confucianism vs taoism
After the communist takeover of China in 1949, Taoism was banned and its followers re-educated, with the result that the number of practicing Taoists fell by 99% in 10 years. At this time Taoism began to flourish in the greater freedom on offer in Taiwan (a separatist island territory which had not been absorbed into the new communist China). After the end of the Cultural Revolution the Chinese government began to allow a small measure of religious freedom. Taoism began to revive in China, and Taoist temples and practitioners can now be found throughout the country.  Today, the Taoist tradition is one of the five religious doctrines officially recognized in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) as well as the Republic of China (ROC), and although it does not travel readily from its East Asian roots, it claims adherents in a number of societies, in particular in Hong Kong, Macau, and in Southeast Asia.
The founder of Confucianism (also known as Ruism), or Master Kong, better known as Confucius (551-479 B.C.E.), was a philosopher and politician. He did not intend to create a new religion, but sought to provide structure and reform to some of the religious ambiguities of the Zhou dynasty. According to Judith Berling, Professor Emerita of Chinese and Comparative Religions at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, “The burning issue of the day was: If it is not the ancestral and nature spirits, what then is the basis of a stable, unified, and enduring social order?”  This sounds very familiar to founding sociologist August Comte’s question after the French Revolution—what holds society together? Confucius’ answer was in the Zhou religion and its rituals (li), which embodied the ethical core of Chinese society.
To K’ung Fu-tse (kung FOOdsuh) [Confucius], life seemed rather sour. He believed that the present was out of step with the past, and that the government of man on earth was out of harmony with the Way of Heaven, the government of the universe. Therefore, he emphasized reverence for the Ancestors, as well as for the ancient rituals and ceremonies in which the emperor, as the Son of Heaven, acted as intermediary between limitless heaven and limited earth. Under Confucianism, the use of precisely measured court music, prescribed steps, actions, and phrases all added up to an extremely complex system of rituals, each used for a particular purpose at a particular time. A saying was recorded about K’ung Fu-tse: “If the mat was not straight, the Master would not sit.” This ought to give an indication of the extent to which things were carried out under Confucianism.
The painting is an allegory, describing the differences in the core philosophy of the three great teachers. Benjamin Hoff writes in The Tao of Pooh:
The teachings of Taoism and Confucianism cannot be abridged into a few paragraphs as they are rich in valuable and timeless learnings and thoughts. However, we can summarize the core teachings into the following:
In Taoism, followers are encouraged to visit shrines regularly to fulfill their roles within the religion. Rituals also include a level of mysticism involving shamanism, divination and street parades with Taoists wearing honor guard costumes, god-image worship and performers portraying being possessed by spirits.
A lover of antiquity, Confucius broadly attempted to revive the learning, cultural values, and ritual practices of the early Zhou kingdom (beginning in the 11th century BCE) as a means of morally renewing the violent and chaotic society of his day (that of the Spring and Autumn Period) and of promoting individual self-cultivation—the task of acquiring virtue (ren, or “humaneness”) and of becoming a moral exemplar (junzi, or “gentleman”). According to Confucius, all people, no matter their station, are capable of possessing ren, which is manifested when one’s social interactions demonstrate humaneness and benevolence toward others. Self-cultivated junzi possess ethical maturity and self-knowledge, attained through years of study, reflection, and practice; they are thus contrasted with petty people (xiaoren; literally “small person”), who are morally like children.
Daoism and Confucianism arose as philosophical worldviews and ways of life. Unlike Confucianism, however, Daoism eventually developed into a self-conscious religion, with an organized doctrine, cultic practices, and institutional leadership. In part, because the doctrines of religious Daoism inevitably differed from the philosophy from which they arose, it became customary among later scholars to distinguish between the philosophical and the religious versions of Daoism, some taking the latter to represent a superstitious misinterpretation or adulteration of the original philosophy. That critical view, however, is now generally rejected as simplistic, and most contemporary scholars regard the philosophical and religious interpretations of Daoism as informing and mutually influencing each other.
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Presented by: Guy Kiddey
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