Confucius, born in 551 BCE in the state of Lu, China, was a renowned teacher, philosopher, and political theorist whose profound ideas significantly impacted Chinese and East Asian civilizations. Born into a modest family, Confucius faced challenges due to his low social standing. His early career involved serving the Jisun clan, leading to government positions such as minister of works and minister of crime in Lu.
However, Confucius' clash with hereditary families striving for power in Lu led to his resignation and a 14-year self-imposed exile. During this period, he traveled through various states, seeking rulers willing to adopt his vision of virtuous governance. Confucius believed that, born in a time of political instability, he could contribute to restoring order by promoting moral leadership. The political landscape of the time was marked by feuds among regional rulers and a declining aristocracy, creating an opportunity for common gentlemen, like Confucius, to influence governance.
Confucius aimed not only to compete in politics but also to challenge societal norms. He sought to redefine worth and nobility based on ability and moral character, advocating for the virtuous to hold influential positions. Inspired by Zhougong, the Duke of Zhou, Confucius envisioned a society grounded in trust, moral obligations, and minimal reliance on legal rules. Despite his aspirations, Confucius faced criticism, including doubts about compromising his principles during his travels and exile, even from some of his disciples.