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Chinese Philosophies

Researched by: Andrew Wehmueller


Chinese Philosophies were written in Chinese tradition of thought. They are based on three schools of thought: Confucianism, Daoism, and Legalism (there are many other schools of thought) . Each one of these teachings changed Asia through its government, culture, history, and much more.

  • Confucianism
  • Daoism (Taoism)
  • Legalism
  • Other Schools of Thought and a Brief Description of Mohism
  • These Philosophies Today in Modern China


Confucianism appeared in a time of chaos. It was founded by Kung Fu Tzu (551-479 B.C.E.) in Southeast Asia and eventually spread all over Asia. He was also known as "Confucius." He believed that his Philosophy could strengthen society's roots. His teachings aimed at improving individuals. Confucius educated people to have self-motivation and self-control, therefore making a much more stable society. Confucius was not concerned with the spiritual, but with ordering reality.

Confucius had more followers and disciples, like Mencius. Mencius, promoted his teachings throughout Asia, after Confucius died. After this Hsun-Tzu carried the flame, and spread the teachings of Confucianism. After a while, the popularity of Confucianism began to die down. But around the 11th century AD, a man by the name of Chu Hsi (1033-1107 AD) once again made Confucianism very popular throughout China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam. Confucianism is still very popular in Asia today.

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"It does not matter how slowly you go so long as you don't stop"

For more Confucius quotes click on the link: http://www.quotationspage.com/quotes/Confucius/

Daoism (also known as Taoism)

Daoism (or Taoism) was at first teachings of physiology and philosophy, but near 440 B.C.E. it evolved into a religious faith. Daoism was based on the teachings of Laozi (believed to have lived in 6th century B.C.E.), who wrote Dao De Jing, and created many schools of thought. Daoism teaches that each individual should, through deep thought, master the laws that cause and enforce the processes of change. So, in a nutshell, Daoists believe that the true way is not action but inaction (this says you must act spontaneous ) and then have nature run its course. For example, if you have studied for a test for hours and weeks in advance and you fail, then the universe says you were meant to fail from the start. This is probably one of the most confusing philosophies out of the three.

For more history on Laozi click this link: http://www.chinaculture.org/gb/en_madeinchina/2005-09/27/content_73460.htm
Also, if you would like to read more on the Dao De Jing, which I recommend because it is very deep and interesting, follw this link: http://www.taoteching.org/

Daoism also speaks of duty towards others and the community. It says you must subordinate one's own interests towards the broader needs of the family and community. Each relationship has a duty to another member. Daoism is said to affect one's physical and mental health even beyond Chinese folk religion, and various rituals. Daoism also teaches about a sense of compassion and empathy for others and towards the good of humanity.

Unlike Confucianism, which is primarily social philosophy, Daoism addresses metaphysical (not physical) problems .

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Daoism is associated with Yin and Yang which is a symbol for good and evil, but living in harmony.

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The "Tao" which means "path" or "way".


Legalism is one of the strictest philosophies out of the three. It began during the Qin Dynasty (221-206 B.C.E.). It was founded by Shang Yang, who was a completely heartless man. He always had his opinion on the government and forces at work. For more about Shang Yang follow this link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shang_Yang

Legalism teaches that all humans are evil by nature, and the only way to become a good person is by following the right path by following strict laws and harsh government. If you committed a small crime there were punishments, such as torture and execution. The rulers showed no compassion what-so-ever.

Crimes you would be punished for:
  • Thievery
  • Speaking against Government
  • Violence
  • Littering

Many religions and nations speak against Legalism due to its unfairness and cruel nature. But, on the other hand, some people, such as terrorists, believe that it is a good way to regulate your beliefs and nation.

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The Legalists of Ancient China

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Legalism inspired art. This golden lion is a symbol of swift justice.

The scary thing about Legalism was that it worked.

Other Schools of Thought and a Brief Description of Mohism

Throughout China there were hundreds of schools of thought.

There were schools of...
  • Agriculture - taught farming and agriculture techniques, and sustaining a surplus of food for the country.
  • Diplomacy - taught practical matters through politics and diplomatic tactics.
  • Miscellaneous - taught basically anything from different schools.
  • "Minor-Talks" - this school kept in touch with local people to form ideas within the community.
  • Military - taught military tactics and strategies (studied by generals)
These schools were founded during a time period called "The Hundred Schools of Thought" along with Confucianism, Daoism, and Legalism

Another major school of thought was Mohism. Mohism developed around the same time as the other three schools of thought. It was founded by a philosopher named Mozi (Mo-tzu). This philosophy rivaled Confucianism. Mohism taught of "Universal Love"(or concern for all, "All men are equal before heaven"), humaneness, and focusing on yourself as an individual through ways that are pure and righteous. Mozi thought that this "Universal Love" would solve political problems for example, Mozi thought that the military should defend the weaker states against warring neighbors and all would be well. Mozi gained many loyal followers that he would sometimes turn to help in situations. Unfortunately, this philosophy ended in 391 B.C.E. but, the ideals of "Universal Love" are still used today around the world. (Also, Mozi was the first person to make and fly a wooden sparrow hawk in China. Just a little fun fact)

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Mozi preparing to fly a kite.

These Philosophies Today in Modern China

In this video Roger T. Ames (University of Hawaii) speaks
about how these philosophies have shaped China in both
the past and the present to help them understand and solve

Today, these philosophies (and other schools of thought) are still used to regulate daily life. For example, Daoism, (or Taoism) is practiced worldwide through different communities, by having a sense of compassion towards others, and by subordinating interests to the broader needs of the family and community. Confucianism, regulates lives by creating a stable society and creating order through government. Sadly, Legalism is still going on just to keep order.

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Young Chinese civilian arrested for his crime and soon to be executed....


I hope you have gained a little more information from my work. In conclusion, the Chinese were thinkers, peace-keepers, enforcers, wise, spontaneous, lovers, and teachers.

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(The End)

Work sited

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