Confucianism in Boston

Though there are significant Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, and Korean immigrant communities in Greater Boston, East Asian traditions such as Confucianism, Daoism, and Shintō are difficult to survey as there are very few religious centers. These traditions are deeply imbedded in the unique history, geography, and culture of their native countries and are often practiced in forms that are not limited to institutional or communal settings.

What Westerners label “Confucianism” is known by Chinese, Korean, Japanese, and Vietnamese followers as the...

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Mencius (371-289 BCE) is often considered as one of the wisest Confucians, second only to Confucius himself. His conversations with disciples and rulers are collected in the second of the Four Books; his observations include that each person is linked in an intricate network of parents, siblings, spouse, friends, and socio-political leaders. This network reaches back in time as well, encompassing all one’s ancestors and the cultural heroes who have made civilized life possible.


The term dao (or tao) literally the “path,” or “way,” has been employed in Chinese religious and philosophical traditions, including Taoism, Confucianism, Buddhism, Islam, and Christianity. In general usage, the Tao refers to the proper way to act so as to fulfill one’s true role in the world. In Daoism, dao points to the ineffable creative process which gives birth to heaven, earth, and the myriad creatures. The Dao is invisible, inaudible, and subtle, though it is not separate from the sights, sounds and objects of this world. It is that which leads from... Read more about Dao

Four Books

The Analects, Book of Mencius, Great Learning and Doctrine of the Mean have been the central texts for the Confucian tradition since the 12th century, when the Neo-Confucian Zhu Xi (1130-1200) grouped them together as the Four Books. They gained the status of orthodoxy in 1313, when the imperial house designated them as the basis of China’s civil service examinations. For the next six centuries, Neo-Confucian interpretations of these texts would play a leading role in shaping the religious, philosophical, and political discourse of East Asia.


The Confucian tradition emphasizes the importance of following inherited rites (li) in a conscientious manner so that one can fully activate his or her humanity (ren) and thereby realize the Way (dao) of Heaven (tian). Major figures include Confucius (551-479 BCE), who first elucidated the main tenets of the faith, and Zhu Xi (1130-1200 CE), who grouped together the Four Books (the Analects, Book of Mencius, Great Learning and Doctrine of the Mean) as the central texts for Confucian education. Today, although very few people identify... Read more about Confucianism

Zhu Xi

(also: Chu Hsi) The Neo-Confucian Zhu Xi (1130-1200) is best known for having grouped together the Analects, Book of Mencius, Great Learning and Doctrine of the Mean as the Four Books. For the next six centuries, Zhu Xi’s interpretations of these texts would play a leading role in shaping the religious, philosophical, and political discourse of East Asia.

Confucius Institute

In a reversal from the rhetoric used throughout most of the 20th century, the Chinese government is now actively promoting Confucianism as a cultural treasure, a means to better society and maintain social harmony. One result of this new political endorsement has been the creation of the Confucius Institute in 2004. Headquartered in Beijing, the organization’s goal is to setup partnering Confucius Institutes throughout the world to promote and teach Chinese language and culture. In just seven years, 256 Confucius Institutes have been established worldwide, 60 within the United States. Whereas... Read more about Confucius Institute

Five Classics

The Five Classics of the Confucian tradition include the Book of History (Shujing), Book of Poetry (Shijing), Book of Rites (Lijing), Book of Changes (Yijing), and Spring and Autumn Annals (Chunqiu). In 136 BCE Emperor Han, under the direction of the Confucian scholar Dong Zhongshu (179-104 BCE), grouped them together to form the earliest canon of the Confucian tradition.

Boston Confucianism

Starting in the late 20th century, America has seen the rise of its own indigenous form of Confucianism known as Boston Confucianism. “Boston Confucians” was a term that began to be used jokingly in the late 1980s at conferences of Confucian-Christian dialogue to refer to the representatives from the Boston area. However, the initial joking nature has come to define an intellectual movement. This small but growing group of intellectuals seeks both to promote Confucianism by showing what it can offer the world, and to argue that Confucianism can stand alone outside of its East Asian roots. For... Read more about Boston Confucianism


Confucius (551-479 BCE) is the most famous philosopher of ancient China. The most reliable source regarding his life is the Analects (Lunyu), which includes sayings and anecdotes by Confucius and his disciples. Although he remained modest about his achievements in self-cultivation, later Confucians regarded him as the last and greatest of all sages.

The 21st Century: A Confucian Revival?

The late 20th century saw the rise of organizations that promote Confucianism in the United States and abroad. In 2004, for instance, the Chinese government opened the Confucius Institute, a partnership with many institutions to teach Chinese language, culture, and literature. In the United States, Boston Confucianism is a growing intellectual movement that asserts that anyone, not only East Asians, can participate and learn from the Confucian tradition.... Read more about The 21st Century: A Confucian Revival?

To Become a Sage

To find expressions of Confucian values in the United States one must look not so much at explicit ceremonial activities, but at underlying motives as they surface in everyday life. Confucian values are often expressed among many East Asian immigrants through an emphasis on education, family cohesiveness, and self-abnegation in support of others.... Read more about To Become a Sage