Like many other ancient Chinese writers, historians can only make educated guesses about Mencius’ life. The collection of his writings, known simply as Mencius, is divided into seven books, and the descriptions and events within the work give some detail as to the time period Mencius lived in, and the various Chinese states he visited. He was probably alive during the later half of the 4th century BCE. The many ancient states in which Mencius may have wandered about, spreading his interpretation of Confucian philosophy, include Liang, Ch’i, Yen, Tsou, T’eng and Lu.
Mencius was a prominent philosopher of the Confucian tradition who elaborated on Confucius’ teachings using a premise that human nature is good. Confucius and the most important students of the Confucian school, Mencius and Xunzi, based their teachings on love, human nature, and virtue.
Mencius interpreted and developed Confucius’ ideas to emphasize the good nature of man. He stated that mankind always leans toward goodness, just as water unquestioningly obeys gravity. There are anomalies, undeniably, but that is all they are to Mencius–an anomalous break from true humanity. Mencius supported his assumption that men are naturally good with his observation of the ‘four hearts’ of humanity. Everyone has the capability to become good because he has innate compassion, a sense of shame, respectfulness and the knowledge of right and wrong.
Mencius also wrote about Heaven, which Confucius largely tried to ignore in his teachings. When Mencius discussed Heaven in his works, it was usually synonymous with the standard of morality. Mencius believed that if men respected and admired Heaven, thereby respecting and admiring morality, then their lives would be prosperous. Mencius used Heaven to justify rebellion against immoral rulers through the use of the mandate of heaven. Rulers must have the approval of both Heaven and the people. Nevertheless, Mencius’ teachings did not provide much of a theology or a religious framework. He merely asked his readers to respect and admire Heaven, but his teachings did not call for any spirituality. His teaching explained what Heaven could do for mankind, not what Heaven was or what happened in the supernatural world.