The Confucian Veneration’s Four Dimensions


Confucianism is a Chinese ethical and political doctrine, associated with the name of Confucius (551-479 BC). The central problems considered in Confucianism are the questions about ordering relations between rulers and subjects, as well as the moral qualities which the governor and a subordinate should have, etc.

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Formally, Confucianism has never been a religion because it has never been the institution of the church. However, its significance, its degree of penetration into the soul, teaching awareness, and influence on the formation of the behavioral pattern made it successful in the fulfillment of the religious role.

Beginning in the II century BC, Confucianism became the official ideology of China. Every officer had to prove his knowledge of the main ideas of Confucius' teachings, by participating in the exams. Confucian norms and values became universally recognized and turned into a symbol of “veritable Chinese.” It gradually led to the fact that every Chinese by birth and upbringing was primarily to be a Confucian.

The paper will analyze and try to explain four main dimensions of Confucianism.

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Four Dimensions of Confucianism

Readers may find four principle concepts of Confucianism in the Analects, a collection of Confucius’ writings. These concepts are Theodicy, Harmonious Order, Moral Force, and Self-Cultivation.

The term theodicy comes from the word tian (Heaven). Confucius believed that tian was an absolute power in the world. He considered this power in three ways: “its alignment with moral goodness; its dependence on human agents to actualize its will; the variable, unpredictable nature of its associations with mortal actors” (Sabir 270). It is a great start, the supreme deity, who is dictating his will to a man. Heaven is the universal ancestor and the Great steward; it gave birth to the human race and provides it with vital rules.

The cult tian is associated with the social teachings of Confucius about the “correction of names.” The meaning of this notion is that everyone should answer his/her purpose and be obedient (by subordination). It means that everyone must behave by his/her social status. To show an example of such a state, he referred to the ancient scriptures; there, a sample of this state can be found. Confucius pointed to the moral authority of the power that the government is the correction.

Confucianism promises people all the benefits of the world and earthly happiness. Instead of that, a human acknowledges oneself only as a part of the established social system. In the culture of ancient China (and other ancient civilizations) the “natural theory of language became widespread,” according to which names matched the ideal essence of things and phenomena that these names denoted. However, with the lapse of time, this correspondence was broken (for example, when the names were used by ignorant people). This corruption of names led to the deterioration of affairs in the world. Confucius supported approximately this point of view. He believed that the correction of names was necessary for the restoration of order in the world (both in society and nature). That meant a change of things according to their names.

The basis of the doctrine of the clear hierarchical division of roles in society, as well as of the correct understanding of objects and their use, has become the concept of “correction of names.”

One duke asked Confucius, what the proper principle of government was. Confucius replied: “Let?the?ruler?be?a?ruler; the? minister, a minister; the father, a father; the son, a son” (“Selections from the Confucian Analects” 1).

It means that the person who is the ruler must act by dao of the ruler, the minister - with dao of the minister, etc. If a person acts differently while holding the post of a governor or a minister and is called as such, though, in fact, he is not a governor or a minister, it is not right. Meanwhile, the governor was urged to manage people not on the ground of laws and punishments, but on an example of personal virtue and moral conduct, based on customary law, without burdening the people with heavy taxes and duties.

Although Confucius was a great scholar and mentor, his influence was not limited to academia. His purpose was not only to teach people the rules of conduct and morality but also to restore peace and order in society, which was tortured by endless feudal wars. Therefore, Confucius taught that every man, from the emperor to the commoner, should know his/her place in society and live accordingly.

The concept of harmonious order distinguishes three types of order: social, moral, and aesthetic. The linking part for all three types is li (ritual/propriety).

At the center of his doctrine, Confucius designed a concept of li. According to it, there was the doctrine of the “noble man” who follows the rules of li. A “nobleman” thinks primarily about how to live without breaking laws. He is obliged to comply with the requirements of the ritual. It includes adherence to many moral rules. A “nobleman” is contrasted with a “fallen man.” Not a person’s origin and wealth make a high man, but education and culture, and high moral qualities.

The main qualities of a “nobleman” are the following:

· humanity (if we don’t want something to be done to us, we should not do it to people);

· reverence of sons (esteem to parents and respect to older brothers);

· etiquette (if you don’t know the etiquette, you are not able to grow in the proper behavior);

· duty, equity (the meaning of life consists in the execution of duty, even when it is contrary to personal interests and profits, or is an action without a purpose);

· knowledge of the fate or the will of heaven (the one who does not know the mines cannot be a good man).

The opposite of a nobleman is a fallen man, a low man, who has the following qualities: he thinks only of his advantage; demands from others; can be judged by the trifles; follows other people, but does not live in harmony with them; it is difficult to oblige him, but it is easy to hold a cheap joy; he commits suicide in the gutter; he does not know the decrees of Heaven, and is not afraid of it; despises great men; does not pay attention to the words of the wise.

Thereby, the principle of li was the foundation upon which the social structure of Chinese society was built. The literal meaning of li is norm, ceremony, or order. The sense of this rule was the demand for the observance of eternally established hierarchical differences. Confucius said that public order was impossible without li, as well as the welfare and prosperity of the state. If there is no li, then there is no distinction between sovereign and subjects, the upper and lower echelons, the old and young. Li is the established order of things.

Li is the most important notion in a life of a human. Without li, people do not know how they should venerate the spirits of the universe, how to perform the conjugal duty, how parents should treat children, and how a brother should deal with a brother. Without li, people do not know where there is the place of the emperor and the nobles, the rulers and the governed, senior and junior, and what is the measure of domination in the family.

So, li is the rule that guides a true nobleman regarding their relations with others. If everyone lives by li, everything stands in the right place in the family, in the state, and the universe, and thereby, do comply. However, the concept of li is someway expressed in practice. It is time to think about another chief concept of Confucianism, ren, which means “love of mankind,” or “humaneness.” Thus, according to Confucius, adherence to li will help a person to behave correctly in any situation, and the development and perfection of ren will help him/her to treat everyone kindly. The idea is that these principles should bring peace and harmony to society. The ideal of Confucianism, based on the principles of li and ren, can be summarized as follows: kindness in the father, piety in the son; courtesy in the older brother, humility and respect in the younger; respectability in a husband, obedience in his wife; humanity in an older, obedience in a junior; benevolence in the governers, devotion in the nobles and subjects.

Moral force is known as de (virtue). It is the quality of a prosperous ruler, which is related to ethics. He is ruled by “setting a good example” (Ross). According to Confucius, de mainly acts as a virtue and includes the following qualities: loyalty, trust, duty, and equity.

The moral force of the ruler is not higher than that of the nobleman. The direction based on de is related to the maintenance of peace using li (ethical and ritual decency) and is contrasted with the defective government, based on the law and punishment.

Judging by this statement, a person with de is a master, he/she attracts people, causes them to be obedient to his/her will, but affects them surreptitiously, without revealing himself/herself. A person with de does not require the others’ worship, but the others honor him/her; he/she does not prove his/her rightness, but everyone believes him/her. A person with de does not please others, but the others make themselves kindly. “Moral force is not solitary, it has neighbors” (de Bary, Bloom, and Adler 49).

Confucius rejects everything supernatural as such, in particular, he rejects de - a kind of strength, grace, and charisma. It is “an inner power, which can work either for good or evil” (de Bary, Bloom, and Adler 569). The one who wants to develop de has to stop thinking, to becoming like a child. Then, he/she will be able to “know without moving, understand without seeing, succeed without doing” (de Bary, Bloom, and Adler 89).

The concept of self-cultivation was meant to “bring peace to the world and order to family and social relationships” (de Bary, Bloom, and Adler 646). There were two different kinds of people – profound and small. For cultivating individual potential, a person should bring himself/herself into comparison with traditional social, moral, and esthetic foundations. Confucius believed that self-cultivation began in the family. When a person cultivates himself/herself, he/she will have order in the family, and consequently, in the state.

Confucius attached great importance to education and politeness. However, he believed that only members of the nobility may have wisdom, which is based on innate knowledge, constituting the highest kind of knowledge. Recognizing the existence of the “Lord of Heaven” and spirits, Confucius believed in fate. Confucius thus followed traditional religious opinions and folk beliefs.

Confucius treated the relationship between people seriously. According to him, any society must be bound to the following criteria: 1) husband and wife; 2) parent and child; 3) ruler and subject; 4) children of parents; 5) the attitude of friends.

Confucius emphasized the importance of relationships in society. Confucius believed that the study of traditional rituals and ceremonies would help to balance the education of sincerity in the highest ideals of society. In Confucianism, there is adherence to patriarchy. Confucius was of little interest to natural-philosophical issues, such as the nature and frame of the world (both terrestrial and celestial).

Confucius attached exceptional importance to rituals and a cult of ancient gods. He devoted high attention to the funeral rites. The principle of sons’ reverence was an extensive teaching about respect for parents. He said, “Keep warm the old, appreciate the new” (Lecture from October 15). While parents are alive, their sons and daughters should serve them according to the ritual. After their death, parents must be buried according to the ritual, and all the sacral sacrifices must be made. The principle of sons’ reverence is closely connected to other fundamental principles of Confucianism, such as humaneness, ritual, and duty.

Confucius is a representative of the traditional Chinese worldview, for which the way of the Tao (Dao) is the path of rituals. In other words, everything that exists, according to these views, is organized on the principle of correspondence: the rite is existence itself. In rotation of nature, calendar changes, etc., there is nothing but rituals. For example, if it snows, then the Heavens perform the ceremony. Typically, it snows in winter because it is also a ritual. And if it snows in summer, it is a violation of the ritual.

A ritual is reproduced in human existence as well as in the whole space because it is everywhere the same. However, in the social life of a man, this ritual takes the form of etiquette, i.e. acquires the traditional form of relationship between people - between social and age groups of the population. There are older and younger; there are noblemen and commoners; there are men and women. Each of these groups has its character, its laws, and a way of behavior. If a prince is passing near a commoner, the commoner must bow fifteen times to his chariot. If it is a crowd of ordinary people around a prince, he must watch over their heads while talking with them. Thus, the conclusion may be made that etiquette is a set of norms of behavior of certain groups of the population.

Etiquette also acts as a means by which a person retains his or her individuality (his/her face). For example, if a person is a prince, no commoner shall dare to insult him/her. And if he/she is a commoner, no prince will insult him/her, because the way of his behavior is fixed since ancient times, and it is granted by the gods. Thus, etiquette is a shield to a man against people around him and to people around against this man. Etiquette is important because it stores the regularities that exist in space in human society. So, people who are following etiquette always are “philanthropic,” and people who are not following courtesy are “inhuman.” The one who does not violate the etiquette is fair and virtuous.

Confucius was almost not interested in the problems of cosmogony. He paid little attention to the doctrine of spirits and the afterlife. “When you do not know yet life, how can know about death?” “Before you have learned to serve human beings, how can you serve spirits?” (de Bary, Bloom, and Adler 54). However, Confucius advocated the preservation of existing customs. He insisted on a thorough and rigorous performing of rites and ceremonies. Especially, he emphasized the ritual of sacrifice to the ancestors, as an important way of showing respect to them. He believed that by strict adherence to tradition, sanctified by antiquity, humans can return to their sources. In such a way, people can achieve the revival of the “Golden age” and build a society of harmony and justice again.

Confucius was also a teacher; a significant place in his teaching was pedagogy and parenting issues. The content of pedagogics was the requirement of good knowledge of “the old,” the Chinese tradition, and the veneration of the teachers. Obedience to the teacher was aimed at eliminating errors. A significant role was assigned to moral education.

Confucius preached the need to learn; he condemned laziness, idleness, boasting, and stupidity. Confucius saw the basic management tool for people as the power of an example, and even in the belief, not in pure coercion.

In summary, it must be specified that Confucianism is primarily an ethical and philosophical doctrine. Confucius “developed his ethics around two central theses.


In conclusion, it becomes understandable that Confucianism answers all the questions that confronted the man in his complex and confusing life. It helps him to determine his place in the universe, his role in history, and his position among the people. The doctrine was created as a result of the reflection on the complicated life of Confucius, a man who found peace of mind and quiet confidence in the correctness of his actions. He developed his system of rules, which permitted people to live and work in this world. This system is expounded in the Analects, and for twenty-five centuries, it has supported the morale of the Chinese people and allowed them to survive despite enormous difficulties. Eventually, they fight with these difficulties; they humbly accept them as a punishment.

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