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History of the religion.
Number of followers. Symbols 

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K'ung Fu Tzu (a.k.a. Kng Fūz, K'ung-tze, K'ung-fu-tze, and commonly written as Confucius in English) was born in 551 BCE in the state of Lu (modern day Shantung Province in China). He lived during the Chou dynasty, an era known for its moral laxity. When he was 22 years of age, he opened a school. Success in teaching led to his appointment as minister of justice of Lu. After a conflict with the Marquis of Lu, he left the state and wandered for 13 years throughout China, giving advice to their rulers. He accumulated a small band of students during this time. The last years of his life were spent back in Lu, where he devoted himself to teaching. He died about 479 BCE at the approximate age of 72. "His lifetime almost exactly coincided with that of Buddha, who died two years earlier at the age of eighty." 1

His writings deal primarily with individual morality and ethics, and the proper exercise of political power by the rulers.

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia:

"In the year 213 BCE, the subverter of the Chow dynasty, Shi Hwang-ti, promulgated the decree that all Confucian books, excepting the "Y-king", should be destroyed. The penalty of death was threatened against all scholars who should be found possessing the proscribed books or teaching them to others. Hundreds of Confucian scholars would not comply with the edict, and were buried alive. When the repeal came under the Han dynasty, in 191 BCE, the work of extermination was well nigh complete. Gradually, however, copies more or less damaged were brought to light, and the Confucian texts were restored to their place of honor." 1

In China, and some other areas in Asia, the social ethics and moral teachings of Confucius are blended with the Taoist communion with nature and Buddhist concepts of the afterlife, to form the Chinese Traditional Religion -- a set of complementary, peacefully co-existent and ecumenical religions.

How many people follow the teachings of Confucius?

This is a simple, but ambiguous question. Estimates of the number of adherents of Confucianism vary over a range of almost 60 times! For example, on 2009-SEP-28, WikiAnswers responded differently to two almost identical questions submitted by their visitors. To the question:

bullet "World wide how many people follow Confucianism?" the answer given was "Apprx. [sic] 6 million." 2
bullet "How many followers are there in confucianism [sic]" the answer given was "an estimated 350 million followers worldwide." 3

The former estimate refers to individuals who follow Confucianism to the exclusion of all other religions. This way of looking at a religion is similar to that found widely throughout North America, where the vast majority of adults regard themselves as Christian, or Judaism, or Islam.htm. Only a small percentage of adults regard themselves as following two religions simultaneously, like Christianity and Wicca, or in one memorable case involving Rev. Ann Holmes Redding, a priest of the Episcopal Church, USA: Christianity and Islam.

However, there are hundreds of millions of individuals in China who follow "Chinese traditional religion." This is sometimes called "Chinese folk religion." However, the former term is preferable, because the word "folk" often is used to refer to "Local, tribal customs and beliefs such as ancestor worship and nature beliefs." 4 Chinese traditional religion is a blending of Confucianism, Buddhism, Taoism, and traditional local practices and beliefs. There are some points of incompatibility among Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism. However, people have been able to accommodate these conflicts.

Followers of Chinese Traditional religion make up about 6% of the world's population -- roughly the same as the number of Buddhists and followers of native Indigenous religions. 4

About 26,000 adults in North America identify themselves as Confucian. Almost all of the others live in China or elsewhere in Asia.

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Unique among the great religions of the world, Confucianism has no standard universally recognized symbol similar to the Christian cross, the Islamic crescent moon & star, the Wiccan pentagram, etc.

Confucianism symbol This is an ideogram for water that is often used to represent Confucianism. It represents the source of life in Chinese philosophy.

Confucian symbol This is a symbol often used in wedding ceremonies within the Chinese culture. It is also sometimes used to represent Confucianism. It means total harmony, righteousness, in your own life and in your relationships with others.

taoism symbol The yin-yamg symbol of Taoism is also sometimes used as a symbol for Confucianism. It symbolizes balance in nature between opposing forces. Unbalance can lead to confusion and dissaray.

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References used:

  1. "Confucianism," New Advent - Catholic Encyclopedia, at: (Year notation changed from BC to BCE.)
  2. "World wide how many people follow Confucianism?," WikiAnswers, on 2009-SEP-28, at:
  3. How many followers are there in confucianism?, WikiAnswers on 2009-SEP-28, at:
  4. "Chinese traditional religion," Adherents, at:

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Copyright 1995 to 2010 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance.
Original publication date: 1995-JUL-12
Latest update: 2010-OCT-24
inks last checked: 2004-SEP-28
Author: B.A. Robinson

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