Ranking among one of the most influential figures in history, Confucius, the founder of the philosophy of Confucianism that takes his name, was born in present-day Qufu in Shandong province in 551 BC. Aside from philosopher, his many roles included teacher, politician, and editor. He spent much of his life travelling around followed by his group of disciples, details of which were recorded by followers of his disciples after his death in the Analects of Confucius.
Despite success in a career in politics in the state of Lu between 501 BC and 497 BC, Confucius was frustrated that he was not only unable to put the principles that he advocated into practice, but that following several uprisings by influential families in Lu, he had failed to reinstate the Duke of Zhou who was, in the eyes of Confucius, the rightful ruler of the state. In trying to topple these influential families, Confucius made himself many enemies in the state of Lu, and entered self-imposed exile in 497 BC.
It was during this exile that he travelled around the courts of the states in north east and central China trying to get his political and philosophical ideologies recognised and implemented. He had little success in this respect, however. He spent the remaining years of his life teaching a small group of followers, instructing them in the Five Classics – the five books that make up the core Confucian canon which Confucius is credited with having either compiled or edited.
Confucius’ philosophy emphasised the quality of ren, a trait which is often translated as ‘benevolence’ but is in fact much more complex and problematic to define. Confucius advocated a high degree of moral conduct, personal development, self-cultivation, respect, and familial loyalty. His teachings have been highly influential throughout Chinese history.
He is commemorated on the 100 yuan, 1/3 oz gold coin of a five-coin set issued in 1985 featuring various outstanding historical figures. The remaining coins of the set are 5 yuan, 22g silver coins. That he was chosen to feature on the only gold coin of the set is possibly a testament to his importance and significance in both China’s history and cultural tradition.