Chinese Religion Assignment | Online Homework Help

Define the Confucian terms: ren, yi, li, zhi, and xin. Choose one of these principles and examine how it contributes to social harmony. * IT IS IMPERATIVE AND IMPORTANT THAT YOU INCLUDE THE PAGE NUMBERS FOR ALL CITATIONS IN THE IN TEXT CITATIONS* One of your source has to be the file that I have included. You must use that file as one of your sources

Molloy, M. (2013). Chapter Three: Hinduism. Experiencing the World’s Religions (6th ed.). New York City, NY: McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc., 2013, p. 227-240.

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Daoism, as we just saw, seeks to bring human beings into union with the Dao, particularly through imitating certain qualities in nature—its harmony, lack of strain, and flowing mystery. The complex of ideals and beliefs that helped give shape to Laozi’s teachings also influenced Confucius, the major teacher of the second great Chinese school of thought. Thus, it is not surprising to find Confucianism as concerned with the Dao as Daoism is; as one Confucian classic says, “He is the sage who naturally and easily embodies the right way.11 This “way” is the cosmic Dao that permeates the entire universe—the Dao that we see in the everyday life of the noble person also “in its utmost reaches … shines brightly through heaven and earth.”12


There is a difference, however, between Daoist and Confucian notions of the Dao. For Confucians, the Dao of primary interest is the Dao within the human world, manifested in “right” relationships and in a harmonious society. It was social harmony that Confucius described when he listed his particular wishes: “[In] regard to the aged, to give them rest; in regard to friends, to show them sincerity; in regard to the young, to treat them tenderly.”13

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The Master said, “At fifteen, I had my mind bent on learning. At thirty, I stood firm. At forty, I had no doubts. At fifty, I knew the decrees of Heaven. At sixty, my ear was an obedient organ for the reception of truth. At seventy, I could follow what my heart desired, without transgressing what was right.”

—from the Confucian Analects14

In Daoism, everything is a part of the rhythm of nature—the Dao. In Confucianism, however, although birds and clouds and trees are what they should be, human beings do not automatically become what they should be. The sweet, spontaneous infant can quickly turn into the selfish child. The Confucian would say that training in virtue is necessary in order to enable the Dao to manifest itself clearly in the human being.

The Doctrine of the Mean, an important Confucian text (discussed later in this chapter), recommends several types of training, including training in the cultivation of personal equilibrium and harmony. We should recall that the Daoist ideal of the Daodejing warns against such “training,” feeling that formal education has a potential for distorting one’s originally pure state. Confucians, however, hold that the best training does not contaminate character but, by cultivating virtues, gives it definition and clarity.


Confucius was born about 551 bce, at a time when China was not a single empire but a group of small kingdoms. His name was Kong Qiu (K’ung Ch’iu). He later became known by the title of Kong Fuzi (K’ung Fu Tzu), meaning “Master Kong,” but he is known in the West by the Latin version of his name, which was created and spread by European Catholic missionaries.

     Tradition relates that Confucius was from a once-noble family that had fled at a time of political danger to the state of Lu (south of present-day Beijing). His father died when Confucius was a child, and despite their poverty, his mother raised him as an educated gentleman. He enjoyed chariot riding, archery, and playing the lute. In his teens, he became seriously interested in pursuing scholarship. He is said to have held a minor government post as tax collector, probably to support his mother and his studies. His mother died when he was in his late teens, and he entered into a state of mourning. When the period of mourning was over, he began his public life as a teacher.

Despite his eventual success as a teacher, Confucius had always wanted to play an influential part in government, and it is possible that for a time (c. 500–496bce) he became a government minister. Confucius married and is believed to have had a son and a daughter. He lived for about fifteen years outside of his home state but eventually returned to Lu to take a somewhat ceremonial post as senior advisor. He died about 479 bce.

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The period in which Confucius was born was a time of social turmoil because of the disintegration of the feudal system. Seeing families and individuals suffering from the social disorder, Confucius concluded that society would function properly only if virtues were taught and lived.

The ideals of Confucius were two: he wanted to produce “excellent” individuals who could be social leaders, and he wanted to create a harmonious society. He believed that these ideals were complementary: excellent individuals would keep society harmonious, and a harmonious society would nurture excellent individuals.

Confucius believed that each human being is capable of being good, refined, and even great; but he differed from the Daoists because he was convinced that a human being cannot achieve those qualities in isolation. In his view, a human being becomes a full person only through the contributions of other people and through fulfilling one’s obligations to them. These other people include parents, teachers, friends, aunts and uncles, grandparents, ancestors, and even government ministers.

Confucius also believed that more than social interaction (which even animals have) is needed to achieve personal excellence. For Confucius, that “more” is what makes ordinary human beings into excellent human beings, “superior persons.” What constitutes that “more”? What are the sources of human excellence?

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Deeper Insights



onfucianism is often thought of as a system for the regulation of social groups. Yet Confucianism is also a system for the transformation of the individual. Undergirding Confucianism is not just the ideal of an orderly society but also the ideal of a perfect human being.

This perfect person is the junzi (chün tzu)—a term usually translated as “superior person,” although a better translation may be “noble person.” The following quotations give a sense of the virtue that guides the junzi—the person who shows humanity at its best. In such a noble human being the Confucian ideals have been inculcated since childhood, and the virtues have been practiced for so long that the whole Confucian manner of relating to the world has become completely natural. The “noble person,” as Alfred Bloom nicely describes, is

distinguished by his faithfulness, diligence, and modesty. He neither overpowers with his knowledge, nor is afraid to admit error. He looks at all sides of any issue, is cautious and not concerned for personal recognition. Carrying himself with dignity, he appears imperturbable, resolute, and simple. He is exemplary in filial piety and generous with his kin. In his relations with others he looks for good points, though he is not uncritical. As a leader, he knows how to delegate responsibility and when to pardon or promote. He is sensitive to the feelings and expressions of others.15

A subtle portrait of such a person is given by George Kates, who describes the man who became his personal tutor in China. Kates writes about the civilized manner that manifested itself in all his tutor’s actions, even in the cultivated way the tutor entered a room and sat in a chair. The tutor, Mr. Wang,

had contrived to make his humdrum life, composed of a daily routine of monotonous teaching and domestic privation, symmetrical and reasonable indeed. … His eyes were kind; and his glance could at times glow when some new thought would catch and hold him. His side-face made you like him. … He … remained closed and therefore secure, if only because he knew so well by indirection how to turn aside effectively any indiscreet remark or lolloping conduct on the part of some new and immature pupil. … When Mr. Wang became assured that we thus had the same sense of decorum, barriers fell. Yet I remained more unwilling than ever now to press in upon his carefully guarded privacies; and upon this base we built a tranquil relation, partial it is true, but one that lasted us peaceably through many years. He became my formal teacher.16

According to Confucius, excellence comes partly from the cultivation of an individual’s virtues and intellect. Thus, education is essential. We should recognize, though, that for Confucius education meant more than knowledge; it also involved the development of skills in poetry, music, artistic appreciation, manners, and religious ritual. Confucius valued education because it transmitted the lessons of the past into the present. He believed that much of the wisdom required to produce excellent human beings is already expressed in the teachings of the great leaders of the past. Convinced that the past provides fine models for the present, Confucius thought that education could show the way to wise and happy living.

Moreover, Confucius saw civilization as a complicated and fragile creation; because of this, he believed that civilized human beings must be full of respect and care. Care must be given to the young, who will continue human life on earth, and to the elders, who teach and pass on the traditions. There should be reverence for everything valuable that has been brought from earlier generations.

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Confucius’s idea of a perfect society was one in which every member of society would be cared for and protected, and no one would feel abandoned. (Contrast this with modern industrial society; in a city full of people, an individual can feel utterly alone.) Confucius believed that a perfect society could come about if people played their social roles properly. His sense of social responsibility was codified in the five great relationships.

The Five Great Relationships

In Confucianism, relationships are just as real as any visible object. Human beings are not merely individuals. They are also interwoven threads of relationships with many people. To a great extent, in Confucian thinking human beings are their relationships.

All relationships, however, are not equal. The level of a relationship may be determined by personal factors, such as friendship or family connection, or by more formal social factors, such as age or social status. Confucianism recognizes this inequality and actually lists relationships according to a hierarchy, beginning with the most important:

  1. Father-son Family is the foundation of society for Confucians, with the relationship between father and son at its core. This relationship also represents all parent-child relationships. Parents must be responsible for the education and moral formation of their children. The children must be respectful and obedient to their parents, and they must care for them in their old age. Confucianism has extended this parental role in ways that some people in more individualistic societies today might not appreciate; for example, the parents are expected to help in the selection of a career and a marriage partner for each child. But the relationship of obligation is mutual: parents and children must show care for each other. The obligation of mutual care does not end upon death; even after their parents’ death, children are expected to honor their parents’ memory, especially by venerating photos of them at a home altar and by maintaining their graves. The parent-child relationship is considered so fundamental that it often functions as the model for all similar relationships, such as those between boss and employee and between teacher and student.
  2. Elder brother–younger brother Languages such as English, French, and Spanish do not distinguish between an elder brother and a younger brother. But the Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, and Japanese languages—which all have been strongly influenced by Confucian thought—have different words for the two kinds of brothers. In their cultures, the distinction is important. An elder brother must assume responsibility for raising the younger siblings, and the younger siblings must be compliant. The practicality of this arrangement becomes clear when we appreciate the possibility of an elderly father dying before all his children have been raised. The paternal responsibility then would shift to the eldest son, who has a unique status in the family.

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  1. Husband-wife Each person in this relationship is responsible for the other’s care. In Confucian thought, the relationship is hierarchical. The husband is an authoritative protector, and the wife is a protected homemaker and mother. The Confucian notion of marriage also implies much less romantic expectation than does the modern Western notion; in Confucian societies wives, over time, can even become quite motherly toward their husbands.
  2. Elder-younger All older people have responsibility for younger people, because younger people need care, support, and character formation. This means, as well, that younger people must show respect to those older than they are and be open to their advice.

Important to this relationship is the role of the mentor, which is taken very seriously in Confucian cultures. The elder-younger relationship exists between a teacher and a student, between a boss and an employee, between older and younger workers, and between an expert and an apprentice. (The traditional characters for teacher in Chinese and Japanese literally mean “earlier-born.” The term suggests the relationship of master-disciple, and it has overtones of strong mutual obligation.)

In some versions of the Five Great Relationships, the friend-friend relationship is listed fourth. The relationship between elder and younger and that between friend and friend are actually quite close, however. In friendship there is often a certain hierarchy: the friends may differ in rank, health, wealth, or knowledge. And if the difference is not evident at first, time will bring it about. In this relationship, the more powerful friend has a responsibility to assist the other friend, who is in need. In Confucian culture, a friendship entails serious commitment, and a friendship made in youth is expected to last a lifetime.

  1. Ruler-subject It might seem that this relationship should be listed first, and sometimes it is.17 However, more often it appears last in the lists, reflecting the Confucian perspective on the role of the ruler: above all, a ruler must act like a father, assuming responsibility and care for the subjects who are like his children. Thus, the father-son relationship is primary in that it is the model for most other relationships.

The Five Great Relationships signify that each person must live up to his or her social role and social status. This has been called the rectification of names. I have only to consult my social role and title to know my duty. For example, a father must be a caring father, a manager must be a responsible manager, and a friend must be a good friend.

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In Confucian societies, people see each other quite strongly in terms of their relationships and social roles. This means that proper ways of creating and maintaining relationships are crucial. Good manners are essential. The civilized person is expected to be respectful in vocabulary, tone, volume of voice, action, manner of dress, and even posture. Etiquette must especially be followed in all formal interactions—for example, between social superiors and their inferiors, between people meeting each other for the first time, and between people participating in an important social event. To follow the rules of etiquette is to show respect.

Gift-giving plays an important role in Confucian cultures. Gifts soften the anxiety of meeting new people and strengthen existing relationships. But gifts must be carefully chosen and appropriate to the situation; they must not be too personal or too impersonal, nor lavish or stingy. (When in doubt, gift boxes of food are often a safe choice.) Gift wrapping is also important; when money is given—such as in the case of a funeral offering—it must be presented in a proper envelope. At formal ceremonies, certificates and other objects are given and received carefully, with both hands extended and with a bow of the head.

The bow itself is an art form that varies according to the occasion. A small inclination of the head is used for greeting an equal; a bow from the shoulders is given to a social superior; and a deep bow is used to show profound respect, make a serious request, or offer an apology. Confucian etiquette such as this may seem artificial to an outsider, but this respectful behavior is inculcated from childhood in Confucian societies and seems perfectly natural to the participants. All of these elements are important because they are relationships made visible.

Because the family is the primary model for all groups, age determines position. We see interesting implications of the Five Great Relationships in Confucian countries today. For example, modern Japanese and Korean companies often act like large families, and management plays a fatherly role. (Bosses have a prominent place at weddings—and sometimes even oversee the matchmaking.) Similarly, an employee’s identity comes largely from his or her place in the company, and job titles are significant. The exchange of business cards—on which the person’s title is prominently featured—is a careful ritual. Seniors have responsibility for juniors, and one’s pay and role are largely based on seniority. Privacy and individual rights are not highly emphasized, and there is far more togetherness. Harmony is all-important.

The Confucian Virtues

Just as social harmony comes from the living out of the Five Great Relationships, so personal excellence comes from the manifestation of five virtues. Although they emphasize harmony between people, the Confucian virtues do not lead to antlike conformity. Some Confucian virtues, such as love of education and the arts, help individuals develop their unique talents. But the virtues most prized by Confucianism are indeed largely social virtues. Individual uniqueness, although valued by Confucianism, is expected to be muted, subtle, and considerate of others.

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Ren (jen) The Chinese character for ren (jen) illustrates the word’s meaning by blending two simpler pictographs—for “person” and “two.” When we look at the Chinese ideogram for the virtue of ren, we understand its meaning: to think of the other. It is translated in many ways: “sympathy,” “empathy,” “benevolence,” “humaneness,” “kindness,” “consideration,” “thoughtfulness,” and “human-heartedness.”

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Some people, though, do not know how to be kind, or they have difficulty in certain situations being kind spontaneously. In Confucian thinking, to follow social conventions is an important way for such people to show ren. After all, underlying all worthy social conventions is considerateness. A motto that reflects the essence of ren is, “If you want to be kind, be polite.”

Li This word is often translated as “propriety,” which means “doing what is appropriate” or “doing what is proper to the situation.” Originally, li referred to carrying out rites correctly. More generally, it means knowing and using the proper words and actions for social life. For each situation, there are appropriate words to say, proper ways to dress, and correct things to do. Sometimes propriety entails the control of one’s own desires. The Analects, which are thought to record the sayings of Confucius and his followers, assert, “To subdue one’s self and return to propriety, is perfect virtue.”18 In Western culture, which values what is different and individualistic, the notion of li may seem oppressive and suggest personal weakness. Confucianism, on the contrary, sees self-control as a sign of strength—and practicality. We all recognize that every social situation has its hidden structure. Chew gum at a job interview and you will not get the job; wear shorts to a funeral and you will probably cause hurt to the mourners. Li means good manners. It is putting ren into practice.

Shu The usual translation of shu is “reciprocity,” but its essence addresses the question, How will my action affect the other person? It is also another version of the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. The Confucian version, interestingly, is stated in negative terms: “Do not do unto others what you would not wish done to yourself.”19 It is therefore often called the Silver Rule. It helps me consider my actions from the other person’s viewpoint. This virtue also implies that obligations entailed by relationships are mutually binding.

Xiao (hsiao) The word xiao (hsiao) is usually translated as “filial piety” (devotion of a son or daughter to a parent). It also means the devotion that all members have to their entire family’s welfare. It encompasses several notions: remembrance of ancestors, respect for parents and elders, and care for children in the family. Ideally, it means valuing the entire extended family—of past, present, and future. It is possible that later generations of Confucians emphasized this virtue more than did Confucius himself. This virtue was especially spread by the Classic of Filial Piety (Xiaojing), written at least a century or two after the time of Confucius.

Wen The term wen means “culture” and includes all the arts that are associated with civilization. Confucianism has a special love for poetry and literature, as well as a fondness for calligraphy, painting, and music. The educated person is expected not only to have a knowledge of these arts but also to have an amateur skill in them. Wen can also entail the general notion of art appreciation, or connoisseurship. A connoisseur has a highly developed aesthetic sense and is able to know and appreciate beauty in its many forms.

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Confucianism stresses other virtues, too—particularly loyalty, consensus, hard work, thrift, honesty, uprightness, and emotional control. One virtue frequently mentioned is sincerity. The Confucian notion of sincerity, however, is not the same as the Western notion; in fact, it is virtually the opposite. The Western notion of sincerity concerns something that an individual says or does that is personal and “from the heart,” free of social control. The Confucian notion of sincerity, however, means to choose naturally and automatically to do what is correct for society. It teaches that the individual should restrain selfish desires in order to fulfill job duties and social obligations properly. Through this kind of unselfish sincerity, the noble person becomes united with the force of the universe, which is already—according to Confucian thought—sincere. “Sincerity is the way of Heaven. … He who possesses sincerity is he who, without an effort, hits what is right. … He who attains to sincerity is he who chooses what is good, and firmly holds it fast.”20


Confucius considered himself primarily a transmitter of wisdom. Consequently, much of what is called the literature of Confucianism actually preceded him and was subsequently edited and added to by Confucian scholars. It is now recognized that many of the great Chinese classics, even those attributed to one person, were actually produced in layers and over many years. Books could circulate in many forms, with several generations adding their insights until a final form eventually became authoritative. We have already seen this in the case of ancient Daoist literature. Thus, it is not always possible to separate with certainty the teachings of Confucius, his predecessors, and his followers.

The most authoritative Confucian literature is made up of the Five Classics and the Four Books. It includes pre-Confucian works of poetry, history, and divination; the sayings of Confucius and his disciples; and the sayings of Mencius, a later Confucian teacher.

Early on, Confucian literature became the “core curriculum” of Chinese education. China was the first country in the world to use regular examinations as the gateway for entering the civil service, but these came to be based on the Confucian books and their commentaries. Any male could take the examinations, and success in them often guaranteed a post with the government.

Because the Confucian books were part of the established educational system, the sayings of Confucius and Mencius came to pervade Chinese culture. They have been quoted as authoritatively in China as the Bible is quoted in the West or the Qur’an is quoted in Muslim societies. They also have put a heavy stamp on the neighboring cultures of Korea, Japan, Singapore, and Vietnam, as well as overseas Chinese communities everywhere. Although the literature is no longer an essential part of the educational curriculum in Asia, Confucian values continue to be taught both formally in school and less formally in the family and surrounding culture.

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The basic nature of human beings has been one of the great topics of discussion throughout the history of China. Is human nature good or bad or somewhere in between? This is not a theoretical question at all, because how one answers this question has crucial practical results. If human nature is basically good, it should be left on its own and trusted, and moral training, laws, and punishments are of little importance. If human nature is basically evil, human beings need strict moral education, stern laws, harsh punishments, and a strong ruler. A middle position is also possible: if human nature is neutral, human beings need education that is not coercive and a ruler who governs primarily through example.

Schools of Philosophy

Before Confucianism was adopted as official state policy during the Han dynasty (206 bce– 220 ce), major schools of thought on this topic already had emerged, reflecting a full spectrum of opinion. The Confucian schools took a middle course between extremes, recognizing both the great abilities of human beings and the need for their formation.

Page 239The most liberal of the thinkers were the early Daoists, who were so optimistic about the natural goodness of human beings that they resisted formal education. The Daodejing shows clearly the Daoist rejection of artificial formation.27 The entire book presents instead a vision of people living simple lives in small villages, governing themselves with natural good sense.28 Laws should be few, because if life is lived simply, order will arise spontaneously. (Of course, as Daoism evolved, it became more positive about human culture and the rules needed to sustain it. Monastic Daoism, in particular, offered many regulations about correct behavior.)

Closer to the center, but still to the left, was the teaching of Mencius, a Confucian who flourished about 300 bce. (His name is the Latin version of his Chinese name—Mengzi, Meng Tzu.) The teachings of Mencius were ultimately so acceptable to many that the book of sayings attributed to him became one of the Four Books.

Mencius did not merely repeat the thoughts and values of Confucius; it seems he was a bit more optimistic about human nature, perhaps because of his contact with Daoism. There are innumerable Daoist-sounding passages among his sayings. One of them, for example, uses an image loved by Daoists: “The people turn to a benevolent rule as water flows downward.”29

Mencius was struck by the many virtues shown by ordinary people: mercy, kindness, conscience. “The feeling of commiseration belongs to all men; so does that of shame and dislike; and that of reverence and respect….”30 In human beings, he thought, there is an “innate goodness,” and virtues exist in everyone, at least in seedling form. The sprouts need only the proper nurturing, which education can provide by helping naturally good tendencies in a child to grow properly and to flower. Education does not radically redirect human nature but helps it to become what it already potentially is.

Mencius was aware of the ideal of universal love but thought that such an ideal was impossible and unwise. According to Mencius, in society there is a hierarchy of love and responsibility: we must love our families first, then our friends and neighbors, and then the rest of society; and to reject that structure would bring about social disorder. Education is valuable in making the natural order clear and in helping individuals live with it dutifully.

Confucius’s position on human nature seems to have been fairly close to the center. We have already seen this in his view on the importance of education. Confucius was also optimistic; he believed that human beings respond to kindness and good example.

Xunzi (Hsün Tzu), who was active about 250 bce, held a darker view of human nature. He is also considered a Confucian, but because of his pessimism about human nature, his thought did not ultimately receive the official support that was eventually given to Mencius. Mencius and Confucius tended to view Heaven, the power that rules the universe, as ultimately benevolent. But for Xunzi (as for the Daoists), the universe is totally uncaring; it works according to its own nature and patterns.

Xunzi viewed human nature and human beings as functioning in a similarly mechanistic way. Human beings will veer toward self-interest unless they are taught differently. Consequently, education is not social refinement of an already good person; instead, it must be a radical moral and social reformation of human tendencies that are primarily selfish and individualistic. Education must inculcate proper ceremonies, manners, laws, and customs, for these artificial rules help transcend selfish individual interest and make civilization possible. “All propriety and righteousness are the artificial production of the sages, and are not to be considered as growing out of the nature of man. It is just as when a potter makes a vessel from the clay … or when another workman cuts and hews a vessel out of wood….”31

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Holding a view of human nature similar to Xunzi’s was the Mohist school, although its exact position is not easy to categorize. Mozi (Mo Tzu, c. 470–391 bce) was known as a self-disciplined, idealistic person who lived simply and worked actively against war and for the betterment of common people. He thought that without laws, people are predatory, and that with laws, although there is order, society is inequitable. He held that social problems arise because people’s love is graded and partial. The answer, he thought, is to practice equal love for everybody. “Who is the most wise? Heaven is the most wise. And so righteousness assuredly issues from Heaven. Then the gentlemen of the world who desire to do righteousness cannot but obey the will of Heaven. What is the will of Heaven that we should all obey? It is to love all men universally.”32

The Legalists, who were influential from about 400 to 200 bce, also had a view of human nature like Xunzi’s and Mozi’s but possibly even starker. For the Legalists, human beings are fundamentally selfish and lazy. They will lie, cheat, steal, and kill whenever it is in their interest. “Civilization” is just a very thin veneer, easily shattered; and without stern laws and punishments, people will destroy one another. According to the Legalists, the education of children should consist mainly of warning and punishment, and society must continue these sanctions with adults, because adults are really just children in disguise.

For several centuries after the time of Confucius, the various philosophical schools strove for influence. Legalism triumphed for a time in the third century bce. The foundation of the Han dynasty, however, provided an opportunity to find a school of thought that could make the greatest contribution to social order. Around 135 bce, a scholar proposed to the emperor that Confucianism would help unite the country. This scholar, Dong Zhongshu (Tung Chung-shu), also recommended that the emperor set up a Confucian school for the education of government officials. The emperor followed his advice, and Confucian thought began to gain recognition as an important political philosophy.


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