This Day in World History
September 28, 551 BCE
Chinese philosopher Kongfuzi born
Few people in history can justly claim the impact of Kongfuzi (often called Confucius), whose teachings have influenced hundreds of millions of people across Asia. Like so many important figures in the world of ideas, the historical Kongfuzi is an elusive figure. While precise date of the sage’s birth is unknown, the Chinese have long celebrated September 28, and to this day, members of the Kong family still live in the family compound in Qufu, China.
The name Kongfuzi means “Master Kong,” but to millions of people he is simply referred to as zi or fuzi—“the Master.”
Kongfuzi’s teachings have at their core a view of human beings as inclined toward ethical behavior and of human society as a perfectible moral order. His concept of the “superior man” or “gentleman” (junzi) is at the heart of his philosophy, and a society led by junzi would encourage proper behavior among the people. Despite challenges from a number of competing philosophical schools, Confucian ideals ultimately became the standard for Chinese politics and scholarship.
What little we know of Kongfuzi is that he came from an aristocratic family that had fallen on hard times. Hardship was intensified when he was but three and his father died. Though he grew up in poverty, the future master developed an appetite for learning. He sought the best teachers in ritual, music, archery, charioteering, calligraphy, and arithmetic, the six traditional Chinese arts. Married at nineteen, Kongfuzi held government jobs of little responsibility until he decided to launch a career in teaching. He opened a school aiming to teach able students of all classes and developed the art of teaching in China. In his forties, Kongfuzi joined the government of the king of Lu, serving in various offices over the following years. His deep morality earned admiration and loyal adherents, though he faced opposition to his ideas of proper governance within the regime. He left office in his fifties, hoping to find a ruler more open to his views. Twelve years of travel, teaching, and learning ended with his retirement at the age of sixty-seven. In the remaining six years of his life, he wrote and edited his works, the most famous and influential being his Analects. He died in 479 BCE.