotees, its “rites and music,” “five relationships” and “five virtues” are what separate us from the beasts and make us human. To doubters — and the doubts grew as Japan’s stagnation became more evident — it was a retarding force. “Ours is a world in which living things are confined and regimented as if dead things,” wrote one exasperated samurai-scholar in 1838.

The “freakishness” under discussion, then, lies in Confucianism and what the Japanese made of it. Certainly the modern mind, restless, striving, acquisitive, forward-looking, has little patience with the Confucian yearning for a long-past, long-lost Golden Age ruled by sages whose virtue alone made the people good, happy and prosperous. That thinking resonates no longer and isn’t likely ever to again. The trouble was, it rang a little false even under the early Tokugawa when neo-Confucianism was promoted as an official ideology.

Japan was a warrior society; China was not. To a Chinese proverb asserting “Good men do not make soldiers just as good iron does not make nails,” a Japanese one counters, “As the cherry among blossoms, so the warrior among men.” True, Tokugawa Japan was a warrior society “at peace,” but warrior peace is not Confucian peace. Pax Tokugawa, writes Watanabe, amounted to “waiting for a battle that never seemed to come.” He quotes a samurai’s poem: “What a waste!/ Born into times so fortunate/ That I must die lying at home on the tatami!”

MORE - Japan Times

Gabi Greve - Buson said...

Yosa Buson

貧乏な 儒者とひ来(きた)る 冬至哉
binboo na jusha toi-kitaru tooji kana

a poor Confucian scholar
somes to visit
for the winter equinox . . .


kusare jusha nira no atsumono kurai keri

Corrupt Confucian
Drank a brew of
Hot leek soup.

trans. Rosenfield

MORE about leek and Buson

Gabi Greve - Basho archives said...

Zhong You - Shiro 子路

One of the 10 disciples of Confucius.

and a hokku by Matsuo Basho.

Gabi Greve - Issa said...

Kobayashi Issa

Confucius said,
I dislike foxtails because they can be mistaken for rice plants.

nikumareshi kusa wa ho ni deshi aota kana

green rice field
crowded with heads
of hated weeds
Tr. Chris Drake

about Confucius

Gabi Greve said...

a legend about bamboo shoots

Once upon a time
There lived a son of great filial piety 親孝行息子.
One day grandma said "I would love to eat some bamboo shoots!" He thought to himself:
"You know it is winter now and snow is falling, there are no bamboo shoots growing anywhere."
But since he was full of filial piety, he just went off to the mountain forest. He begun digging in the bamboo grove and suddenly found one bamboo shoot sprouting off the root.
So he cut that off and went back home.
Then he cooked the bamboo shoot and gave it to grandma to eat.
People say that the gods make an exception if the filial piety is truly felt.
- source : siran13tb -

Filial piety is a virtue highly praised in the teachings of Confucius
"Never disobey," said Confucius -- it is one of his several definitions of filial piety . . .

Gabi Greve said...

Official web site for the Association of Confucianism in Japan;


Gabi Greve said...

- Larry Bole wrote:
Here is an indirect reference to Confucius: In the Analects, Confucius is quoted as having said,
"At sixty my ear was an obedient organ for the reception of truth."
Here is a haiku by Onitsura (1660 - 1738):

shitagau ya oto naki hana mo mimi no oku

We are obedient,
And silent flowers too
Speak to the inner ear.

-- Onitsura, trans. R. H. Blyth