Confucian code of education
By: Dr Sajid Khakwani
Confucianism is the cornerstone of traditional Chinese culture. It is a complete ideological system created by Confucius, based on the traditional culture of the Xia, Shang and Zhou Dynasties. Confucianism has dominated a feudal society that in essence has lasted 2000 years and for that reason its influence over the history, social structure and the people of China cannot be overlooked. Confucius has proved to be the greatest influence over the Chinese character. Besides being a great educationist, thinker and unsuccessful politician, he was first of all an intellect with a noble morality. He pursued truth, kindness and perfection throughout his life and his success and failure were largely due to his character, which had an everlasting impact on Chinese intellect.
Confucius was born in 551B.C in the State of Lu which is known today as in Shandong Province. His real name was K’ung Fu-tzu, which means "Grand Master K’ung”. Kong was the family name while Qiu was his given name. This was because his parents had prayed for a son at Niqiu Hill and ‘Qiu’ was an appropriate token of their thanks and joy at having their prayers answered. Sadly, his father died when Confucius was very young but despite a hard life, he dedicated himself to study at the age of 15. He got married at 19 and divorced his wife at 23 and remained single for the rest of his life. As Confucianism laid down the social ethnics of the Chinese society, why Confucius divorced remained a puzzle. We cannot find out how he behaved as a husband or as a father. However, the records show that he loved his disciples as much as his own children.
Patriotism was the driving force for the young Confucius and he set his sights on an official career as a means to apply his political ideals. He had gained some fame by the time he was 30 but it was not until he was 51 that his official life really assumed great importance. This eventful career was to last for only four years as he was forced to resign when he found it impossible to agree with the authorities. Such was the opposition to his ideas that he was obliged to leave his country and to travel around the states. During these 14 years, he was in danger on many occasions and even risked his life. At the age of 68 he was welcomed back to Lu but he was set up as a respected gentleman without any authority. Confucius was able to write down his ideas for his remaining five years of life He died of illness at the age of 73.
Confucius stuck to righteousness, saying, "Improper fortunes are just flowing clouds to me. For proper fortunes, I will do jobs such as a driver.” He was quite easy with his ideas despite of poverty. He was virtuous, always ready to help others and treated others with tolerance and honesty. To him, a benevolent person is one who loves others. He said, "Do not give others what you do not want yourself”. His students treated him as father and wore the willow for three years. Zigong, one of the famous disciples, set up a cabinet near his tomb and stayed there for six years to mourn his beloved teacher. Confucius’ proposal was to discipline oneself and to revive the ethics of Zhou Dynasty. Therefore, he brought forward a series of norms, which step by step developed into Confucianism.
Compared to his frustrated political career, Confucius’ career as a teacher and philosopher was brilliant and full of achievements. Much of his approach to education was avant-garde as he promoted the ideas "to educate all despite their social status” and "to teach according to the students’ characteristics”. The first of these broke with tradition as only the aristocracy had the privilege of education. Confucius also proposed a complete set of principles concerning study. He said, "Studying without thinking leads to confusion; thinking without studying leads to laziness. Imparting knowledge was only part of his teaching; and this had a deep and lasting influence upon his disciples. Confucius’ private life was a model of his doctrines. The Analects of Confucius provide a vivid record of his teachings but although he wrote nothing personally, his words were collected and recorded for posterity by his disciples. The accumulated words of wisdom have come down to us as "The Analects”, one of the most important of all the Chinese classics.
Confucius took great delight in studying and was modest enough to learn from anyone. He never tired of teaching his disciples while diligence, his unremitting pursuit of truth, ideas and perfect personality, his integrity, kindness, modesty and courteousness inspired his disciples and the intellects of subsequent generations. Uniquely, only he is qualified to be called "the teacher of ten thousand generations”. It is said that among 3000 of Confucius’ disciples, there were 72 who were brilliant and who succeeded in morality, literature, language, and especially politics. These politicians contributed much to the spreading, formation and development of Confucianism.
True education, according to Confucianism, is self-education. "Self-illuminative sincerity is called nature. The self-illumination of sincerity is called education.” In the past, the Chinese elementary school students were well trained to guard against the uprising of desires. Students started school at the age of seven. They stayed with their teachers and only went home during holidays. From the ages of seven to twelve, students were required to memorize and recite fluently the ancient texts. At the age of thirteen, children were sent to Tai school, as there were no junior or high schools in ancient China. However, the current educational system, in existence since the Revolution of 1911, eliminated this two thousand-year-old tradition and adopted the western educational system.
Their beliefs and Practices are :
1- All humanity is good and always striving to be better, be loyal and live upright.
2. The focus is on comprehensive truths rather than logic. They feel the more comprehensive the closer it is to the truth.
3. Confucianists put an emphasis on sympathizing over others when they are suffering. They are always searching for a higher sense of sympathy for people.
4. This belief system also entails the belief that the ultimate personal harmony in life are the relationships one has with: ruler to subject, parent to child, husband to wife, older to younger, and friend to friend. Nothing to do with a relationship with God. No relationship unless it is within human existence.
5. They do believe in a heaven, they call it T’ien, but that it is silent.
Sacred Texts are:
1- Analects- a collection of sayings from Confucius and some of his disciples.
2-The Great Learning- used to be part of the Li Chi but it was separated. Designed to be an educational tool for gentlemen. First text to be studied by Chinese school boys.
3-The Doctrine of the Mean- Used to be part of the Li Chi also.
Philosophical thoughts of Confucius focusing on the relationship between human nature and moral order of the world.
The Book of Mencius a collection of sayings of early Confucian thinkers. It’s trying to reach a more rounded system of philosophy. Li Chi- Confucian Classic. It has a bunch of ethical philosophies from Confucius. Also called, The Book of Rites.
Other important works are:
I-Ching (The Book of Changes)
II-Shi (The Book of Poetry and Songs)
III-Shu (The Book of Documents)
IV-Chun-Chiu (The Book of Spring and Autumn)
There are six schools:
- Han Confucianism,
- Contemporary Neo-Confucianism,
- Korean Confucianism,
- Japanese Confucianism and
- Singapore Confucianism.
In *Great Learning,* Confucius prescribed seven steps in a general strategy of social transformation to achieve the ideal society.
1. The investigation of things (variables). Find out the way things are and how they are related.
2. The completion of knowledge. Find out why things are the way they are; that is, why the dependent variable was related to other variables. This is the reality of things, the truth, "Tao.” And since everything exists in an inter-related network, discovering this truth empowers a person to transform his or her attitude.
3. The sincerity of thought. One should be sincere in wanting to change or to set goals that are a commitment to excellence and the truth, "Tao”, which is the source of self-motivation, the root of
self-actualization and the cornerstone of adequate I-Thou and I-Thing relationships. The most complete sincerity is the ability to foreknow.
4. The rectifying of the heart. The motivation for change must be the right one, good for the self as well as for the whole. It is a cultivation aimed at virtue, a moral self achieved through the intuitive integration of "Jen” (humanity, benevolence, perfect virtue, compassion, and love), "Yi” (righteousness), "Li” (politeness, respect), and wisdom (from steps1, 2 & 3). Only such a self has real freedom — from evil, and to have moral courage and the ability to be good.
5. The cultivation of the person. There must be life-long integration between the "knowledge self” (steps 1 & 2) and the "moral self” (steps 3 &4) through self-discipline (education) and self-improvement. This is the key to helping self and others.
6. The regulation of the family. One should use self- discipline within the family by honoring parents, respecting and caring for siblings, and loving children. One should understand the weaknesses of those one likes and appreciate the strength of those one dislikes to avoid prejudice and disharmony in the family.
7. The governance of the state. The state must provide public education, set policies to care for vulnerable people, root policies in public opinions, appoint and elect capable and moral persons as public officials, and apply management principles based on the mean and the Golden Path. This sort of public administration should lead to the harmonious state.
The practice of these seven steps is a self-cultivated discipline that seeks the truth, "Tao,” as the practitioner enacts individual and social changes for an improved and more harmonious world.
Confucian practice concerning women–delegating their position to that of subservience to men–stems in part from the following nature of its thought. Yin/yang. Yin and Yang interact harmoniously. As part of this balance, traditionally men were associated with "yang,” women with "yin.” Yin displays qualities of darkness, cold, death , ghosts, graves and fear–often traits acquiring a negative status. The linkage of the feminine with "yin” seems to color women in this negative light as well. Over the centuries, such thought influenced practice towards them.
Confucianism was further developed by Mencius (372B.C.-289B.C.) and Xun Zi. It was in the reign of Emperor Wu during the Han Dynasty that Confucianism was promoted to being the state ideology. Since then, Confucianism became the orthodox doctrine of Chinese society. And Confucius was glorified as a Saint instead of an ordinary man. In the coming Wei and Jin Dynasties, Confucianism coexisted with Buddhism and Taoism. Up to the Sui and Tang Dynasties, the struggle for dominance between the three became heated. The Song Dynasty witnessed a vital period of the development of Confucianism. Featuring Confucian school of idealist philosophy of the Song and Ming dynasties, Confucianism restored its orthodox role for the following 700 years.
The historical importance of education in Chinese culture is derived from the teachings of Confucius and philosophers of the middle and late Chou eras. Fundamentally, these philosophies taught that social harmony could be achieved only if humans were free from deprivation and given proper education. Confucius taught that all people possessed the same potential, and that education was the corrective means to curb any tendencies to stray from ethical behavior.
From the very first, Confucius made education available to students from all classes of society. Education in China has thus been a equalizing force from ancient times. It became the means by which individuals from even the humblest backgrounds could rise to great heights. Through the ethics of Confucius which informed the traditional curriculum, it was also a powerful mechanism for implementing the ethical and social norms of Chinese society.
Confucius praised those kings who left their kingdoms to those apparently most qualified rather than to their elder sons. His achievement was the setting up of a school that produced statesmen with a strong sense of state and duty. China grew greatly and the need for a solid and centralized corporation of government officers able to read and write administrative papers arose. As a result, Confucianism was promoted and the men it produced became an effective counter to the remaining landowner aristocrats otherwise threatening the unity of the state. Since then Confucianism has been used as a kind of "state religion”, with authoritarianism, legitimism, paternalism, and submission to authority used as political tools to rule China. Most emperors used a mix of legalism and Confucianism as their ruling doctrine, often with the latter embellishing the former.
State system of education was founded during the Han Period the emperor Wu-ti in 124BCE. Students who were admitted to the T’ai hsueh or Great Academy were destined for careers in the civil service after they passed the internal exams and were competitively selected for various positions. Initially only fifty-five students were admitted to the Great Academy. By 8 BCE, the Academy had an enrollment of three thousand students. During the Han Dynasty (202BCE-220CE) provincial schools were established and the Confucian tradition of education was spread across China.
As the Academy developed the connection between scholarship and the personality cult of Confucius also became established. The connection between Confucius and the official Chinese educational system thus became permanently linked right into the present time. The curriculum at the Great Academy was based on the Confucian Five Classics and classes were taught by professors of the Five Classics who were known as po-shih.
The basis of Chinese education did not change throughout the imperial history till the reign of the last Ch’ing emperors. During the Ch’ing Dynasty (1644-1912) both state and private schools were developed and students were able to buy places into these schools. Students were encouraged to engage in disputation, traditional Chinese education consisted primarily of rote learning and memorization of the Classics. This formula became standardized by the seventh century CE.
Imperial examination system in China allowed anyone who passed an examination to become a government officer, a position which would bring wealth and honor to the whole family. The Chinese examination system seems to have been started in 165 BCE, when certain candidates for public office were called to the Chinese capital for examination of their moral excellence by the emperor. Over the following centuries the system grew until finally almost anyone who wished to become an official had to prove his worth by passing written government examinations. Candidates for the Civil Service Imperial Exams were required to memorize a vast amount of classical material and were never required to demonstrate the ability to either theorize or challenge a particular premise. The purpose of the scholar class after all was the creation of bureaucratic generalists familiar with an accepted ethical outlook and body of knowledge, not with the growth of knowledge or with academic specialization.
The very democratic nature of Chinese education was established from the first by Confucius himself. A traditional saying attributed to him states that "those who work with their heads will rule, while those who work with their hands will serve.” To that end, education thus became a strategy for survival in a country where poverty and hardship had challenged the lives of millions for countless millennia. Many scholars believe the history of education in China can be traced back at as far as the 16th century B.C. during the late "Xia Dynasty” (1523-1027 B.C.). Throughout this period of time, education was the privilege of the elites. The teachings of Confucianism during the Spring and Autumn and Warring States periods (770-221 B.C.), the curriculum were mainly based on The Four Books and The Five Classics. Confucianism probably is the biggest influence in education of China through out the entire Chinese history. Later in Han dynasty, a form of public education system was established. Not only elites from upper class families can study in school, common man can also use education as a path to become a better man, known as gentleman.
In Confucianism, a gentleman (Chun Tzu) considers what is right, when the peasant considers what will pay. A gentleman trusts in justice and the peasant trusts in favor. A gentleman is generous and fair, when the peasant is biased and petty. A gentleman looks within for guidance and the peasant looks unto others. A gentleman is easy to serve, and hard to please. The peasant is hard to serve, and easy to please. A gentleman is to know what we know, and know what we do not know. The basic concept of gentleman in Confucianism often emphasizes the different behaviors between the gentleman and the peasant.
A peasant in ancient Chinese society can be better described as today’s common man or average citizen. As a result, not everyone can be a gentleman in ancient Chinese society. In fact, studying Confucianism itself was limited to very few people in ancient China. Most of them are from ruling and upper class families. They were the group of people in need to educate in the classics and understand morality. They needed to understand why things have to be done as they had the duty to their families, ancestors and the empire. Gentleman with knowledge will then carry out Chinese cultural traditions or even set rules of society for others.
On the other hand, the common people should follow the traditions and rules. In ancient Chinese culture, there was no need for the common people to know why. For common people, studying Confucianism and be a gentleman had been the most efficient way for them advancing into upper class. During Han dynasty, the first civil service exam was set up. Confucianism, with no surprise, was one of the key subjects to study for the civil service exam. Provincial schools were established countrywide and the Confucianism tradition of education was spread all over China.
"To enrich your family, there is no need to buy good land: Books hold a thousand measures of grain. For an easy life, there is no need to build mansion: In books are found houses of gold. When you go out, do not be upset if no one follows you: In books there will be a crowd of horses and carriages. If you wish to marry, don’t be upset if you don’t have a go-between: In books there are girls with faces like jade. A young man who wishes to be somebody will devote his time to the Classics. He will face the window and read.” There were people who spend their entire lifetime studying on Confucianism in order to get respected, not only for themselves, but also for the pride of their family lines.
The essence of his system of relationships is fivefold, and fundamental to his social order: ruler and subject; father and son; husband and wife; older brother and younger brother; older friend and younger friend. The ideal of conduct, ordering all human relationships and resulting in an ideal social structure and harmony is: li. A famous Confucian maxim is: "Never do to others, what you would not like them to do to you.”
His disciples later on developed ten attitudes that are to govern the five relationships: love in father and filial piety in the son; gentility in the oldest brother and humility and respect in the younger; righteous behavior in the husband and obedience in the wife; humane consideration in elders and deference in juniors; benevolence in rulers and loyalty in subjects. Confucius did not claim to be the originator of this philosophical/ethical code. Some of the ideas he claims to have derived from classical writings, but he codified them and illuminated them with his own insights and principles. Thus developed one the great and most durable ethical and social edifices in recorded time.
The civil service exam system from Han dynasty had been used until the Qing dynasty. Changes had been made throughout thousands years of history, more western influence were bought into the Chinese education system during the Qing dynasty. With the humiliating defeat under the hands of British army in the Opium War (1840-1842), scholars and government officials suggested a major restructure of education system, developing new areas such as foreign language, science and technology. In 1911, the Qing Dynasty itself was overthrown by revolution, and a republican form of government was established. At that time, government completely abandoned the traditional way of education. New educational models from European, American and Japanese were set up in China. Influenced by Confucianism, in Chinese culture, an intellectual is not limited in study alone. He should be successful in being a human and in his bearing of himself. A key objective of an intellectual should be to make full use of his ability, personality and intelligence to do good for the state, society and the world at large.
Waving the banner of science and democracy, the New Cultural Movement from 1915 attacked the feudal system, including its core ideological system of Confucianism. During the Cultural Revolution, Confucianism was once again under violent attack. In recent years people can look at Confucianism with a more rational state of mind, some even suggest returning to Confucianism for wisdom while opponents hold that Confucianism should be held responsible for the backwardness of China’s development and for that reason its dominance should not be revived. It is true that unlike other living faiths, Confucianism has lost its organizational and institutional mechanism. However, organization and institution are never taken to be the sole foundation of Confucianism. Rather, the power and force of Confucianism lies in its values and ideals, the essentials of which have become part of the ways of the Chinese life. In this sense, we may say that Confucianism as a value system is still functioning in today’s world and as a living force Confucianism holds not only the motives of social integration but also the solutions and