Born: 551 BC in Zou, Lu state
Died: 479 BC (at age 71-72) in Lu State
Nationality: Chinese
Fields: Moral philosophy, social philosophy, ethics
Famous For: Principles of Chinese tradition and belief

Confucius (551 BC – 479 BC) was one of the great wise men of China. His goal was to help men develop a moral sense of responsibility toward others. He taught them to be kind and courteous and to show respect to elders and social superiors. He encouraged ancestor worship and ritual and he believed that good governance lay in choosing officials who were honest and educated.

Confucius’ Early Life

Confucius was born into a poor but respectable family in Zhou, a town in Lu, a Chinese state. His father died when he was a toddler, but his mother made sure he got the best education that was possible. When he was 15, he decided to become a scholar and sought to master the teachings of the old scholars. His goal was to restore the practices of the old prophet-emperors and sages of ancient times. He got married at age 19 and had a child.

His Time in Government Service

Confucius was a sought after teacher by the time he was 21. Around 501 B.C., he was appointed to a high position in the government of Lu, which was run by three aristocratic families. He was once a town governor and then became the Minister of Crime, an interesting post given Confucius’ belief that shame was punishment enough for bad behavior.

He governed with such wisdom and efficiency that his government became widely known and admired. But because of political machinations and a nobleman who wanted to discredit him, he soon had to resign. During his exile, Confucius traveled around the country trying to find a prince who would adopt his theories of good governance. But most people in power did not fully understand Confucius’ teaching.

His Philosophy and Teachings

One of Confucius’ most famous teachings was a precursor of the Golden Rule. He also stressed virtue, sincerity, and knowledge. These virtues were not divine edicts, but they were passed down through the ages from wise men.

Confucius’ politics were also based on his ethics and might have been influenced by the fraught political atmosphere that he had to endure in Lu. He believed that a truly virtuous ruler would lead by example and would be such a paragon to his subordinates that he would not even need to give them orders or compel their proper behavior through the law.

Later Years and Death

Confucius continued to teach for over 50 years, but he was practically unknown when he died. His philosophy only became popular after the Five Classics, which record his teachings, became widely read. It became a Confucian Bible. The precepts were formed into a system of thought called Confucianism and they began to be taught in Chinese schools. Confucius died when he was about 72 and is buried in the cemetery of Kong Lin, which still stands.

Confucius’ Legacy

Even today, millions of people follow the principles of Confucius. There is some controversy over whether Confucianism is a religion or not, even though it does not concern itself too much with the afterlife or the human soul.

After Confucius’ death, many of his sayings and anecdotes about him were collected in the Analects by his disciples. The philosopher, Mencius, also wrote about Confucius’ influence on him.