originator, K’ung Fu Tzu (Latinised to Confucius), was an
official in the Chinese court. During his lifetime (around
500 BC), China had broken into rival states fighting for
supremacy. Confucius, comparing the turmoil of the life
of the people with the formalised rituals of the court,
set about creating a code to regulate social conduct, thereby
enabling people to live in peace and harmony. He left the
court and travelled the country, explaining his ideas.
The principles of Confucianism
At the heart of his teaching were two fundamental principles,
the necessity of correct behaviour and the importance of
loyalty and obedience. In each case, the message was reinforced
by rites and ceremony. He made no mention of a spiritual
dimension, but stressed the observance of traditional rituals.
The status of Confucianism as a ‘religion’ in Vietnam is,
that time, the philosophy was radically different. Status
was to be acquired not by power and heroic actions, but
by selflessness, respect for others and non-violent behaviour.
It challenged the concept of lineal heredity by associating
a person’s worth with learning, rather than birthright.
Only intellect and erudition could give an individual a
‘Mandate from Heaven’ to be in a position of authority.
The ideas of Confucius took root in China, and developed
further. Deference was central to the code of conduct: children
were to obey their parents without question, wives their
husbands, students their teachers and citizens their rulers.
Education was the primary means of advancement.
Confucius’s ideas led to a rigidly stratified
society. Children were taught their filial duties to their
parents and the community to prepare them to assume their
correct place in the social hierarchy and to behave accordingly.
Those that succeeded in education would achieve higher rank.
Those that surpassed their fellows would be able to enter
the ranks of the Mandarins, a non-hereditary ruling class
immediately under the Emperor.
Social stability at
the expense of progress
The emphasis upon tradition and social order created stability
and uniformity but, over time, diminished national and personal
initiative. Progress and change slowed to a snail’s pace.
Gradually Confucianism absorbed elements of Taoism, degenerating
into an ideology in which the Emperor and Mandarins used
their ‘Mandate from Heaven’ for their own purposes. Eventually,
a stagnating China was easy prey for invaders from Europe,
whose military technology had long outpaced that of the
Confucianism in Vietnam
Confucianism was firmly implanted in Vietnam during the
thousand years of its occupation by China and mirrored its
development. As in China, an intellectual elite developed,
and the principles of obedience and respect for education
and authority were instilled throughout society, profoundly
influencing the family structure and creating a tightly
defined social hierarchy.
In Hanoi in 1070, the establishment of the
Van Mieu (Temple of Literature), a temple of learning dedicated
to Confucius, marked the emergence of Confucianism as a
cult. Like China, it reached a peak during the 15th century
- the ‘golden age’ of King Le Thanh Tong, then steadily
decayed into decadence and corruption opening the door for
the French invasion.
influence of Confucianism in Vietnam
The profound impact of Confucianism remains strong in Vietnam.
Social order is defined by its principles, and the rituals
or deference and obedience are still observed. Unlike the
West, teachers and education are held in high esteem, children
defer to their parents, even in middle age and beyond, and
most wives still follow the wishes of their husbands without
However, the value of Confucianism as a
moderating influence upon social behaviour is being rapidly
superseded by the need for flexibility and openness in a