Exhibiting Historical Art: Out of the Vault: Stories of People and Things


Confucianism can be viewed as both a philosophy and religion. The tenets of either are based on the life and teachings of Confucius, who lived 551-479 BC, and who had mastered the six arts of ritual, music, archery, charioteering, calligraphy and arithmetic and also held knowledge of classical poetry and history. In his own studies, Confucius was intrigued by the cumulative power of culture and wanted to conserve traditional values and social norms. Confucianism is based on the principle of ren ("humaneness" or "benevolence"), and promotes self-cultivation of personal character in accord with li (ritual norms), zhong (loyalty to one's true nature), shu (reciprocity), and xiao (filial piety). The encompassing idea to strive towards is de (virtue).

As Confucianism became more integrated into culture and politics, emphasis was placed on the idea of the ordinary human to become great through an individual willingness and conscious decision to pursue improvement and perfection.  Mencius (c. 371–c. 289 bce) was a follower of Confucian principles who first grounded the teachings in the government and political atmosphere. Mencius proposed changing how lords approached their pursuit of profit, self-interest, wealth, and power to involve it in a moral discourse, with emphasis on rightness, public-spiritedness and welfare. He argued essentially that by involving the masses their aims, the mutual goal would produce more profit. This argument was distilled by the moral ladder, “Those who are admirable are called good (shan). Those who are sincere are called true (xin). Those who are totally genuine are called beautiful (mei). Those who radiate this genuineness are called great (da). Those whose greatness transforms are called sagely (sheng). Those whose sageliness is unfathomable are called spiritual (shen)” (VIIB:25) The scholar Xunzi (c. 300–c. 230 bce) integrated Confucian beliefs with ritual and authority in order to politically standardize behaviour, define social relationships, and control civil disputes. 

Government-mandated education became centered around the Five Classics, which dealt with texts in terms of political, poetic, metaphysical, historical and social:
- Shujing (Classic of History) – political collection of documents and speeches dating from the Later Han Dynasty (23-220 CE) that deal with ethical foundation for a humane government
- Shijing (Classic of Poetry) - collection of 300 poems and songs dealing with mutual responsiveness, with an emphasis on honesty
- Yijing (Classic of Changes) – metaphysical collection of texts on divination based on a set of 64 hexagrams that illustrate the interaction of the essential energies of Yin and Yang in nature and society
- Chunqiu (Spring and Autumn Annals) - extracts from the history of the state of Lu 722-484, compiled by Confucius due to his opinion that a knowledge of history is not only desirable but necessary for self-knowledge and self-identification.
- Liji (Classic of Rites) – social vision consists of three books on the Li (Rites of Propriety) that organize society by four occupations - scholar, farmer, artisan, and merchant – who must cooperate and communicate for the greatest working system. 

During the reign of the Qianlong Emperor, the prominence of Confucian ideology in their societal and political ideology was as much about the importance of the values it prescribed as it was about preserving their cultural heritage. The Qianlong Emperor, as part of the Manchu, was a descendent of a conquest dynasty. Utilizing Confucian ideology was a way of imposing control upon the population within a system they already supported and were familiar with. This was why in contrast to the compilation of The Complete Library of the Four Treasures, so many other texts were burned; Qianlong was able to control what tenets were upheld and which were buried. 


This page has paths:

Contents of this tag:

This page references: