Confucius (551–479 BCE) was a Chinese philosopher and educator whose teachings laid the foundation for much of East Asian culture and thought.
Born in the state of Lu, he emphasized personal morality, social harmony, and the importance of education. While Confucius did not author any texts himself, his disciples compiled his teachings, notably in the “Analects.”
Over millennia, his philosophies deeply influenced Chinese governance, society, and ethics, especially during the Han Dynasty when Confucianism became the state doctrine.
Although challenged during certain periods, such as the rise of communism in the 20th century, his teachings remain a significant component of East Asian identity and wisdom today.
|551 BCE||Birth of Confucius in the state of Lu. Birth name: Kong Qiu.|
|532 BCE||Death of Confucius’ father. Confucius was raised by his mother in relative poverty.|
|c. 527 BCE||Confucius began his education, showing interest in history, poetry, and rituals.|
|c. 500 BCE||Confucius started teaching, emphasizing personal morality, social harmony, and proper behavior.|
|c. 497-484 BCE||Confucius traveled through various states of China offering advice to rulers.|
|484 BCE||Confucius returned to his home state of Lu and continued teaching.|
|479 BCE||Death of Confucius at age 72.|
|After his death||Compilation of Confucius’ teachings by disciples into texts like the “Analects” (Lunyu).|
|c. 206 BCE – 220 CE||Han Dynasty: Confucianism became the official state philosophy and was integrated into the civil examination system.|
|Later Dynasties||Confucianism remained central in Chinese society, politics, and education.|
|20th century||Rise of Communism led to the de-emphasis of Confucian values, but later saw a resurgence of interest globally.|
551 BCE – Birth of Confucius in the state of Lu. Birth name: Kong Qiu
Confucius, whose birth name was Kong Qiu, was born in the state of Lu, now a part of today’s Shandong province in China.
Also Read: Facts About Confucianism
His birth is celebrated in various East Asian countries, especially in China where it’s known as “Confucius Day”. His teachings later became foundational in East Asian philosophy and societal values.
532 BCE – Death of Confucius’ father. Raised by his mother in relative poverty
Confucius faced adversity early in life. His father, Kong He, passed away when Confucius was only three years old. Following his father’s death, Confucius was raised by his mother, Yan Zhengzai, in conditions of relative poverty. These hardships may have influenced some of his teachings on perseverance, respect, and filial piety.
c. 527 BCE – Began education; showed interest in history, poetry, rituals
Despite their economic struggles, Confucius was well-educated, indicating the emphasis and value his family put on learning. From a young age, he displayed a keen interest in a variety of subjects, notably the ancient Chinese classics, history, rituals, and poetry.
This foundation in diverse fields of knowledge would later contribute to his holistic approach to teaching and governance.
c. 500 BCE – Started teaching; emphasized personal morality, social harmony, behavior
Confucius believed in the transformative power of education and the cultivation of virtue. Beginning his career as an educator, he not only imparted academic knowledge but also emphasized the importance of personal morality, proper conduct in daily affairs, social harmony, and the importance of rituals.
His educational philosophy attracted numerous disciples, some of whom would go on to become influential figures in their own right.
c. 497-484 BCE – Traveled various Chinese states offering advice to rulers
Growing frustrated with the inability to implement his ideas in his home state of Lu, Confucius embarked on a journey through various Chinese states.
Accompanied by several of his disciples, he hoped to advise rulers and officials, offering insights into good governance and moral leadership. These travels exposed him to a myriad of political systems and cultures, enriching his philosophy and teachings.
484 BCE – Returned to Lu and continued teaching
After over a decade of traveling and offering his philosophies to various rulers with limited success, Confucius decided to return to his native state of Lu. The political landscape there had changed, making it more conducive for him to practice his teachings.
In the final years of his life, Confucius focused on teaching his disciples, ensuring the continuation of his philosophies. He became a revered figure, with students coming from all parts of China to learn from him.
479 BCE – Died at age 72
Confucius passed away, leaving behind a legacy that would shape Chinese thought and culture for millennia. He didn’t pen any books himself; however, his students ensured that his teachings, discussions, and philosophies were recorded. These compilations form the backbone of Confucian literature.
After death – Teachings compiled into texts like the “Analects” (Lunyu)
The most famous of these compilations is the “Analects” (Lunyu), a collection of sayings, discussions, and actions of Confucius and his disciples.
Over the years, other important texts like “The Book of Rites” (Li Ji), “The Spring and Autumn Annals” (Chunqiu), and “The Book of Changes” (I Ching) were also associated with Confucian thought.
c. 206 BCE-220 CE – Han Dynasty; Confucianism became official state philosophy
Under Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty, Confucianism was elevated to the state doctrine. This marked a significant shift from the previously favored Legalism.
The teachings of Confucius became deeply integrated into the Chinese bureaucracy, influencing the governance model.
The civil service exams, which selected government officials, heavily emphasized Confucian texts, ensuring that its teachings would be central to Chinese governance and society for over two millennia.
Later Dynasties – Confucianism central in Chinese society, politics, education
Even after the Han Dynasty, Confucianism continued to play a dominant role in shaping Chinese socio-political life.
While the emphasis on Confucianism varied from dynasty to dynasty, its fundamental values remained integral to Chinese identity. Confucian academies, temples, and commentaries on Confucian texts proliferated throughout this period.
20th century – Rise of Communism de-emphasized Confucian values; later resurgence globally
With the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, Confucianism faced significant challenges. The Communist leadership, particularly during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), sought to eradicate “old customs, old culture, old habits, and old ideas,” which included Confucian teachings.
Temples were destroyed, and Confucian scholars were persecuted. However, in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, there has been a resurgence of interest in Confucianism. The Chinese government and intellectuals have revisited Confucian ideas as a source of national identity and cultural continuity.