A Brief History of Chinese Philosophy


Chinese Philosophers
Philosopher Chronology Details
Lao Tzu 4th Century BC – ?
  • Founding father of Taoisme
  • Believed to have inspired the Tao Te Ching
  • Philosophy of the Tao (way/truth/underlying reality of the world of nature) and De (virtue)
  • Wu wei (spontaneity and relativism)
  • Stresses the importance of the relativity of all value judgments, the inevitability of change between polar opposites, the benefit of obscurity
  • Beliefs that all things are best left to follow their natural course without human intervention
  • People should return to the original simplicity, free of desire and free of the urge to strive
  • Contributed to religious, secular and moral philosophy
Confucius 551 BC – 479 BC
  • Secular philosopher
  • Avoided religious speculation
  • Synthesized the basic ideas and beliefs of the Chinese people
  • Editor or author of the Five Classics and the Analects
  • The Five Classics include, I Ching (Book of Changes), Shi Jing (Book of Odes), Shu Jing (Book of History), Li Ji (Record of Rights), Chun Qiu (Spring and Fall Annals)
  • Jen (benevolence) and Li (manners, ritual, customs, etiquette and propriety)
  • Ren (filial piety, respect for elders, self-discipline, propriety of conduct, altruism, kindness, humility, integrity, loyalty, courage, insight, trustworthiness)
  • Teach (education) without discrimination
  • Stresses on obligations rather than rights of individuals
  • Stresses on personal virtues and social order
  • Political philosophy
Mo Zi 470 BC – 391 BC
  • Founder of Mohism
  • Anti-war and advocate of pacifism
  • Love of the people on a broad basis for mutual benefit
  • Advocated a form of utilitarianism
Mencius 371 BC – 289 BC
  • Confucian philosopher
  • The Book of Mencius
  • Stated that human nature is basically good and that education is needed to draw out the goodness in men
  • Advocated the practice of ren (human-heartedness)
  • Introduced a rudimentary concept of democracy
  • Advocated free trade, light taxes, conservation of natural resources, higher degree of equality in wealth, welfare for the old and disadvantaged
  • Stressed on the concept of the Mandate of Heaven (the right to revolt against unjust rulers)
Zhuangzi 370 BC – 301 BC
  • Contributions to Taoism
  • Explore the limits of language and thought
  • Life and knowledge is limited
  • Believed to have advocated a form of relativism
  • Contributions to the philosophy of the mind, language and epistemology
Xun Zi 315 BC
  • Confucian philosopher
  • Belief that man is born bad and needs to be molded to become good and creative
  • Advocated the need of laws to control human behavior
  • Teacher of Han Feizi, the founder of Legalism
Han Feizi 280 – 233 BC
  • Synthesized and advocated Legalism
  • Belief that human nature is innately evil and well-defined laws specifying rewards and punishments were the answer to good government
  • Critic of traditional Confucianism
  • Classmate of Li Si (prime minister of Emperor Qin Shi Huang)
Zhu Xi 1130-1200
  • Neo-Confucianism and rationalist
  • The School of Principle
  • Emphasis on intellectual study
  • Asserted that the universe and all existence was composed of a material element patterned by an underlying principle known as li
  • Proposed that since all humans had the potential to reach the desired state of sagehood, all Confucians must study the ancient text to reach that goal
  • Selected for works from the Confucian canon, namely, Lunyu (Analects), Mengzi (Mencius), Daxue (Great Learning) and Zhong Yong (Doctrine of the Mean)
Wang Yangming 1472-1529
  • Neo-Confucianism and idealist
  • The School of Mind
  • Emphasis on intuition
  • Adoption of a less academic or bookish approach to sagehood
  • Advocated a more intuitive approach through meditation and moral reflection



4 Responses to “A Brief History of Chinese Philosophy”
  1. pochp says:

    You know James, I wonder how ‘eastern wisdom’ could start with Buddhist China and yet, it seems that China is now a leader in political and moral corruption.

  2. jamesesz says:

    Political maybe..but morals I don’t think so..The fact that China can stay united for so long is a historical miracle on its own..Furthermore, if one egg is bad, it does not mean all eggs are bad..LOL..

    Another food for thought..Buddhism came from India and entered China at a later age..As Buddhism penetrated into China, it changed to suit Chinese (Taoism/Confucianism) culture and lost a major part of its originality (the creation of Chinese Buddhism)..

    Chinese religion is centered not on Buddhism but a concept of ‘Tian’ (translated as Sky, but it means Heavens or God). This is similar to the Jewish Yahweh (they have similar rituals on how to worship God)..

    Do bear in mind that the English translation of the Chinese language does it no justice..It is really hard to translate accurately the meanings of the Chinese script, let alone understand its philosophy..

  3. pochp says:

    Well, thanks for the correction and info.

  4. jamesesz says:

    You are welcome! :P

    How is the letterhead for mindstorm going?

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