Everything About Confucius (Kung Fu Zi)

Marco Polo once wrote ‘If the Chinese were warlike they could conquer the world,’  in the thirteenth century, ‘thank goodness they’re not.’

With China rising and look
ing set to take the world stage as the Superpower once again, many are trying to figure out China’s intent, some are wary and perhaps most others are curious about China. To understand China, I believe one has to understand Confucianism – the school of
thought and way of life that has influence China for thousands of years – even up till today.

If you want to understand China, you must know who Confucius is and what his teachings are. My girlfriend and I had the chance the visit all the 3 major tourist sites of Confucius, they are:

  1. Temple of Confucius – part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  2. Kong Family Mansion
  3. Cemetery of Confucius

Who is Confucius? (Kung Fu Zi / Kung Fu Tzu)

Jonite Grating


Confucius (551 – 479 BC) was a famous Chinese teacher and philosopher during the Spring and Autumn period during ancient China. He is probably the most influential Chinese philosopher who’s teachings still affect Chinese even until today. During his era, there were many competing school of thoughts with regards to philosophy and ways of life and his ideas was about advancing social and political harmony through individual moral development, proper and virtuous human relationships and good governance on the part of the ruling elites (Chinese Emperor and his officials). His school of thoughts have shaped Chinese thinking over thousands of years even till today.

There is not a lot know about his life, born in the mid 6th century BCE in the state of Lu (currently Shandong Province in China) during the warring years, he was address as Kong Zi (Master Kong or Teacher Kong) by his students. The name “Confucius” is a Latinized version of his name bestowed by Western scholars.

He went to various kindoms then (China was fragmented into different independent states) to offer his help as an adviser to promote his school of thoughts and teachings but none of the rulers then adopted his teachings during his lifetime. In his life, perhaps he is better known for teaching his many outstanding students who inherited his ideas.

A good portion of his work are found in the text “The Analects” though many others after him contributed to this book overtime. He is widely credited as the author of the Five Classics of Confucianism though several scholars dispute this claim.

Confucius died in 479 BCE as a man without recognition for his work. During his lifetime despite his work, he did not have any major influence on China. His teachings continued through his students and it was after his death in the Han Dynasty that his work came to prominence and enjoyed imperial patronage. When his received mainstream recognition, his status was deemed to be the “Emperor of Emperors” due to his wisdom by generations of Emperors thereafter. While there are many other great philosophers in China, nobody rivals him in terms of the influence his school of thoughts has on China.

Life of Confucius

Believe to be born in BC 551, Confucius was born in Zou, Lu state (near present day Qufu city in Shandong Province). It was believed that his ancestors had migrated from the Song state to Lu state.

During his era, the Chinese society was divided into different classes. Confucius belonged to the Shi Class that was ranked between the nobility and the common people. Confucius’ father’s name was Kong He (He Shuliang) and he was an officer in the Lu state’s millitary. At the age of 3, Confucius lost his father and brought up by his mother Yan Zhengzai in very difficult financial situation.

In his early years, he worked as a book-keeper, cowherd and a clerk.

Confucius is probably the first teacher in ancient China who believes in free education for all. When he was in his 30s, he adopted teaching to fulfill his aspiration and was well versed in calligraphy, arithmetic, music, archery, rituals and widely knowledgeable about history and poetry.

When he reached his late 40s in 501 BC, he was appointed as the governor of a town in Lu state – a lowly official position back then.

Birth Place Of Confucius – Qufu, Shan Dong

Located in the Southwest part of Shandong Province, Qufu (Chinese: 曲阜) is where Confucius was born, near the eastern coast of China. Located around 130 km south of Shandong provincial capital of Jinan and 45km northeasy of Jining, Qufu today is home to around 630,000 people. Confucius is believed to be born nearby Mount Ni in Qufu and the city is home to many historic palaces, templates and cemteries. Known collectively as “Three Kong” (三孔), the 3 famous cultural sites of the city are: Temple of Confucius (孔庙), Cemetery of Confucius (孔林) where Confucius is buried together with all his descendants and Kong Family Mansion (孔府) where Confucius used to live. Even today, his descendants are living throughout China.

Birth of Confucius

Believed to be born in BC 551, Confucius’s Chinese name was Kong Qiu who lived in the era of Spring and Autumn period (春秋时代). This period of time known as the Spring and Autumn Period (771 to 476 BC *Some argue it lasted till 403 BC). During this period, China was fragmented and ruled by different states (with its own King) which were consolidated over time after war. There are several accounts of Confucius’ early life and it is widely believe that his family was very poor but he studied hard and became a popular teacher where his school of thoughts was spread by his students.

Why is Confucius important?

One can imagine the era then (during Confucius’ life) when states sought power and wage wars against each other. During his time, there were many other competing school of thoughts. Perhaps it is in such a chaotic era that people then started to question the ideals of what a society is and should be and the relationships within members of the society. Confucianism is a system of ideas of how people (members in a society) should conduct their lives and relationship with each other in the then complex and chaotic era. Confucianism lays down the core fundamental ways of conducting human to human relationships – between parents and child, family and the ruling class.

Confucianism became the official state philosophy of the Chinese dynasties after dynasties over thousands of years. The Analects (Lun Yu) – the collection of Confucius’s sayings is one of the most important and influential literature in Chinese history and widely read by many, the only other comparable literature with such wide influence in the West is probably the Bible.

Mencius: In ancient China, Confucius inspired an a spectrum of different Chinese thinkers and philosophers. One of the most illustrious among his them is Mencius. Like Confucius, Mencius traveled to different parts of China to the different states for many years to persuade different Kings to adopt his school of thought with little success. He believes that human nature is inherently good – probably his argument that he is best known for. He argues that humans are born with the ability to differentiate right and wrong as all humans are able to feel shame – when a wrong act is committed.

Death of Confucius

Confucius passed away at the age of 71 and died of natural causes. He was buried in the Kong Lin cemetery (which still stands today) in the city of Qufu. The grave has a raised brick platform where people can offer sandalwood incense and offerings even till today.

At the time of Confucius’ death, his teachings were not widely accepted and adopted. One can argue that like some famous musicians or artists, Confucius’ work became popular and widely acknowledge only after his death. After Confucius died and his teachings received wide spread acknowledgement, Qufu – his hometown became a historical site as a place of remembrance to him. In fact, based on records from the Han Dynasty (206 BC–220 AD), Confucius’ grave site was already a popular place of pilgrimage for officials then.

Today in China, many temples have statues of Buddha, Laozi and Confucius found together for worship. It is worth noting that in Confucius’ teachings, he does not speak of the existence of God of afterlife. Confucianism is a philosophy and not a religion. Even in overseas Chinese temples where Chinese diaspora are residing,  there are many temples who offer worshiping of Confucius.

Even as of today, the Chinese have a tradition (including Japanese and Koreans) of holding spectacular ceremonies of Confucius (祭孔) every year. The ceremonial rituals are believed to be derived from Zhou Li (周禮) on the date of Confucius’ birth (a date disputed by many). This practice was interrupted in recent years during Communist rule in China as such ceremonies and rites were banned. It was only resumed after the 1990s and is still considered part of Chinese history and heritage.

In Taiwan where the Nationalist Party (Kuomintang) fled to after losing the civil war in China, Confucianism is widely promoted and preserved. In South Korea a grand-scale memorial ceremony called Seokjeon Daeje is held twice a year on Confucius’ birthday and the anniversary of his death, at Confucian academies across the country and Sungkyunkwan in Seoul.

What is Confucianism? Confucianism beliefs and practices

Confucianism (also known as Ru-ism) is a set of philosophical, moral and ethical teachings pertaining to how human to human relationship (in different aspects of the society) should be conducted.

There is a lot of emphasis placed on the importance of a family as the basic unit block of the entire society (as opposed to individualism in the West). Confucianism regards the ordinary activities of our lives (especially in human relationships) as a manifestation of the sacred which are the expressions of our moral nature. Confucianism focuses on the belief that human beings are fundamentally good and through self-cultivation of virtues and ethics, society as a while will be more wholesome.

Some of the basic Confucian ethical concepts and practices include rén, yì, and lǐ, and zhì.

Rén (仁, “benevolence” or “humaneness”) is the essence of the human being which manifests as compassion. It is the virtue-form of Heaven.

Yì (義/义) is the upholding of righteousness and the moral disposition to do good.

Lǐ (禮/礼) is a system of ritual norms and propriety that determines how a person should properly act in everyday life according to the law of Heaven.

Zhì (智) is the ability to see what is right and fair, or the converse, in the behaviors exhibited by others. Confucianism holds one in contempt, either passively or actively, for failure to uphold the cardinal moral values of rén and yì.

Xin (信) is credibility and trustworthiness. This portrays how wise the person has become by using examples of good deeds, such as goodwill, loyalty, and propriety.

Traditionally, East Asia (and Chinese diaspora in Southeast Asia) are strongly influenced by Confucianism. These countries include mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, Japan, Korean, Vietnam, Malaysia and Singapore.

Confucius teachings

5 virtues of Confucianism


The first and most important virtue among the 5 Constant Virtues is “Benevolence”. It is about the inner love and compassion for people and it preaches one not to cause harm or harbor envy towards anyone. Benevolence requires one to be amiable and to avoid evil. To be benevolent, one should remember another Gold Rule of Confucius’ teachings – What one does not wish for oneself, one ought not to do to anyone else; what one recognizes as desirable for oneself, one ought to be willing to grant to others. Harmony among people is achieved through the understanding of ethical practice. A benevolent person will always help someone in need with no expectations to be repaid.


Another virtue that is being preached is “Righteousness”. Compared to “Benevolence”, righteousness requires rational thinking and action, self-discipline against temptation and to uphold one’s duty. Most importantly, righteousness is all about integrity.


This includes filial piety, loyalty, fraternal duty, chastity and respect. Relationships between husband and wife, fathers and sons, elder and young, teachers and students, subject and monarch etc demand respect and care with one fulfilling one’s duty and responsibility in one’s respective role.


With wisdom – the ability to judge right from wrong, good from evil, one cannot become a man of virtue without being wise.

Wisdom is the innate knowledge by which one judges right and wrong, good and evil. This is necessary in the practice of moral norms, for otherwise one cannot become a person of virtue.In a sense it precedes the others because without wisdom one will have no sense of ethics, or social skills, or even just the plain common sense the other virtues require for guidance.


Fidelity is honesty and credibility. To ensure that one’s actions match one’s words. This is key to perfection of human nature. Without this, other virtues cannot exist. Fidelity is inherent in a child but it might get lost over time due to external influences.
Confucius (Confucianism) Values
The 3 main essential values of Confucian teachings are Filial Piety, Humaneness and Ritual. You can think of these 3 values as 3 legs to a tripod. The concept of filial piety is respect and love to one’s parents, this is one of the most fundamental value and root of all other values. Everything starts from filial piety as the parent-child (or children) relationship as this is the most basic human bond. In Mandarin, the Chinese character for “filial piety” is “xiao” where the top portion of the character shows an old man and the younger man supporting beneath him. This symbolizes the support of one’s parents (or elderly) by the younger generation. This relationship is reciprocal, parents are bounded by duty to love and raise their children and nurture them into men of values, in return the young are supposed to look after their parents till old age and after death, to hold them in remembrance out of gratitude.

Ancestor Worship

Ancestor worshiping is a prevalent practice in Chinese culture and connected to filial piety. In fact, ancestor worship is a ritual to remind the younger generation of the sacrifice by the older generation (departed) made for them. In many Chinese homes, a tablet engraved with their ancestors’ name, place of birth and date of birth till death are worshiped to keep the ancestors in mind.

It is not uncommon to find Chinese who can trace their roots up their ancestors line through this practice. The Chinese believes one must not forget one’s roots and the sacrifice made by the ancestors. Every once or twice per year, Chinese will also make their way to their ancestors (recent and distant) graves to make offerings, tidy up the graves and worship them.


A key value in Confucian thinking, this is basically about the care and concern for fellow human beings. This calls for a loving society where all members within care and show concern for each other.

Ritual Consciousness

Ritual are performed and to many seem supernatural and religious in nature. However Confucius made no mention of afterlife or the deities (God). The concept of ritual revolves around the concept of “Li” (ritual consciousness or propriety) – on which human actions and behavior are supposed to be based on. The rituals are a reminder that proper behavior is required of human and there are proper ways to go about doing things with respect and virtues.

Confucius himself emphasized again and again that ritual itself was important. That rituals, that through ritual, people could learn proper relationships. From this perspective, the concept of ancestor worship and rituals reflect the concept that filial piety is eternal – even after death of one’s ancestors – a key reminder of one’s duty towards one’s elderly – through life and even after death. Through such worshiping of the dead, each generation of Chinese teaches the next generation of Chinese the concept of filial piety for eternity.

Is Confucianism a religion?

According to sociologist Robert Bellah, he calls Confucianism a “civil religion” , which refers to a religious identity and common moral understanding at the foundation of a society’s central institution. Confucianism has also been called a “diffused religion” where the institutions of which are not a separate church but those of society and family and whose specialists are not priests, but rather the respected figures present in everyday life such as parents, teachers and government officials. One has to understand that Confucius lived through an era of political and social unrest and Chinese then were seeking answers as to what forms the basis of a stable, unified and enduring social order.

The founder of Confucianism, Master Kong (Confucius, 551-479 B.C.E.) did not intend to found a new religion, but to interpret and revive the unnamed religion of the Zhou dynasty, under which many people thought the ancient system of religious rule was bankrupt; why couldn’t the gods prevent the social upheavals? The burning issue of the day was: If it is not the ancestral and nature spirits, what then is the basis of a stable, unified, and enduring social order? The dominant view of the day, espoused by Realists and Legalists, was that strict law and statecraft were the bases of sound policy. Confucius, however, believed that the basis lay in Zhou religion, in its rituals (li). He interpreted these not as sacrifices asking for the blessings of the gods, but as ceremonies performed by human agents and embodying the civilized and cultured patterns of behavior developed through generations of human wisdom. They embodied, for him, the ethical core of Chinese society. Moreover, Confucius applied the term “ritual” to actions beyond the formal sacrifices and religious ceremonies to include social rituals: courtesies and accepted standards of behavior– what we today call social mores. He saw these time-honored and traditional rituals as the basis of human civilization, and he felt that only a civilized society could have a stable, unified, and enduring social order.

Confucius Institute
Confucius Institute (Chinese: 孔子学院;) is a non-profit public educational organization affiliated with the Ministry of Education of the People’s Republic of China,[1] whose aim is to promote Chinese language and culture, support local Chinese teaching internationally, and facilitate cultural exchanges.
The Confucius Institute program began in 2004 and is overseen by Hanban (officially the Office of Chinese Language Council International). The institutes operate in co-operation with local affiliate colleges and universities around the world, and financing is shared between Hanban and the host institutions. The related Confucius Classroom program partners with local secondary schools or school districts to provide teachers and instructional materials.The Confucius Institute is sometimes compared to language and culture promotion organizations such as Portugal’s Instituto Camões, Britain’s British Council, France’s Alliance Française, Italy’s Società Dante Alighieri, Spain’s Instituto Cervantes and Germany’s Goethe-Institut.
Controversies about the Confucius Institute in the US, and Canadian press include criticism that unlike other government’s language and culture promotion organizations, the Confucius Institutes operate within established universities, colleges, and secondary schools around the world, providing funding, teachers and educational materials.This has raised concerns over their influence on academic freedom, the possibility of industrial espionage,and concerns that the institutes present a selective and politicized view of China as a means of advancing the country’s soft power internationally.

According to Hanban’s website,  “Hanban/Confucius Institute Headquarters, as a public institution affiliated with the Chinese Ministry of Education, is committed to providing Chinese language and cultural teaching resources and services worldwide, it goes all out in meeting the demands of foreign Chinese learners and contributing to the development of multiculturalism and the building of a harmonious world.”
Famous Confucius Quotes

My Take on Rituals in Confuciansm

Many see the Chinese as supernatural during ancestor worship but considering the time Confucius lived in, he was probably well aware that civil war within various warring states then will persist intermittently throughout Chinese history. With education unavailable to the masses, how does one teach and impart the values from generation to generation. The answer probably lies in rituals – a reminder to future generations of the values he intend to instill for generations of Chinese to come – he succeeded.

Famous Confucius Quotes

1. Take pleasure in study and hard work
(zǐ yuē xué ér shí xí zhī, bù yì shuì hū? yǒu péng zì yuǎn fāng lái, bú yì lè hū? rén bù zhī ér bù yùn, bù yì jūn zi hū?)
The Master (Confucius) said, “Is it not pleasant to learn with a constant perseverance and application? Is it not delightful to have friends coming from distant quarters? Is he not a man of complete virtue, who feels no discomposure though men may take no note of him?”
The idea is that a person who feels achievement from hard work and knowledge and gains respect from others is a virtuous man, even if he doesn’t gain fame from his work.

2. Be sincere and follow the practices of our teachers.
(zēng zǐ yuē: wú rì sān xǐng wú shēn: wéi rén móu ér bù zhōng hū? yǔ péng you jiāo ér bù xìn hū? chuán bù xí hū?)
The philosopher Tsang said, “I daily examine myself on three points:– whether, in transacting business for others, I may have been not faithful;– whether, in intercourse with friends, I may have been not sincere;– whether I may have not mastered and practiced the instructions of my teacher.”
The philosopher Tsang examined himself daily to make sure that he was never guilty of anything that may cause him or others grief.

3. Know your fellow man
(zǐ yuē: bù huàn rén zhī bù jǐ zhī, huàn bù zhī rén yě.)
The Master said, “I will not be afflicted at men’s not knowing me; I will be afflicted that I do not know men.
Confucius tells us that by getting to know others around us we will be able to improve ourselves. Without others we are unable to learn about our own self.
4. To teach others you need continuous personal improvement

(zǐ yuē: wēn gù ér zhī xīn, kě yǐ wéi shī yǐ.)
The Master said, “If a man keeps cherishing his old knowledge, so as continually to be acquiring new, he may be a teacher of others.”
Only if review our old knowledge and continue to learn new things are we able to teach others.

5. Learning is only possible with reading and thought

(zǐ yuē: xué ér bù sī zé wǎng, sī ér bù xué zé dài.)
The Master said, “Learning without thought is labor lost; thought without learning is perilous.”
Learning does not happen by just reading a text, we also need to use thought to make sense of it and consider how to apply it to our lives.
6. Know the right way to live life
(zǐ yuē: zhāo wén dào, xī sǐ kě yǐ!)
The Master said, “If a man in the morning hears the right way, he may die in the evening without regret.”
Follow the correct path day to day and we won’t die feeling regretful.
7. Look to others to learn lessons about ourselves
(zǐ yuē: jiàn xián sī qí yān, jiàn bù xián ér nèi zì xǐng yě.)
The Master said, “When we see men of worth, we should think of equaling them; when we see men of a contrary character, we should turn inwards and examine ourselves.”
We can improve ourselves by looking at the characters of others. If we see a good man, then we should follow his example. If, on the other hand, we see a bad person then we should look at our own selves to learn the lesson.
8. Be Neighbourly 

(zǐ yuē: dé bù gū, bì yǒu lín.)
The Master said, “Virtue is not left to stand alone. He who practices it will have neighbors.”
If you’re virtuous there’ll always be like minded people around you.
9. Stages of Attainment 

(zǐ yuē: zhī zhī zhě bù rú hǎo zhī zhě, hǎo zhī zhě bù rú lè zhī zhě.)
The Master said, “They who know the truth are not equal to those who love it, and they who love it are not equal to those who delight in it.”
10. Being Wise and Virtuous 

(zǐ yuē: zhī zhě lè shuǐ, rén zhě lè shān, zhī zhě dòng, rén zhě jìng, zhī zhě lè, rén zhě shòu.)
The Master said, “The wise find pleasure in water; the virtuous find pleasure in hills. The wise are active; the virtuous are tranquil. The wise are joyful; the virtuous are long-lived.”

Funny and Witty Confucius Quotes

To be honest, I found these below and I am certain some of them are not Confucius’ quote. But after so much “heavy reading”, it’s time for a break and a laugh.

1 Man who not poop for many days must take care of back log.
2 Man who run in front of car get tired. Man who run behind car get exhausted.
3 War does not determine who is right, war determine who is left.
4 Man who drive like hell, bound to get there.
5 Man who sit on tack get point!
6 Man who jump off cliff, jump to conclusion!
7 Man stuck in pantry have ass in jam.
8 When called an idiot, better to be quiet than open mouth and remove all doubt.
9 Man who walk through airport turnstile sideways going to Bangkok.
10 He who thinks only of number one must remember this number is next to nothing.
11 Man who put head on railroad track to listen for train likely to end up with splitting headache.
12 Man who eats photo of father, soon spitting-image of father.
13 Man who pushes piano down mineshaft get tone of A flat miner.
14 Man who fall in vat of molten glass make spectacle of self.
15 Man who drop watch in toilet have shitty time.
16 Man who sneezes without tissue takes matters in own hands.
17 Man who eat many prunes get good run for money.
18 Panties not best thing on earth, but next to it.
19 Virginity like bubble: one prick, all gone.
20 Woman who wear jockstrap have make believe ballroom.
21 Marriage is like game of poker. You start with pair and end with full house.
22 Man who take sleeping pill and laxative on the same night will wake up in deep shit.
23 It take many nails to build crib, but one screw to fill it.
24 Man who stand on toilet high on pot.
25 Man who lay girl on hillside is not on the level.
26 Woman laid in tomb may become mummy.
27 Man who cut self while shaving, lose face.