Confucianism was created by Confucius (551 BC – 479 BC), who was an ideologist and educationist. Confucianism has been the orthodox ideology in China for over 2,000 years and Confucius enjoys the reputation of a saint in China.

Historical Background of the Creation of Confucianism

Confucius lived during the Spring and Autumn Period (770 BC – 476 BC), during which time the slave society in China was ending and the feudal society was budding. However, the owners of the rights of the slaves were not willing to lose their privilege. They tried their best to control the rising feudal lords’ power by instilling old and backward ideology. Confucius believed that feudalism was more advanced than slavery and the society needed a new ideology to guide people in the abolishment of slavery, so he created Confucianism. The core concept of the Confucianism is benevolence, which was welcomed by both the slaves, who wanted to be free, and the feudal lords, who just wanted a labor force, but not the responsibility of people’s lives.

Development of Confucianism

When Confucianism was created, there were also hundreds of other ideologies created at the same time. Qin Shihuang (259 BC - 210 BC) the first emperor of the feudal dynasties in China, announced that Legalism was the orthodox ideology. Thousands of books about Confucianism were burnt and people who believed in Confucianism were buried alive. He thought his dynasty could last forever because of his cruelty. Fortunately, it lasted only 14 years.

The Han Dynasty (202 BC – 220 AD), next to Qin Shihuang’s short lived dynasty, it was the second feudal dynasty in China. Liu Che, the seventh emperor of Han Dynasty and one of the most outstanding emperors in the history of China, began to understand the importance of Confucianism. He ordered his prime minister Dong Zhongshu, an economist and ideologist, to combine the original Confucianism with other ideologies to form a new Confucianism. Everyone at that time was only allowed to learn the culture based on the new Confucianism. Different from Qin Shihuang’s Legalism, the new Confucianism was widely accepted by common citizens at that time. Because the keystones of Confucianism combined with the common people’s sense of worth, this new ideology was taught and learnt spontaneously.

Corner Stones of Confucianism

Benevolence, righteousness, courtesy, wisdom, honesty, forgiveness, loyalty, filial piety and respect to elder brothers are the nine corner stones of Confucianism.


Benevolence requires people to love and help each other. If someone is in trouble, everybody should be ready to give assistance, even though the one who helps does not know the one who accepts help. In a slave society, the emperors showed no benevolence towards their slaves. In time their countries were overthrown with the slaves revolted. In feudal societies, the emperors often reduced or exempted tax when there was a lean year or natural disaster. This was the primary way for the emperors to show their benevolence to their citizens. The indispensability of benevolence has been proven in China’s history. When the emperors were benevolent, their countries were got prosperous and had peace. If they did the opposite, they lost everything.


Righteousness requires everyone to comply with the values, rules and laws that have been agreed by most people. For example, when a senior citizen falls down in the road, the passersby should help the fallen citizen to stand up or find a doctor for that person. This has been a part of public morals since ancient times. But now, people are not so kind-hearted. So the righteousness is perhaps the most neglected factor of Confucianism in China.

It can be deduced that the righteousness perhaps absorbed some concepts from the Legalism due to the laws described in the righteousness. Confucianism requires everyone should do what the law allows. People who violate the laws must be punished. In some very severe cases not only the criminals themselves, but also their families would be sentenced to death. In ancient times, there were incredibly cruel executions, such as tearing a person asunder using five carts to dismember a person’s body piece by piece. In a word, these punishments against criminals were not more clement than the ones seen during the times of slavery.


China enjoys a reputation of being a courteous country, because Chinese people have been taught to be polite to others since childhood. Confucianism believes courtesy can make everyone respect each other. This respect is one of the basic factors in doing something successfully. There should be courtesy between emperors and common citizens, between fathers and sons and between husbands and wives. However trying to be polite is only what Chinese people are being taught to do and nowadays Chinese people are becoming more and more impolite, perhaps because they have a lot of difficulies today. Their neighbors, the Japanese and Korean, are much more polite than Chinese having learnt courtesy from Chinese in ancient times and developed it much better way.

Courtesy is not only about the respect between people, but also about people’s respect to the gods. Ancient Chinese believed there were gods in the sky and in the rivers, sea, mountains and fields. Their ceremonies were the way to show their respect to the gods. Almost the in the same way as the western world, cattle, fowl, jewelry, ceramics and even human beings were the major sacrifices in ancient China.


Wisdom requires people to learn to know knowledge. Only knowledge can make the people and society improve continuously. There have been plenty of books about the Confucianism. If people wanted to become government officials, they had to learn the knowledge in these books and pass an examination based on these books.

This exam system showed a promising way for common people at the beginning, but it became a barrier to preventing the development of productivity after the 14th century. When the western world was developing Capitalism, Chinese people were still being tied to the exam system. They got very high scores in exams, but could do nothing in the world outside book knoeledge. Finally, China became too weak to defend the invasion from the western world.

Even now, the negative aspect of the wisdom of Confucianism is still affecting Chinese people. So many Chinese people get the top exam results, but find it difficult to find jobs for themselves after graduation.


Compared with other cornerstones of Confucianism, honesty is relatively easy to understand. Without honesty, and without trust there will finally be no development and teamwork.

Teamwork is a weak point for Chinese people. Chinese athletes often get gold medals in individual races in the Olympic Games, such as table tennis, diving and badminton, but for the team races, such as football and basketball, China is still struggling in the qualifying matches.


People always say “It will hurt yourself more if you do not forgive others” which is easy to say than really do it. Confucianism believes people cannot avoid to offend each other in daily life and work. If they do not forgive each other, they cannot cooperate with each other and will fail in everything. The ancient psychology actually originated from the Forgiveness of the Confucianism.
The Benevolence is basic on the Forgiveness.


In order to keep their country, the emperors of feudal dynasties in China always emphasized the loyalty, which required citizens give their all to their country, including their lives. The loyalty was necessary to keep a steady society, but if the emperors showed no mercy to the citizens, the country could still be overthrown.

Filial Piety

Feudal emperors believed every family was a small society and that their country could not be steady unless most families in the country were steady. Filial piety is one of the most important factors to keep families steady, so the feudal emperors believed that by emphasizing filial piety families would produce more children. A large population meant prosperity in ancient times.

Respect to Elder Brothers

The average life span in ancient China was only around 30 years. When the parents of a family died, the oldest brother became the leader of the family. The respect to the oldest brother became the key factor to keep a family steady.

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By Ruth Wickham
Chief Editor & Writer