Although Confucianism has originated from the teachings of the Chinese sage, Confucius, Confucianism is not based solely on the teaching of Confucius himself. It is a collection of philosophies and superstition including those from other philosophers. The impact of Confucianism in China and East Asia is remarkable and many of the teachings are still being used today. Confucianism is considered as a philosophy and even sometimes, although arguably, as a religion.
During Confucius’ lifetime, his ideas were not really accepted. This didn’t stop him from trying to spread his ideals and philosophies across China though. Some say he tried to gain enough political power to start a new dynasty but it didn’t pan out. He has been referred to as a “crownless king” and eventually he ended up back in his hometown to spend the rest of his life teaching his students.
The teaching and ideas of Confucius that we know today are actually just the recollections by his students and disciples so it may not be all that accurate. This is further complicated when more than 200 years after the death of Confucius, the Qin Dynasty decided to suppress Confucianism and burn Confucius’ books.
The Qin Dynasty did not last long though, and fortunately, the Han Dynasty which followed the Qin has seen potential in the teaching of Confucius and decided to use Confucianism mixed with Legalism. Emperor Han Wudi was the one who declared China as a Confucian state. During this period, other ideologies were banned and everyone, even children were told to learn the teachings of Confucianism.
The Han Dynasty did benefit from Confucianism. Because of it, the Han Dynasty improved and established the system of ruling the land by morals and ethics, something that the Qin Dynasty has overlooked. The establishment of a Confucian state has helped Han Wudi rule for 54 years, making him one of the longest rulers in China’s history.
Also, before Confucianism, people were given positions whether or not they were competent enough to do the job. But now, written exams are given to determine the best one for the job and emperors chose people based on their merits and whether they believe that these people indeed are best suited for the position.
The teachings of Confucius also emphasize a lot about respect especially to the parents, and to the elders. This is one tradition that is still very much alive in a lot of Asian countries today.
But the rise of Confucianism in the Han Dynasty did bring about some negative effects as well. The first one is discrimination against women. This starts with the birth of a child, as one of the teachings of Confucius’ five classics says that if a man has a son, he puts him on the bed, and if he has a daughter, he puts her on the grounds. Also when a woman is not married she is to obey her father absolutely. When a woman is married, she is to obey her husband absolutely. And when she is widowed, she is to obey her son absolutely.
Another problem with Confucianism during the Han Dynasty was that parents not only have to be respected, but they have to be obeyed, and have total control over their children. So children have very little freedom. Starting form the age of six, they are forced to study the teachings of Confucius. Children also had no freedom to choose their husbands or wives. Their parents would choose for them. Even after marriage, children are to stay with the groom’s parents and fulfill their duty to take care of them for the rest of their lives.
Despite the good and the bad effects of Confucianism, it has been an integral part in shaping the history of China. Even today, the teachings of Confucius live on as his philosophies and ideals are passed on to the next generation.