Confucianism is a moral and religious system of China. Its origins go back to the Analects, the sayings attributed to Confucius, and to ancient writings, including that of Mencius. Confucius was born a mandarin under the name Kongzi. It was developed around 550 B.C. In its earliest form Confucianism was primarily a system of ethical concepts for the control of society. It saw man as a social creature that is bound to his fellow men by jen, or “humanity.” Jen is expressed through the five relationships—sovereign and subject, parent and child, elder and younger brother, husband and wife, and friend and friend. Of these, the filial relation is most important.
The relationships are said to function smoothly if you stress li, which is a combination of etiquette and rituals. In some of these relationships a person may be superior to some and inferior to others. If a person in a lower status wishes to be properly treated that person must treat his or her own inferiors with respect. Correct conduct is thought to be gained through a sense of virtue gained by observing a role model of the higher status. The ruler, as the moral role model of the whole state, must be strict, but virtuous to all his subjects.
The early philosophers recognized that the “great commonwealth,” the union of citizens under ethical rule, would take a long time to achieve, but believed that it might be constantly improved by practicing the “rectification of names.” This is the examination of the behavior of a title or a group as it corresponds to its name. For example the title of king should not be given to one who issues excessive taxes, and allows others to influence the rule of his kingdom. The practice of offering sacrifices and other...