One of the first things taught to children when they first start school is the Golden Rule – treat others the way you want to be treated. This is among several rules advocated by Confucius, a sound Chinese teacher, philosopher, and political figure. Confucius led an ethical lifestyle by preaching principles that lay the foundation of how people throughout Asia live today. See how strong an impact he has left since his passing.

Who was Confucius?

statue of confucius in thailand
Statue of Confucius in front of a temple dedicated to him (© aphotostory via Canva

Confucius (孔子, pronounced hung ji in Cantonese and kǒngzǐ in Mandarin) was born in 551 BCE in Qufu, Shandong province in eastern China, to an aristocratic family that unfortunately fell into hard times. He showed a strong knack for education at an early age and believed that education and reflection led to virtue. This prompted Confucius to be a great teacher for students and authoritarian figures alike.

ancient image of confucius
Confucius is still respected throughout Asia for his foundational teachings including trustworthiness and kindness (© Airunp via Flickr)

Known as Confucianism, his teachings foster an approach to thinking and living that includes respecting elders and peers, filial piety (i.e. deep respect for your parents), worshipping ancestors, loving humanity, and practising self-discipline.

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In politics, Confucius took up diplomacy by being an advisor to leaders. In education, he taught students to master the six arts of ritual that would lead to a life of integrity: music, archery, charioteering, writing, and arithmetic.

This set of teachings, that holistically form a guide to a way of living, is still a huge part of modern thinking in Hong Kong and throughout Asia.

What is Confucius’ Birthday celebration?

confucius' birthday ceremony in taipei
A ceremony in Taipei commemorates the birthday of Confucius (© 總統府 via Flickr)

Confucius’ Birthday (孔子誕辰, pronounced hung ji daan san in Cantonese and kǒngzǐ dànchén in Mandarin) is the day to pay respect to the person known as “China’s First Teacher”. Also known as Confucius Day, his birthday is on the 27th day of the eighth lunar month, which falls on September 28, 2022 on the Gregorian calendar.

ten wise disciples of confucius
Confucius’ major disciples include the Ten Wise Ones, each masters of a discipline like Virtues or Literature (© MET Museum via Flickr)

It wasn’t until after Confucius’ death that his teachings spread through his students. This spread most notably took place during the Han Dynasty when the emperor at the time held Confucius’ principles in high regard. Thus, Confucian teachings spread among the thousands who took after the sage leader. Many of his wise words are published in The Analects, which is a collection of his philosophies and ideas that are the guiding principles of Confucianism to this day, one being “Never give a sword to a man who can’t dance.”

In Hong Kong, Confucius’ Birthday is a commemoration of his ideas which have shaped modern society in Hong Kong and mainland China. Many government leaders and schools instil Confucianism in practice.

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In Taiwan, Confucius’ Birthday is celebrated as Teacher’s Day because it’s a reminder to appreciate the value teachers contribute to the moulding of students and their lives.

Confucius Day traditions 

young costumed dancers perform for confucius birthday celebration
Young performers at Confucius’ Birthday ceremony in Taipei City (© 總統府 via Flickr)

The birthday of Confucius comes with several traditions observed. Worshippers of the great and wise leader visit temples or other monuments dedicated to Confucius to pay respect in the form of bowing and burning incense. Some of Confucius’ favourite melodies are played on traditional Chinese strings alongside dance performances.

former taiwanese president ma at confucius birthday ceremony in taipei
Taiwan’s former president, Ma Ying-jeou, attends Birthday of Confucius ceremony in Taipei in 2013 (© 總統府 via Flickr)

Not only are temples the meeting grounds to honouring Confucius, universities and schools predictably participate in the birthday celebrations. Sometimes a speech is given, too, praising the leader and stressing the importance of his influential teachings on Chinese culture and philosophy. People would dress from head-to-toe in gear that encompasses robes and other traditional wear from Confucius’ time to enhance the birthday festivities. All in all, it’s only fitting that great recognition is given to a leader as considerable as Confucius.

Celebrations of Confucius’ Birthday throughout Asia 

confucian temple in beijing, china
Confucian Temple in Beijing, the site of a 10-day-long celebration for Confucius’ birthday (© Laurent Bélanger via Flickr)

Across China, people visit temples dedicated to Confucius, burning incense, dancing, and bowing, to name a few. In Beijing particularly, Confucius Temple and Imperial College Museum host a huge event that brings people together to celebrate the mark Confucius made and remember him for his teachings that are fundamental to Chinese culture. Celebrations can go on for as long as 10 days.

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In other places, like South Korea, Confucius’ Birthday is celebrated with activities similar to religious rites. Worshippers make offerings in the form of a cow’s head, pears, and rice cake at temples. At times, people wear paper bag-like hats and perform rites.

FAQ about Confucius’ Birthday

What rituals are practised during Confucius’ Birthday?

During Confucius’ Birthday in Hong Kong, people traditionally visit temples to pay respect to the great leader. Depending on certain places, such as in China, an entire throng of people attend an event hosted to remember Confucius with a speech and play some of his favourite tunes on Chinese string instruments.

Where is the Birthday of Confucius celebrated?

The Birthday of Confucius is celebrated in Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, China, and South Korea.

What are the main values of Confucianism?

The main values of Confucianism are about fostering an influential approach to thinking and living that include respecting elders and peers, filial piety, worshipping ancestors, loving humanity, and practising self-discipline.

Other traditional Chinese festivalsLunar New Year — Lunar New Year Fair — Birthday of Che Kung — Chinese Lantern Festival — Kwun Yum Treasury Opening Festival — Ching Ming Festival — Tin Hau Festival — Cheung Chau Bun Festival — Buddha’s Birthday — Birthday of Tam Kung — Dragon Boat Festival — Birthday of Kwan Tai — Qixi Festival — Hung Shing Festival — Hungry Ghost Festival — Mid-Autumn Festival — Monkey King Festival — Birthday of Confucius — Chung Yeung Festival — Winter Solstice Festival.

Header image credits: Jim Gourley via Flickr

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A hermit at heart, Agnes likes to connect with the world across various platforms that share a wealth of content on beauty, culture, lifestyle, and travel. She loves using the art of language to portray her voice and poor sense of humour whenever possible. When she’s not nerding around or head deep into a piece, you’re sure to find her spending time outdoors with friends and family or going down the Pinterest rabbit hole to find all sorts of inspiration she can!

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