Confucius: the biography (Qiu Kong)

Confucius: the biography (Qiu Kong)

Confucius was born in China in 551 B.C., during the period of springs and autumns in Zou, in the state of Lu what is currently a part of the territory of the province of Shandong. He died in 479 B.C. at the age of 72.

The origin of the name

His ancient Chinese name was Qiu Kong, as evidenced in the title. Subsequently he goes down in history with the name of Kong Fuzi that is Master Kong. It is precisely from this title that the Jesuit masters in the sixteenth century derive the Latin form Confutius . The merit is due in particular to the Italian Jesuit Matteo Ricci who lived between 1552 and 1610, who lived at the time of the Ming Dynasty and is recognized as one of the great missionaries in China.
The form Confucius was due to Prospero Intorcetta in 1666, Italian missionary and Jesuit, first to translate the works of Confucius in Europe.


Confucius descends from an aristocratic family or at least so it can be deduced from the education received. However, he did not grow up between the comforts and economic wealth typical of aristocratic families. This is because the father, already quite old, dies, leaving Qiu’s mother a widow and with few resources. In any case, the fact of descending from a family of officials and his education in the six arts , phased the young Qiu into a member of the class of ru, scholars or specialists who advised the principles and participated in the administration of states.

The other members and ancestors of the family also made themselves famous in literature and science. Confucius’ direct descendants inhabited the very place where he taught and died, and guarded the tomb and temple erected in his honor for the first time in the Han dynasty.

Historical period

We can place his figure on the border between the period of China’s history known as the Springs and Autumns and that of the Warring States .
It is a very particular historical period in China: there was not a single centralized and structured state but the organization was feudal and entrusted to the various noble families who enjoyed economic and organizational autonomy on their territory. They had agreements with the other fiefdoms through marriages, commercial and transit agreements but an overall vision was absent. and to the creation of new socio-economic models.
It is here, in this context permeated by the change that the figure of Confucius emerges.

The wandering Lord

From 496 BC he travels between the states of Wei Song and tries to find work as an adviser to various governors. A thirteen-year journey , teaching above all rites, music and literature. Surrounded by disciples, he also accepted small fees for his work as a popularizer of his thoughts on him.
The trip is actually a real exile away from China as his school of thought was frowned upon by the ruling class of the time so much that he was forced to quit his job of Minister of Justice at the State of Lu and go away.
Upon his return, he resumes his teachings, which return to attract the attention of many, including the authorities of numerous Chinese feudal states, but this time he becomes a highly respected man of the court and a valued ambassador.

The doctrine

Tradition has it that he had a kind of demon who appeared to him in a dream, Duke Zhou, who gave him advice and passed on to him the doctrine of ancient peoples.
Confucius’s religion is not a faith in the strict sense as we can understand it today in the West. In fact, there are no dogmas and there is not even a Church. Nothing is revealed by a Higher essence. It is rather a philosophy of life , both intimate and social in the relationship with men and in society.

The key words to associate with the thought of him are:

  • Virtue
  • Self-control
  • Imitation of the ancients
  • Moderation
  • Love of neighbor
  • Authenticity

For Confucius, man must achieve these human prerequisites through education and self-education without the need for a higher order that forces him to respect these rules of life but simply because he made them his own and for he is a vital necessity to respect them.
The first social environment in which man learns to be authentic, according to Confucius, is the family . The son learns filial piety: he owes his father respect and support in old age, while the father ensures him protection and helps him to be formed.
The second area is civil society , where justice, altruism, compassion and above all kindness are learned and applied.
The third level is that of the State , where the subjects are bound to loyalty-fidelity, provided of course that the sovereign governs with virtue and not with laxity and corruption. In practice, the Confucians conceived the State as a large family at the top of which was the king, sent from heaven, while below everyone observed the rights-duties of their social condition.
Rulers consistent with these sentiments place man and people at the foundation of political action , creating the conditions for developing and spreading that material well-being that would allow each individual to find the time and resources to devote himself to the care of his own education and person.

Development of Confucianism

  • Mencius (372-287 BC) rationalized Confucius’ teaching on benevolence and the importance of moral values ​​in society, thus starting a dispute that would occupy Confucian thinkers for several centuries.

  • Xunzi (298-238 BC), who is the third founder of Confucianism, argued instead that human nature is prone to evil and only through an externally imposed education can it live peacefully and with dignity.

  • Dong Zhong-Shu (197-104 BC) succeeded in having Confucianism adopted as the state religion under the Han dynasty (136 BC). He did this at the price of strong concessions and with a lot of eclecticism: for example he exalted the role of the king (no longer sent from heaven and therefore revocable, but executor of heaven) by lowering that of the people.

  • With the advent of the Sung dynasty (960-1279 AD), Confucian thought entered its new and final phase of development. Starting from the twelfth century. practically neo-Confucianism arises, in the direction of pantheism and under the influence of Taoism and Buddhism.

Confucianism was not very popular while he was alive. Rather posthumous to his death, his disciples collected an unordered series of his thoughts.
His teachings are contained in four works: the Dialogues; the work of Mencius , called by the name of him in Mengzi Chinese; The Great Study and The invariable medium.