- Discuss Confucianism, Daoism, Legalism, and Mohism.
- Confucius stressed tradition and believed that an individual should strive to be virtuous and respectful, and to fit into his or her place in society.
- Confucianism remained prevalent in China from the Han Dynasty in 202 BCE to the end of dynastic rule in 1911.
- Lao-tzu was the legendary founder of Daoism, recorded in the form of the book the Tao Te Ching.
- Daoism advocated that the individual should follow a mysterious force, called The Way (dao), of the universe, and that all things were one.
- Legalism held that humans were inherently bad and needed to be kept in line by a strong state. According to Legalism, the state was far more important than the individual.
- Legalists could be divided into three types: those concerned with the position of ruler, those concerned with laws, and those concerned with tactics to keep the state safe.
- Mohism emerged under the philosopher Mozi, and its most well-known concept was “impartial care.” Mohism also stated that all people should be equal in their material benefit, and in their protection from harm.
The basis of civil examinations in imperial China and the Confucian canon. They consist of the Book of Odes, the Book of Documents, the Book of Changes, the Book of Rites, and the Spring and Autumn Annals.
Life force or body energy, which supposedly circulates through the body along meridians.
Tao Te Ching
The book which forms the basis of Daoist philosophy.
The document in which the students of Confucius recorded his teachings.
Human virtue, under Confucianism.
Confucius, who lived during the 6th century BCE, was one of the foremost Chinese philosophers. He looked back on the Western Zhou period, with its strong centralized state, as an ideal. He was pragmatic and sought to reform the existing government, encouraging a system of mutual duty between superiors and inferiors. Confucius stressed tradition and believed that an individual should strive to be virtuous and respectful, and to fit into his or her place in society. After his death in 479 BCE, his students wrote down his ethical and moral teachings in the Lun-yü, or Analects.
Being a good and virtuous human in every ordinary situation was the goal of Confucianism. This virtue was called “jen,” and humans were seen as perfectible and basically good creatures. Ceremonies and rituals based on the Five Classics, especially the I Ching, were strongly instituted. Some ethical concepts included Yì (the moral disposition to do good), Lǐ (ritual norms for everyday life) and Zhì (the ability to see what is right in the behavior of others).
Confucianism remained prevalent in China from the Han Dynasty in 202 BCE to the end of dynastic rule in 1911. It was reformulated during the Tang Dynasty (618-907) as Neo-Confucianism, and became the basis of imperial exams.
Another important philosopher in this period was Lao-tzu (also called Laozi), who founded Daoism (also called Taoism) during the same period as Confucianism. Lao-tzu is a legendary figure—it is uncertain if he actually existed. According to myth, Lao-tzu was born around 604 BCE as an old man. As he left his home to live a life of solitude, he was asked by the city gatekeeper to write down his thoughts. He did so in a book called Tao Te Ching, and was never seen again.
Daoism advocated that the individual should follow a mysterious force, called The Way (dao), of the universe and act in accordance with nature. Daoism stressed the oneness of all things, and was strictly individualistic, as opposed to Confucianism, which advocated acting as society expected.
Daoism as a religion arose over time, and involved the worship of gods and ancestors, the cultivation of “chi” energy, a system of morals, and the use of alchemy to achieve immortality. It is still in practice today.
Although Confucianism and Daoism are the Chinese philosophies that have endured most to this day, even more important to this early period was a lesser-known philosophy called Legalism. This held that humans are inherently bad and need to be kept in line by a strong state. According to Legalism, the state was far more important than the individual. While Legalism held that laws should be clear and public and that everyone should be subject to them, it also contended that rulers had supreme power and must use stealth and secrecy to remain in power. Legalists also believed that society must strive to dominate other societies.
Legalists could be divided into three types. The first was concerned with shi, or the investment of the position of ruler with power (rather than the person) and the necessity of obtaining facts to rule well. The second was concerned with fa, or laws, regulations, and standards. This meant all were equal under the ruler, and the state was run by law, not a ruler. The third was the concept of shu, or tactics to keep the state safe. Legalism was generally in competition with Confucianism, which advocated a just and reciprocal relationship between the state and its subjects.
Mohism emerged around the same time as the other philosophies discussed here, under the philosopher Mozi (c. 470-391 BCE). The most well-known concept under Mohism was “impartial care,” also known as “universal love.” This meant that people should care equally about other people, regardless of their true relationship to that person. This opposed the ideas of Confucianism, which said that love should be greater for close relationships. Mohism also stressed the ideas of self-restraint, reflection and authenticity.
Mohism also stated that all people should be equal in their material benefit and in their protection from harm. Society could be improved by having it function like an organism, with a uniform moral compass. Those who were qualified should receive jobs, and thus the ruler would be surrounded by people of talent and skill. An unrighteous ruler would result in seven disasters for the state, including neglect of military defense, repression, illusions about strength, distrust, famine, and more.