Conventional wisdom has it that today, September 28, is Confucius’s 2,573rd birthday. That makes him even older than I am. In Taiwan, Teachers’ Day is also celebrated on Confucius’s birthday.
Confucius is routinely credited with exercising more influence over Chinese culture (and other cultures in East Asia) than any other person. Yet like many prophets or sages, there are no known writings that can be reliably attributed to him (lucky guy, no discoverable emails). Most of what we do know about his philosophy was supposedly recorded by his students in a small, disorganized book of short quotations called The Analects (or Lún yǔ 论语 in Mandarin).
So, I’m a fan. Confucius was a teacher. He lived in violent and chaotic times, an era in Chinese history known as the Spring and Autumn period (770-476 BCE). At that time China consisted of a number of independent kingdoms that were constantly at war with one another. Confucius wandered from kingdom to kingdom, in what is modern day Shandong Province, trying to persuade various rulers to pay attention to his teachings and put his theories of statesmanship into practice. His goal was “peace under Heaven” (píng tīan xìa 平天下). Sadly, he was not very successful during his lifetime, no one very powerful at the time listened, and China descended into even more violence and chaos in the ensuing two-and-a-half centuries. However, as he wandered, he did gather students—72 in all, legend has it. And when China was finally unified and pacified, his teachings became official imperial doctrine.
Notice any parallels? Confucius was an international educator. He lived in turbulent times. His goal was to contribute to a better world by bringing about world peace. This sounds a lot to me like my fellow CAIS educators, whom we celebrate today on Teachers’ Day, the 2,573rd birthday of China’s first great teacher. And like Confucius, I have to believe that the messages our teachers are imparting will ultimately prevail, and we will see more peace and unity.
Happy birthday to the Old Master and happy Teachers’ Day to our teachers.
Interested in knowing more about Confucius? Here’s a selected bibliography:
Sam Crane, Life, Liberty, and The Pursuit of Dao: Ancient Chinese Thought in Modern American Life
Michael Puett and Christine Gross-Loh, The Path: What Chinese Philosophers Can Teach Us about The Good Life
TR Reid, Confucius Lives Next Door: What Living in the East Teaches Us about Living in the West
Yu Dan, Confucius From the Heart: Ancient Wisdom for Today’s World
Original and Translated version of The Analects
The Analects (There are many, many translations. I recommend either DC Lau’s or James Legge’s)
Chris Wen-chao Li, What Confucius Really Said (This is a translation written in the form of a Twitter account, Chris Wen-chao Li is a professor at SF State).
杨伯峻，《论语译注》 (For those who read classical Chinese, the annotations in this edition by Professor Yang Bojun are widely regarded as high quality)
If you do decide to check out these books, please consider ordering through Amazon Smile and make CAIS FSA your beneficiary.