Knowing something about the Confucian tradition is essential to understanding China. The legendary Wm. Theodore de Bary of Columbia University explains the value of Confucianism’s ideas about learning, education, and leadership.
For almost two millennia the core of Chinese education—and thus of literate discourse—consisted of Confucian texts, including the recorded conversations of great teachers like Confucius (551–479 bce) and Mencius (385?–312? bce), collections of historical documents and chronicles, ritual texts (many of them dealing with education), and poetry, later canonized as “Confucian Classics.” These dealt with a range of human issues—moral, intellectual, social, and political—but centrally with the cultivation of the responsible human person (the “Noble Person”) and a humaneness linking truly “noble” leadership to civil conduct in family, state, and human society at large.