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Confucius, traditional representation from the Tang period

Confucius - Latinized from Kong Fuzi ( Chinese  孔夫子 , Pinyin Kǒng Fūzǐ , W.-G. K'ung-fu-tzu  - "Teacher Kǒng") - in Chinese also Kǒng Zǐ ( 孔子 , K'ung-tzǔ  - "Master Kǒng "obsolete after Wilhelm Confucius , Vissière Kong tseu transcribed ) called, was a Chinese philosopher at the time of the Eastern Zhou dynasty . He probably lived from 551 BC. BC to 479 BC He was born under the name Kong Qiu ( 孔丘 , Kǒng Qiū , K'ung Ch'iu ) in the city of Qufu in the Chinese state of Lu (today's Shandong Province ), where he also died.

The central theme of his teachings was human order, which in his opinion can be achieved through respect for other people and ancestor worship . The ideal was Confucius the "noble" ( jūnzĭ , 君子 ), a morally good person. Man can be noble when he is in harmony with the world as a whole: "To find the pivot that unites our moral being with the all-embracing order, the central harmony", Confucius saw as the highest human goal. "Harmony and center, equanimity and balance " were considered worthwhile to strive for. Confucius saw the way to achieve this primarily in education .

Name story

Kǒng Zǐ gave its name to the teachings of the School of Scholars known in the West as Confucianism . Another name that can be found in the literature is 孔夫子 , Kǒng Fūzǐ , (more polite salutation) in German Master Confucius . The ending "-us" has its origin in the fact that his texts were first translated into Latin by the Jesuits . So “Kǒng Fūzǐ” became “Confucius”. Another common transcription by Stange is Kung Fu Tse . His real name is Kǒng Qiū (Qiū from the Kǒng family) and in Lùnyǔ he usually calls himself “Qiū”.

The Kǒng family continues to exist in a straight line, making it one of the oldest proven families in the world. Because of the age of the family tree, there are thousands of families today who can trace their gender directly back to Kǒng. At the temple-like property of Kǒng Zǐ, the family has its own cemetery, where relatives who can be proven to belong to the Kǒng family are still buried today.

A descendant of the 75th generation now lives in Taiwan . A Kǒng family in Qufu also traces its ancestry back to Confucius.


There is an extensive tradition of the life and deeds of Confucius. The credibility of the tradition is disputed in detail. The following presentation is based on this tradition ( Shiji ) and authors of the present.

Traditional biography

Confucius tomb at the end of the 19th century
Statue of Confucius in Berlin-Marzahn (2008)

A detailed chapter in the historical annals ( Shiji ) of Sima Qian , who lived and wrote centuries later during the Han dynasty , reports on the life and work of Confucius . Here it says: The ancestors of Confucius were the kings of Shang, to whom the king of Zhou had given the fief of Song after the fall of the Shang dynasty . However, the family later became impoverished. Confucius lost his father in his early youth and was raised by his mother alone as a half- orphan.

At the age of 19, Confucius married and entered the service of the State of Lu. At the age of 50 he is said to have succeeded in obtaining a ministerial post. However, he is said to have resigned from this post a few years later. He then moved with his students as a traveling teacher from one feudal state to another and worked as an advisor at various royal courts. He returned to his home state of Lu three years before his death. Success was not granted to him during his lifetime. It was only his students who expanded his teaching and gained influence.

Two years after his birth, 551 BC. In Lu (present-day Shandong), his father died and the young Confucius received 539-533 BC. Private lessons from his grandfather. In the years 532–502 BC He was employed as a barn overseer and in other low-level jobs.

His mother died in 529 BC. After an alleged meeting with Laozi in Luoyang in 518 BC. Two years later he had to flee from internal power struggles and seek exile in the neighboring state of Qi . After his return to Lu began around 500 BC. The political rise of Confucius. He was first Minister of Construction and then Minister of Justice of Lu and finally in 498 BC. Deputy Chancellor.

497 BC BC Duke Ding von Lu accepted 80 singing girls as a gift from the neighboring state of Qi, whereupon Confucius went into exile again. Courtly intrigues also induced him to leave the country and embark on a 13-year wandering through various states. He visited one by one

  • 495 BC Chr. Wei state
  • 494 BC State of Chen
  • 492 BC Chr. Wei, then Jin
  • 490 BC BC State of Cai
  • 489 BC Confrontations between Chen and Cai almost starved Confucius
  • 488 BC Chr. Wei state

It wasn't until 484 BC. The recall to Lu took place. There he experienced 482 BC The death of his son Bo Yu and 481 BC. The death of Yan Hui and the assassination of the Duke of Qi. This is also known as the beginning of the “ Warring States Period ”. 480 BC His disciple Zilu died on the battlefield, and Confucius himself died a year later.


No writings have come down to us from Confucius himself. His teachings were not written down by his followers until about 100 years later. Most of his world of ideas we learn from the conversation ( Lúnyǔ , 論語  /  论语 ), today as Analects of Confucius known in which many of his sayings have survived.

Confucius was a ju and the founder of the Ju School, known in the west as the Confucian School. The philologist Liu Xin († 23 AD), considered important in his time , wrote in the summaries of his comparative textual research in the imperial library with a view to this school that it “ pleased with the study of Liu Yi and above all affairs as emphasized humanity and righteousness ”. The term Liu Yi means the 'six arts', e.g. B. the six liberal arts, but it is generally translated as the "six classics".

The teachings of Confucius shaped the philosophy, political and social doctrine of China and influenced the politics and morals of the country for centuries. It also had an impact on politics and thinking in Japan and Korea. There it was remembered as a strange but positive suggestion and was adapted to the circumstances. Common elements of these Confucian cultures were the emphasis on social relationships and social hierarchies, the priority of domestic policy over foreign policy and the conviction that people are fundamentally educable. Ideas that wanted to establish a social and political egalitarianism to the detriment of the hierarchical order were rejected . For the doctrine of the state, the teachings of Confucius gave rise to the justification of imperial rule on the one hand, and on the other hand it gave the Confucianist-trained officials of the court the opportunity to restrict the power of the ruler and the military. So it served the common good-oriented balance of interests, or, as Confucianists put it, the "principle of applying an appropriate balance".

In the words of Confucius:

Anyone who rules a state of 1,000 chariots must be correct and conscientious in everything they do. He must be able to be moderate and love people. His demands on the people must not be arbitrary. "

The experience that everyone can educate themselves is the reason for the general opinion that every person can be educated, as the following Confucian proverb says:

When you see someone worthy, try to emulate him. If you see an unworthy one, then examine yourself inside! "

The noble one

The most influential work in East Asian intellectual history is the Lúnyǔ . It contains the four basic Confucian virtues:

For Confucius, the human ideal is the noble one who seeks to realize these four virtues. For Confucius these represent only an ideal. This also emerges in the Lúnyǔ when it says about the master himself: “Isn't that the man who knows that his ideas cannot be realized, but still does not give up? “Even Confucius himself does not claim to fulfill this ideal (XIV, 28):

“The path of the noble involves three things, but I can't manage it: Correct behavior towards other people - it frees you from worries. Wisdom - it guards against doubt. Determination - it overcomes fear. "Zi-gong remarked," This is how the Master judges himself. "

The one whom Confucius had the greatest respect and who was considered an example of the truly noble was Wu Tai Bo ( 吳太伯  /  吴太伯 ). In the 8th chapter (Lúnyǔ · Tàibó - 论语 · 泰伯) it is already written about Wu Tai Bo at the beginning of the chapter: “Tai Bo is a truly noble person. He has a very high moral character. He had renounced his own royal throne three times. Right words cannot be found for the common people to praise him. "

The route is the goal

The noble strives to come as close as possible to this ideal, but he knows that it is unattainable. So honest endeavor is factual action, while the ideal is the wishful thinking for one's own actions. To strive for it is a condition of becoming noble (VII, 8):

“I will not reveal the truth to anyone who does not strive for it. I will not teach anyone who does not look for the right words himself. Let us assume that I show someone a corner and he is unable to infer the other three corners, then I do not repeat. "


This striving needs a yardstick in order to be able to shape one's own lifestyle independently. Everyone has it in them, says Confucius, and can therefore use it at any time. This standard is one's own humanity ( rén , ), which serves as a model for practicing humanity. Confucius thinks the latter is easy when he says: “Is ren really far away? I long for rén and it's okay! rén is at hand. ”(Analects VII, 29) So you do not need any special talents to become a noble, everyone can achieve this through appropriate instruction (XVII, 2):“ By nature people are similar to one another. Through education (instruction) they move away from each other. "


The fact that people are different does not mean that they are by nature. Anyone who takes this error as an opportunity to deny people access to education because they are unsuitable according to their disposition, fails to recognize the cause (upbringing) of the differences between people. Therefore Confucius (XV, 39) demands:

“Education should be accessible to everyone. You can't make class differences. "

Confucius gives high priority to learning. It is the preferred means of forming the noble, to form - the superior is thus formed literally. The first sentence of Lùnyǔ reads: “Learning and applying what has been learned at the right time, isn't that also a pleasure?” For Confucius, learning is what makes a person human; as a cultural being, it is determined by the fact that it passes on knowledge through the formation of traditions. It is essential that education is inextricably linked with the moral demand for self-cultivation (XIV, 24): “Confucius said:“ In ancient times one learned to perfect oneself; today, on the other hand, one learns in order to have something to do with others. ”“ Confucius refused to use education as a mere means for selfish and vile ends. For Confucius, learning and education is a task that everyone has (XI, 25):

“[Disciple] Zi-gao was appointed prefect of Bi by Zi-lu [another disciple]. Confucius said: “With that you spoil the son of strangers.” Zi-lu justified himself: “He has to rule the country and the people there. Why is it important to read books in order to learn something? "But the master replied," Because of such excuses, tongue-tied people of your kind arouse my reluctance. ""

However, for Confucius there is a difference between "dead knowledge" and true education (XIII, 5):

"Confucius said," Suppose someone can recite all three hundred pieces of the 'Book of Songs' by heart. But if he is given a responsible job, he will fail. ... Such a person has learned a lot, but what use is it? ""

Philosophy of the so-is-it

The first lesson in the Lùnyǔ reads:

original Pinyin translation
學 而 時 習 之,
不 亦 說 乎?
xué ér shí xí zhī,
bù yì yuè hū?
"Learning and applying what you have learned at the right time, isn't that a pleasure too?"
有 朋 自 遠方 來,
yǒu péng zì yuǎn fāng lái,
bù yì lè hū?
"When a friend comes from far away, isn't that a pleasure too?"
人 不知 而不 慍,
不 亦 君子 乎?
rén bù zhī ér bú yùn,
bù yì jūnzǐ hū?
"To be misunderstood by people, but not to grieve,
isn't that also the attitude of a noble one?"

Confucius taught a so-is-it philosophy: "When a friend comes from far away, isn't that also a pleasure?" The most influential work in East Asian intellectual history begins with a simple statement, not speculation about the world's first causes or highest principles, such as in Greek philosophy. Confucius also has no Descartesian doubts as to whether the outside world really exists. The world is there and must be lived in it. Confucius is now concerned with determining how they are, without tracing it back to other principles. So there is a pragmatic attitude towards the world.

Order as a condition for freedom

The central subject of Confucius' teaching is the (social) order, i.e. the relationship between child and parents, superiors and subordinates, ancestor worship, rites and customs. Confucius taught that only through order does freedom open up for man. Just as the rules of a game are a prerequisite for freedom to play, a well-ordered society first creates the structures for a free human life. Just as every player accepts the rules out of freedom, the noble one also accepts morality and duties. Order does not suppress freedom, but only opens up a space for action in which human activities get meaning. Unregulated, chaotic conditions, on the other hand, create a climate of bondage, coercion and distress.

While Confucius' living teaching still included a flexibility to social rules in order to keep them from freezing, in parts of Confucianism the rules became an end in themselves and actually began to be more restrictive than liberating. Confucius must have been aware of this potential danger of rigorous degeneration when, for example, he speaks about spirit worship (VI, 22):

“[The student] Fan Chi asked what wisdom was. Confucius replied: "To stand by the duties that one has towards the people, to worship the spirits but not to be absorbed in them - that can be called wisdom."

Confucius set great store by not demanding morality, which regulates social relations, independently of the specific person. How a person behaves morally is relative to his own person. The interpersonal order does not follow a rigid organizational chart (XI, 22):

“Zi-lu asked the master if he should apply what he had heard about the principles of right moral conduct immediately. Confucius replied, “You have parents and brothers. So how can you want to act on it immediately? ”
Ran Qiu asked Master whether he should apply what he had heard about the principles of right and moral conduct immediately. But Confucius answered him: "Do what you have heard."

In the same didactic piece, Confucius explains: “Ran Qiu is a person who is reluctant to take action. So I encourage him. Zi-lu is a daredevil. That's why I'm holding him back. ”The desired order therefore only provides one direction in which each person should move according to his own strengths.



Confucius Tomb in Qufu

Confucianism is one of the philosophical-political currents in China that emerged as an answer to a profound crisis in society and that follows on from Confucius' teachings. Already in Lùnyǔ Confucius (XVIII, 6) says: "If the world were in order, then I would not have to bother with changing it."

The term "Confucianism", however, is a western coinage with no exact Chinese equivalent. The next Chinese expression Kǒngjiào ( 孔教  - "Teaching of Confucius") - formed analogously to Fójiào ( 佛教  - "Teaching of Buddha" = Buddhism ) and Dàojiào ( 道教  - "Teaching of Dao " = Daoism ) - refers to the religious Cult practiced around the person of Confucius. The term Rújiā ( 儒家 ) used in China can be understood literally as “school ( , jiā ) of scholars ( , )”, whereby the term “ , rú” comes from the time of the spring and autumn annals and for them "Serving scholars of the aristocratic class" stands, who are familiar with poetry, literature, rites and music and who were socially subordinate to the ruling class who were mostly skilled in the art of war.

Political-cultural use

The difficulty of determining what “Confucianism” actually is is offset by a very undifferentiated everyday use of the term in the West. The label "Confucian" is mostly used here for the ethical system which (controversially) is based on the behavior of Chinese (or Koreans) who grew up with a "Confucian" background. It should be noted that most users of this term themselves have no idea what this 'Confucianism' could characterize. In the course of the opening of the Chinese markets, similar trends can also be observed in China, where Confucius has been acceptable again since the beginning of the nineteen-nineties. Here they serve as an explanatory model for the rapid economic growth and have an apologetic function for the rapid growth of social inequality. It is pointed out unilaterally that Confucius emphasizes the blessings of a “stable political order”, which is linked to the Confucian “harmony”, a term that has become the ubiquitous motto of the Communist Party, especially in the years after the Millennium. The fact that Confucius originally cared about social mobility is ignored. Compared to inherited power structures, he asserted the educational path as an opportunity for advancement, which is open to everyone:

“Before Confucius, culture was the secret of the saints on the throne. Through Confucius, the "uncrowned king", she was entrusted to a school of educated people who, as advisers and ministers to rulers and kings, ensured that where they had influence, power was sanctified by law and custom. ... Confucius' problem was the natural organization of humanity. To build his system, he chose an ellipse with two focal points. For him, the one focal point was the human being, the other human society. "( Richard Wilhelm )


The teachings of Confucius were passed on from Zeng Zi to Zi Si , the grandson of the master, and after his death by his students to Menzius .

The tradition names 77 outstanding students of Confucius. Of these, Yan Yuan, Min Ziqian, Ran Boniu and Zhong Gong stood out in the field of virtue teaching. Ran You and Ji Lu were well versed in government matters. Zai Wo and Zi Gong were good speakers, while Zi You and Zi Xia were known for their knowledge of literature.

The following students are especially mentioned:

  • 顏回 Yan Hui (30 years younger than Confucius)
  • 閔 損 Min Sun (15 years younger than Confucius)
  • 冉 雍 Ran Yong (29 years younger than Confucius): came from the lowest social classes
  • 仲 由 Zhong You (9 years younger than Confucius): a rough man who was tempered by Confucius died in a revolt in Wei state
  • 宰予 Zai Yu: was involved in a revolt that caused him to lose his life
  • 端木 賜 Duanmu Ci (31 years younger than Confucius): good speaker and debater, very rich
  • 卜 商 Bu Shang (45 years younger than Confucius): teacher of Duke Wen von Wei, after whose death he wept so that he went blind
  • 澹臺滅明 Dantai Mieming (39 years younger than Confucius): had 300 students
  • 原 憲 Yuan Xian: very poor
  • 顓 孫 師 Zhuan Sunshi (48 years younger than Confucius)
  • 曾參 Zeng Shen (46 years younger than Confucius): wrote the Xiaojing
  • 樊 須 Fan Xu (36 years younger than Confucius)
  • 有 若 You Ruo (43 years younger than Confucius): resembled the master
  • 公冶長 Gongye Zhang: Confucius' son-in-law
  • 南宮 括 Nangong Guo: married the niece of Confucius
  • 公 皙 哀 Gongxi Ai (42 years younger than Confucius)

Four books

The Four Books ( 四 書  /  四 书 , Sì Shū ) are four canonical books of Confucian teachings that were compiled by the neo-Confucian Zhu Xi in the 12th century.

Five classics

There are the so-called Five Classics of Confucianism that Confucius recommends studying :

  • 易經 Yijing ( I-Ching ), the book of changes ( sixty-four hexagrams , text book of the fortune teller)
  • 詩經 Shijing , the Book of Songs (A Collection of Ancient Folk Songs)
  • 書 經 Shujing , the Book of Documents (collection of laws and edicts with commentary)
  • 禮記 Liji , the book of rites (rites for dealing with the ancestors, the king, the family)
  • 春秋 Chunqiu , the spring and autumn annals (a chronicle of the events of his home state Lu from the 8th to the 5th centuries BC)

Traditional research believed that these books were all authored, or at least edited and edited by Confucius. More recent research, however, states: "It is ... a fact that Confucius was neither an author, commentator, not even editor of one of these classics." Confucius found all of these books and used them for his teaching. This was the Confucian way of recommending them.

Thirteen classics

There are also the so-called thirteen classics of canonical Confucius literature, including the Lúnyǔ , which contains the doctrinal conversations of Confucius. The Lúnyǔ also belongs to the Nine Classics , but not to the Five Classics .



  • Confucius , UK 2016, directed by Yan Dong (89 min.).

Feature films

See also

Web links

Commons : Confucius  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. z. B. with Richard Wilhelm : Kung-tse. Life and work . Frommann, 1925; Albert Schweitzer : History of Chinese Thought . CH Beck, 2002, p. 142.
  2. z. B. Adolf Wuttke : History of paganism in relation to religion, knowledge, art, morality and political life. Josef Max, 1853, p. 6ff.
  3. See Ernst Schwarz : Confucius: Conversations of the Master Kung (Lun-Yü), with the biography from the "Historical Records" . Munich 1985.
  4. The controversial dates of this presentation are based on the classical Chinese tradition of Shih Chi (Historical Reports), China's first dynastic history up to the year 86 BC. They were used u. a. in the publications by Heiner Roetz : Confucius , Munich 1995, and Xuewu Gu : Confucius , Hamburg., 1999
  5. On this section, cf. Feng Youlan (Fung You-Lan): A short history of Chinese philosophy , New York 1966, 30th edition, p. 38.
  6. Cf. Feng Yu-Lan: A short history of Chinese philosophy , New York 1966, p. 31 and 39.
  7. See section: Helwig Schmidt-Glintzer: History of Chinese Literature: from the beginnings to the present. Munich 1999, p. 61f. - Also Fung Yu-Lan : A short history of Chinese philosophy, New York 1966, p. 43.
  8. Helwig Schmidt-Glintzer: History of Chinese Literature: From the Beginning to the Present , Munich 1999, p. 64.
  9. Confucius: Conversations , trans. v. Ralf Moritz, Reclam, Stuttgart 1998, p. 95.
  10. a b Confucius: Conversations , trans. v. Ralf Moritz, Reclam, Stuttgart 1998, p. 93.
  11. (Source: 泰伯 第八 《论语 · 泰伯 »“ 子曰: '泰伯 , 其 可谓 至德 也 已矣! 三 以 天下 让 , 民 无 得 而 称 焉.')
  12. This saying has found its way into everyday German and is often ascribed to Confucius. It corresponds to the Confucian spirit, without such a sentence being found in the traditional scriptures. Compare. The way is the goal. , in the dictionary for expressions on
  13. ^ Confucius: Conversations . Trans. V. Ralf Moritz, Reclam, Stuttgart 1998, p. 39.
  14. Feng Youlan (Fung Yu-Lan): A short history of Chinese philosophy , New York (The Free Press) 1966, 30th edition. P. 44.
  15. Confucius: Conversations , trans. v. Ralf Moritz, Reclam, Stuttgart 1998, p. 112.
  16. ^ Confucius: Conversations . Trans. V. Ralf Moritz, Reclam, Stuttgart 1998, p. 105.
  17. ^ Confucius: Conversations . Trans. V. Ralf Moritz, Reclam, Stuttgart 1998, p. 68.
  18. ^ Confucius: Conversations . Trans. V. Ralf Moritz, Reclam, Stuttgart 1998, p. 80.
  19. ^ Confucius: Conversations . Trans. V. Ralf Moritz, Reclam, Stuttgart 1998, p. 36.
  20. a b Confucius: Conversations . Trans. V. Ralf Moritz, Reclam, Stuttgart 1998, p. 67.
  21. ^ Confucius: Conversations . Trans. V. Ralf Moritz, Reclam, Stuttgart 1998, p. 121.
  22. Feng Youlan (Fung You-Lan): A short history of Chinese philosophy , New York 1966, 30th edition, p. 39.
  23. See e.g. B. Wolfgang Bauer : History of Chinese Philosophy , Munich 2001, p. 45. Also Richard Wilhelm : Chinese Philosophy , Wiesbaden 2007, p. 34.
  24. Broadcast page on ( memento from May 24, 2018 in the Internet Archive ), accessed on October 4, 2019