Confucius and the Superior Person


"Do not do unto others what you do not want done to yourself" is Confucius's articulation of the Golden Rule, a rule that can be found in nearly every religion and tradition. When asked to describe its essence he replied, reciprocity. Confucius was alive from 551–479 BCE and taught, what in the West, could be called a secular humanist ethic — although in a few centuries, temples could be found where people would present sacrifices to his spirit.

The primary text of Confucius's teaching is in the Analects, which means a collection of works — a work compiled by his students. The Analects focuses on people in the context of a hierarchical society in which he lived. It has often been compared to Plato's Republic, written a century later in Greece, dealing with the same issues — to present to rulers of warring states an ethical system to use to govern a complex society.

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Confucius took the character for man or person, 人, rén (jen), and added the number two, 二, to create  仁, also pronounced ren. Ren is a human-hearted person, who cares for others as a parent would for an infant.

Unlike the idea of self-improvement for its own sake, Confucious emphasized self-improvement for the purpose of interacting with fellow humans with benevolence. ​

Yi, righteousness, embodies honest and fair play. The Confucian idea of Li,often translated as ritual, is the outward manifestation of ren and yi.

Added to this is filial piety, which is extended to loyalty.

Finally, the fifth Confucian virtue is learning.​​


Confucius insisted that these virtues had to be embodied by the ruling class. So, junzi (chun-tzu), 君子, literally the ruler's son or child, became more than merely inherited power. To be called junzi, one had to embody ren and the other Confucian virtues.

Junzi is translated as superior man or noble one in most I Ching translations. This should be read as a person who embodies and is acting in accordance with the Confucian virtues of human-heartedness, righteousness, loyally, while exhibiting the accepted customs of society.

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