What are ‘Confucian principles’?

Confucian principles are a set of thoughts and ideas that refer to the teachings of the ancient Chinese philosopher, teacher and political figure, Confucius (551BC – 479BC).

His philosophy – Confucianism – has influenced Chinese society and other parts of Asia right up to the present day, with it affecting schools of thought in Japan, Korea and Vietnam also.

Confucius’ teachings promoted a life with integrity and moral order on an individual level but also on a social level. Hence, rules or doctrines that these teachings give us are what are known as Confucian principles.

Confucian principles are set out in a text called the Analects. This is a sacred text that compiles the teachings and philosophy of Confucius, much like the platonic dialogues encompass the philosophical teachings of Plato.

The text is assembled of interesting sayings and anecdotes that formulate a body of thought, which provide teachings for moral ideals for the individual, the family, society, government and much more. By interpreting this text, we can recognise certain standards, values or Confucian principles that typify this ancient philosopher’s ideas.


The Chou Empire ruled China during the time of Confucius, and in the sixth century BC, Chinese states began to challenge and contest each other. This undermined the rule of the empire. As a result, Confucius believed that traditional values were under threat and that society would become morally impaired. He saw it as his obligation to reverse or prevent this from happening.

Confucius sought to re-instil basic values of benevolence and culture into a dwindling society. These ethical teachings had to be done on many levels, beginning with the individual and then progressing onto the family and society. Confucius put his efforts into trying to achieve a colossal goal: to create ethical and moral harmony in the world in order to produce a just and functioning society.

A fundamental doctrine to Confucian philosophy is that moral improvement for society at large has to begin with the individual. Only by successfully achieving a moral personal life can we attempt to reform society. Then, only by reforming society can we hope to reform political institutions, and so on.

Self-discipline is needed for a disciplined society. Kindness and compassion on a personal level are needed for a humane society. Ethical interpersonal relationships are needed for an ethical society.

The Confucian principles that are laid out in the Analects and assert the idea that living in virtue on a personal level is what is needed for a moral framework on a societal level.

4 Confucian principles that are integral to a moral life and a moral society

We must apply ourselves to certain standards of behaviour and activity in order to achieve these moral aims. These standards are deeply rooted in the teachings of Confucianism and were extracted from the Analects. According to this, here are four Confucian principles that are integral to a moral life and a moral society:

Development of the self

The development of the self and the cultivation of virtue and morality are crucial to Confucius’ vision of a harmonised world. We must take time to recognise whether or not we are acting with compassion and kindness towards our fellow human beings. We must remedy this if we are not.

Pivotal teaching of Confucianism is the idea that individual moral integrity is directly connected to social moral integrity. Therefore, the development of the self is vital for society’s sake as well as our own.

Filial Piety

Filial piety is a love and respect for one’s parents. To show filial piety is to obey one’s parents, to not bring shame to the family name, to take care of parent’s when they are sick or ageing and to act in a virtuous and civilised way for the good of the family.

A family is a unit where we learn and practise moral behaviours of tolerance, compassion and respect. Exercising filial piety demonstrates virtue that can be then used for reform and development of social and political institutions.

Acting well towards and in the family allows for a framework for us to interact with other people and how to act morally within society.

The importance of tradition

Recognising the importance of tradition was decisive to Confucius’ aim to create a morally harmonious society. This doesn’t mean turning back time to live exactly as our predecessors did.

We should be respectful and have knowledge of tradition because it can reveal to us fundamental values and principles that we may have lost. Being aware of tradition can ground us in important moral sensibilities that give us a sense of order, as well as individually taking heed of our forbearers’ principles.

We must be humane

Confucianism teaches that showing compassion and empathy towards others is vital for inner and social moral harmony. Being humane is a precedent for all moral behaviour. It enables us to individually develop into ethical beings, which in turn can collectively create the bedrock for fair and just institutions.

How Confucian principles can make your life better

The Confucian principles that have been discussed have the potential to indefinitely make your life better in some way – on a personal and on a social level.

According to Confucius, improvement and cultivation of the individual self is the base of social cohesion. In turn, social cohesion is the source of other structures such as political and educational institutions.

Practising these Confucian principles can potentially make you a morally rounded individual. This can, in turn, provide you with a fair and considerate society for you to live and prosper in.


  1. https://plato.stanford.edu
  2. https://www.britannica.com

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