His writings deal primarily with individual morality and ethics, and the proper exercise of political power by the rulers.
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 a set of complementary, peacefully co-existent and ecumenical religions.
There are approximately 6 million Confucians in the world. About 26,000 live in North America; almost all of the remainder are found throughout China and the rest of Asia.
Confucian ethical teachings include the following values:
- Li: includes ritual, propriety, etiquette, etc.
- Hsiao: love within the family: love of parents for their children and of children for their parents
- Yi: righteousness
- Xin: honesty and trustworthiness
- Jen: benevolence, humaneness towards others; the highest Confucian virtue
- Chung: loyalty to the state, etc.
Since the time of the Han dynasty (206 CE) four life passages have been recognized and regulated by Confucian tradition:
- Birth: The T'ai-shen (spirit of the fetus) protects the expectant woman and deals harshly with anyone who harasses the mother to be. A special procedure is followed when the placenta is disposed of. The mother is given a special diet and is allowed rest for a month after delivery. The mother's family of origin supplies all the items required by the baby on the first, fourth and twelfth monthly anniversary of the birth.
- Reaching Maturity: This life passage is no longer being celebrated, except in traditional families. It takes the form of a group meal in which the young adult is served chicken.
- Marriage: This is performed in six stages:
- Proposal: the couple exchange the eight characters: the year, month, day and hour of each of their births. If any unpropitious event occurs within the bride-to-be's family during the next three days, then the woman is believed to have rejected the proposal.
- Engagement: after the wedding day is chosen, the bride announces the wedding with invitations and a gift of cookies made in the shape of the moon.
- Dowry: This is carried to the groom's home in a solemn procession. The bride-price is then sent to the bride by the groom's parents. Gifts by the groom to the bride, equal in value to the dowry, are sent to her.
- Procession: The groom visits the bride's home and brings her back to his place, with much fanfare.
- Marriage and Reception: The couple recite their vows, toast each other with wine, and then take center stage at a banquet.
- Morning After: The bride serves breakfast to the groom's parents, who then reciprocate.