Confucius is also sometimes known as Kong Qiu, Kungzu, K'ung-tzu, K'ung-fu-tzu and many others variants. The most common European spelling, 'Confucius', was devized in the 17th century by a Jesuit priest who first brought him to the attention of the West.
Confucius was born in about 551 BC in the tiny state of Lu, which was to the southwest of the bigger and stronger state of Qí. He was a rough contemporary of Pythagoras and Buddha.
He was from as aristocratic family which had fallen on hard times. His father, who died when Confucius was just three, had spent his life employed as a mercenary. When he was about six <a href="http://analectsofconfucius.com/the-analects-of-confucius-translations-from-the-asian-classics-2/">Confucius</a> and his mother were disowned by father's family for reasons that are not entirely clear, although we do know that he never had any contact with them again for the rest of his life. Shortly after he had finished his schooling his mother died, leaving him an orphan. As was the practice at the time he entered a period of three years of mourning. Confucius decided to devote these three years to study and reading. This was a wise move and these years served as a sort of university education for him.
His first job was as manager of the grain store at a local estate. He was soon spotted as someone with talent and was promoted and was put in charge of livestock. However by the time he was 29 he seemed destined to spend the rest of his life in this fairly humble job. It was then that he got his break - a schoolfriend sent him to Luoyang to study the latest rituals. When he returned he was appointed as ritual teacher for the sons of Lord Meng - a member of the ruling family. After impressing in this role he was then appointed a ritual tutor to Duke Jing - the ruler of Lu - himself. He was also granted permission to take on and teach students.
Following a palace coup <a href="http://www.analectsofconfucius.com">Confucius</a> went into exile to Qi. Eventually he returned to Lu and was appointed a minister in about 500BC. His first major mission was to return to Qi to negotiate the return of two territories to the state of Lu. After pretending to be outraged by a minor breach of etiquette by the Duke of Qi he managed to get the territories returned. Following this success he was appointed as Justice Minister. In 498BC the Duke of Qi was plotting to attack Lu and, as a plot, sent 80 dancing girl to the Duke of Lu. The plan worked and the Duke of Lu was utterly distracted by the dancing girls and neglected his duties. According to the traditional accounts Confucius was so horrified by this dereliction that he resigned his job, but perhaps the more plausible explanation is that he got word of the imminent invasion.
He spent the next 15 years travelling around the kingdoms of China expounding his ideas but with little success. Eventually he returned to Lu and died in 479 BC.
His philosophy revolved around the idea that government and self-discipline must be based on morality and, where people were given rules or laws then they would just seek to flout them. Unsurprisingly he also placed huge importance on ritual as he felt that it was the way to regulate people's relationships.
By far our best source for Confucius comes from The Analects. These are a collection of 492 sayings that were compiled by his students. The version of The Analects that survives today was compiled about three centuries after Confucius's death - there had been some debate about the accuracy of the collection but in 1993 a collection of bamboo strips dating to around 300 BC were discovered. These contained identical passages to those which were later put into The Analects and suggests that it is probably an accurate record.
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