Comparing Chinese Philosophies

Ancient Chinese society was heavily influenced by its early philosophies. These philosophies developed as a response to power struggles between warring kingdoms and the political uncertainty that resulted. The major philosophies of Daoism, Confucianism, and Legalism affected not only the government that ruled the land, but also its people. Even today these belief systems continue to play a role in the lives of the Chinese people.

Daoism was created by philosopher Lao-Tzu during the Zhou Dynasty in the 6th century BC. Daoists beliefs and philosophy come from the book called Tao Te Ching written by Lao-Tzu. They believe that a universal force guides all things and the natural order is more important than social order. Humans should model this principle by trying to live as simply as possible in harmony with nature. In addition, humans should accept their situation and the negative things that happen to them because nature balances good and bad energy. The ying-yang symbol is used to represent this balance.

Another important philosophy was based on the teachings and philosophies of Confucious. At the time China was in disorder because the lords were not ruling well. Confucius believed in the importance of honor and morality and that rulers needed to be honest, rule fairly, and set a good example for their subjects. If rulers acted with integrity, then their subjects would gladly follow their leadership and order would be restored to China. Confucianism teaches that respect for parents and elders is important to a well-ordered society. Strong family relationships are keys to social order, harmony, and good government. Confucianism believes in the importance of education to both the welfare of the individual and to society.

Legalism was an important philosophy developed by Chinese philosopher Han Feizi during a time of constant warfare in China.

The first emperor, Qin Shi Huang Di, adopted legalism because he agreed with its basic belief that people were inherently selfish and could not be trusted. He set up a strict government with tight control and enacted laws based on Legalism beliefs. Severe punishments were useful to maintain social order and he imprisoned and killed people who spoke unfavorably of him. He believed that thoughts and ideas should be strictly controlled by the government and removed books believed to contain dangerous or harmful information, including books on Confucian thought.