The Rise of Confucianism in China

The Rise of Confucianism in China



Confucianism is not a religion and hence it did not spread by itself. Historically, people come to study Confucianism and become Confucianists, i.e., become traditional Chinese like did the Mongols and the Manchus and live the Chinese way of life. On the other hand, Confucius did try to spread his way of governing during his early political career in the spring and autumn warring states period. His colleagues called him “doing the impossibles.” Under the guidance of his teacher Lao Tzu or wising up by himself, Confucius gave up his political ambition and opened up his school known as Confucianism today in his later career. And he came to be the ultimate teacher for the next ten thousand Chinese generations. So Confucianism is simply to teach the people to see the way of nature and follow the old way of propriety in people’s relationships and social behavior. It is the real philosophy of moral ethics that applies in the family, society, and state, and beyond. The rise of Confucianism in ancient China can be explained from the perspectives of different authors and scholars and it enables people to learn about the tradition and culture of not only the Chinese but also people from East Asia.

Summary of the Articles and Comparisons

Kennan, B. C. (2011). Song Dynasty Neo-Confucianism. In Neo-Confucian Self-Cultivation. Hawaii: University of Hawaii Press.

In chapter one of his book Neo-Confucian Self-Cultivation, Kennan talks about the beginnings of the intellectual movement of Neo-Confucian, the start of the 11th century to track the growth of one of the most critical developments of self-cultivation in humanistic education history (Keena, 2011). After providing a historical background of Confucianism, the chapter provides an analysis of three components that created the new doctrines including the metaphysical conclusion concerning the underlying principles that exist independently, how the Confucian canonical texts were reshaped, and an elaboration of the self-cultivation program. Within Imperial China’s institutions until its fall in 1911, the synthesis of the three components in the Song Dynasty defined how living humanely changed.

Van, V. H. (2020). Overview of Confucianism and the Basic Content of Confucianism. South Asian Research Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences, 2(4), 285-292. DOI: 10.36346/sarjhss.2020.v02i04.010

In his article, Van provides a look into Confucianism and its basic contents. According to the author, Confucianism has a significant difference unlike the other religions’ ideologies since its inception especially when it comes to people, their concerns, life, and enjoyment of life. Unlike other ideologies of religions, life is more important (Van, 2020). This explains why Confucianism is the most distinctive ideology compared to the others and as a result of this, it has helped a popular and unique position for the longest time in history.

Kim, Y., Lee, H., & Park, S. (2019). The Confucian Tradition and Politics. Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics.

In their article Kim, Lee and Park, provide a general look into the connection between Confucianism, political and Chinese elite construed. It particularly enables readers to understand the historical contexts that led to this connection. According to the authors, while studying Confucianism, it is critical to start with the meaning of Confucianism since scholars have problematized the term’s use (Kim, Lee, & Park, 2019). With Confucianism, Chinese politics and elites are closely linked. This article provides enough information concerning the rise of Confucianism and how it has influenced China.


While all the articles talk about Confucianism, their arguments, primary sources, and methodologies are quite different. In his article, Van (2020) talks about the development of Confucianism over the past and how it has led to progress and influenced other countries around the world. However, Kenna’s central argument is neo-Confucianism and its critical aspects. On the other hand, Kim, Lee, and Park provide a discussion on the connection between Confucianism and Chinese politics (Kim, Lee, & Park, 2019). All the articles and books seem to be similar in providing the historical context of Confucianism. They all dig deep into the ancient traditions of China and how Confucianism has influenced its growth in beliefs and other factors since then. When it comes to methods, the articles by Van and Kim, Lee and Park, employed literature and text analysis to provide comprehensive information concerning the discussion topic. Information from different texts was analyzed, compared, and linked to personal viewpoints to come up with effective arguments. However, Kenna uses his ideas and perspectives to create a discussion concerning the most critical points.

Evaluation of the Scholarships

The argument that I found most convincing in Kenna’s book is the historical background of imperial and classical Confucianism. This is because it provides significant answers concerning the rise of Confucianism in China. As Keena (2011) articulates, between 511 and 479 BCE, in Ancient China, Confucius, saw the death of aristocracy throes. His teachings emphasized the moral merit of aristocracy as a replacement of the anarchic feuding that strayed during the Warring States period. As an ideology during the Han dynasty of Imperial Confucianism was formulated to make it more functional and justify the empire’s small elite concentrated power. To achieve this, supernatural ideas were added to Confucius’s ethics.

In Van’s article, I found several arguments to be most convincing. One of them is urgent concerning the great impression of Confucianism of the Chinese culture. Van comprehensively explains the rise of Confucianism during the Song and Han Dynasties and how it influenced the tradition of China (Van, 2020). According to the author, Han Wu De provided people with Confucianism as the state religion and employed it as a tool for unifying ideology in the country. As a result, Confucianism became the main ideology protecting Chinese feudalism. During the Song dynasty, Confucianism significantly flourished as Confucianism texts were made a necessity for passing some examinations, the popularity of portrait prints rose and many people came to understand the ideology of Confucianism.

What I found most critical in the article by Kim, Lee and Park are the explanation of the history of Confucianism. This is because it provides a better understanding of the ideology and helps provide significant answers to the central arguments. According to the authors, it is critical, to begin with, Confucius when providing an analysis of Confucianism history since he is regarded as the founder of the ideology (Kim, Lee, & Park, 2019). Similar to other political thinkers in the past, Confucius, rather than a republic envisioned a monarchy. Even though he failed to articulate the structure of Confucianism his ideal state was weal, minimal. The most critical virtue of Confucianism is conducive to humanity’s cultivation.

My Understanding of the Topic

From the articles, it is evident that Confucianism was a critical concept during ancient China and it has significantly grown for many years. According to Keena (2011), Confucianism is everything in one, the constitution, the law, the civil, and moral. It was both inflexible and flexible in various forms and degrees. Even then the Confucianist ‘code’ is not formally structured like the way Napoleon structured his Napoleonic Code but it is nonetheless all contained in various and diverse Socratic-like discourses or lectures in the Analects of Confucius.

Speaking as a matter of personal opinion, Confucianism served the Chinese civilization and people well from about 500 BC until the fall of the Manchu or Qing Dynasty and the founding of the Republic. But all things fell apart when the Middle Kingdom was no longer cocooned within itself – when the Colonial Powers preyed on it and exposed its Achilles heel. Confucianism is only good when all the people within it or out are also Confucianists (Kim, Lee, & Park, 2019). When the Chinese people saw that foreigners who were not Confucianists can be stronger and smarter and more powerful than their ‘superior men’, then Confucianism was seen to be a ‘fraud’ of a paper tiger. Confucianism still serves an important role in maintaining the Chinese psyche and mindset and other uniquely Chinese characteristics in its basic rudimentary roots of Chineseness of the living 5000+ antiquity of a Chinese Civilisation (Van, 2020). It is based on the importance of family, on the importance of filial piety and ancestral worship and reverence for the elderly, and the importance of the Chinese traditions of assiduousness including humility, scholarship, and the importance of kinship, friendship, and business relationship, at least in the modern equivalent known as ‘guanxi’.

For thousands of years, Confucius was popular because he taught an intuitive, family-based philosophy that was also built around loyalty to the king and the state, personal humility, and generally keeping your head in a book or over a plow while you minded your own business and quietly served the country without making much of a fuss about it (Van, 2020). This was a very pleasant arrangement for people in power, for obvious reasons, but it was also an incomplete representation of China’s political sphere. This is where Legalism comes in to fill in the blanks of Confucius’ touchy-feely and romantic philosophy, which was big on ideals and ethics and divorced from practical governance. Han Feizi gave a needed dose of realism and genuine understanding of how to influence other peoples’ behavior, as opposed to describing how people ‘should’ behave according to a certain feudal-patriarchal idealist who worshiped the Zhou Dynasty as an arbitrary ideal because that was the last major period of peace recorded in history before his era of civil war and personal misfortune. Confucianism has been proven for thousands of years to be very important to the Chinese people (Kim, Lee, & Park, 2019). Confucianism together with Daoism affects the lives of all Chinese people wherever they are. These two philosophies guide us throughout our lives on how we should conduct ourselves as good people. It guides our Government officials on how they should behave in carrying out their duties. Daoism is a way of life that makes us better people.

People have to study Confucian Philosophy or the history of Confucian thought if they want to go somewhere in China, pass the exams, be part of an elite. This was true also in Japan and Korea, but the particulars of this would heavily qualify any attempt to make a general statement about that study. More obligation than aspiration is involved. Confucianism is very important to understanding today’s China (Keena, 2011). Because this is required study for all students now, not limited to the elites as it was in the past, you could make the argument that Confucian philosophy was much more integral now than it ever had been in the past in China. From this distance, it might be safe to observe that the Confucian definition of self relies on a definition of a man’s soul or self as having reciprocal obligations in a social and cultural hierarchy. This sense of self is radically different from the sense of self in Western philosophy; and also Buddhist philosophy, wherein the self is conditionally arising, but not subsumed by a sociocultural hierarchy. Furthermore, it would be helpful to observe that what contemporary Chinese society is trying to do currently is be consistent with past definitions of Chinese society; to be, in other words, more Chinese (Van, 2020). “What does Confucianism mean to be Chinese?” an individual may ask, and the answer there is, “What it has meant to be Chinese in the past.” Confucianism is very much a part of this answer, but to get an answer in more detail, individuals may need to be studying that past


Kennan, B. C. (2011). Song Dynasty Neo-Confucianism. In Neo-Confucian Self-Cultivation. Hawaii: University of Hawaii Press.

Van, V. H. (2020). Overview of Confucianism and the Basic Content of Confucianism. South Asian Research Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences, 2(4), 285-292. DOI: 10.36346/sarjhss.2020.v02i04.010

Kim, Y., Lee, H., & Park, S. (2019). The Confucian Tradition and Politics. Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics.



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