Confucianism as a State Ideology

Confucianism as a State Ideology
Confucianism as a State Ideology

Confucianism, originally an East Asian philosophy based upon the teachings of Confucius, has strongly influenced governmental structures and policies worldwide, particularly in China, Korea, Japan, Singapore, Taiwan, and Vietnam.

Confucius, a famous Chinese philosopher who lived from 551 to 479 b.c.e., frequently expressed his thoughts in short sayings, such as those collected and preserved by his students and followers in the Analects of Confucius.

Confucius did much more than teach philosophy and hoped to spread his thoughts and ideas to receive the patronage of one of the many lords competing for supremacy in China, and he even hoped to persuade Chinese leaders to follow his system of thought and values. Unfortunately, Confucius failed to have his ideas accepted by key rulers of Chinese society during his lifetime, but his concepts eventually developed into a state ideology.

The development of Confucianism as a state ideology may be attributed to his followers or, to be more exact, the followers of his original followers. During a period of history in ancient China known as the Hundred Schools of Philosophy, or Thought, prominent Confucian scholars such as Mencius and Xunzi elaborated upon Confucian principles and spread the philosophy and its social and political influences throughout China.

Although briefly forbidden during the Qin (Ch’in) dynasty, Han Wudi (Han Wu-ti), the sixth emperor of the Han dynasty embraced Confucianism. He adopted the principles of Confucian thought as the basis for his government, laws, and ethics.

In order to promote it he started a university to teach the Confucian Classics to new generations. Confucianism remained the most influential and mainstream school of thought in the China until the Chinese Communists led by Mao Zedong (Mao Tse-tung) stamped it out.

Zhu Xi (Chu Hsi) undertook further elaboration of Confucianism as a state ideology, and he was indentified as one of the first Neo-Confucians. Neo-Confucianism, which was more appealing not only to China but also to Korea and Japan, incorporated Daoism (Taoism) and Buddhist ideas to create a more all-encompassing philosphy and ideology.

The two most fundamental principles of Confucian governmental thought are virtue and merit. In order to govern one must first be able to successfully govern himself. As a result, the king or leader of a government must act as a “calm center” around which society is able to develop and prosper under his direction.

Confucian thought stresses learning as an integral component of not only better governing oneself but also improving one’s chances for success within society. When later dynasties began to implement Confucian governmental principles, they established civil services exams for government positions, based upon the study of the Confucian Classics. In addition, they also incorporated traditional values of ritual, filial piety, loyalty, community, and humaneness. Confucianism still influences many Asian nations.