Confucianism is an ancient Chinese ethical system, developed from the writings of the philosopher Confucius (Kongzi or “Master Kong”) who lived between 551 and 479 BCE. Confucianism is frequently described as a religion, as it developed metaphysical elements during the Han Dynasty (206 BCE – 220 AD), when it became the official state ideology.
At the core of Confucianism is the insistence of the practical order of all things. Individuals should have an awareness of Tian (heaven) and respect for the gods, with emphasis on the importance of the family. Confucianism stresses the cultivation of virtue in the person and the application of ethics. Under the system espoused by Confucianism, social harmony will reign when each individual knows his or her place in society. Each person has duties and obligations based on relationships with others.
Basic ethical concepts in Confucianism include practicing ren, yi, and zhi. Ren stands for an obligation towards altruism and respect for others. Yi is the moral disposition towards doing good. Zhi is the ability to determine what is right and good. These concepts emerged from the “Five Classics,” ancient Chinese texts traditionally believed to be either authored or edited by Confucius. The Five Classics are: the I Ching, the Book of Songs, the Book of History, the Book of Rites and the Spring and Autumn Annals.