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The Social Impact of Confucianism

What Social Impact Did Confucianism Have

Confucianism is a way of life and set of teachings developed from the thoughts of Confucius, who lived in China in the 6th century BCE. The philosophy stresses personal and governmental morality, the correctness of social relationships, justice, ritual decorum, and sincerity.

Unlike other belief systems, such as Taoism or Buddhism, which focused on spiritual liberation or nirvana, Confucianism maintained that the ultimate goal was to create a harmonious society. It significantly impacted East Asia and – some argue – elsewhere.

The Influence of Confucius

The influence of Confucianism on China is enormous. The moral system that Confucius, a sage on the level of Aristotle and Plato, devised has dramatically influenced how the Chinese see the world. It also had a significant impact on Asia and maybe even Europe.

Many people believe Confucianism was a philosophy, a religion, or a way of governing. However, it was more than just a belief system: Confucianism is associated with values and a way of life.

Philosopher, poet, politician, and teacher Confucius was born in 551 BCE (Before the Common Era). His teachings developed and grew during the Zhou Dynasty (1046 BCE – 256 BCE), forming the basis for much of Chinese culture and society.

Confucianism was suppressed during the Qin Dynasty (1636 – 1912), before being revived. His teachings remain active today in China and elsewhere.

Confucian Influence on Chinese History and Chinese Civilization

In ancient China, Confucian teachings significantly influenced Chinese intellectuals, government (Han Dynasty: Confucianism encouraged the government to give jobs to educated people rather than nobles), society, and even traditional Chinese culture.

He introduced new concepts based on harmony and the importance of social order, partly by traveling through northeast and central China.

One of the main reasons Confucian ethics significantly impacted traditional Chinese society is that it influenced religions, governments, and education.

Many aspects of the Confucian idea can still be found in today’s Chinese people’s way of life. The most obvious is its influence on the family unit.

The strength of a nation derives from the integrity of the home.


Although other traditions preceded it, such as Buddhism and Daoism, the principles of Confucian influence are still very much alive today in countries such as Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and Vietnam.

Confucianism in Contemporary China

The teachings of Confucius are still an essential part of Chinese education today. Filial piety is still taught and practiced in many parts of China today.

For example, students bow to their parents as a sign of respect when they see them. This concept extends beyond the family structure to the country, where children are taught to honor and respect their country.

In Confucianism, the family is more important than the individual. The whole society is considered as one big family consisting of all members.

Family members should take care of each other and respect their elders.

Family members should work together to maintain harmony and avoid disputes.

Confucianism is a system of morality and, therefore, has social implications.

It’s a humanistic philosophy that advocates being good to others and not harming others. It states that you can only be happy if you’re good to others and don’t harm them.

The effects are mainly positive because they pressure individuals to behave positively when there are no negative consequences.

This is helpful to society because if people have a strong sense of morality, they’ll not commit crimes or do anything that could harm society.

If people had no morals, they’d have no respect for authority or laws; they’d do only what benefits themselves, without regard for others.

The Confucian virtue is that one should be good to others and not hurt them. But if you do hurt someone, you should bear the consequences of your actions.

Confucianism Elsewhere in Asia

Confucius is studied in Asian countries outside China.

Until the nineteenth century, Neo-Confucianism (the evolution of Confucian teachings by the twelfth-century scholar Zhu Xi and others) was the leading philosophy in Japan, Korea, and Vietnam.

It continues to have an impact to this day.

Confucius and the European Enlightenment

Confucius’s works were translated into European languages in the sixteenth century, initially into Latin by Michele Ruggieri.

The works were published in Latin in 1687 and are thought to have influenced thinkers in Europe of the period – especially those involved in the Enlightenment who wanted to add Confucius’s thinking on morality into Western European thought and practice.

The object of the superior man is truth.


Difference Between Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism

Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism are three of the most influential philosophies in East Asia.


Confucianism is a philosophy that emphasizes the importance of ethics, moral character, and good behavior.

The philosophy behind Confucianism is that a virtuous leader can create a well-ordered society in which everyone follows ethical and moral values.

Confucianism was built on an ancient religious foundation to establish moral values that have significantly impacted Chinese society and culture.


The tradition of Taoism or Daoism emphasizes living in harmony with nature.

Taoists believe people should live in harmony with nature rather than interfere with nature.

Living in harmony with nature means following the Dao, which means “the path” (or the way). It also refers to the flow of water and air, etc.; that’s how nature works. … It means paying attention to the little things and doing your best without worrying about success or failure because life goes on no matter what happens or what path we choose.


Buddhism is a philosophical tradition that originated in India and emphasizes non-violence and compassion towards all living beings.

Buddhist teachings emphasize that suffering comes from attachment to material things and desires. Buddhism is widely practiced in the West.

The Buddhist practice of meditation has been popularized by Western culture as a means of relaxation and attainment of inner peace.

For Buddhists, meditation is much more than a way to relax; it’s the path to enlightenment.

History of Confucianism

Confucius, also known as Kong Qiu or K’ung Fu-tzu, was a Chinese philosopher, teacher, writer, politician, and prophet. He had a strong social conscience and believed in ethics and personal values. He believed that each individual can improve his own life and society.

Confucius was born in 551 BC in eastern China (Shandong province) and belonged to the Shi class (a social class between the aristocracy and the ordinary people).

He lost his father when he was three years old and was raised in poverty by his mother.

He received a primary education at schools for ordinary people, where he studied and learned the six arts (music, archery, chariot making, calligraphy, and mathematics) – which later became part of Confucian philosophy.

In his early 20s, Confucius practiced various professions, including an accountant and a keeper of sheep and horses. Although these jobs were modest, they were crucial to him as they enabled him to earn enough money to fulfill his family obligations, mainly to provide his mother with a proper burial.

The death of his mother was a significant event in his life, and it is believed that Confucius observed a three-year mourning period by the customs of his time, a testament to his deep respect and love for his mother.

Coming from a humble background, the traditional route into government service was not readily available to Confucius. This situation prompted him to acquire skills in various menial jobs, reflecting his adaptability and commitment to self-improvement.

His determination and talent did not go unnoticed, as he later found employment with the influential Jisun clan. The Jisun family, known for their outstanding advisory role to the rulers of the State of Lu, provided Confucius with a platform to demonstrate his abilities.

Confucius began with less prominent duties and gradually rose to more critical positions within the Lu government. He served primarily as Minister of Construction and later as Minister of Crime.

In his role as Minister of Crime, Confucius was influential in maintaining law and order and excelled in diplomatic duties, demonstrating his wisdom and understanding of governance. However, his tenure was not without its challenges. Confucius faced complex difficulties and conflicts, particularly with the Jisun clan, eventually leading to his resignation.

This resignation marked a turning point in Confucius’ life and forced him to leave his homeland. He embarked on a journey in search of rulers supporting his vision of establishing high moral standards in governance. This period of his life was crucial, as it laid the foundations for his teachings and philosophy that would later influence countless generations.

Confucian Values

Confucianism is based on:

  • Ethics
  • Moral character
  • Good behavior

The entire development of Confucianism can be seen as an attempt to narrow the gap between ideal and reality, to improve people by developing their innate humanity, and at the same time to make society more humane.

The golden rule of Confucianism is “Do not treat others as you would not want to be treated” (Don’t do to others what you would not want to be done to you).

Confucian culture believed that a person’s moral character depended on his upbringing.

A virtuous person was one with good moral character, and a virtuous society respected its elders and cared for the weakest members of society, the children and the sick.

According to Confucius, respect for others, unselfishness, and humility are essential.

In Confucius’s idealized view, the family is based on five relationships: Ruler to the subject, father to son, husband to wife, elder brother to younger brother, etc.

The relationships are hierarchical, with the ruler at the top, but all are equal in their spheres.

Confucius Ideas

The main Confucian principles of ethics and its core values are all based on human nature.

The two most essential principles are benevolence and righteousness. They can be considered as opposites of each other. Benevolence defines our relationships with others in society, while righteousness concerns how we treat ourselves.

Respect is the virtue of treating others with consideration. It requires that we strive not to hurt or upset them and accept their right to their way of life.

Altruism is the opposite of selfishness; it’s selfless concern for the welfare of others.

Humility means accepting our place in the natural order, which differs from person to person but never places one above another.

Positive Effects of Confucian Values on the Individual

Each person is unique. And yet, we’re all the same by nature because we want to be happy and fulfilled.

Those who work on their ethics, moral values, and good behavior will automatically positively impact themselves and those around them.

If we apply the Confucian classics by acquiring new skills and knowledge about ethics, moral values, and good behavior, our inner selves are strengthened, and we become better people for ourselves and others.

Confucian teachings include being tolerant of other people’s views and behavior.

This makes us more understanding of other people’s needs and more willing to help those in need. We’d also become more resilient if we followed Confucius’s teachings.

Instead of giving up when faced with difficulties, we’d learn to overcome them with patience and perseverance and become better people over time.

If we don’t know life, how can we know death?


If we applied the Confucian concept of ethics, we’d be more alert to threats from outside our species and could develop a more advanced society. We’d live in social harmony and stability, and we’d have a more significant impact on the world because people would have more time to focus on things other than survival.

Adverse Effects of the Confucian Concept on the Individual

The Confucian concept is a great idea in a perfect world where everyone is an excellent Confucian scholar in a structured society and puts others before themselves. However, humanity is still far from the Confucian vision.

Regarding how we should respect others in the family, The Confucian principle is that we should show respect to elders because of their age or to men because of their gender roles.

From the modern perspective of Western societies, this can be difficult to understand, and many people would say that we cannot do this because people’s social roles and social status can change at any time.

How can you show as much respect to someone who doesn’t deserve it as to someone who does?

This is where the hierarchical aspect of Confucian thought comes into play.

In the Confucian concept, there must be a hierarchy, and the person at the top must be a role model for everyone else. If you’re at the bottom of the hierarchy, you cannot rise above your position.

The Enduring Legacy of Confucianism in Modern Societies

Confucianism, a philosophical and ethical system based on the teachings of Confucius, continues to influence various East Asian countries significantly, notably in Chinese society. This ancient doctrine, which emerged during the Zhou Dynasty, has profoundly shaped Chinese culture and values, permeating various social life and governance aspects.

In contemporary China, the principles of Confucianism still resonate, particularly in the realms of moral education and social order.

The Confucian values of filial piety, respect for elders, and emphasis on harmonious social relationships remain integral to Chinese society. Confucian ideals also underscore the importance of education and the cultivation of virtue, influencing China’s approach to personal development and societal harmony.

Beyond mainland China, Confucianism’s impact is evident in other East Asian countries such as South Korea, Japan, and Vietnam.

These societies have integrated Confucian principles into their cultural fabric, reflecting their social norms, educational systems, and corporate hierarchies. The Confucian ethic of respect for authority and community cohesion continues to play a crucial role in maintaining social harmony in these regions.

While experiencing rapid modernization and Western influence, Hong Kong and Taiwan still retain strong Confucian underpinnings in their social and familial structures. These regions ‘ educational institutions and public policies often reflect Confucian ideals, emphasizing respect, responsibility, and moral rectitude.

The global spread of Chinese culture, partly through initiatives like the Confucius Institutes, has also led to a broader worldwide appreciation and understanding of Confucian teachings. As a result, Confucianism’s influence extends beyond East Asia, contributing to the global discourse on ethics, governance, and human nature.

In conclusion, Confucianism, with its rich heritage and philosophical depth, continues to shape societies, influencing not just the social fabric of East Asian countries but also offering valuable insights into ethical conduct and societal harmony for the broader world. Its principles, emphasizing virtue, respect, and moral education, remain relevant in addressing contemporary social challenges and fostering a more harmonious global community.