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Lost In Translation: How "Confucianism" Became Synonymous With The Ru Tradition

January 13, 2018

"Confucius, Philosopher of the Chinese, or, Chinese Knowledge Explained in Latin, an introduction to Chinese history and philosophy published at Paris in 1687 by a team of Jesuits working under Philippe Couplet."

The fascinating history of the term, “Confucianism,” began in the late 16th century with Italian Jesuit missionaries arriving in China with the purpose of converting as many Chinese toward their version of the Christian faith. The most famous Jesuit of these missionaries was Father Matteo Ricci, arriving at Macau in 1582, the Portuguese trading post and settlement on the South China Sea.  He was actually the first person to use “Confucius,” the Latinized translation of Kong Fuzi.  Moving into the middle of 19th century and following this Latinized naming trend, Protestant Christians coined the term “Confucianism.” This was their attempt to describe the intellectual and social systems they encountered in China at the time. Finally, the word “Confucian” was then fashioned to describe a Ru practitioner, the Chinese scholar literati that actually managed the social structures and institutions of the Chinese imperial system.

Viewed in this way, “Ru” is the original native Chinese expression of this great ancient tradition. With that in mind, "Confucius" is really "Kong Fuzi" or "Kongzi" for short. Consequently, a “Confucian” is truly known as a “Ru” or “Ruist” as well as “Confucianism” being accurately known as “The Ru Tradition” or “Ruism” to describe its knowledges, understandings, practices, and holistic sense of lifestyle.

Along with their Christian faith, these missionaries culturally exchanged Western science, mathematics, astronomy, and cartography with the Chinese Ru literati. In turn, these Christian missionaries discovered a very deep cultural legacy with amazing, insightful ideas that they shared with their fellow Europeans.  This eventually contributed to the European Enlightenment.

Ruism deftly covers and engages in a wide range of topical discourse such as morality, philosophy, art, poetry, literature, self-cultivation strategies, social management ideas, spiritual development, and much more. In actual practice, for over 2,500 years, the Ru Tradition has offered its wisdom to individuals to achieve harmony within themselves, in their homes, in their social lives, and at work, all while, as they seek to be a force for the greater good in this wonderful world.



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