One of the great influences on China's life and thought is the teachings of Confucius. It could be said to be the cornerstone or one of the main planks of traditional Chinese culture.
Confucius was not only an influential educationalist, but he was also a great thinker and philosopher, and fortunately or otherwise, he was unsuccessful as a politician.
His main focus throughout his life was truth, kindness and perfection, which some scholars think was the main cause for his failure. However, his teaching has had a great and lasting effect on Chinese intellect and behaviour which is in evidence up to today.
He was born in about 550 BC and his real name was Kong Qiu, Kong - his family name and his given name - Qiu - was in thanksgiving, as his parents had prayed for a son. Confucius is the name given to him by the West.
His father died when he was very young and he and his mother had a hard life. But here is something youngsters who are going through a difficult economic life should note. At the age of 15, determined to better himself, he devoted his time to his studies. He got as much education as was possible, and he never gave up learning.
His guiding force was patriotism, and understandably, one of his passions was that all persons, regardless of their social or economic status, should be educated. In China, at that time, only the wealthy and the upper classes were educated.
His career as a philosopher and teacher is unequalled in China. He had what is regarded as a unique approach to education, in that, he believed that studying without adequate thinking only leads to confusion, on the other hand, thinking without studying leads to conceit and laziness.
LIFE IS A LEARNING EXPERIENCE
He lived what he taught, and took great care to learn from any and everyone. He believed that everyone has something to teach as life itself was a learning experience. Honesty was the bedrock of his example, and honest labour was paramount to his teaching. Ill-gotten gains, he taught, was like a cloud which soon passed.
His teachings flourished for a while at different periods during his lifetime. He was not always successful or accepted. But he had many followers who kept his work alive after his death. Among these was Mencius, so that his teachings and his philosophy have become the orthodox doctrine of Chinese society and, even though challenged or revered at different periods by groups and individuals, he has remained a guiding source in Chinese life, and is now being studied and assessed by many modern scholars all over the world.
Confucius institutes are being established in many countries. Here at our own University of the West Indies there is one such, and young Jamaicans are studying, the Mandarin language of China; children among them. Students of two high schools, Campion and Ardenne, now have affiliated Confucius classrooms on their campuses. A number of Jamaican students are also studying in China on scholarships, while some of our teachers are in China teaching, among other things, hospitality and English.
This can only lead to a greater understanding between China and ourselves, which is very important as there are many Jamaicans who are a mixture of both peoples and cultures.
The teachings of Confucius are often repeated. Many sayings, however, are not authentic and are frequently heard in the Western world. For example, you will hear people say "Confucius says" and then give something of their own making to suit the situation they are in.
This is sometimes highly amusing, and at times annoying to the Chinese as many of these are quite corny, like, "Confucius says, crowded street slow traffic".
In fact, his sayings are regarded by his adherents as pearls of wisdom. The following are three examples: