Confucianism (pronounced kuhn-fue'-shuhn-izm), the philosophical system founded on the teaching of Confucius (551–479 B.C.), dominated the sociopolitical life of China for most of that country's history and largely influenced the cultures of Korea, Japan, and Indochina. The Confucian school functioned as a recruiting ground for government positions, which were filled by those scoring highest on examinations in the Confucian classics. It also blended with popular and imported religions and became the vehicle for articulating Chinese mores to the peasants. The school's doctrines supported political authority using the theory of the mandate of heaven. It sought to help the rulers maintain domestic order, preserve tradition, and maintain a constant standard of living for the taxpaying peasants. It trained its adherents in benevolence, traditional rituals, filial piety, loyalty, respect for superiors and for the aged, and principled flexibility in advising rulers.
Westerners use Confucius as the spelling for Kong Fuzi (K'ung Fu-tzu; Master Kong), China's first and most famous philosopher. Confucius had a traditional personal name (Qiu, or Ch'iu) and a formal name (Zhongni, or Chung-ni). Confucius's father died shortly after Confucius's birth. His family fell into relative poverty, and Confucius joined a growing class of impoverished descendants of aristocrats who made their careers by acquiring knowledge of feudal ritual and taking positions of influence serving the rulers of the fragmented states of ancient China. Confucius devoted himself to learning. At age 30, however, when his short-lived official career floundered, he turned to teaching others. Confucius himself never wrote down his own philosophy, although tradition credits him with editing some of the historical classics that were used as texts in his school. He apparently made an enormous impact on the lives and attitudes of his disciples,...