Confucius: Analects, Perfectibility of Man and the Moral Role of Government Political Science YouTube Lecture Handouts

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Confucius: Analects, Perfectibility of Man and the Moral Role of Government | Political Science


At different times in Chinese history, Confucius (trad. 551 – 479 BCE) has been portrayed as a teacher, advisor, editor, philosopher, reformer, and prophet. The name Confucius, a Latinized combination of the surname Kong with an honorific suffix “Master” , has also come to be used as a global metonym for different aspects of traditional East Asian society.

Chinese History
  • Government and society in China were grounded in the Confucian philosophy, which held that there was a basic order in the universe and a natural harmony linking man, nature, and the cosmos (heaven) ; it also held that man was by nature a social being, and that the natural order of the universe should be reflected in human relations. The family unit was seen as the primary social unit; relationships within the family were fundamental to all others
  • Confucius said, “He who learns but does not think is lost; he who thinks but does not learn is in danger.”

Fundamental Relationships

“Five relationships” that were the models for all others:

  • Sovereign -subject;
  • Husband-wife;
  • Parent-child;
  • Elder brother-younger brother;
  • Friend -friend.

The Perfectibility of Man and the Moral Role of Government

  • If power, prestige, and wealth were taken as the standards of achievement, Confucius would hardly be considered to have been a success in his own lifetime.
  • When we want to know what Confucius said, we turn to a small book that records some of the conversations he had with his students and their accounts of his actions of particular occasions. The Chinese name for this book is the Lun-y? /i > , which means discussions or conversations. This title is usually translated into English as the Analects, meaning selection or choice.


  • Belief in the innate goodness and perfectibility of man has had strong implications for the development of the Chinese political system.
  • The ruler՚s main function in the Confucian state was to educate and transform the people. This was ideally accomplished not by legal regulation and coercion, but by personal rule, moral example, and mediation in disputes by the emperor and his officials.
  • Confucian political theory emphasized conflict resolution through mediation, rather than through the application of abstract rules to establish right and wrong in order to achieve social harmony.

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