While the modern male ideal ranges from successful businessman to family guy, the epitome of ancient Chinese masculinity was more specific—a junzi (君子, “superior man”). The term originally described a nobleman—literally, “son of a lord”— during the Western Zhou dynasty (1046 BCE – 771 BCE), but later described virtuous men who fulfilled Confucian obligations.
While still one rank below the supreme honor of sage, ancient junzi were the epitome of both high morals and talent. Late Qing dynasty scholar Gu Hongming (辜鸿铭) believed that the essence of Confucius's philosophy was “the doctrine of junzi.” A junzi possesses the virtues of benevolence (仁), righteousness (义), propriety (礼), knowledge (智), and integrity (信), and follows the tenets of loyalty (忠), filial piety (孝), and honesty (廉). In his Analects, Confucius mentions junzi 107 times (referring to rulers in a dozen instances) and its opposite, xiaoren (小人, “inferior person”), 24 times, claiming “The mind of the superior man is conversant with righteousness; the mind of the mean man is conversant with gain” (君子喻于义，小人喻于利). Since the Zhou dynasty, students were encouraged to become junzi by mastering the “six arts” (六艺): rites, music, archery, charioteering, calligraphy, and mathematics.