In What Major Ways Did Confucian Philosophy Manifest Itself in Chinese Society During the Ming and Qing Dynasty

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1. In what major ways did Confucian philosophy manifest itself in Chinese society during the Ming and/or Qing dynasties?

It is clear from examining the philosophical thought and social trends during both the Qing and Ming dynasties that Confucian thought and ideology had a profound effect on Chinese society and moral values during that period.

Confucian philosophy is an ethical and philosophical thinking system thought to have been developed from the teachings of Kong Fuzi, known as Confucius who lived between 551–478 BC in China. [1]The essence of Confucianism is that the human mind can be cultivated through virtue and moral perfection. Confucianism has had tremendous influence on Chinese history and culture as well as other East Asian cultures.

Even before the Ming and Qing dynasties, Confucianism had a profound effect on Chinese society. Confucianism was the state ideology of the Han dynasty with later forms developing such as Neo-Confucianism developed during the Song dynasty known as ‘DaoXue’, ‘the learning of the way’. During the 5th century Confucian teaching had become a reference of the values of morality and dignity in private life and government.[2]In his writings argued for the importance of righteousness and loyalty through correct rituals and also stated that worthy men should not serve unworthy rulers and must be ready to sacrifice their lives if necessary in the defence of this principle [3]Further arguments put forth by Confucius stated that while paying respects to the memory of the deceased is important, humans should concentrate on their personal problems of this world instead of trying to understand the forces of heaven and the realms of the spirits. [4]

The collection of dialogues that Confucius had with his students and with statesmen known as ‘Analects’ was highly influential in the philosophy and moral values of Imperial China.[5]In the conversations, Confucius’s thoughts are recorded including his belief in the powers of moral examples and the central importance of education. [6]The book is of particular importance as an educated man was not considered morally upright or enlightened if he did not know or could not quote from the book. The imperial examination of the Qing dynasty required exam takers to quote and apply the words of Confucius in their essays therefore many of the intellectuals of that time would have been fluent in his work.[7]

The collection of books thought to have been written by Confucius are collectively known as the ‘five classics’ with works including ‘Analects’ and a book including the sayings of Confucius late follower Mencius were grouped together as the ‘four books’. Together these nine works were believed to contain the basic knowledge required to lead a moral life.[8]

The Ming Dynasty was the ruling dynasty of Imperial China from 1368 to 1644 following the collapse of the Mongol Yuan dynasty and was ruled by Han Chinese, the last dynasty to do so. After the end of the Mongol lead Yuan dynasty the Ming dynasty was founded by Hong-Wu, a Buddhist monk and restored China back to Han Chinese rule. With China back in Han Chinese rule Confucianism was restored as well as state imperial exams. The Ming dynasty is famous for its vast construction projects including the restoration of the Grand Canal and the building of the Forbidden City. The Ming dynasty also saw a flourishing of the arts including the world famous Ming vases.

By the Ming dynasty, the dominant philosophy of China had become Neo-Confucianism which was primarily developed in the Song Dynasty but remerged during the Ming Dynasty. The essence of Neo-Confucianism attempted to merge certain elements of Confucianism with both Buddhism and Daoism which were both emerging into Chinese culture at that time. Buddhist thought allowed neo-Confucians to implement ideas such as nature and the soul into their own understanding of the cosmos. [9]

One interpretation of neo-Confucianism was developed by...
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