Confucianism: The Five Ideals

Confucius, Philosopher of the Chinese, published by Jesuit missionaries at Paris in 1687.

Most religions are based on the belief of a God and what surrounds him. Not Confucianism. This teacher turned his lessons into the gospel.

The year was 551BC. China was crumbling as violence between the ruling Chou Dynasty and rival barons was escalating to nearly unthinkable proportions. Entire villages were being slaughtered. Men were tortured and threw into boiling cauldrons, while their families were forced to drink the soup flavored with their loved ones before themselves being beheaded.

Historians believe China was imploding due to a breakdown of tradition. Lack of tribal loyalty and the emergence of individualism led to the absence of any true leaders. It is when this happens that the fight for power begins. However, this was the year a Chinese leader was born.

Confucius: “The First Teacher”

Confucius was self-educated teacher and philosopher who believed that in order to restore peace and humanity into China, they had to get back to the basics. The First Teacher lectured respect for Chinese tradition, family, and elders. Confucius went much of his life with little notoriety, but in his mid-sixties, his number of students began to grow. It was then China began to slowly embrace his five ideals as a way of life.

“Jen”: Confucius and Brotherly Love

The first ideal is “Jen”. This is Confucius’ idea of the ultimate brotherly love. It is the idea that no matter where you live in the world, we are all brothers because we are all humans. To achieve Jen is to be able to devote yourself to making others happy, both those in your community and those within your family. As the old saying goes, treat others as you yourself would like to be treated.

“chun tzu”: Confucius on the World’s Host

The second ideal is the “chun tzu”. This is the idea of being comfortable and at home with yourself and the world. It is being the bigger person. Somebody who has achieved chun tzu is dignified and acts as the world’s host. They look for ways to make others comfortable in their world. Confucius believed that a peaceful world is built from these sorts of people who have righteousness in the hearts.

“li”: Confucius on Living a Sacred Life

The third ideal is “li”. Here, Confucius mapped out how people should live their lives, specifically in their close relationships. This propriety is sort of a guide to go by so there is no confusion as to how one should act or treat those in their lives. Social roles are also defined in li giving some boundaries and ideals to work with in order to be good at what and who you are. The second meaning of li is what happens when this propriety is followed. One’s life becomes a carefully mapped out “dance” that is perfectly choreographed. If it is played out the way it is supposed to, it becomes sacred.

“te”: Confucius and Leadership

The fourth ideal is “te”. This term, meaning “power”, refers to the power of a leader who leads through example. Under te, a good leader is able to govern his people in a peaceful, civil way because he’s earned the respect of the people. Because the leader is a genuine person who truly has the interest of the people in mind, they follow him willingly, even while not being watched.

The Golden Rule: Confucius’s Most Famous Quote

Many historians believe that it was Confucius and his ideals which helped pull a derailed China back onto its traditional tracks. Although it is still debated today whether Confucianism is an actual religion, it is clear the incredible impact this teacher had on his nation. Though there are no original writings in existence today, Confucius’ wisdom is still passed on from generation to generation in all corners of the world. In addition to several famous quotes, his most famous is surely the Golden Rule. Confucius once said, “Never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself.” Yes, that was him.


  1. Smith, Huston. World’s Religions, A Guide To Our Wisdom Traditions. HarperCollins Publishers. New York, New York.