Highlights of Chinese Culture and History

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Confucius as a Great Educator

In the year 551 B.C., Confucius, the famous thinker and educator of ancient China, was born at today's Qufu in Shandong Province, to a family that was far from being well-to-do. But he was an earnest and hard-working pupil even in his childhood. When a young man of a little over twenty, he became a minor official of the state. Since he was very knowledgeable and hard-working, he achieved great distinction in the job and thus became quite well-known by the time he turned thirty. Confucius had been to many of the principalities of the time, advocating his political views and seeking to have his service accepted by the princess in administering their states. But his views and opinions seemed to have fallen on deaf ears and consequently Confucius made up his mind to devote all his energies to education. When people learned about this, many of them sent their children to him to be educated. They were accepted one and all and so Confucius became the first man in the history of Chinese education to start a private school.

There was one young man of humble origin named Yan Hui who wanted to be accepted as a student. But his family was so poor that they even had difficulty providing themselves with daily necessaries. He was afraid to be rejected as he could not afford the tuition. One day, he came to where Confucius was teaching and saw a few men sitting under a big tree and overheard Confucius say, "I am ready accept anyone that can bring 10 pieces of preserved meat for tuition, whatever his origin," Yan Hui was greatly heartened by this. He hastened back home and told his friends Zi Lu and Zi Gong about it. A few days later, all three became Confucius' students. Even a man named Gong Ye Chang who had just been released from prison came under Confucius' tutelage.

Confucius often lectured to his students on the theme of "benevolence," preaching the importance of loving others. One day, he and his students happened to pass the foot of Mount Taishan and saw a woman weeping mournfully at the side of a grave. When asked why, she said to Confucius, still sobbing, "My father-in-law, my husband and son had all been eaten up by tigers at this place." "Why not moving away from here as soon as you can?" asked Confucius. "Because the government here is not that tyrannous!" On hearing this, Confucius turned to his students and said, "So you all see, a tyrannous government is even more to be feared than fierce tigers, even harsher."

Confucius kept a close eye on his students' attitude towards work. There was one young man, Zai Yu by name, who was not working as hard as the others and often dozed off in class. He was also a boastful type. One day, Confucius told his students to do reading. Zai Yu again fell asleep, bending over his desk. Confucius was very angry and waked up the young man and chided him sternly, "You are like a piece of rotten wood and no one can do any carving on a piece of rotten wood. You are also like a bespattered wall which can never be whitewashed again." Zai Yu said in reply, "Master, I'll never do the same thing again." Nodding his head, Confucius rejoined, "It used to be the case that I 'd take someone at his words. Now I not only listen to what he promised but see what does in fulfillment of his words." Zai Yu was so ashamed that he became wordless, his head dropping.

Once Confucius went on a speaking tour in the state of Wei, accompanied by his students. On the way they fell to discussing such topics as poetry, ethics, government, etc. The students had a great respect for Confucius' learning and wanted to know how he did his own studies. To this Confucius responded, "I used to sit alone thinking about this and that. Sometimes I even forgot my meals or bedtime. Still I gained very little. Later I shifted to reading omnivorously, but I did not benefit a great deal either. At long last I came to see that reading in a mechanical way without using my brains was no use. On the other hand, if thinking is divorced from the reality and no due attention is paid to reading, one will continue to feel puzzled by many things. One should constantly review what he has learned and combine reading with thinking. In thus making use of the theories one has learned to guide his thought and help analyze the problems at hand, progress will be achieved."

Confucius was a dedicated educator, having accepted a total of 3,000 students in his life of whom seventy-two were outstanding scholars. Through educational work, Confucius succeeded in propagating his political views. Eventually, he and his students emerged as an independent school of thought, the Confucian school which exerted a tremendous impact on feudalist China, which lasted thousands of years.

Confucius lived until he was seventy-three and his death was deeply mourned by his students. Some of them stayed for as only as three years by the side of his grave and Zi Lu topped all by staying there alone for another three years. So as not to forget his teachings, Confucius' students wrote down all his dialogues with them. Later they set about collecting and editing what Confucius had said on other questions and how he had death with various problems and situations. All this was written into a classic of the Confucian school - The Confucian Analects.


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