Confucian teachings and philosophy have deeply influenced East Asian life and thought. Confucius (551 – 479 BCE) taught personal and public morality, correctness of social relationships, justice and sincerity. Confucius hated disorder and disunity and wanted to find ways to overcome the feuds that characterized the latter part of the Zhou era.
Confucius admired King Wen, valued continuity and wanted to sustain the ancient traditions. He tried–unsuccessfully–to persuade many different rulers to put his social and political beliefs into practice. He died convinced that he had failed.
The Records of the Grand Historian, compiled some four hundred years after Confucius’ time, indicate that Confucius was conceived out of wedlock. His father was seventy, and his mother only fifteen at his birth. His father died when he was three, and he was brought up in poverty by his mother. Some have claimed a duke of Zhou as one of Confucius’ ancestors. As a child, he was said to have enjoyed putting ritual vases on the sacrifice table. As a young man, he was a minor administrative manager in the state of Lu and may have risen to the position of justice minister. After several years he resigned because he disapproved of the politics of his prince.
Around age fifty, seeing no way to improve the government, he gave up his political career in Lu, and began a 12-year journey around China. He sought the Way, which for him was the answer to such questions as how rulers should rule, and how people should behave in society, particularly towards family, friends, and rulers. His teachings are known primarily through the Analects, a short collection of his discussions with his disciples, which was compiled posthumously.
According to Confucius there is a hierarchical external social order, which is mirrored by a personal internal order. Development of both the state and the individual can be likened to the structures of the hexagrams of the Yi Jing. He reflected this understanding by attaching commentaries to the hexagrams of the Yi Jing known as The Ten Wings. Before Confucius’ commentary the Yi Jing was used primarily for divination. After his addition the text transformed into a work that has inspired philosophers and scientists for centuries.