A philosopher and teacher who inadvertently became a great prophet – he founded one of civilization’s great religions – Kong Qui (better known as Confucius) was born c. 551 BC in the Lu state of ancient China. Focused on ethical models of private and public behavior, his views were collected in the 'Analects' after his death and although suppressed by the Qin dynasty would later become extremely influential during the Han, Tang, and Song dynasties. His was a philosophy based on the principle of 'ren' (“loving others”) while exercising self-control.
Since the 'Records of the Historian' (written some four centuries later) is more myth than fact, virtually nothing is known of Confucius’ early life. In contrast to his impact, his life seems starkly undramatic, or as the Chinese have put it “plain and real.” In the 'Analects', he himself states that as a youth he was poor – although a member of the shih (aristocratic) class – and forced to acquire several skills. His first occupation may have been as keeper of the Lu granary, and later as a supervisor of the fields. It is not known when he began teaching, but it is likely to have been after the age of 30; by 515 he had gathered a large number of student-disciples, and he had focused on the “Six Arts” that would promote self-control: archery, calligraphy, computation, music, chariot-driving, and ritual.
Around 498 Confucius embarked on a journey across eastern China. Accompanied by several of his energetic followers, they wandered about through Wei, Sung, and Ch’en lecturing, despite being threatened at times. While on his journey, Confucius penned several of the most influential works of ancient philosophy, including his revision of the 'Book of Odes' and his history of the dukes of Lu (the 'Spring and Autumn Annals'). The sage died in November 479.