Confucianism in China vs. Christianity In Romeby Rit Nosotro
How were the political developments in the empires of Rome and China impacted by Christianity and Confucianism?
It is amazing what the actions, words or deeds of one man can do to a country. It can give it hope and strength or despair and weakness. Is it true that Confucius/Confucian thought is to the east what Jesus/Christian thought is to the West? In China, Confucianism acted as a moral guidance system and a springboard for political change. In Rome, a similar result was accomplished with Christianity. Although there are significant differences, they both changed the way those empires worked, thought, taught, and acted.
Confucius was born into a poor shi (scholar bureaucrats) family in the mid sixth century. He was a blunt outspoken person who said what he thought and meant it. Confucius took to the road looking for the ideal ruler to work for, but never finding one he created his own principles and how he felt society should be ordered. He taught his philosophy to whoever would listen. Order and Harmony were his main obsessions; he decided that they would only exist if the rulers would take advice from wise educated men. These wise men he felt could only come from the shi. In the early fifth century he finally died but his ideals did not as his followers continued to spread them after his death. Not every one agreed about how to interpret those ideas though.
Mencuis decided that Confucius meant humans were inclined to be good and thus should be ruled in a way to bring out the most good in the people. His thoughts stressed that the common people were the foundation for political power. That thinking provided the Chinese belief that the people could rise up against cruel or pathetic rulers. Xunzi, however, thought Mencuis’s interpretation was incorrect or backward. Instead, Xunzi insisted that humans were inclined to evil and laziness. In his opinion a strong authoritarian government was required to hold the selfish people in check so they don’t end up hurting each other. Both men had many followers and their views caused many intellectual disagreements in China for many years. At first however, Xunzi’s ideas influenced China the most as he had the support of a group of political philosophers called the Legalists..
By the end of the 3rd Century B.C. what was left of the Zhou dynasty was conquered by a Qin Warlord, Shi Huangdi, who unified China under the Qin. Then as he was consolidating his power he outlawed the spreading of all forms of philosophy except for the Legalist form that he believed in. He eagerly embraced the Legalist ideas and used it to gain power and crush his enemies, he was a harsh ruler and once had hundreds of shi buried alive since they opposed the Legalist views. The legalist administrators tried to control what the country thought by burning non state-approved books. Many special and important works and ideas were lost because of that. Shi Huangdi died in 204, and three years later the dynasty collapsed. Legend tells this came about by a peasant revolt when two men who were late to work at the great wall, decided to start a revolution instead of getting killed as punishment. While Shi’s rule and the Qin dynasty didn’t last as long as others, it was a big turning point. Although the persecuted shi became stronger, Shi’s government had a centralized bureaucracy and provided social and political bonds that held China together for a very long time.
After the Qin dynasty the Han Empire followed founded by a former peasant Liu Bang. His empire, unlike the brief Qin, lasted about 400 years total. While the Qin was supported by the Confucius Legalists, the Shi grew to support the new empire. With their urging, Liu and his successors banned the work of the Legalists and some were even killed. The Han replaced the Qin’s overly strict code of law with a much milder version. Confucianism soon grew to be the dominant thought system in China. In 124 B.C. an imperial University was built which taught history, astronomy, music and the Confucian classics that all students had to memorize and interpret. Confucianism in effect removed China further away from its barbarian and nomadic heritage, and into a more civilized nature. They now strived for knowledge, happiness, and a perfection of character.
Confucianism didn’t last as a replacement for religion for long, and the Han Empire finely collapsed around 88 B.C. Even before it collapsed some real religions were gaining some ground, mainly the Daoists. Many peasants and social protesters joined this religion and led the rebellion that soon after led to end of the Han. After this China started to fall apart into separate little governments like it was doing before Confucius came around. Then from India, Buddhism started spreading through China like wild fire. It provided spiritual comfort and something to believe in during those troubled times. It once again brought the country together filling the gap that Confucianism had left. The ideas of Confucian were still preserved and followed but they were mixed with Buddhism and help created new and more powerful dynasties like the Sui and the Tang.
In the Roman Empire, Christianity started spreading after Jesus rose from the
dead, encouraged his followers, and the ascended into heaven. Missionaries from
Judea started spreading Christianity throughout the Empire after the Jews refused
it. Christian missionaries stopped insisting that Christians follow Jewish laws.
One of the most famous missionaries was the apostle Paul. He made four major
journeys into Asia minor of the Roman Empire on the Mediterranean. On his last
journey he was arrested and brought to Rome where he preached there under custody
for a few years until Rome eventually had him beheaded.
Rome was intolerant of religions that didn’t agree with the idea of the Emperor as God. Christianity was attacked because Christians refused to put the Ceasar before Jesus. Among the worst Christian persecutors was Nero who fed them to the Lions and even burned down half of Rome, partly to kill them out, but also because he was crazy. Despite tragedies like that, Christianity did find many converts in the Roman Empire. As it grew, Christianity replaced the capricious gods of the Roman pantheon. Slaves, farmers, and poor city dwellers found peace, hope, and something to live for, which they had lacked before hand.
After Constantine recognized the enormous growth of Christianity, he formalized it for political purposes. Bishops became like Roman Governors as they ruled over the churches spread throughout a region. What had started as a Jewish religion soon became a major religion with a genuinely cosmopolitan stance. As a whole, Rome improved under Christian influence and a few Emperors were converted and followed Jesus for the rest of their lives, doing their best to improve life for the poor and spreading the word of Jesus.
Between Confucianism and Christianity, Confucianism primarily impacted China while, in the long term, Christianity spread to every continent. As a moral system, Confucianism led to despair even when synthesized with Buddhist teachings. Confucianism is remembered in the west as only a collection of practical sociopolitical sayings. Christianity continues to spread not just because Jesus preached truth, but because he is "the way, the truth, the life" (John 14:6).
1. What is a Shi?
a. Drunken fool
b. Type of police
c. Scholar bureaucrat
2. The first and only Qin Emperor was?
c. Shi Huangdi
d. Liu Bang
3. Which man was a Christian missionary to Rome?
4. Men who were governors of the Church.
The New Book of Knowledge Encyclopedia Q-R, pg. 145-152 (Religions of the World), Pg.281-294 (Roman Catholic Church.) William Benton Publisher 1963.
World Civilizations, Peter N. Stearns, Michael Adas, Stuart B. Schwartz, Marc Jason, Gilbert, Copyright 2001 by Addison-Wesley Educational Publishers Inc.
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