The strangest figure that meets us in the annals of Oriental thought isthat of Confucius. To the popular mind he is the founder of a religion,and yet he has nothing in common with the great religious teachers ofthe East. We think of Siddartha, the founder of Buddhism, as the veryimpersonation of romantic asceticism, enthusiastic self-sacrifice, andfaith in the things that are invisible. Zoroaster is the friend of God,talking face to face with the Almighty, and drinking wisdom andknowledge from the lips of Omniscience. Mohammed is represented assnatched up into heaven, where he receives the Divine communicationwhich he is bidden to propagate with fire and sword throughout theworld. These great teachers lived in an atmosphere of the supernatural.They spoke with the authority of inspired prophets. They brought theunseen world close to the minds of their disciples. They spokepositively of immortality, of reward or punishment beyond the grave. Thepresent life they despised, the future was to them everything in itspromised satisfaction. The teachings of Confucius were of a verydifferent sort. Throughout his whole writings he has not even mentionedthe name of God. He declined to discuss the question of immortality.When he was asked about spiritual beings, he remarked, “If we cannoteven know men, how can we know spirits?” Yet this was the man the impress of whose teaching has formed thenational character of five hundred millions of people. A temple toConfucius stands to this day in every town and village of China. Hisprecepts are committed to memory by every child from the tenderest age,and each year at the royal university at Pekin the Emperor holds afestival in honor of the illustrious teacher. The influence of Confucius springs, first of all, from the narrownessand definiteness of his doctrine. He was no transcendentalist, and nevermeddled with supramundane things. His teaching was of the earth, earthy;it dealt entirely with the common relations of life, and the Golden Rulehe must necessarily have stumbled upon, as the most obvious canon of hissystem. He strikes us as being the great Stoic of the East, for hebelieved that virtue was based on knowledge, knowledge of a man’s ownheart, and knowledge of human-kind. There is a pathetic resemblancebetween the accounts given of the death of Confucius and the death ofZeno. Both died almost without warning in dreary hopelessness, withoutthe ministrations of either love or religion. This may be a merecoincidence, but the lives and teachings of both men must have led themto look with indifference upon such an end. For Confucius in histeaching treated only of man’s life on earth, and seems to have had noideas with regard to the human lot after death; if he had any ideas hepreserved an inscrutable silence about them. As a moralist he prescribedthe duties of the king and of the father, and advocated the cultivationby the individual man of that rest or apathy of mind which resembles somuch the disposition aimed at by the Greek and Roman Stoic. Even as amoralist, he seems to have sacrificed the ideal to the practical, andhis loose notions about marriage, his tolerance of concubinage, theslight emphasis which he lays on the virtue of veracity — of which indeedhe does not seem himself to have been particularly studious in hishistoric writings — place him low down in the rank of moralists. Yet hetaught what he felt the people could receive, and the flat mediocrity ofhis character and his teachings has been stamped forever upon a peoplewho, while they are kindly, gentle, forbearing, and full of familypiety, are palpably lacking not only in the exaltation of Mysticism, butin any religious feeling, generally so-called.
The second reason that made the teaching of Confucius so influential isbased on the circumstances of the time. When this thoughtful, earnestyouth awoke to the consciousness of life about him, he saw that theabuses under which the people groaned sprang from the feudal system,which cut up the country into separate territories, over which the powerof the king had no control. China was in the position of France in theyears preceding Philippe-Auguste, excepting that there were no places ofsanctuary and no Truce of God. The great doctrine of Confucius was theunlimited despotism of the Emperor, and his moral precepts were intendedto teach the Emperor how to use his power aright. But the Emperor wasonly typical of all those in authority — the feudal duke, the judge onthe bench, and the father of the family. Each could discharge his dutiesaright only by submitting to the moral discipline which Confuciusprescribed. A vital element in this system is its conservatism, itsadherence to the imperial idea. As James I said, “No bishop, no king,”so the imperialists of China have found in Confucianism the strongestbasis for the throne, and have supported its dissemination accordingly. The Analects of Confucius contain the gist of his teachings, and isworthy of study. We find in this work most of the precepts which hisdisciples have preserved and recorded. They form a code remarkable forsimplicity, even crudity, and we are compelled to admire the force ofcharacter, the practical sagacity, the insight into the needs of thehour, which enabled Confucius, without claiming any Divine sanction, toimpose this system upon his countrymen. The name Confucius is only the Latinized form of two words which mean“Master K’ung.” He was born 551 B.C., his father being governor ofShantung. He was married at nineteen, and seems to have occupied someminor position under the government. In his twenty-fourth year heentered upon the three years’ mourning for the death of his mother. Hisseclusion gave him time for deep thought and the study of history, andhe resolved upon the regeneration of his unhappy country. By the time hewas thirty he became known as a great teacher, and disciples flocked tohim. But he was yet occupied in public duties, and rose throughsuccessive stages to the office of Chief Judge in his own country of Lu.His tenure of office is said to have put an end to crime, and he becamethe “idol of the people” in his district. The jealousy of the feudallords was roused by his fame as a moral teacher and a blameless judge.Confucius was driven from his home, and wandered about, with a fewdisciples, until his sixty-ninth year, when he returned to Lu, afteraccomplishing a work which has borne fruit, such as it is, to thepresent day. He spent the remaining five years of his life in editingthe odes and historic monuments in which the glories of the ancientChinese dynasty are set forth. He died in his seventy-third year, 478B.C. There can be no doubt that the success of Confucius has beensingularly great, owing especially to the narrow scope of his scheme,which has become crystallized in the habits, usages, and customs of thepeople. Especially has it been instrumental in consolidating the empire,and in strengthening the power of the monarch, who, as he every yearburns incense in the red-walled temple at Pekin, utters sincerely theinvocation: “Great art thou, O perfect Sage! Thy virtue is full, thydoctrine complete. Among mortal men there has not been thine equal. Allkings honor thee. Thy statutes and laws have come gloriously down. Thouart the pattern in this imperial school. Reverently have the sacrificialvessels been set out. Full of awe, we sound our drums and bells.”
j, as in French. ng, commencing a word, like the same letters terminating one. ai or ei, as in aisle or eider. au, as in German, or like ow in cow. é, as in fęte. i (not followed by a consonant), as ee in see. u (followed by a consonant), as in bull. iu, as ew in new. ui, as ooi in cooing. h at the end of a name makes the preceding vowel short. i in the middle of a word denotes an aspirate (h), as K’ung=Khung.
“To learn,” said the Master, “and then to practice opportunely what onehas learnt — does not this bring with it a sense of satisfaction?
“To have associates in study coming to one from distant parts — does notthis also mean pleasure in store?
“And are not those who, while not comprehending all that is said, stillremain not unpleased to hear, men of the superior order?”
A saying of the Scholar Yu: —
“It is rarely the case that those who act the part of true men in regardto their duty to parents and elder brothers are at the same time willingto turn currishly upon their superiors: it has never yet been the casethat such as desire not to commit that offence have been men willing topromote anarchy or disorder.
“Men of superior mind busy themselves first in getting at the root ofthings; and when they have succeeded in this the right course is open tothem. Well, are not filial piety and friendly subordination amongbrothers a root of that right feeling which is owing generally from manto man?”
The Master observed, “Rarely do we meet with the right feeling due fromone man to another where there is fine speech and studied mien.”
The Scholar Tsang once said of himself: “On three points I examinemyself daily, viz., whether, in looking after other people’s interests,I have not been acting whole-heartedly; whether, in my intercourse withfriends, I have not been true; and whether, after teaching, I have notmyself been practising what I have taught.”
The Master once observed that to rule well one of the larger Statesmeant strict attention to its affairs and conscientiousness on the partof the ruler; careful husbanding of its resources, with at the same timea tender care for the interests of all classes; and the employing of themasses in the public service at suitable seasons.