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Confucianism is an ethical and philosophical system, on occasion described as a religion,[note 1] developed from the teachings of the Chinese philosopher Confucius (孔夫子 Kǒng Fūzǐ, or K'ung-fu-tzu, lit. "Master Kong", 551–479 BCE). Confucianism originated as an "ethical-sociopolitical teaching" during the Spring and Autumn Period, but later developed metaphysical and cosmological elements in the Han Dynasty. Following the official abandonment of Legalism in China after the Qin Dynasty, Confucianism became the official state ideology of the Han. Nonetheless, from the Han period onwards, most Chinese emperors have used a mix of Legalism and Confucianism as their ruling doctrine. The disintegration of the Han in the second century CE opened the way for the soteriological doctrines of Buddhism and Taoism to dominate intellectual life at that time.
A Confucian revival began during the Tang dynasty. In the late Tang, Confucianism developed aspects on the model of Buddhism and Taoism and was reformulated as Neo-Confucianism. This reinvigorated form was adopted as the basis of the imperial exams and the core philosophy of the scholar official class in the Song dynasty. The abolition of the examination system in 1905 marked the end of official Confucianism. The New Culture intellectuals of the early twentieth century blamed Confucianism for China's weaknesses. They searched for imported doctrines to adapt to the general nature of their own culture, such adaptations include the "Three Principles of the People" with the establishment of the Republic of China, and then Maoism under the People's Republic of China. In the late twentieth century, some people credited Confucianism with the rise of the East Asian economy and it enjoyed a rise in popularity both in China and abroad.
The core of Confucianism is humanistic, or what the philosopher Herbert Fingarette calls "the secular as sacred". Confucianism focuses on the practical order inscribed in a this-worldly awareness of the Tian and a proper respect of the gods (shen), with particular emphasis on the importance of the family, rather than on a transcendent divine or a soteriology. This stance rests on the belief that human beings are teachable, improvable, and perfectible through personal and communal endeavor especially self-cultivation and self-creation. Confucian thought focuses on the cultivation of virtue and maintenance of ethics. Some of the basic Confucian ethical concepts and practices include rén, yì, and lǐ, and zhì. Ren is an obligation of altruism and humaneness for other individuals. Yi is the upholding of righteousness and the moral disposition to do good. Li is a system of ritual norms and propriety that determines how a person should properly act in everyday life. Zhi is the ability to see what is right and fair, or the converse, in the behaviors exhibited by others. Confucianism holds one in contempt, either passively or actively, for the failure of upholding the cardinal moral values of ren and yi.
Historically, cultures and countries strongly influenced by Confucianism include mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, Korea, Japan, and Vietnam, as well as various territories settled predominantly by Chinese people, such as Singapore. In the 20th century, Confucianism’s influence has been greatly reduced. More recently, there have been talks of a "Confucian Revival" in the academia and the scholarly community.
Strictly speaking, there is no term in Chinese which directly corresponds to "Confucianism". In the Chinese language, the character rú 儒 meaning "scholar" is generally used both in the past and the present to refer to things related to Confucianism. The word ru in ancient China has diverse meanings. Some examples include, "weak", "soft", "to tame", "to comfort" and "to educate". Several different terms are used in different situations, several of which are of modern origin:
Three of these use rú. These names do not use the name "Confucius" at all, but instead center on the figure or ideal of the Confucian scholar; however, the suffixes jiā, jiào and xué carry different implications as to the nature of Confucianism itself.
Rújiā contains the character jiā, which literally means "house" or "family". In this context, it is more readily construed as meaning "school of thought", since it is also used to construct the names of philosophical schools contemporary with Confucianism: for example, the Chinese names for Legalism and Mohism end in jiā.
Rújiào and Kǒngjiào contain the Chinese character jiào, the noun "teach", used in such terms as "education", or "educator". The term, however, is notably used to construct the names of religions in Chinese: the terms for Islam, Judaism, Christianity, and other religions in Chinese all end with jiào.
Rúxué contains xué, "study". The term is parallel to "-ology" in English, being used to construct the names of academic fields: the Chinese names of fields such as physics, chemistry, biology, political science, economics, and sociology all end in xué.
The use of the term Confucianism has been avoided by some modern scholars, who favor Ruism or Ruists in lieu of Confucianism. Robert Eno argues that the term has been "burdened... with the ambiguities and irrelevant traditional associations". Ruism, as he states, is more faithful to the original Chinese name for the school.
Traditionally, Confucius was thought to be the author or editor of the Five Classics which were the basic texts of Confucianism. The scholar Yao Xinzhong allows that there are good reasons to believe that Confucian classics took shape in the hands of Confucius, but that “nothing can be taken for granted in the matter of the early versions of the classics.” Yao reports that perhaps most scholars today hold the “pragmatic” view that Confucius and his followers, although they did not intend to create a system of classics, “contributed to their formation.” In any case, it is undisputed that for most of the last 2,000 years, Confucius was believed to have either written or edited these texts.
The scholar Tu Wei-ming explains these classics as embodying “five visions" which underlie the development of Confucianism:
Tian (天), commonly translated as "Heaven" or "Sky", but philologically meaning the "Great One", "Great Whole", is a key concept in Confucianism. It denotes the source of reality, the cosmos, and nature in Chinese religions and philosophies. The Confucians mean by Tian what the Taoists mean by Tao.
In Analects 9.5 Confucius says that a person can know the movement of the Tian, and speaks about his own sense of having a special place in the universe. In 7.19 he says that he is able to understand the order of Tian.
Zigong, a disciple of Confucius, said that Tian had set the master on the path to become a wise man (Analects 9.6). In Analects 7.23 Confucius says that he has do doubt left that the Tian gave him life, and from it he had developed the virtue (de). In Analects 8.19 he says that the lives of the sages and their communion with Tian are intervowen.
Regarding gods (shen) enliving nature, in Analects 6.22 Confucius says that it is appropriate (yi) for people to worship (jing) them, though through proper rites (li), implying respect of positions and discretion. Confucius himself was a ritual and sacrificial master. In Analects 3.12 he explains that religious rituals produce meaningful experiences. Rites and sacrifices to the gods have an ethical importance: they generate good life, benevolence (jen), given that taking part in them implies an overcoming of the self.[note 3] Analects 10.11 tells that Confucius always took a small part of his food and placed it on the sacrificial bowls as an offering to his ancestors.
Confucian ethics are described as humanistic. This ethical philosophy can be practiced by all the members of a society. Confucian ethics is characterized by the promotion of virtues, encompassed by the Five Constants, or the Wuchang (五常), extrapolated by Confucian scholars during the Han Dynasty. The Five Constants are:
These are accompanied by the classical Sìzì (四字), that singles out four virtues, one of which is included among the Five Constants:
There are still many other elements, such as chéng (誠, honesty), shù (恕, kindness and forgiveness), lián (廉, honesty and cleanness), chǐ (恥, shame, judge and sense of right and wrong),yǒng (勇, bravery), wēn (溫, kind and gentle), liáng (良, good, kindhearted), gōng (恭, respectful, reverent), jiǎn (儉, frugal), ràng (讓, modestly, self-effacing).
Ren (Chinese: 仁, rén) is the Confucian virtue denoting the good feeling a virtuous human experiences when being altruistic. It is exemplified by a normal adult's protective feelings for children. It is considered the outward expression of Confucian ideals.
Yan Hui, Confucius's most outstanding student, once asked his master to describe the rules of ren and Confucius replied, "one should see nothing improper, hear nothing improper, say nothing improper, do nothing improper". Confucius also defined ren in the following way: "wishing to be established himself, seeks also to establish others; wishing to be enlarged himself, he seeks also to enlarge others".
Another meaning of ren is "not to do to others as you would not wish done to yourself". Confucius also said, "ren is not far off; he who seeks it has already found it". Ren is close to man and never leaves him.
Li (禮) is a classical Chinese word which finds its most extensive use in Confucian and post-Confucian Chinese philosophy. Li encompasses not a definitive object but rather a somewhat abstract idea; as such, it is translated in a number of different ways. Most often, li is described using some form of the word "rite" or "reason", "ratio" in the pure sense of Vedic ṛta, but it has also been translated as "custom", "mores", and "rules of proper behavior", among other terms.
Li embodies the entire web of interaction between humanity, human objects, and nature. Confucius includes in his discussions of li such diverse topics as learning, tea drinking, titles, mourning, and governance. Xunzi cites "songs and laughter, weeping and lamentation... rice and millet, fish and meat...the wearing of ceremonial caps, embroidered robes, and patterned silks, or of fasting clothes and mourning clothes... spacious rooms and secluded halls, soft mats, couches and benches" as vital parts of the fabric of li.
Confucius envisioned proper government being guided by the principles of li. Some Confucians proposed the perfectibility of all human beings with learning li as an important part of that process. Overall, Confucians believed governments should place more emphasis on li and rely much less on penal punishment when they govern. In Neo-Confucianism li is discussed explicitly as underlying reason and order of nature as reflected in its organic forms.
Loyalty (Chinese: 忠, zhōng) is particularly relevant for the social class to which most of Confucius' students belonged, because the most important way for an ambitious young scholar to become a prominent official was to enter a ruler's civil service.
Confucius himself did not propose that "might makes right", but rather that a superior should be obeyed because of his moral rectitude. In addition, loyalty does not mean subservience to authority. This is because reciprocity is demanded from the superior as well. As Confucius stated "a prince should employ his minister according to the rules of propriety; ministers should serve their prince with faithfulness (loyalty)".
Similarly, Mencius also said that "when the prince regards his ministers as his hands and feet, his ministers regard their prince as their belly and heart; when he regards them as his dogs and horses, they regard him as another man; when he regards them as the ground or as grass, they regard him as a robber and an enemy". Moreover, Mencius indicated that if the ruler is incompetent, he should be replaced. If the ruler is evil, then the people have the right to overthrow him. A good Confucian is also expected to remonstrate with his superiors when necessary. At the same time, a proper Confucian ruler should also accept his ministers' advice, as this will help him govern the realm better.
In later ages, however, emphasis was often placed more on the obligations of the ruled to the ruler, and less on the ruler's obligations to the ruled. Like filial piety, loyalty was often subverted by the autocratic regimes in China. Nonetheless, throughout the ages, many Confucians continued to fight against unrighteous superiors and rulers. Many of these Confucians suffered and sometimes died because of their conviction and action. During the Ming-Qing era, prominent Confucians such as Wang Yangming promoted individuality and independent thinking as a counterweight to subservience to authority. The famous thinker Huang Zongxi also strongly criticized the autocratic nature of the imperial system and wanted to keep imperial power in check.
Many Confucians also realized that loyalty and filial piety have the potential of coming into conflict with one another. This can be true especially in times of social chaos, such as during the period of the Ming-Qing transition.
In Confucian philosophy, filial piety (Chinese: 孝, xiào) is a virtue of respect for one's parents and ancestors. The Confucian classic Xiao Jing or Classic of Xiào, thought to be written around the Qin-Han period, has historically been the authoritative source on the Confucian tenet of xiào / "filial piety". The book, a conversation between Confucius and his student Zeng Shen (曾參, also known as Zengzi 曾子), is about how to set up a good society using the principle of xiào (filial piety). The term can also be applied to general obedience, and is used in religious titles in Christian Churches, like "filial priest" or "filial vicar" for a cleric whose church is subordinate to a larger parish. Filial piety is central to Confucian role ethics.
In more general terms, filial piety means to be good to one's parents; to take care of one's parents; to engage in good conduct not just towards parents but also outside the home so as to bring a good name to one's parents and ancestors; to perform the duties of one's job well so as to obtain the material means to support parents as well as carry out sacrifices to the ancestors; not be rebellious; show love, respect and support; display courtesy; ensure male heirs, uphold fraternity among brothers; wisely advise one's parents, including dissuading them from moral unrighteousness; display sorrow for their sickness and death; and carry out sacrifices after their death.
Filial piety is considered a key virtue in Chinese culture, and it is the main concern of a large number of stories. One of the most famous collections of such stories is The Twenty-four Filial Exemplars (Ershi-si xiao 二十四孝). These stories depict how children exercised their filial piety in the past. While China has always had a diversity of religious beliefs, filial piety has been common to almost all of them; historian Hugh D.R. Baker calls respect for the family the only element common to almost all Chinese believers.
Social harmony results in part from every individual knowing his or her place in the natural order, and playing his or her part well. When Duke Jing of Qi asked about government, by which he meant proper administration so as to bring social harmony, Confucius replied:
There is government, when the prince is prince, and the minister is minister; when the father is father, and the son is son. (Analects XII, 11, trans. Legge)
Particular duties arise from one's particular situation in relation to others. The individual stands simultaneously in several different relationships with different people: as a junior in relation to parents and elders, and as a senior in relation to younger siblings, students, and others. While juniors are considered in Confucianism to owe their seniors reverence, seniors also have duties of benevolence and concern toward juniors. The same is true with the husband and wife relationship where the husband needs to show benevolence towards his wife and the wife needs to respect the husband in return. This theme of mutuality still exists in East Asian cultures even to this day.
The Five Bonds are: ruler to ruled, father to son, husband to wife, elder brother to younger brother, friend to friend. Specific duties were prescribed to each of the participants in these sets of relationships. Such duties are also extended to the dead, where the living stand as sons to their deceased family. The only relationship where respect for elders isn't stressed was the friend to friend relationship, where mutual equal respect is emphasized instead. In all other relationships, high reverence is usually held for elders.
The junzi (Chinese: 君子, jūnzǐ, "lord's son") is a Chinese philosophical term often translated as "gentleman" or "superior person" and employed by Confucius in his works to describe the ideal man. In the I Ching it is used by the Duke of Wen.
In Confucianism, the sage or wise is the ideal personality; however, it is very hard to become one of them. Confucius created the model of junzi, gentleman, which can be achieved by any individual. Later, Zhu Xi defined junzi as second only to the sage. There are many characteristics of the junzi: he can live in poverty, he does more and speaks less, he is loyal, obedient and knowledgeable. The junzi disciplines himself. Ren is fundamental to become a junzi.
As the potential leader of a nation, a son of the ruler is raised to have a superior ethical and moral position while gaining inner peace through his virtue. To Confucius, the junzi sustained the functions of government and social stratification through his ethical values. Despite its literal meaning, any righteous man willing to improve himself can become a junzi.
On the contrary, the xiaoren (小人, xiăorén, "small or petty person") does not grasp the value of virtues and seeks only immediate gains. The petty person is egotistic and does not consider the consequences of his action in the overall scheme of things. Should the ruler be surrounded by xiaoren as opposed to junzi, his governance and his people will suffer due to their small-mindness. Examples of such xiaoren individuals can range from those who continually indulge in sensual and emotional pleasures all day to the politician who is interested merely in power and fame; neither sincerely aims for the long-term benefit of others.
The junzi enforces his rule over his subjects by acting virtuously himself. It is thought that his pure virtue would lead others to follow his example. The ultimate goal is that the government behaves much like a family, the junzi being a beacon of filial piety.
Confucius believed that social disorder often stemmed from failure to perceive, understand, and deal with reality. Fundamentally, then, social disorder can stem from the failure to call things by their proper names, and his solution to this was zhèngmíng (Chinese: [正名]; pinyin: zhèngmíng; literally: "rectification of terms"). He gave an explanation of zhengming to one of his disciples.
Zi-lu said, "The vassal of Wei has been waiting for you, in order with you to administer the government. What will you consider the first thing to be done?"
The Master replied, "What is necessary to rectify names."
"So! indeed!" said Zi-lu. "You are wide off the mark! Why must there be such rectification?"
The Master said, "How uncultivated you are, Yu! The superior man [Junzi] cannot care about the everything, just as he cannot go to check all himself!
If names be not correct, language is not in accordance with the truth of things.
If language be not in accordance with the truth of things, affairs cannot be carried on to success.
When affairs cannot be carried on to success, proprieties and music do not flourish.
When proprieties and music do not flourish, punishments will not be properly awarded.
When punishments are not properly awarded, the people do not know how to move hand or foot.
Therefore a superior man considers it necessary that the names he uses may be spoken appropriately, and also that what he speaks may be carried out appropriately. What the superior man requires is just that in his words there may be nothing incorrect."
(Analects XIII, 3, tr. Legge)
Xun Zi chapter (22) "On the Rectification of Names" claims the ancient sage-kings chose names (Chinese: [名]; pinyin: míng) that directly corresponded with actualities (Chinese: [實]; pinyin: shí), but later generations confused terminology, coined new nomenclature, and thus could no longer distinguish right from wrong. Since social harmony is of utmost importance, without the proper rectification of names, society would essentially crumble and "undertakings [would] not [be] completed." 
To govern by virtue, let us compare it to the North Star: it stays in its place, while the myriad stars wait upon it. (Analects 2.1)
A key Confucian concept is that in order to govern others one must first govern oneself according to the universal order. When actual, the king's personal virtue (de) spreads beneficent influence throughout the kingdom. This idea is developed further in the Great Learning, and is tightly linked with the Taoist concept of wu wei (simplified Chinese: 无为; traditional Chinese: 無為; pinyin: wú wéi): the less the king does, the more gets done. By being the "calm center" around which the kingdom turns, the king allows everything to function smoothly and avoids having to tamper with the individual parts of the whole.
In teaching, there should be no distinction of classes. (Analects 15.39)
Although Confucius claimed that he never invented anything but was only transmitting ancient knowledge (Analects 7.1), he did produce a number of new ideas. Many European and American admirers such as Voltaire and H. G. Creel point to the revolutionary idea of replacing nobility of blood with nobility of virtue. Jūnzǐ (君子, lit. "lord's child"), which originally signified the younger, non-inheriting, offspring of a noble, became, in Confucius' work, an epithet having much the same meaning and evolution as the English "gentleman".
A virtuous plebeian who cultivates his qualities can be a "gentleman", while a shameless son of the king is only a "small man". That he admitted students of different classes as disciples is a clear demonstration that he fought against the feudal structures that defined pre-imperial Chinese society.
Another new idea, that of meritocracy, led to the introduction of the imperial examination system in China. This system allowed anyone who passed an examination to become a government officer, a position which would bring wealth and honour to the whole family. The Chinese imperial examination system started in the Sui dynasty. 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. The practice of meritocracy still exists today in the Chinese cultural sphere, including China, Taiwan, Singapore and so forth.
The works of Confucius were translated into European languages through the agency of Jesuit scholars stationed in China.[note 4] Matteo Ricci was among the very earliest to report on the thoughts of Confucius, and father Prospero Intorcetta wrote about the life and works of Confucius in Latin in 1687.
Translations of Confucian texts influenced European thinkers of the period, particularly among the Deists and other philosophical groups of the Enlightenment who were interested by the integration of the system of morality of Confucius into Western civilization.
Confucianism influenced Gottfried Leibniz, who was attracted to the philosophy because of its perceived similarity to his own. It is postulated that certain elements of Leibniz's philosophy, such as "simple substance" and "preestablished harmony", were borrowed from his interactions with Confucianism. The French philosopher Voltaire was also influenced by Confucius, seeing the concept of Confucian rationalism as an alternative to Christian dogma. He praised Confucian ethics and politics, portraying the sociopolitical hierarchy of China as a model for Europe.
Confucius has no interest in falsehood; he did not pretend to be prophet; he claimed no inspiration; he taught no new religion; he used no delusions; flattered not the emperor under whom he lived...
From the late 17th century onwards a whole body of literature known as the Han Kitab developed amongst the Hui Muslims of China who infused Islamic thought with Confucianism. Especially the works of Liu Zhi such as Tiānfāng Diǎnlǐ（天方典禮）sought to harmonize Islam with not only Confucianism but also with Daoism and is considered to be one of the crowning achievements of the Chinese Islamic culture.
Important military and political figures in modern Chinese history continued to be influenced by Confucianism, like the Muslim warlord Ma Fuxiang. The New Life Movement in the early 20th century was also influenced by Confucianism.
Referred to variously as the Confucian hypothesis and as a debated component of the more all-encompassing Asian Development Model, there exists among political scientists and economists a theory that Confucianism plays a large latent role in the ostensibly non-Confucian cultures of modern-day East Asia, in the form of the rigorous work ethic it endowed those cultures with. These scholars have held that, if not for Confucianism's influence on these cultures, many of the people of the East Asia region would not have been able to modernize and industrialize as quickly as Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea and even China has done.
For example the impact of the Vietnam War on Vietnam was devastating, however over the last few decades Vietnam has been re-developing in a very fast pace. Most scholars attribute the origins of this idea to futurologist Herman Kahn's World Economic Development: 1979 and Beyond.
Other studies, for example Cristobal Kay's Why East Asia Overtook Latin America: Agrarian Reform, Industrialization, and Development, have attributed the Asian growth to other factors, for example the character of agrarian reforms, "state-craft" (state capacity), and interaction between agriculture and industry.
For many years since the era of Confucius, various critiques of Confucianism have arisen, including Laozi's philosophy and Mozi's critique. Lu Xun also criticised Confucianism heavily for shaping Chinese people into the condition they had reached by the late Qing Dynasty: his criticisms are well portrayed in two of his works, "A Madman's Diary" and The True Story of Ah Q.
In modern times, waves of critique along with vilification against Confucianism arose. The Taiping Rebellion, May Fourth Movement and Cultural Revolution are some upsurges of those waves in China. Taiping rebels described many sages in Confucianism as well as gods in Taoism and Buddhism as mere legends. Marxists during the Cultural Revolution described Confucius as the general representative of the class of slave owners. Numerous opinions and interpretations of Confucianism (of which many are actually opposed by Confucianism) were invented.
In South Korea, there has long been criticism of Confucianism. Many Koreans believe Confucianism has not contributed to the modernization of Korea. For example, South Korean writer Kim Kyong-il wrote an essay entitled "Confucius Must Die For the Nation to Live" (공자가 죽어야 나라가 산다, gongjaga jug-eoya naraga sanda). Kim said that filial piety is one-sided and blind, and if it continues social problems will continue as government keeps forcing Confucian filial obligations onto families.
Confucianism "largely defined the mainstream discourse on gender in China from the Han dynasty onward." The often strict, obligatory gender roles based on Confucian teachings became a cornerstone of the family, and thus, societal stability. Starting from the Han period onward, Confucians in general began to gradually teach that a virtuous woman was supposed to follow the lead of the males in her family, especially the father before her marriage and the husband after she marries. In the later dynasties, more emphasis was placed on women to uphold the virtue of chastity when they lost their husbands. Chaste widows were revered as heroes during the Ming and Qing periods. This "cult of chastity" accordingly, "condemned many widows to poverty and loneliness by placing a social stigma on remarriage by women."
However, recent reexaminations of Chinese gender roles suggest that many women flourished within Confucianism. During the Han dynasty period, the important Confucian text Lessons for Women (Nüjie), was written by Ban Zhao (45–114 CE): by a woman, for women.
She wrote the Nüjie ostensibly for her daughters, instructing them on how to live proper Confucian lives as wives and mothers. Although this is a relatively rare instance of a female Confucian voice, Ban Zhao almost entirely accepts the prevailing views concerning women's proper roles; they should be silent, hard-working, and compliant. She stresses the complementarity and equal importance of the male and female roles according to yin-yang theory, but she clearly accepts the dominance of the yang-male. Her only departure from the standard male versions of this orthodoxy is that she insists on the necessity of educating girls and women. We should not underestimate the significance of this point, as education was the bottom line qualification for being a junzi or "noble person,"...her example suggests that the Confucian prescription for a meaningful life as a woman was apparently not stifling for all women. Even some women of the literate elite, for whom Confucianism was quite explicitly the norm, were able to flourish by living their lives according to that model.
Joseph A. Adler has also indicated that even with the Neo-Confucians who have the reputation of discriminating against women, the actual situation was in fact quite complicated. As he writes, "Neo-Confucian writings do not necessarily reflect either the prevailing social practices or the scholars' own attitudes and practices in regard to actual women." There had been a difference between textual teaching and the actual social practice by the Confucians and society in general throughout all of China's dynasties.
Matthew Sommers has also indicated that during the Qing dynasty, the imperial government began to realize the utopian nature of enforcing the "cult of chastity." As a result, by the late Qing period, Qing officials became more tolerant and allowed practices such as widow remarrying to stand. Finally, some Confucian texts like the Chunqiu Fanlu 春秋繁露 also has passages which suggest a more equal relationship between a husband and his wife. All of these things add to the complexity of the issue of women in Confucian teaching.
In 2009, for the first time women (and ethnic minorities and people living overseas) were officially recognized as being descendants of Confucius. These additions more than tripled the number of officially recognized descendants of Confucius.
Ever since Europeans first encountered Confucianism, the issue of how Confucianism should be classified has been subject to debate. In the 16th and the 17th centuries, the earliest European arrivals in China, the Christian Jesuits, considered Confucianism to be an ethical system, not a religion, and one that was compatible with Christianity. The Jesuits, including Matteo Ricci, saw Chinese rituals as "civil rituals" that could co-exist alongside the spiritual rituals of Catholicism.
By the early 18th century, this initial portrayal was rejected by the Dominicans and Franciscans, creating a dispute among Catholics in East Asia that was known as the "Rites Controversy". The Dominicans and Franciscans argued that ancestral worship was a form of idolatry that was contradictory to the tenets of Christianity. This view was reinforced by Pope Benedict XIV, who ordered a ban on Chinese rituals.
Confucianism is definitively pantheistic, nontheistic and humanistic, and does not involve a belief in the supernatural or in a personal god. On spirituality, Confucius said to Chi Lu, one of his students, that "You are not yet able to serve men, how can you serve spirits?" Attributes such as ancestor worship, ritual, and sacrifice were advocated by Confucius as necessary for social harmony; however, these attributes can be traced to the traditional non-Confucian Chinese folk religion.
Scholars recognize that classification ultimately depends on how one defines religion. Using stricter definitions of religion, Confucianism has been described as a moral science or philosophy. But using a broader definition, such as Frederick Streng's characterization of religion as "a means of ultimate transformation", Confucianism could be described as a "sociopolitical doctrine having religious qualities." With the latter definition, Confucianism is religious, even if non-theistic, in the sense that it "performs some of the basic psycho-social functions of full-fledged religions".
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