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Understanding Confucianism Values

Dr Andrew Prince, Director for Brisbane School of Theology’s Centre for Asian Christianity

The term Confucianism was first thought to be coined during the 17th Century by Jesuit missionaries who saw a strong correlation between the values they observed among Chinese officials and some of the classical texts of Confucianism [Nadeau 2014, 23].  Confucius (551 BC – 479 BC) was a Chinese teacher, politician and philosopher but Confucian values pre-date Confucius himself.

What Confucius did was “to collect, organize and highlight the beliefs and practices that had been definitive of his culture for several centuries. He is recorded as saying, ‘I transmit but do not create” [Nadeau 2014, 23]. Confucianism therefore can be considered more of a general term that encapsulates the religious and ethical values and rules that have been present in Chinese culture for more than three thousand years.

These ideals, behaviours, and values include such things as ancestor veneration, education, harmonious and hierarchical relationships and what Nadeau in Asian Religions describes as, “the grounding of moral teachings and ethical principals in a religious or cosmic reality” [Nadeau 2014, 23]. These behaviours and values are so much part of the cultural DNA of East Asians that they wouldn’t necessarily identify them as Confucian values so much as simply values that have been present in their societies for generations [Nadeau 2014, 23].

While Confucianism originated in China it has progressively spread across much of Asia to the point that China, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, and the Philippines can be classified as Confucian cultures [Nadeau 2014, 24].

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