Confucianism notionally began in the sixth century bc with the teachings of an obscure Chinese scholar and occasional government adviser called Kongfuzi (Confucius). This picture, however, is slightly misleading because Confucius was himself drawing upon traditions, ideals and cosmologies that were already ancient. He was in fact calling for a revitalisation of these traditions in an attempt to bring an end to the chaos that had engulfed China in his own day. He reaffirmed the traditional Chinese notion that virtue, morality, humaneness and harmony are all heavenly realities waiting to be discovered through education and the adoption of ‘proper’ relationships between members of families and members of society. In the hands of his disciples and generations of their successors his teachings gave rise to an ethical code that assumed a status akin to that of a state religion in China, Japan, Korea and Vietnam, providing a central basis of regime legitimacy for many generations of imperial dynasties. 1 In the tenth century a rigid, state-centric version known as Neo-Confucianism was imposed in China as the national ideology and versions of this spread to Japan and Korea. It was in this period that the examination system became the basis of governance in China and the empire entered a new period of conservatism. As both a state religion and as a system of governance Confucianism is now dead, but at the level of the lived experience of ordinary people, it continues to act as a religion, imposing patterns of social cognition that provide a reasonably consistent social underlay across Chinese and other East Asian cultures. The divergent elements separating these ‘Confucian’ cultures (China, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, Vietnam and Singapore) are legion, but the common elements are also very firmly established.