Who was Confucius, and What Did Confucius Really Say?

Bryan Van Norden – Vassar College

Confucius has been the subject of controversy for over two and a half millennia. He has been venerated as the perfect sage, China’s “uncrowned king,” who always did and said exactly the right thing in each situation. However, even in his own lifetime, he was the subject of controversy, accused by some of the hypocrisy, mindless traditionalism, or impractical idealism. The controversy has continued into the 20th century. During the Cultural Revolution, radicals angrily dismissed Confucius as a “decadent feudal reactionary.” Today, though, the Chinese government proudly funds “Confucius Institutes” in other countries.

So who was Confucius really?  

In this lecture, we will examine the social context and the life experiences that made Confucius who he was. This presentation will provide students with a deeper appreciation of one of the seminal figures of world history, as well as a better sense for how he has influenced and continues to shape Chinese culture. We’ll then explore several major themes that are evident in the thought of Confucius himself, and every later thinker who proudly bears the label “Confucian.” Students will gain from this course a deeper appreciation of one of the seminal figures of world history, as well as a better sense for how he has influenced and continues to shape, Chinese culture.

Learn more about Chinese history and facts about Confucius by checking out ‘China, the U.S., and the Future of Global Capitalism’ and ‘The China Challenge: Where Are We Headed?‘