Confucius, 551–479, was the Chinese sage who founded Confucianism. Born of a poor but aristocratic family in the state of Lu (in what is now Qufu, in Shandong province), he was orphaned at an early age. As a young man, he held several minor government posts; in later years, he advanced to become minister of justice in his home state. But he held these positions only intermittently and for short periods because of conflicts with his superiors. Throughout his life, he was best known as a teacher. By the time of his death at the age of 72, he had taught a total of 3,000 disciples, who carried on his teaching.

Three doctrines of Confucius are particularly important. The first is benevolence (ren, or jen). Confucius considered benevolence as something people cultivate within themselves before it can affect their relations with others. The best way to approach benevolence is in terms of enlightened self-interest, that is, putting the self in the position of the other and then treating the other accordingly. Two sayings of Confucius best express this idea: "Do not do to others what you would not like yourself"; and "Do unto others what you wish to do unto yourself." Benevolence means the practice of these two sayings. The second doctrine concerns the superior man (junzi, or chun-tzu). The superior man is one who practices benevolence regardless of family background. Ritual propriety is the third doctrine. Confucius emphasized right behavior in one's relations; man should act in accordance with propriety. Thus one behaves ritualistically with the other. Such behavior is called li; it encompasses social and aesthetic norms that guide people in their social relations.

The sayings of Confucius were later incorporated into the book called the Analects. Confucius is also considered the author of the Book of Rites and the Spring and Autumn Annals, a history of the state of Lu from 771 to 579.

Bibliography: Giles, Lionel, Sayings of Confucius: A New Translation of the Greater Part of the Confucian Analects (1993); Lee, D. Y., An Outline of Confucianism, rev. ed. (1987); Schwartz, Benjamin I., The World of Thought in Ancient China (1985).