II. Confucianism is the religion of China par excellence, and is named from the great sage who lived in the fifth and sixth centuries B. C. Confucius indeed did not originate the system, nor was he the first to inculcate its principles or enjoin its forms of worship. He said of himself (Analects, VII, i) that he was a transmitter and not a maker, one who believed in and loved the ancients; and hence it is said in the thirtieth chapter of the Doctrine of the Mean, ascribed to his grandson, that 'he handed down the doctrines of Yâo and Shun, as if they had been his ancestors, and elegantly displayed the regulations of Wăn and Wû, taking them as his models.
In fulfilling what he considered to be his mission, Confucius did little towards committing to writing the views of antiquity according to his own conception of them. He discoursed about them freely with the disciples of his school, from whom we have received a good deal of what he said; and it is possible that his accounts of the ancient views and practices took, unconsciously to himself, some colour from the peculiar character of his mind. But his favourite method was to direct the attention of his disciples to the ancient literature of the nation. He would neither affirm nor relate anything for which he could not adduce some document of acknowledged authority. He said on one occasion (Analects, III, ix) that he could describe the ceremonies of the dynasties of Hsiâ (B.C. 2205–1767) and Yin (B.C. 1766–1123), but did not do so, because the records and scholars in the two states of Kâu, that had been assigned to the descendants of their sovereigns, could not sufficiently attest his words. It is an error even to suppose that he compiled the historical documents, poems, and other ancient books from various works existing in his time. Portions of the oldest works had already perished. His study of those that remained, and his exhortations to his disciples also to study them, contributed to their preservation. What he wrote or said about their meaning should be received by us with reverence; but if all the works which he handled had come down to us entire, we should have been, so far as it is possible for foreigners to be, in