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Also known as Ruism, Confucianism is a Western term for an Eastern tradition that doesn't translate accurately. Some regard Confucianism as a philosophy rather than a religion.

In reality, it is both a religion and a philosophy, as well as a tradition, a system of governance, and a way of life. To the Chinese, where it developed, it was known as ju chia, or the "school of the learned ones."

Confucianism developed from the teachings of Confucius, a Chinese philosopher, teacher, editor, and politician. His writings avoided the discussion of metaphysical things, but Confucianism has absorbed spiritual beliefs from Buddhism, Taoism, and some of the several folk religions that were in place. However, the question of whether Confucianism is a religion or a humanist philosophy is one that is interesting only to Westerners.

With an emphasis on practice rather than theory, Confucianism is a prescription for getting along in this world. It is a philosophy for dealing with the earthly problems that are ignored by Buddhism and Hinduism, but which are important to people nevertheless. What is the role of government? How does an orderly society function? How can families be successful? These are the types of questions that Confucianism seeks to answer, or to prepare people to deal with.

Once central to Chinese government and society, the tradition came under attack when the Chinese Community Party came to power shortly after World War II. In recent years, however, the communist government has been promoting Confucianism as a way of building national pride and a common heritage, but not without restraints.

Confucian influence has spread from China to other countries in East Asia, such as Japan, Korea, and Vietnam.

A weakness of Confucianism, in contrast with many other religions, is that, as envisioned by Confucious and early practitioners, it was a way of life, but one that lacked an organizational structure like a church.

It wasn't until the late 19th century that a church body was built around the teachings of Confucius. The Confucian Church was first proposed by Kang Youwei, a Chinese scholar and reformer of the late Qing Dynasty. When the communists took control in China, the Confucian Church was continued among overseas Chinese expatriate communities in Indonesia, Hong Kong, and the United States.

Since the Chinese government began relaxing its discouragement of religion in 2000, several temples of Confucius have reopened, and grassroots Confucius congregations have been loosely established, including talks about a national Confucian church.

Traditionally, Confucius was thought to have been the author or editor of the Five Classics of Confucianism. These are the I Ching, Classic of Poetry, Book of Documents, Book of Rites, and Spring and Autumn Annals.

Although its teachings stress practical living, Confucianism is not without reference to the spiritual. A key concept involves the relationship between humanity and heaven. The principle of heaven (Dao) is the order of the creation and the source of divine authority, and individuals are able to realize their humanity and become one with heaven by contemplating such order. Heaven, however, does not consist of a divine being who created everything; rather, it is a reference to the order of the universe.

An important Confucian concept is that in order to govern others, one must first govern oneself according to the order of the universe.

Another important concept is yin and yang, which does not refer to good and evil, as is commonly misunderstood. In Confucianism, yin and yang are complementary rather than opposing ideas. Yin represents the forces that are female, dark, mysterious, feminine, and moist, while Yang represents those that are hot, male, dry, and light. Yin is poetry, while yang is logic. Yin is the moon, while yang is the sun. Confucianism seeks the middle ways between yin and yang.

The metaphysics of Confucianism holds that the world is made up of five elements: water, fire, earth, metal, and wood, all of which are tied together through ch'i, which is a fundamental concept of Chinese tradition that refers to the energy flow or life force that pervades all things. Each of these elements has its place in space. Wood is in the east, fire in the south, metal in the west, water in the north, and earth in the center.

Also known as the Classic of Change or the Book of Changes, the I Ching is the earliest of the literary works attributed to Confucius. It is essential for an understanding of Chinese religion, as its philosophy is significant to both Confucianism and Taoism. Confucius is said to have said that if he had fifty more years of life, he would have devoted them to the study of the I Ching.



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