Confucius, the greatest teacher in the history of China, was born in 551 B.C. He began to devote himself to serious studies and made up his mind to become a scholar at the age of fifteen. When he began teaching in his early twenties, he soon began to attract many disciples. He was not only a scholar, but also a man who had political ideals. He held several offices and had tried hard to put his ideals into practice. But when his ideals could not be realized, he resigned.
After his resignation from government service, he spent his last years teaching and editing earlier writings. It is generally believed that Confucius preserved the literature of China for later times. Fearing that it would be lost during the troubled era in which he lived, he gathered earlier writings to prepare what are called the Five Classics. He also left behind him the Analects, a collection of sayings, which were put together by his disciples. It was in fact a complete collection of his thoughts and teachings.
Confucius was born only a few years after the Buddha. Unlike the Buddha, however, he did not seek to escape from the world, but wanted to find a way for man to be happy on earth. He taught that human nature was good, not bad. If men would think and act properly, he believed, most evils would disappear. His teachings held that men should develop the virtues of kindliness, tolerance, and respect for older people and ancestors. In government he believed that the ruler was like the father in a family: he directed the government, but was responsible for the welfare of his people. He also stressed the importance of education, good manners, and tradition.
It was his belief that education should not be the privilege of a limited number of people. So he was the first person to bring the knowledge previously reserved for the ruling class to the common people. His thoughts and teachings were highly valued by the Chinese people and they formed the foundation of a great philosophy, Confucianism. In fact, Confucianism has provided an admirable system of practical ethics for the people of China and has had a great influence on them up to the present day.