Cultivation involved broad education and reflection on one's actions. It was a lifetime commitment to character building carving and polishing the stone of one's character until it was a lustrous gem. Master Kong described his own lifetime: At fifteen, I set my heart on learning. At thirty, I was firmly established. At forty, I had no more doubts. At fifty, I knew the will of heaven. At sixty, I was ready to listen to it. At seventy, I could follow my heart's desire without transgressing what was right. Analects, 2:4
The inner pole of Confucianism was reformist, idealistic, and spiritual. It generated a high ideal for family interaction: members were to treat each other with love, respect, and consideration for the needs of all. It prescribed a lofty ideal for the state: the ruler was to be a father to his people and look after their basic needs. It required officials to criticize their rulers and refuse to serve the corrupt. This inner and idealist wing spawned a Confucian reformation known in the West as Neo-Confucianism. The movement produced reformers, philanthropists, dedicated teachers and officials, and social philosophers from the eleventh through the nineteenth centuries.
The idealist wing of Confucianism had a religious character. Its ideals were transcendent, not in the sense that they were otherworldly (the Confucians were not interested in a far-off heavenly realm), but in the sense of the transcendent ideal–perfection. On the one hand, Confucian values are so closely linked with everyday life that they sometimes seem trivial. Everyday life is so familiar that we do not take its moral content seriously. We are each a friend to someone, or a parent, or certainly the child of a parent.
On the other hand, Confucians
remind us that the familiar ideals of friendship, parenthood, and filiality
are far from trivial; in real life we only rarely attain these ideals.
We all too often just go through the motions, too preoccupied to give
our full attention to the relationship. If we consistently and wholeheartedly
realized our potential to be the very best friend, parent, son, or daughter
humanly possible, we would establish a level of caring, of moral excellence,
that would approach the utopian. This is Confucian transcendence: to
take the actions of everyday life seriously as the arena of moral and
Although since the revolution, the public ideology of the People's Republic has abandoned Confucian teachings, one can say that there is a continuity of form: like Confucianism before it, Maoism teaches a commitment to transforming the world by applying the lessons of a utopian ideology to the actions and institutions of everyday life. This is not to claim that Mao was a "closet Confucian," but to emphasize that the Confucian way was virtually synonymous with the Chinese way. Both Confucianism and Maoism are uniquely Chinese.
There are approximately 6 million Confucians in the world. About 26,000 live in North America; almost all of the remainder are found throughout China and the rest of Asia.
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