Two Major Belief Systems Take Root

During late Zhou times, wars raged across China. Economic and social changes were disrupting old ways of life. Two belief systems, Confucianism and Daoism, emerged at this time, Both put forward ideas on how to restore social order and maintain harmony with nature. They also shaped Chinese civilization for more than 2,500 years.

Confucius Spreads His Wisdom

The philosopher-teacher Confucius was born in 551 B.C. The name Confucius is the Western form of the name Kong Fuzi, or Master Kong. According to tradition, he belonged to a noble but poor family. A brilliant scholar, he hoped to become an adviser to a local ruler.

For years, he wandered from court to court talking to rulers about how to govern. Unable to find a permanent government position, he turned to teaching. As his reputation for wisdom grew, he attracted many students.

The Analects

Like two other influential thinkers who lived about the same time—Siddhartha Gautama in India and Socrates in Greece—Confucius never wrote down his ideas. After his death, his students collected his sayings in the Analects. The sayings offered advice for living a good and honorable life.

The Master said, if out of the three hundred Songs I had to take one phrase to cover all my teaching, I would say ‘Let there be no evil in your thoughts.’

The Master said, Yu, shall I teach you what knowledge is? When you know a thing, to recognize that you know it, and when you do not know a thing, to recognize that you do not know it. That is knowledge.


Illustration of bearded Chinese man in ancient dress, hands folded.

A scholar and teacher, Confucius had an enormous cultural influence on early Chinese civilization.

Unlike the Buddha, Confucius took little interest in spiritual matters such as salvation. Instead, he developed a philosophy, or system of ideas, that was concerned with worldly goals, especially those of ensuring social order and good government. Confucius studied ancient texts to learn the rules of conduct that had guided the ancestors.

Five Relationships Shape Behavior

Confucius taught that harmony resulted when people accepted their place in society. He stressed five key relationships: ruler to subject, parent to child, husband to wife, elder brother to younger brother, and friend to friend. Confucius believed that, except for friendship, none of these relationships were equal. In traditional China, older people were superior to younger ones and men were superior to women.

According to Confucius, everyone had duties and responsibilities, depending on his or her position. Superiors should care for their inferiors and set a good example, while inferiors owed loyalty and obedience to their superiors. Correct behavior, Confucius believed, would bring order and stability.

Confucius put filial piety, or respect for parents, above all other duties, even loyalty to the state. Other Confucian values included honesty, hard work, and concern for others. “Do not do to others,” he declared, “what you do not wish yourself.”

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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments