Confucius (551-479 B.C.)
Confucius may rightly be regarded as the first great Chinese philosopher. Although some later Chinese would develop a Confucian religion, Confucius was no religious leader nor did he claim any special divine status. Confucius was, in fact, merely one who sought to teach those around him the meaning of virtue, piety, good government and filial duty.
Confucius' family was from the lesser aristocracy that had fallen on hard times when he was born in 551 B.C. in the province of Lu. He was born into the family of K'ung and was given the name Ch'iu; in later life he was called "Master Kung": K'ung Fu-tzu, from which the Latin form, Confucius, is derived. He began a successful political career as a young man, rising quickly in the ranks of government, but at some point fell out of favor.
Although his personal goal was to restore peace and orderliness to the province, he found himself dismissed from government when he was still quite young. He never returned to public life. Instead he turned to teaching, hoping that he could change the world by changing its leaders at a young age. Confucius' students recorded these teachings and this is what comes down to us as the Analects. Two other Confucian teachings are recorded in The Great Learning and The Doctrine of the Mean. In many respects, the Confucian method characterizes just about all Chinese learning down to the present day; its fundamental tenet is the unwavering belief in the perfectibility of human beings through learning.
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