A philosophy for living that contains elements of religious practice, founded by Confucius in the sixth to fifth centuries BCE. Its influence in China was paramount, but it has also been significant in Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Taiwan, as a source of learning and an ethical code.
Confucius (551-479 BCE) taught the necessary actions for harmony and order during a time of political violence and social disorder. During the Han dynasty (206 BCE-220CE) his teachings (compiled by his disciples in the Analects) became state orthodoxy in China and remained so until 1911. Confucianism taught that nobility was not to be attained through inheritance but by following the correct rituals and acts of filial piety, reciprocity, and righteousness. In particular, juniors (such as subjects or sons) should show loyalty to seniors (rulers, fathers), while seniors should show benevolence to juniors. This idea was extended by Mencius (c. 371-289BCE), the ‘second sage of Confucianism’, to suggest that humans were essentially good (the idea of original virtue), and that it was appropriate for subjects to rebel against unjust rulers. Significantly, the latter idea was never introduced into Japan, where loyalty to the Emperor was made paramount.
Although today practised actively as a religion only in South Korea, the influence of Confucianism on the ethical, legal, political, and educational systems of the above-named countries remains considerable. Robert Bellah (Tokugawa Religion, 1957) has argued that Confucianism may have had a similar role in the development of modern Japan as did the protestant ethic in Northern Europe (an interpretation which is at odds with that of Max Weber in The Religion of China, 1916). Others have argued that Confucianism's emphasis on harmony, respect for authority, loyalty, benevolence, meritocracy, literacy, and scholarship, lies behind the recent economic growth of Japan and the newly industrializing countries (NICs) of East Asia.

Dictionary of sociology. 2013.

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