Ancient China in Context
Man, Myth, and Movement
E Bruce Brooks and A Taeko Brooks
This book picks up the story of Confucius from the time of his father, a noted warrior; follows his teachings and those of his successors in the Analects school of Lu, and continues past the extinction of Lu in 0249 to track the Confucian movement, by then a highly ritualized affair, into its prohibition in the Chin and early Han Dynasties, to the official recognition of Confucianism as the ideology of the state under Han Wu-di in 0136. The resulting portrait, based on a new understanding of the relevant texts, contains much familiar material, but also several surprises.
Confucius in his youth had a modest position in the loyalist group around the exiled Lu Prince Jau-gung. During the revival of central power under his successor Ding-gung, Confucius served discretely, at one point undertaking a hazardous and ultimately unsuccessful mission to the no man's land "between Chvn and Tsai." By the time when social modernization had begun to transform the governmental structure of Lu, under Ai-gung, Confucius had become a senior counselor and mentor to the new generation of the serving elite, emphasizing an ethic of "otherness" and a code of unconditional loyalty to principle - not, as before, to the person of the ruler. Confucius was the first theoretician of the new social order.
His tradition was carried on at first by a series of disciples, and under their leadership a school soon emerged. The most visible of those leaders was Dzvngdz, who introduced the ideas of reverence for the past and of exaggerated respect for Confucius as a "sage." Here we see myth beginning to replace memory, and the tradition of Lu (which identified with the Jou Dynasty) influencing the development of the myth.
Under Dzvngdz's son Dzvng Ywaen, at the end of the 05th century, the successor group achieved a certain stability, and its leader acquired a significant role in the Lu government. A power struggle then ensued, and the relatives of Confucius took over the leadership of the school. They acquired a grand residence near the Lu palace as their headquarters, and replaced Confucius's "otherness" ethic with a ritualistic formalism symbolized by the word li (propriety, situationally right behavior). Thus began the Confucian "movement."
By the middle of the 04th century, one faction in the Analects school engaged the political theorists of neighboring Chi, on what they saw as the evils of the emerging bureaucratic state. One figure in this tendency is Mencius, who in the 0320's managed to insert his views into the new "Confucius" sayings added to the Analects during that period (LY 12-13).
In 0320, Mencius left for an independent career as an advisor to the major states, first central Ngwei, then northeastern Chi. The first proved abortive (the king was interested, but soon died); the second was disastrous (Mencius's policies led to a ruinous defeat for Chi). Mencius ended his life as a minor-state minister. His followers continued to develop his theories for the next fifty years. The Analects Confucians also suffered decline in that half-century, when they lost their former acceptance at the Lu court.
The new and forceful figure of Sywndz took the second step (Mencius had taken the first) in assimilating Confucian values to the statecraft doctrines generally called Legalism. The Confucius movement itself was increasingly defined not by its values, but by its texts, starting with the Shr poems and the Shu documents. A Confucian canon began to emerge. The bookish image of Confucius and his followers has its roots in this period.
After the Chin unification of 0221, the feudal polity model embedded in the Confucian canon (supposedly preserving the system of the Jou Dynasty) found itself at odds with the direct-rule unification model preferred by the Chin conquerors. Public possession of the key Confucian texts texts was eventually prohibited. The prohibition was lifted only under the second Han ruler, the founder's wife Empress Lw, at which time Confucians again openly expounded their texts in the capital. The ideological wars of the late Warring States reappeared in a new guise, with the moralist Confucians and the realist Legalists and the transcendal Dauists contending for the attention and approval of the court. Finally, in 0136, the Han Emperor decreed that Confucian learning would be a prerequisite for certain levels of public service. At least officially, the ideological wars came to an end.
Extracts from Confucius:
- Chapter 2: Confucius Himself
- Chapter 3: The First Confucian School
- Chapter 5: The New Ritual Emphasis
- Chapter 7: On the Sidelines
- Chapter 8: At the Han Capital
This book raises the question of how far the Confucianism of the Empire resembled that of the founding figure, and how well adapted that Confucianism was for the purposes of the Empire. From the time of Confucius himself, by quotations from the Analects and from closely related texts, the reader will be able to track a doctrinal evolution which, for all its turnings and adaptations, still retained something of its principled and generous founder: a dedicated and uncompromising figure whose example would strengthen and console many men of principle, and inspire many acts of public courage, down through the centuries. Chinese characters have been provided for the convenience of Sinological students.
For an overview of the entire classical period, which puts Confucius and Confucianism in the larger context of state modernization, see The Emergence of China.
E BRUCE BROOKS is Research Professor of Chinese, and A TAEKO BROOKS is Research Associate, at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
Confucius: Man, Myth, and Movement
224 pages, 8 illustrations.
$46.95 cloth. ISBN 978-1-936166-25-1,
$23.95 paper. ISBN 978-1-936166-65-7.
Tentative Release Date: February 2013.
When announced, this book may be ordered from the University of Massachusetts Press
14 August 2010 / Contact The Project / Exit to Publications Page