Confucius lived from 552 B.C. - 479 B.C. at a time of warring factions in China. He saw a need to develop a practical doctrine which would help the Chinese to act harmoniously toward one another, that is, in harmony with the Way of Heaven or according with the nature of things. He spelled out "Filial Piety", that is proper way to act in relationships as follows:
Emperor- - subject
Elder brother--younger brother
Elder Friend--younger friend.
On the negative side we can say "He[Confucius] ... did much towards weakening the personality of God, for whom he invariably used /T'ien/[Heaven], never /Shang Ti/, regarding Him evidently more as an abstraction than as a living sentient Being, with the physical attributes of man. Confucianism is therefore entirely a system of morality, and not a religion." (HERBERT A. GILES, M.A., LL.D.)
Confucius during his life was not to successful but in time the Chinese saw his wisdom and began to put it into practice both in private life and government.
The serious Catholic Church effort to bring the faith in Christ to the Chinese began with the Jesuit Missionary Matteo Ricci who arrived in China in 1582 and worked there till his death in 1610.
The Chinese were a proud people who considered anyone out of their empire a barbarians. How would Ricci influence them to accept Christianity?
The first way was to get the Chinese interested in European discoveries and inventions. He established with Fr. Michele Ruggieri,SJ a house at Chao-k'ing where he displayed large and small clocks, mathematical and astronomical instruments, prisms, musical instruments, oil paintings, a map of the world, etc. but also a picture of the Virgin May with the infant Jesus in her arms. All who came were astounded by what they saw and at times inquired about the picture of Our Lady. Since they expressed an interest in Religion, the Jesuits published in 1584 a small catechism in Chinese containing the basic truths of faith. This work was well received by the Chinese.
What most attracted them was a map of the world where china was seen in relation of Europe. The governor asked for a copy of the map with Chinese notations, he had it printed and sent copies to his friends. Later the emperor himself would ask Ricci to make a map of the world which he did. And so many people began to visit them, especially scholars, who were interested.
The second way was to show that he appreciated Chinese culture. At first he dressed like a Buddhist monk but later realized that the most respected in China were the scholars. So, he grew long hair, a beard, put on a silk robe like a mandarin and in visiting other scholars had himself carried on a chair by four men like other scholars. In Chinese he became known as Li-ma-teu. He used the teachings of Confucius as a jump off point toward Christianity since he saw Confucius as a man of reason who taught the natural order of things to the Chinese.
Pope John Paul II summarizes Ricci inculturation thus, "Father Matteo Ricci made himself so 'Chinese with the Chinese' that he became an expert Sinologist, in the deepest cultural and spiritual sense of the term, for he achieved in himself an extraordinary inner harmony between priest and scholar, between Catholic and orientalist, between Italian and Chinese."
The Lord of Heaven