Confucius was born in the Chinese state of Lu in 551 B.C. His parents were of noble background. He received a traditional education in etiquette, or how a person behaves in formal settings, and music. His father died when he was very young, and as a result he was raised by his mother. His primary ambition was to play an important role in public affairs, or serve as a trusted adviser to a ruler. Confucius married when he was 18 years old and worked his way up to become only a minor administrator. However, he would soon become dissolutioned and quit in 497 B.C. In his middle years, he traveled extensively in search of a ruler who would follow his guidance.
Unable to find a ruler that was willing to follow him, Confucius returned to Lu and began teaching. He supported himself by charging tuition. He would not teach those that were not willing to learn. He believed that his teachings transmitted the traditional wisdom and values of Chinese culture. Confucius also believed that it was his mission to restore the “Way” (Tao) of the ancient ancestors, and preserve its elaborate structure of ceremony and ritual. The ceremonies were called “Li' and they they regulated all human conduct. He believed that if everyone followed the code of behavior then harmony would result.
The Chou Dynasty had ruled for more than 500 years and they were in decline. Feudal lords now ruled most of China, and the state of Lu was controlled by three families or clans. The rulers were now just figureheads. It was during this time that a new class of people emerged in China called the shih, or minor aristocrats. These people were largely clerks, mercenaries, advisers, and other minor administrators. Confucius's teachings were directed at this class of people, and his teachings prepared them to become officeholders. It was from this class that Confucius would emerge as China's first philosopher. It didn't take long before several of his students gained jobs working as administrators for the Lu. Before this time, only nobles had received an education.
No known writings by Confucius have survived. However, after his death his disciples assembled a collection of his works in what is known as the Analects. Twenty-two disciples are mentioned in his book the Analects. The most famous of these was Yen Hui. Although Yen never gained a government office he remained faithful to the Way. Confucius was very sad when Yen Hui died. Yen was admired for his intelligence and was considered a true gentleman. Confucius believed that a gentleman was polite, modest, avoided arguments, was steadfast in both success and failure, pursued an education as a source of refinement and affirmation, and was always concerned about what is morally right.
After his death in 479 B.C., and for the next 300 years Confucianism remained just one of hundreds of schools of thought that wanted to be recognized by the rulers of the Warring States who were fighting for control of China. Then in 206 B.C., the Han Dynasty turned to a new form of Confucianism. At this time two great Confucian philosophers emerged. There names were Mencius and Hsun-tzu and they expanded on Confucius writing in the Analects. It was under the Han Dynasty that Confucianism would first become a state religion. Confucianism would remain China's official philosophy until the beginning of the 20th century.