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Confucius: the second case study of semantic multiplicity of the signified of a symbol’s connotation

Confucius, one of the key founders of Chinese traditional culture, is a major icon of China’s national spirits. However, throughout history, a multiplicity of roles have been attributed to Confucius - Confucius as a political figure, as an academic figure and as a non-governmental figure.3 The status that Confucius has enjoyed has undergone a considerable number of dramatic changes in the course of historical development. As a symbol for particular historical periods, Confucius has been ascribed a number of different meanings.

A sage during feudal times

During the Warring Period in Chinese history, Confucius was esteemed by his disciples as “the greatest of the sages who could keep abreast with the changing circumstances of his time” and “the sage incorporating different schools of thought,” thus establishing his image as the master of masters. During the Han Dynasty, Emperor Wudi of Han embraced the proposal put forward by Dong Zhongshu, the leading scholar-statesman of the period, who advocated Confucianism as the official ideology in the imperial state where the primacy of Confucianism was to be asserted by rejecting all the other schools of thought. From then on, Confucius was gradually accorded, by the feudal monarchs, an orthodox and deified status, and the image of Confucius as the ultimate master and the supreme sage had been continuously reinforced and enhanced with the transitions of the dynasties. Having been subjected to the manipulations by various regimes, “Confucius” evolved into a highly ideological symbol, tantamount to a religious deity worshipped by all. In addition, the icon was also employed by the feudal monarchs as an instrument of appeasing the population at large and for facilitating their long-term stable rule. As a symbol, “Confucius” signifies, on the connotative level, “a deity, the sage, and the ultimate master” who exemplified the ethical principles and codes of the feudal system.

Confucius’ Connotative Signification through Feudal Dynasties

Figure 2.3 Confucius’ Connotative Signification through Feudal Dynasties

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