Knowing Chinese culture goes beyond knowing its language, its writing, its peculiar costumes or its tasty food.
An essential item to decipher the Asian nation -among so many- is to understand the philosophy that has influenced its citizens for millennia of history.
Life Story of Confucius
It was 551 B.C. when Confucius (K'ung Chung-ni) was born. His life began marked by the death of his father, which led his family to live in decadence in the midst of an era marked by chaos and war.
From an early age, the young confucius showed an interest in studies and education, eventually becoming a teacher over the years.
He worked in schools where the children of the nobility learned, among other things, to write and calculate.
He was later able to establish his own school where he emphasized teaching the importance of caring for and preserving family values, as he believed that the way to create a stable and happy society was to maintain solid ties between the members of the family.
This new school also had new apprentices, among whom were many people from poor and even destitute families.
Confucius broke the idea that education should be exclusively for the children of wealthy families, who only because they were born in this environment had the right to study.
One of his most outstanding phrases, called Analects, is "Where there is education there is no class distinction".
The philosopher focused his efforts on promoting mutual respect, especially towards the elderly.
He believed that it was the older people who passed on their wisdom to the younger ones, which to this day is part of China's identity.
In parallel to education, the master worked as an administrative official, inspecting granaries and livestock.
In addition, he spent much of his life traveling from kingdom to kingdom trying to persuade the various rulers to empathize with his repudiation of civil strife.
He never succeeded, but he managed to reach more than 3,000 followers thanks to his preaching that spread his way of seeing life.
Five teaching classics
There are five classic books that Confucius compiled for his students.
First, it is said that music and poetry were an important part of the philosopher's daily life, thus adoring the book Shījīng, also identified as The Book of Poetry.
The Book of Poetry is made up of 305 poems divided into 160 folk songs, 31 songs for ceremonies, and 40 hymns that were sung in sacrificial ceremonies to the gods and ancestral spirits.
The second is Yìjīng, named in the West as The Book of Mutations, which talks about the figures of Chinese mythology and mutated over the years and the influence of Confucius himself, but its original content is known to have its roots in Taoism.
It is believed that this book describes the present situation of those who consult it and predicts ways to face the future if a correct posture is adopted in the face of conflicts.
Shūjīng is the third elemental, also referred to as The Book of History. This compiles documents of great historical value -save the redundancy- and also groups some speeches that are -presumably- written by rulers and officials of the Xia, Shang, and Zhou dynasties.
Although there is no certainty as to its creation, it is presumed to date back to the 6th century B.C., thus achieving the title of being the oldest narrative text in China.
The fourth is Lǐjīng, known as The Record of the Rite. This consists of three registers discussing social formalities and rules of etiquette.
Its first copy had 85 articles, but with the passage of time some were lost leaving only 49 to date.
This text develops very deep ideas on the value of education, life, care of leather and mind, among other topics that transcend to this day.
Finally, the fifth copy is Chūnqiū, also called Annals of Spring and Autumn, which deals with the political activities and behavior of the ruling class, recounting crude events such as assassinations, punishments and others.
This one also collects the narration of some natural phenomena such as eclipses, earthquakes, floods and plagues.
Among its pages you can also find accounts of how certain social events such as sacrifices, rituals, weddings, funerals and even the process of building cities were.
The legacy through five virtues
The scholar Confucius, who embraced his teaching method through these classics, transmitted to his disciples and compatriots the duty to behave as noble human beings in troubled times plunged in bellicosity.
Each classic contains a virtue that he sought to disseminate in order to maintain it over time.
- Li: The proper ritual conduct. It is based on the practice of good manners and respect for traditional customs.
- Yi: Justice and righteousness. It refers to the soul and its relationship with honesty and justice.
- Ren: Humanity and benevolence. It symbolizes kindness towards the people around us.
- Zhi: Wisdom. This virtue invites us to learn to differentiate between good and evil in our actions.
- Xin: Reliability. It is related to representing fidelity, sincerity and truthfulness, both with ourselves and with other people.
In addition to this, the philosopher's work promotes love for parents and nature; respect for elders, political, social and religious order and the constant search for spiritual harmony.
Confucianism is one of the most important ideological currents of ancient China.
In seven decades of life, the author stood out for his principles and it was not until the Han dynasty - between 206 B.C. and 220 A.D. - that his thought was transformed into an ethical system of behavior and governance.
Since then, its teachings have influenced two millennia of history, emphasizing above all its commitment to order, not imposed by war, but by the harmonious development of education.
Confucianism is defined, among other things, by a social contract that states that the governed owe loyalty to the rulers, and the rulers owe welfare to their people.
However, if the rulers were unable to satisfy that welfare, the people could justly overthrow them, in a civilized manner. Therefore, education was the key for him.
To this day, Confucius remains in Chinese government school curricula and the values of order, hierarchy and commitment are as valid as they were at the beginning in the 5th century B.C. and have even crossed borders.