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Introduction: The Contemporary Relevance of Confucianism

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 August 2009

Daniel A. Bell
Affiliation:
City University of Hong Kong
Hahm Chaibong
Affiliation:
Yonsei University, Seoul
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Summary

Confucians have long been preoccupied with social and political change. According to the standard account, Master Kong (Latinized name: Confucius; c. 551—479 B.C.) left his native state of Lu, hoping to find a ruler more receptive to his ideas about good government. Unfortunately, Confucius did not have any luck, and he was forced to settle for a life of teaching. Several generations later, a student in the academic lineage of Confucius's grandson named Master Meng (Latinized name: Mencius: c. 390—305 B.C.) committed himself to spreading Confucius's social and political ideas. Like the old master, Mencius moved from state to state, looking for opportunities to put his political ideals into practice. Mencius had slightly more success — he served briefly as Minister of the State of Qi — but he became disenchanted with political life and reluctantly settled for a teaching career.

Several hundred years later, however, the social and political ideas of Confucius and Mencius — as recorded in The Analects of Confucius and The Works of Mencius — proved to be literally world transforming. Following a shortlived experience with Legalism, the newly founded Chinese state of Han adopted Confucianism as its official ideology. For the next two thousand years, the country's best minds sought to interpret and modify Confucianism to make it more relevant in particular situations with novel features.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2003

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