Ancient China in Context
Confucius:
Man, Myth, and Movement
A Taeko Brooks and E Bruce Brooks

Cover: ConfuciusThis 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, concluding with 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 Jau-gung's 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." Under Ai-gung, social modernization had begun to transform the governmental structure of Lu; by this time Confucius had become a senior counselor and mentor to the new generation of the serving elite. He emphasized 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.

Confucius died in 0479. His tradition was carried on at first by a series of disciples, and under their leadership a school soon emerged, whose text was what we now call the Analects. 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. Later, the school was influenced by the pacific and logical Micians, whose device of definition of terms appears for the first time in Analects 12. Beginning at this point, the Analects school also came to adopt the Mician antiwar position, which in effect eliminated them as an effective influence at the Lu court. The Analects from this point (the end of the 04c) occupies something of a bystander position, and new developments in Confucianism are the work of other hands.

Mencius, who as early as the 0320's had managed to insert his views into the "Confucius" sayings added to Analects 12-13, left in 0320 for an independent career as an advisor to the major states: first central Ngwei, then northeastern Chi. The first proved abortive (the Ngwei king was interested, but soon died). The second was disastrous (Mencius's policies led to a ruinous defeat for Chi, and Mencius left under a cloud). Mencius ended his life as a minister in tiny Tvng, south of Lu, where his followers continued to develop his theories for the next fifty years. Following the defeat of Chi (which was expelled from conquered Sung in 0285), another Confucian figure emerged, openly opposed to Mencius and the Analects school, and adding to his version of 04c ritualized Confucianism elements from other contemporary schools of thought, including Dauism. His eclectic Confucianism opposed the cosmological theories then popular in Chi, and beginning in 0258, he was brought to Chi under a Confucian-leaning new Chi ruler in order to remake the Ji-sya theory center along new lines. At this, Sywndz, not the most diplomatic of men, failed as disastrously as had Mencius before him, and Sywndz left to become governor of territory newly conquered by southern Chu. This included the former Sung, and also part of Lu, the home of the Analects text, the Mician school as it then existed, and both of the posthumous Mencian schools. Under Sywndz's governance, all these schools ceased to produce text, leaving Sywndz as the only Confucian spokesman for the age. His influence advanced a tendency already in motion: the shift of Confucianism from philosophy (in fact, from Confucius as a defining figure) to the values supposedly enshrined in supposed ancient texts, the Shr (Poetry) and Shu (speeches of ancient kings, miraculously transcribed from a period before writing existed).

After the Chin unification of 0221, the feudal polity model embedded in the Confucian canon (supposedly preserving the system of the Jou Dynasty, especially as embodied in the Shr and Shu) 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 transcendental 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.

Table of Contents of Confucius:

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.

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.


A TAEKO BROOKS is Research Associate, and E BRUCE BROOKS is Research Professor of Chinese, at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

Confucius: Man, Myth, and Movement

224 pages, 8 illustrations.
$46.95 cloth. ISBN 978-1-936166-26-8,
$23.95 paper. ISBN 978-1-936166-66-4.
Tentative Release Date: August 2017
.

When announced, this book may be ordered from a link here.

 

Back to Ancient C hina in Context

19 June 2013 / Contact The Project / Exit to Publications Page