Kung Fu Tse
Kung Fu Tse (Confucius)

Kung Fu Tse
(551 BC - c 479 BC)

Chinese Philosopher and Teacher (Confucius)


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The Life and Teachings of Kung Fu Tse

Kung Fu Tse was a thinker, social philosopher and teacher who lived in China at the time of the Han Dynasty. His teachings emphasised personal and governmental morality, correctness of social relationships, justice and sincerity. These teachings became very influential in much of East Asia and were introduced to Europe by the Jesuit Matteo Ricci who Latinised his name to "Confucius". Much of the story of his life was compiled about 400 years after he lived.

He was born in 551 BC in the town of Qufu (modern Shandong province in China). His 70 year old father (Shu Lianghe) already had nine daughters and one crippled son. He married a 15 year old girl (Yan-she) who bore Kung Fu Tse and died three years later.

An able student, Kung Fu Tse married at 19 but divorced his wife after four years to devote his time to study and learning. He managed stables and worked as a bookkeeper while he educated himself. He was particularly interested in customs and rituals. His mother died when he was 23 and he revived an old burial ceremony for her that had ceased to be used. The ceremony so amazed his fellow citizens that it spread to neighbouring states.

After his studies, Kung Fu Tse worked as a minor administrator in the state of Lu eventually rising to the position of Justice Minister. Disapproving of the state's politics, as well as the methods used in political life, he resigned to devote his life to education. He set up what became the first non-state funded school in China. It was very popular and he turned no student away.

At the age of 50 he went on a twelve year journey around China. He met many rulers and discussed politics with them trying to improve the integrity of their administrations. Concerned by the constant warfare between the various states in China and by the corruption and tyranny of the rulers, he urged a system of morality and statecraft that would preserve peace and provide people with stable and just government. He was not always well received and spent time in prison.

On his return home he spent the last five years of his life writing his political and social thoughts in a series of books called the Five Classics. In his books he presents himself as a transmitter rather than an inventor of ideas. He emphasised the importance of study. In China he is known as The Great Master.

The integrity and behaviour of rulers was important. He thought that rulers had to be chosen on merit, rather than selected by birth. The best rulers, according to him, were those who were devoted to their people and reached for perfection in their professional lives. Such rulers would spread his own virtues to the people instead of imposing proper behaviour with laws and rules. He was a humanist, believing that human beings were worth more than possessions. Duties had to be matched with responsibilities: if a subject must obey the ruler, the subject should also tell the ruler when they are wrong.

In his social philosophy, he believed in strong familial loyalty, worship of ancestors, respect of elders by their younger family members and of husbands by their wives. He taught that the family was the basis for an ideal government. He also expressed the (now well known) principle: "Do not do to others what you do not want done to yourself". It was important that one did the proper thing at the proper time. Attempts to obtain short term pleasure are considered bad. It was better to do things which would make life better in the long term.

What is now called Confucianism is not a religion. The moral system developed by Kung Fu Tse was based upon empathy and understanding others, rather than divinely ordained rules. Virtue is based on harmony with other people.

After he died he became venerated as did his family members. His birth town became a place of pilgrimage. His students wrote down many of their discussions with him - this became The Analects.

The Sayings of Kung Fu Tse (Confucius)

"At 15, I set my mind upon learning; At 30, I took my stand; At 40, I no longer had doubts; At 50, I knew the will of the heavens; At 60, my ear was attuned; At 70, I follow all the desires of my heart without breaking any rule."

"Mankind differs from the animals only by a little and most people throw that away."

"Ignorance is the night of the mind, but a night without moon or star."

"When anger rises, think of the consequences."

"The superior man is modest in his speech but exceeds in his actions."

"Do not be desirous of having things done quickly. Do not look at small advantages. Desire to have things done quickly prevents their being done thoroughly. Looking at small advantages prevents great affairs from being accomplished."

"To have friends come from far away -- isn't that a joy?"

"One who goes unrecognized yet isn't annoyed - isn't that a noble person?"

"Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without."

"A man who has committed a mistake and doesn't correct it, is committing another mistake."

"Our greatest glory is not in never falling but in rising every time we fall."

"A fool despises good counsel, but a wise man takes it to heart."

"By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest."

"The essence of knowledge is, having it, to apply it; not having it, to confess your ignorance."

"Real knowledge is to know the extent of one's ignorance."

"To see what is right and not to do it, is want of courage."

""Simple meals, water to drink, bent elbow for pillow: therein is happiness. Riches and position without righteousness are to me as to floating clouds."

"A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."

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Confucius
Biography of Kung Fu Tse (Confucius)

Confucius Quotes
A series of quotation.