Chinese Philosophy: Confucianism

During the Zhou Dynasty, Ancient Chinese history developed four philosophies whose central focus were the practical concern with man and society, how to live an ideal life, and how to best organize society. Chinese philosophies had reflections of nature and the self, which resulted in the development of themes like unity between man and heaven, and the role of man (humans) and their place in society. Rather than expressing their thoughts in a logical and ordinary writing, Chinese thinkers tended to be more poetical.

They didn’t display a strong concern in expressing strict rules; instead they intended for them to be guidelines to be followed by the people. The 500-200 B.C.E period, sometimes referred to as the “Classical age”, was a time of political and social change for China, shaped by the four schools of philosophy: Confucianism, Daoism, Moism, and Legalism. All four philosophies carried with them advantaged and disadvantages.

Confucianism was founded by Kong Fuzi (551-479 B.C.E), or Confucius. The philosophy of Confucianism, is a moral code, a guide to personal behavior and success and written work on social harmony and an effective government. Some of the advantages of Confucianism are that it highly values education. They created many schools all over china and advocated people to focus on their education, which developed a higher level of common intelligence amongst the Chinese people.

Confucianism also greatly values family, and to them a healthy and balanced family life meant harmony and ying and yang. Confucians urge people to highly respect their elders and show concern to those beneath them, meaning that between friends, the wealthiest and older friend, should mentor the one below their social rank. Along with these positive impacts, Confucianism also has a negative impact on Chinese culture. This philosophy promotes inequality as a good thing and created a one-sided power system that is not free from corruption. Leading to oppression of women (Patriarchy), labeling outsiders and minorities as ‘barbarians’ (Nationalism), and lastly authoritarian and totalitarian leaders.

Daoism was founded by Laozi in the 6th century B.C.E, during the Warring States period, created after the fall of the Zhou Dynasty. This philosophy was very passive in comparison to the active principle of Confucianism. Daoism was very minimalist, they possessed a skeptical attitude toward knowledge which meant it was best to do nothing rather than act out based on limited information. They believed in a small government and “minimum correction and guidance for those inherently unable and unwilling to govern themselves.” (Adler and Pouwels 61). Advantages of Daoism are that it is based on peace and balance of energy flow, simplicity is strength and imbalance would create unhappiness or illness.

They consider excessive action as bad as no corrective action at all, which can be good because it avoids totalitarian and authoritarian leaders like in Confucianism. Negatives of Daoism are the lack of structure and morals. There isn’t value of education or motivation to do anything except “just be”, making this philosophy difficult to reach one’s goals and full potential. Despite the differences between Confucianism and Daoism, most Chinese thinkers used both philosophies. They freely used ideas from both. Throughout Chinese history, these two philosophies influenced Chinese cultures even as new ideas came from abroad.

Legalism was founded by Han Fieze, and gained importance during the turbulent Warring States era (475-221 B.C.E). It formed the ideological basis of the Qin, Chinas first imperial Dynasty. Legalism believed that men were inherently incapable of good and created a strong, harsh government. Advantages of legalism was the discipline and motivation. The ruler would reward its people in return of correct actions but harshly punished them for not following the norm. This could be good because it strongly encouraged people to stay away from committing any sort of crime in fear of their punishment.

Everyone was equal under the law and it accomplished what all other philosophies trove for, the unification of China in 221 B.C.E. The Qin emperor successfully inflicted terror and respect of the law and government into the people, but it was extreme, causing this philosophy to have many disadvantages. Legalism believed that education was unnecessary, and people should work to produce for their state. There was no free thinking or critical reasoning, and if a leader found out someone possessed a book of a rival philosophy, it would automatically get burned in front of a crowd. This Philosophy completely contrasts with Confucianism (its biggest rival), Daoism, and Moism.

Moism was taught by Mozi (470-390 B.C.E). He was born not long after Confucius passed away. Mozi wanted to take the chaos of the Warring States and turn it into order by making sense of it in his own way. Positives about this philosophy were that instead of seeing family love as one special type of love, and different from general benevolence shown to others, like Confucianism, he believed in universal love. Respect and love all equally, regardless of who they are. Mozi created a doctrine with one golden rule: People should treat one another as they whised themselves to be treated. Therefore, followers developed martial arts to end chronic warfare’s. Disadvantages of Moism are that they turned their back on political issues and soon became irrelevant in intellectual life. After the Warring States period, their appeal began to shrink and from the second century B.C.E, Moism had disappeared from the intellectual scene. Legalism and Moism are two very different philosophies. While legalism used an etxtreme form of law and punishment Maoism believed everyone was equal enough to rule, and turned its back on politics. These two great philosophies helped shape the contemporary Chinese culture.

Confucianism is relevant today and being used by the Chinese communist party, except this version is different from the one used thousands of years ago. Beijing focuses on the Confucius who was all about obedience to the emperor, hierarchy, and loyalty. The Chinese government is using selected ideas of Confucianism to persuade and convince the people that they are running the political system China has always had. Apart from Confucianism being used in China, it is also relevant in most places in the world today. Elders are respected and seen as a priority before those younger than them and education is highly valued in places where most of the population can afford to go to a college or university, even grade school. The philosophy that resonates with me would have to be Daoism. I like the idea of a small government and the involvement in peace and balance in everyday life.

I agree with their idea of all extremes being avoided because nothing could usually come from either doing too little or doing too much. Everything has a balance and through meditation and self-exploration could find the simplicity of everyday life within ourselves. My only problem with Daoism is the lack of education. I would need a more knowledgeable form of guidance and intellectuality other than myself and nature.

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Chinese Philosophy: Confucianism. (2021, May 27). Retrieved June 13, 2024 , from

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