Later portrait of Confucius,
from the provincial museum of Shandong, China
Confucius was a philosopher in ancient China, about 500 BC. His main idea was that people could achieve peace by doing their duty, and cooperating with society. If people rebelled, and everyone tried to do his or her own thing, then the world would be full of fighting and unhappiness.
So people should obey the law, and do what the emperor and government officials told them to do. Also, people should do their duty to their parents and take good care of their children, and people should do their duty to their ancestors and to the gods.
Mr. Zoller's great video about Confucius
At the same time, the government should do its duty to the people, and not abuse them or ask too much of them. The emperor should be cooperative and helpful to the people, just as the people were helpful and cooperative to him.
Because Confucius wanted to make government officials behave better, the Chinese government did not like him while he was alive. But after Confucius died, later emperors of China did use many of his ideas. Of course they mainly liked the idea that people should obey the government, and they weren't so interested in the idea that the government should help the people!
Here's an example of a story people told about Confucius:
Zi Lu, they say, asked Confucius, "When we hear a good idea,
should we start to do it right away?" Confucius told him no.
"First, you should always ask someone with more experience."
Later on, Ran You asked Confucius the same question. But this time
Confucius said, "Yes, of course you should do it right away."
There was another student who had heard both of these conversations
and was very confused. He asked Confucius why he had answered the
same question in two different ways?
"Ran You has a hard time making a decision," Confucius said. "So I encouraged him to be bolder. Zi Lu sometimes decides things too quickly. So I reminded him to be careful. Naturally different people should get different answers. "
To find out more about Confucius, check out these books from Amazon.com or from your library:
Confucius: The Golden Rule, by Russell Freedman (2002). For kids - some biography, and some philosophy. Good reviews.
The Life and Times of Confucius, by Kathleen Tracy (2004).