Confucius Biography – the Chinese philosopher

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Confucius: a Chinese man in a red hat - Confucius life

Confucius life: Later portrait of Confucius, from the provincial museum of Shandong, China

Confucius’ childhood

The philosopher Confucius‘ main interest was to figure out ways for the government to do a better job of taking care of the people. He lived in China during the 500s BC, under the Eastern Zhou dynasty.

Eastern Zhou Dynasty
What was happening in the 500s BC?

Confucius (conn-FYU-shuss) is what English speakers call him now, but when he was a child his name was Kong Qiu. In Chinese, Confucius is Kong Qiu.

He was born in 551 BC, and his parents were poor, although his family had once been rich. They had gotten into trouble with the emperor, and he had taken away their money and their land.

The government of ancient China
Lots more articles about China

Confucius goes to college

Confucius, people say, was a smart and hard-working child, and when he grew up people said he was fair, and polite, and loved to learn things, and so his family sent him to the big city, to Zhou, where the Zhou emperor lived, to go to school. While he was in Zhou, Confucius may have gotten to know Lao Tzu, who was later on the creator of the philosophy of Taoism.

What was Chinese school like?
More about Lao Tzu and Taoism

Confucius becomes a teacher and a judge

When Confucius finished school, he went back to his home in Lu and became a teacher there. When he was 35 years old, he tried to get involved in politics, and maybe get the Duke of Lu to give him some land and money, but when this idea didn’t work out Confucius went back to being a teacher.

He did work for a while as a city magistrate and then as a chief minister of his city, Lu, when he was about fifty, but when he saw that the Duke of Lu was not doing a good job, Confucius quit and left his city.

Confucius becomes a traveling philosopher

Confucius spent the rest of his life travelling from town to town around China with his students and friends, giving advice to different rulers wherever he went. Often they didn’t like his advice: once he was thrown in jail for five days! When he was 67, Confucius went back to Lu and settled down there, and he died there when he was 72 years old.

Did you find out what you wanted to know about Confucius’ life? Now read the next article about his philosophy.

Confucius’ philosophy
Learn by doing: Visiting a Chinese Garden

Bibliography and further reading about Confucius’ life:

Confucius: The Golden Rule, by Russell Freedman (2002). – some biography, and some philosophy. Good reviews.

The Life and Times of Confucius, by Kathleen Tracy (2004).

Or check out this resource page about Confucius.

Confucius’ philosophy
Chinese Philosophy
Ancient China home

By |2018-10-05T05:51:26+00:00June 7th, 2017|China, Philosophy|7 Comments
Cite this page: Carr, K.E. Confucius Biography – the Chinese philosopher. Study Guides, June 7, 2017. Web. December 19, 2018.

About the Author:

Dr. Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram, Pinterest, or Facebook, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.


  1. […] named Lao Tzu (or Lao Tsu) may have started it.  He lived a little before Confucius and the Buddha, about 600 BC.  Tao means the “way” or the “path”. […]

  2. Jason King March 27, 2018 at 10:41 am - Reply

    Helped a LOT!!!!! thanks Karen for being a big help

    • Karen Carr March 27, 2018 at 11:20 am

      You’re welcome! I’m glad I could help.

  3. Michael Jaurigue February 27, 2018 at 11:41 am - Reply

    Hi , can you tell me if Confucius ever set up an ancient University? Thank You………….

    • Karen Carr February 27, 2018 at 2:55 pm

      Confucius was a teacher, so he may have opened a school, but no, he didn’t open a big university. There weren’t really any universities in China yet when Confucius was alive. That came later, under the Han Dynasty:

  4. cain January 13, 2018 at 7:30 am - Reply

    did not help one bit

    • Karen Carr January 14, 2018 at 2:07 pm

      Sorry to hear it! What was your question? If you ask it here I’ll try to answer it.

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