Guest Author - Caroline Baker
Confucius is perhaps one of the most recognized names of Chinese history, even by those not of Chinese descent.
The name "Confucius" is Western anglicized version which first appeared as the Jesuits translated Chinese literature into Western languages. It actually represents two words, "Kong", which is the family or surname, and "Fuzi", which translates to master or teacher. In the Chinese language, as with several other Asian languages, the proper way to address someone is with the family name first and then followed by the appropriate title.
Master Kong's life, as with much of the history dating so far back in any culture, has almost a legendary quality to it. The details of his life come to us through written literature that was captured nearly 400 years after his existence.
He was supposedly born in 551 BC, a significant point in Chinese history where intellectuals and philosophy suddenly bloomed from the society. This period is often referred to as the Hundred Schools of Thought. His father died not long after his birth and he grew up in relative poverty by his mother. As he ascended in society, he became part of the "shi" class – a new social level that today we might consider middle class.
He had held several positions in government but found limited success. As the legend goes, he became very disgruntled with the corruption he saw in government. He finally returned home in his forties and began to write.
His sayings and books have shaped much of the Chinese culture. Master Kong is said to be very humble, continually reiterating even in his writings that he has merely captured others ideas, not come up with anything new. His emphasis of hard work ethics, loyalty, and respect were of great interest to many ruling governments over the century. Thus, what was originally taught as a philosophy began to take on an almost religious feel as governments capitalized on its messages of hierarchy and order.
Through trade and migration, the words of Confucius spread to neighboring countries. Much of his sayings were integrated into their cultures as well, spreading his words throughout Asia.
Even still, Confucius remains to be one of the most recognized and influential Chinese in history. Over two thousand years after he lived, people are still quoting him.