Confucius (551–479 BC) was a Chinese teacher, editor, politician, and philosopher of the Spring and Autumn Period of Chinese history. The philosophy of Confucius emphasized personal and governmental morality, correctness of social relationships, justice and sincerity. His followers competed successfully with many other schools during the Hundred Schools of Thought era only.
Confucius is traditionally credited with having authored or edited many of the Chinese classic texts including all of the Five Classics, but modern scholars are cautious of attributing specific assertions to Confucius himself. Aphorisms concerning his teachings were compiled in the Analects, but only many years after his death.
Confucius’s principles had a basis in common Chinese tradition and belief. He championed strong family loyalty, ancestor worship, respect of elders by their children (and in traditional interpretations) of husbands by their wives. He also recommended family as a basis for ideal government. He espoused the well-known principle “Do not do to others what you do not want done to yourself
It is generally thought that Confucius was born in 551 BC. His birthplace was in Zou, Lu state (near present-day Qufu, Shandong Province). His father Kong He (孔紇), also known as Shuliang He (叔梁紇), was an officer in the Lu military. Kong He died when Confucius was three years old, and Confucius was raised by his mother Yan Zhengzai (顏徵在) in poverty. At age 19 he married his wife, surnamed Qiguan (亓官), and a year later the couple had their first child, Kong Li (孔鯉). Confucius was born into the class of shi (士), between the aristocracy and the common people. He is said to have worked as a shepherd, cowherd, clerk, and a book-keeper. When his mother died, Confucius (aged 23) is said to have mourned for three years as was the tradition.
The Lu state was headed by a ruling ducal house. Under the duke were three aristocratic families, whose heads bore the title of viscount and held hereditary positions in the Lu bureacracy. The Ji family held the position “Minister over the Masses”, who was also the “Prime Minister”; the Meng family held the position “Minister of Works”; and the Shu family held the position “Minister of War”. In the winter of 505 BC, Yang Hu—a retainer of the Ji family—rose up in rebellion and seized power from the Ji family.
However, by the summer of 501 BC, the three hereditary families had succeeded in expelling Yang Hu from Lu. By then, Confucius had built up a considerable reputation through his teachings, while the families came to see the value of proper conduct and righteousness, so they could achieve loyalty to a legitimate government. Thus, that year (501 BC), Confucius came to be appointed to the minor position of governor of a town. Eventually, he rose to the position of Minister of Crime.
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Confucius desired to return the authority of the state to the duke by dismantling the fortifications of the city-strongholds belonging to the three families. This way, he could establish a centralized government. However, Confucius relied solely on diplomacy as he had no military authority himself.
In 500 BC, Hou Fan—the governor of Hou—revolted against his lord of the Shu family. Although the Meng and Shu families unsuccessfully besieged Hou, a loyalist official rose up with the people of Hou and forced Hou Fan to flee to the Qi state. The situation may have been in favor for Confucius.
First, the Shu family led an army towards their city Hou and tore down its walls in 498 BC. Soon thereafter, Gongshan Furao —a retainer of the Ji family—revolted and took control of the forces at Bi. He immediately launched an attack and entered the capital Lu.
Earlier, Gongshan had approached Confucius to join him, which Confucius considered at first. Even though he disapproved the use of a violent revolution, the Ji family dominated the Lu state by force for generations and had exiled the previous duke.
Confucius departed his homeland in 497 BC after his support to the failed attempt of dismantling the fortified city walls of the powerful Ji, Meng, and Shu families. He left the state of Lu without resigning, remaining in self-exile and unable to return as long as Viscount Ji Huan was alive.