The Confucius Institute takes its name from Confucius or Kongzi (Master Kong), the famous early teacher and thinker, said to have lived from 551 to 479 BC. Ancient sources tell us that, though he was at times shunned and lived a life of deprivation, Confucius nevertheless managed to win a large following among the sons of the nobility as well as among the poor. These disciples and followers, who numbered in the hundreds according to some accounts, memorized and eventually wrote down teachings that distill the essence of his thought.
Confucius emphasized the importance of moral education and of making ethics the foundation of good government. He taught that an ideal society could be achieved through education and moral persuasion, as opposed to relying on the laws, regulations, and penal codes that were apparently gaining ground in his day. Confucius recognized the value of the family and kinship relations, friendship, and respect for elders and teachers. Though he is thought to have lived in troubled times marked by social strife and power struggles among competing rulers, Confucius advocated mutual tolerance and harmony in running a state as well as the importance of community rituals for achieving social harmony.
Confucius's teachings were eventually adopted and patronized by powerful imperial dynasties and, as a result, had an enormous impact on Chinese society through the ages and were as well greatly influential on thought and governance in Vietnam, Japan, and Korea. In the twentieth century, Confucius's teachings were discarded by modernizers who found them impractical and elitist, but after a century of turmoil, Confucius and his ideas have been rediscovered as symbols of enduring value and significance in China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong, as well as in other communities throughout the world.