Confucianism is an ancient Chinese philosophy that centers around living a virtuous, moral life and becoming a positive force in the world. How did Confucianism spread?
While many of the fundamental beliefs of Confucianism are used in philosophies around the world, Confucianism as an official, widespread ideology has remained relatively confined to China and East Asia.
China, Japan, and Korea would have large movements of Confucianism spread throughout their societies, especially with a form of an ideology called neo-Confucianism, which blended Taoism, Buddhism, and Confucianism.
Read on to learn about the fundamental teachings of Confucianism and how it spread through East Asia.
Fundamentals of Confucianism
Confucianism started in the Shandong province in China and spread to the Northern and Southern territories of the country. Confucius lived from 551 to 479 B.C.E and advocated living a moral, peaceful life. His core motto was “Do not do unto others what you would not want others to do unto you.”
Disciples during his lifetime would continuously write down his wisdom and teachings. These writings would serve as the foundations of the religion. Though Confucianism is most often considered a religion, many simply consider it a philosophy, as there are no gods in it.
Confucius believed that humans were inherently good, but often strayed away from the righteous moral path. It is believed that being a good person not only affects one’s own life but can have tangible effects on the world around them.
The bond of family is heralded as one of the most important parts of life in Confucianism. It teaches that both current family members and ancestors are to be revered and treated with the utmost respect and love.
Confucianism in China
Chinese Emperors of the Han Dynasty (206 BCE- 220 AD) embraced the religion because it was centered around peaceful harmony during a time of constant war. It would become the central ideology of the state during this period.
In the Song Dynasty (960-1279) there was a form of “neo-Confucianism” that emerged in China that combined the teachings of Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism. In the Qing Dynasty (1644-1922) there was a revival of traditional Confucianist values throughout the country.
Spread of Confucianism
Unlike other eastern religious and philosophical teachings, Confucianism has largely not been embraced in the West. While followers and leaders of other religions like Buddhism made efforts to spread their teachings around the world, Confucianism remained isolated to East Asia.
Followers of Confucianism felt that the religion should be embraced through passive, voluntary means instead of forms of “religious conquest” that spread around the world.
It is thought that Confucianism spread to Korea as early as 100 BCE when China established a colony in a northwest region of the Korean Peninsula.
During the Three Kingdom’s Period, Confucianism was especially prevalent across Korean society. Not only were its main philosophies taught across the Korean population, but Confucian rituals, such as the ceremonial reverence for the dead, were implemented into Korean daily life.
The Silla Kingdom was especially full of Confucianism during this period, as Buddhist monks began to implement many Confucian philosophies into their teachings. The teachings of Confucius even began to rival Buddhism as the prominent religion in Silla during its height from the 7th to 10th centuries.
Confucianism increasingly spread throughout the Korean peninsula during the 14th and 15th centuries, eventually replacing Buddhism as the official ideology of Korea during the Yi dynasty.
Confucianism in Japan is thought to originate from Korea sometime in the 3rd Century AD, though not becoming popular until the 6th and 7th centuries.
The hybrid form of “neo-Confucianism” of the Song Dynasty spread across Japan in both the 12th and 17th centuries. The spread of the religion throughout the country helped shape the Japanese culture of the periods, as society increasingly became more family-oriented.
While Confucianism’s followers of today use it as more of a philosophical guide than a strict religious code to adhere to, the teachings of Confucius have certainly created a more harmonious, peaceful existence for many people throughout East Asia.