Simon Worrall in National Geographic:
He was hailed after his death as “The Uncrowned King,” a philosopher whose sound bites of wisdom became China’s handbook on government and its code of personal morality for thousands of years. But little is known about Confucius, and what is known is full of contradiction and myth. Speaking from Washington, D.C, during a break on his book tour, Michael Schuman, author of Confucius and the World He Created, teases out fact from fiction; explains why he had to take bowing lessons before his wedding; and tells us why the influence of a scholar who died nearly 3,000 years ago is still felt in the boardrooms, bedrooms, and classrooms of nearly a quarter of humanity.
…Let’s scroll back now to 551 B.C. What do we know about Confucius, the man?
What we know is in bits and pieces scattered across various historical records of somewhat suspect quality. What we think we know is that he was born to a family of low-level officials. His father died when he was quite young, and he was raised by a single mother. There’s some speculation among modern historians that he might have been illegitimate. But we know very little about his childhood. What we do know is that he turned himself into an expert on the literature and history and poetry of an earlier age in China, and with that he created his own doctrine. The purpose of the doctrine was to restore peace and order. The time in which he lived was a time of war and conflict in China between numerous feudal states, and he believed he had devised a doctrine of virtue that could bring prosperity back to China. In his own life, unfortunately, he failed in that vision, because he could not find the dukes and kings to adhere to his ideas. But where he did succeed was as a very successful teacher. He had very loyal students who became his disciples, and they carried on his mission and his teachings until Confucianism eventually became China’s dominant philosophy