Confucius (Chinese: 孔子; pinyin: Kǒng zǐ; Wade-Giles: K’ung-tzu, or Chinese: 孔夫子; pinyin: Kǒng Fūzǐ; Wade-Giles: K’ung-fu-tzu), literally “Master Kong,” (traditionally September 28, 551 BCE – 479 BCE) was a Chinese thinker and social philosopher.
His philosophy emphasized personal and governmental morality, correctness of social relationships, justice and sincerity. These values gained prominence in China over other doctrines, such as Legalism (法家) or Taoism (道家) during the Han Dynasty (206 BCE – 220 CE). Confucius’ thoughts have been developed into a system of philosophy known as Confucianism (儒家). It was introduced to Europe by the Italian Jesuit Matteo Ricci, who was the first to Latinise the name as “Confucius.”
His teachings may be found in the Analects of Confucius (論語), a collection of “brief aphoristic fragments”, which was compiled many years after his death. For nearly 2,000 years he was thought to be the editor or author of all the Five Classics (五經) such as the Classic of Rites (禮記) (editor), and the Spring and Autumn Annals (春秋) (author).
Kong Qiu (孔丘), as Confucius is commonly known, is a combination of his surname (孔) and his given name (丘), and he was also known as Zhong Ni (仲尼), which is his courtesy name. He was born in 551 BCE in the Lu state (This state was in the south of modern-day Shandong Province) in the later days of the Spring and Autumn Period. Confucius was from a warrior family. His father Shulianghe (叔梁紇) was a famous warrior who had military exploits in two battles and owned a fiefdom. Confucius lost his father when he was three years old, and then his mother Yan Zhengzai (顏徵在) took him and left the fiefdom because as a concubine (妾), she wanted to avoid mistreatment from Shulianghe’s formal wife. Thus, Confucius lived in poverty with his mother since childhood. With the support and encouragement of his mother, Confucius was very diligent in his studies. When Confucius was seventeen years old, his mother died as a result of illness and overwork. Three years later, Confucius married a young woman who was from the Qiguan family (亓官氏) of the Song state (宋). Though he had a mild tempered wife who loved him, he left his family to strive for his ideals. Confucius sought to revive the perfect virtue of Huaxia (Chinese civilization) and the classical properties of the Western Zhou Dynasty to build a great, harmonious and humanistic society.