Confucianism: A Very Short Introduction

ISBN : 9780195398915

Daniel K. Gardner
152 Pages
114 x 173 mm
Pub date
Jul 2014
Very Short Introductions


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  • A lucid and concise introduction to the philosophical tenets of Confucianism
  • Gives serious consideration to Confucianism in practice and the profound impact it has had, and is having, in Chinese political and social realms
  • Analyzes the major philosophical ideas of the Confucian tradition, beginning with the original vision
  • Traces the influence of Confucianism from its origins to the present day

To understand China, it is essential to understand Confucianism. First formulated in the sixth century BCE, the teachings of Confucius would come to dominate Chinese society, politics, economics, and ethics. In this Very Short Introduction, Daniel K. Gardner explores the major philosophical ideas of the Confucian tradition, showing their profound impact on state ideology and imperial government, the civil service examination system, domestic life, and social relations over the course of twenty-six centuries. Gardner focuses on two of the Sage's most crucial philosophical problems-what makes for a good person, and what constitutes good government-and demonstrates the enduring significance of these questions today. 

This volume shows the influence of the Sage's teachings over the course of Chinese history—on state ideology, the civil service examination system, imperial government, the family, and social relations—and the fate of Confucianism in China in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, as China developed alongside a modernizing West and Japan. Some Chinese intellectuals attempted to reform the Confucian tradition to address new needs; others argued for jettisoning it altogether in favor of Western ideas and technology; still others condemned it angrily, arguing that Confucius and his legacy were responsible for China's feudal, ''backward'' conditions in the twentieth century and launching campaigns to eradicate its influences. Yet Chinese continue to turn to the teachings of Confucianism for guidance in their daily lives. 

In addition to a survey of the philosophy and history of Confucianism, Gardner offers an examination of the resurgence of Confucianism in China today, and explores what such a revival means for the Chinese government and the Chinese people.


List of Illustrations
1. Confucius (551-479 BC)
2. The Individual and Self-Cultivation in the Teachings of Confucius
3. Government in Confucian Teachings
4. Variety Within Early Confucianism
5. The Reorientation of the Confucian Tradition after 1000 AD: The Teachings of Neo-Confucianism
6. Confucianism in Practice
Further Reading

About the author: 

Daniel K. Gardner is Dwight W. Morrow Professor of History at Smith College.

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