Nov 21, 2019 in Society

Confucian Ritual Theory and Self-Cultivation and Their Role in the Family


Confucius (551-479 BC) lived in the Autumn and Spring period under Zhou rule. The dynasty operated on the principle of feudalism, whereby the Empire existed as several feudal provinces. The divisions were in the custody of royal families or those whom the state honored for any outstanding performance. The emperor acquired the title the Son of Heaven and the commander in chief of the state. As a result of Zhou kingdoms’ collapse, the history witnessed numerous fighting for property and land causing military divergences and wars. Confucius at this time undertook certain measures to examine the reasons for the conflicts with the intention of resolving the stalemate. He believed that the resultant conflict happened due to the decline in music and rituals, which could not end under bad governance. He, therefore, resorted to restoration of the importance of the rituals and propagation of the propriety canons. The Confucian ritual theory and self-cultivation concept played a vital role in ensuring unity within the society in general and the family in particular as is evident in the examination of the core concepts and root traditions of East Asian political thoughts and practices.

Confucian ritual theory and its role in family

Confucius did reinterpret the essence and process of education and learning with the aim of putting into place proper guidelines for acceptable social life and prosperous family, as certain advantages from the improvement of social life quality resulted from traditions encouragement. This may help in surmounting present family and social challenges in order to create a redefined and refined world full of harmony and goodness. The intention of Confucius was to restore moral and social excellence within the society. The theory was also meant to inculcate purity in the hearts of people for the purposes of peaceful and harmonious coexistence of the members of society. As a result, the family would remain united and enjoy peace and concord. Confucius also undertook some measures to reform the state regime through revitalization of the primordial antics which existed during the dynasty of Zhou, especially in the first half of the empire rule.

In order to foster family rightfulness, Confucius took much of his ideals from the aristocratic moral and political systems owing to his royal descent. His humble childhood background and his ancestral nobility propelled the teaching of Confucius. Confucius laid much emphasis on exercising moral virtues at home rather than in other social instances. He generally believed that influence upon a regime arises from being friendly to one’s brothers and being a good child of one’s parents. According to Confucius, one of the best ways of successful governing of a country is by being committed to one’s family. He also claimed that faith comes from heaven, which means that a person should fill one’s heart with humanity, wisdom, and optimism.

The disciples of Confucius also attained harmony in the family in particular and in the society in general through the skills they acquired by learning different disciplines. Generally, Confucianists, according to Yao, were distinguished by good education and sometimes by government office. Professionally, under the Shang dynasty, Confucius’ followers could be musicians, dancers, and religious devotees during the worship of gods and spirits. Confucianists constantly rejuvenated their virtues in order to keep them free from any form of impurity or stain. In terms of character and behavior in the society, Confucius’s followers stood for flexibility and softness rather than for commanding and competitiveness like warriors. This means that dance and music made Confucius’ followers keep their manners and refinement under observation and uphold a high level of noble and cultivated etiquette both at the family and in the society. This fundamentally differentiated Confucianists from other members of the same society such as merchants, artisans, or farmers. As a result, the disciples of Confucius raised good family virtues and fostered uprightness in the society.

Governing a moral society requires a righteous regime. In order to establish a righteous regime, the Emperor, together with his entire government, must operate under the ancient rites, as the good governance is attained by the supremacy of moral virtues as opposed to punitive and spiteful laws. According to Yao, enforcement of punitive measures only succeeds in the short run. Administration of moral virtues engrains faith and trust among the subjects of the regime, and this is true at the family level as well. The effective way of upholding governance by virtues arises from the correct music and ritual performance, since the performers remain in the loyal and sincere state of mind and exemplify such precious virtues to the ordinary members of the community. The essence of these acts is to assist the community in comprehending what is wrong and what is right. This means that the entire performance is not performed just for mere feting, but is meant to enhance learning at the family, societal, or personal level. The essence of poetry is to enhance prosperity while ritual performance certain results. Music, on the other hand, brings completion. Bell confirms that the disciples of Confucian were fixated on political and social changes over many years. On the other hand, Bell and Chaibong examine the role of the ritual theory and the relevance of the political theory in a country that is traditionally Confucian in governance. They highlight the necessity of civil education and political culture for the contemporary countries that exhibit constitutional governance. In order to improve the present state of affairs, it is necessary to integrate the ritual propriety norms in the society. This affects the family, since Confucius stipulated that the rising cost of administration was easily prevented by providing moral leaders with proper education in the society management through family solidarity and rituals. Pertaining to the governance, Confucius advocated for decentralized form of government in China by developing decentralization that does not deny the state roles having a fundamental influence on the lives of the citizens.

In addition, Confucianism helps in rediscovering the correct values upheld by the East Asian community whereas venerable traditions focus on decentralization of the governing regime. In order for the East Asian community to challenge the rest of the world in terms of cooperation and governance, they must integrate globalism, regionalism, and nationalism together with the venerable tradition of localism that balances through decentralization. There exists a correlation between modernity and effective networks. Choson adopted Zhu Xi’s teachings in his political dynasty, which greatly influenced the sociopolitical developments that led to Neo-Confucianism. Today, there exist three cultural factors of Neo-Confucianism in Korea such as regional factors, school-oriented factors, and familial factors. According to Bell, the reason why the East Asian legislators are rationally committed to a moderately egalitarian type of economic growth is due to traditional Confucian desire to secure fundamental subsistence.

Self-cultivation and its role in the family

According to de Bary, Bloom, and Adler, in the Spring and Autumn Annals, Confucius establishes the rightness standard for all the citizens. This also means that this text assists in shaping the way a family unit functions. Zhongshu Dong supposes that certain human virtues witnessed by the human history develop in accordance with the six teachings by Confucius used to model families and the society in general. In addition, the six teachings by Confucius taken in totality govern and develop the entire human existence. The concept holds that humaneness draws its order from the constant process of rectifying the right and wrong things done in the society as given in the Spring and Autumn Annals. In this case, the changing perspective of human relationships and the dynamic conditions of human law define the cosmic norms that operate in the society. For instance, in bringing up a child at home, it is imperative for the parents to evaluate whether they also may fall victims of the mistake done by the child. The concept of humaneness also ensures that there is generally peaceful coexistence meaning that there are no incidents of theft. In this case, the thief examines whether it is humane to steal their neighbor’s property and evaluates their actions on their own.

According to Dong, the annals contain historical events that Confucius considered worthy of blame or praise, especially in the context of the family and the society. These annals clearly define positive standards in the human history that are worth emulating and which can be applicable in a family set-up. At the same time, the annals spell out the negative models of the human behavior that must be shun by the society right from the level of individual families. For instance, it blames inhumane behavior in the society such as killing one’s neighbor. In terms of the societal governorship, the annals put forward the power to change the Empire owing to the fact that it embodies the code of human ethics that the governing individual and officials must abide. In other words, the Spring and Autumn Annals govern a person’s behavior by the means of rightness and humaneness. This enables the regime to master sufficient moral authority to guide family units and the society in general on what is right and what is wrong.

Havens agrees that according to self-cultivation, rightness assists in rectifying oneself whereas humaneness assists in creating a peaceful coexistence with others and enhances security within the bigger picture of the society. This means that the term ‘humanness’ is used in relation with other people, while the term ‘rightness’ is used in relation to oneself. It is, therefore, necessary for an individual to ensure that he/she does not embezzle the term ‘rightness’ by making demands within a family set-up or a larger community. Such an action would pervert the suitable application and defy the set standard of morality. It is unfortunate that even if no one wishes disorder in the society, it is inevitable. According to the concept, the cause of this state of affairs is the fact that there is general ignorance of the distinction that exists between humaneness and rightness among the people and, therefore, lack of proper application of the terms ‘self’ and ‘others’ in the society.

According to Confucius, humaneness consists in loving others more and not indulging in loving self. In the same manner, rightness is in correcting self and not others. Confucius does not recognize rectifying others even if one does not rectify themselves. Similarly, Confucius does not recognize one’s love for others if a person loves themselves more than they love others. According to Dong, the annals do not consider Duke Ling loving since he threw arrows at his ministers in order to entertain himself. He also did kill his head cook to make his drink and food better. The Dong’ texts define this scenario as self-love and not humaneness without any moral virtue. Confucius claims that humaneness begins by loving others before descending to the birds, insects, and beasts. In case of exercising punitive authority in the family or the society in general, the concept of humaneness and rightness plays a fundamental role in ensuring that the punitive action comes out of love. A family that embraces love lives harmoniously. A member of a society governed by humaneness and rightness leads a moral life, since self-cultivation fosters morality and uprightness in judgment and assessment before taking action. Love is one of the pillars of a family and the society in general and ensures that there is a peaceful coexistence and integration among the community members. With love as a pillar, there are no incidents of societal vices and willful wrongdoings. Thus, the society lives in peace and harmony.


In order to be successful in the government, Confucius recounts that there has to be a well-nurtured family unit that upholds goodwill and embraces unity among the members of the community. Confucius emphasizes the need for peaceful and harmonious coexistence among the family members by upholding morality and the desire to integrate oneself into the society. According to the philosopher, a successful regime is the regime the subjects of which foster harmony and integrity. As Confucius puts it, the effectual way of perpetuation of good governance is by proper playing of music and accomplishment of rituals, since the recitalists remain in the loyal and sincere state and exude such valuable virtues to the common members of the public. The core of this is to aid the community in understanding what is wrong and what is right. This implies that the whole ritual or performance is not conducted for sheer celebration. On the contrary, it enhances learning among the members of the family at the social or individual level. The real meaning of poetry is to enhance success, while ritual performance yields results. On the other hand, music brings about completion in the lives of the performers.

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