Confucianism is a way of life taught by Confucius in the 6th–5th century BCE. Sometimes viewed as a philosophy, sometimes as a religion, Confucianism is perhaps best understood as an all-encompassing humanism that neither denies nor slights heaven. Confucianism has been followed by the Chinese for more than two millennia. Everybody has some sort of religious belief. Confucianism provides a simple skeleton of ethical and religious beliefs that most Chinese flesh out by other religions such as Daoism. It was the state-sponsored religion of many dynasties from the Han Dynasty to the Qing Dynasty. It was the religion of the imperial bureaucrats, and it was the favorite political philosophy of rulers because it legitimated dynastic rule.
The Mandate of Heaven of Confucianism was a key concept underpinning imperial legitimacy. The doctrine is that Heaven chose a particular man and his descendants to be the mediator between Heaven and the region. The man was a god whose actions affected and even determined not only the course of the empire but the natural world as well.
It has deeply influenced spiritual and political life in China; its influence has also extended to Korea, Japan, and Vietnam. East Asians may profess themselves to be Shintoists, Taoists, Buddhists, Muslims, or Christians - but seldom do they cease to be Confucians.
The main principle of Confucianism is ren ("humaneness" or "benevolence"), signifying excellent character in accord with li (ritual norms), zhong (loyalty to one's true nature), shu (reciprocity), and xiao (filial piety). Together these constitute de (virtue).
Confucianism is characterized by a highly optmistic view of human nature. The faith in the possibility of ordinary human beings to become awe-inspiring sages and worthies is deeply rooted in the Confucian heritage (Confucius himself lived a rather ordinary life), and the insistence that human beings are teachable, improvable, and perfectible through personal and communal endeavour is typically Confucian.
Confucius regarded Heaven (T'ien) as a positive and personal force in the universe; he was not, as some have supposed, an agnostic or a skeptic.
The Confucian political hierarchy is gone along with the Qing Empire in 1912. But many Confucianism beliefs were such an implicit part of everyday life of the population that the ideas form what Chinese around the world consider their culture.
The Confucianism beliefs most Chinese still hold to include the ideas of harmony, obedience to parents and authority, that people should be trained and forced to behave "properly" in their roles, and an idea of reciprocity (do to others as they do to you whether good or bad).
Most Chinese still have some belief about the worship of ancestors. They believe that their spirits still influence people, but the idea of the Mandate of Heaven if it is applied, isn't applied to living emperors.
Most Chinese feel that people are born at least slightly good, following the idea taught by Mencius and Daoism teachings.