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Confucianism 101 
 
by L.E. Terry September 07, 2005

Confucian Ritual and Worship

Confucianism places great importance on ceremony and ritual, even stating that ritual can help keep the universe together, unify humankind and create a connection with the ancestors. There are two types of Confucian ritual and worship: within family life and within the community and government.

Ritual in Family Life

Respect for elders and ancestors is imperative in Confucianism, and this respect helps maintain family relationships. A traditional Chinese home has an altar, on which ancestral tablets and images of gods are kept. Incense is burned on the table every day as an offering, and on special occasions, families may offer ancestors food, spirit money, prayers or acts of reverence such as bowing.

Ritual in Community and Government

The Confucian emphasis on ritual extends to every area of life, even within the community and the government. Local officials often perform rituals for the welfare of their community, and until recent years, the emperor and other high-level officials looked to Heaven and their royal ancestors to look after the people. In traditional China, the state government assigned responsibility for certain areas to local officials, who were expected to worship the gods for the welfare of the people. At the temple, officials also performed sacrifices in spring and fall, making offerings to the spirits who watched over the community.

The Future of Confucianism

Confucianism was a powerful force in China for several centuries, but recent upheavals have weakened its influence. As both foreign and modern philosophies have made their way to China, Confucianism has been unable to adapt to the changing society, and has lost followers. Communism was especially damaging--when it became the dominant system in China in 1949, Confucian traditions were abandoned in favor of the new ideology. However, Confucianism’s principles are so deeply ingrained in society that they still, although subtly, influence China’s culture.

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