Chinese Philosophy: Intellectual
Cultural Synthesis

The classical age of Chinese philosophy began around 700 BC with the beginning of the “Hundreds Schools of Thought” period that laid down the edifice for national spiritual sense, life style, and cultural heritage.

The Book of Changes known as Yi Jing in local parlance written in 672 BC gives the first glance of ancient Chinese philosophical development centered around divination. It was followed by other philosophical schools, such as Confucianism, Taoism, Legalism, Mohism, Zen, and Naturalism. Logicians and Neo-Confucianism appeared in the middle ages. Nationalist philosophy and new-Confucianism enriched already evolved philosophical rendering in China in the 20th century.

Based on the teachings of Confucius, a celebrated Chinese philosopher of fifth century BC, these school has of though been the mainstay of Chinese philosophy for centuries.

Landscape in China - Chinese philosophy

Confucius put emphasis on humanism and self-cultivation of virtues, values, and knowledge. Ethics is given predominant place along with humanism. Humaneness (Ren), upholding righteousness and moral disposition (Yi) offers guidance for normative conduct (Li).

Focused on ethical and sociopolitical teachings, Confucianism gave birth to metaphysical and cosmological thoughts in the imperial period. Mencius and Xunzi further developed this school of thought to crystallize the concept of goodness and superior person. The Han rulers adopted Confucianism as their official philosophy and popularized it.

It is the oldest philosophical school founded based on teachings of Laozi, a sixth century BC Chinese saint revered as a mystical and mythological figure. Taoism is mostly comprised of individualistic thoughts that focus on good way or principles in life. According to it, there is supernatural power that has created and been moving everything. Zhuangzi and Dao De Jing further popularized Taoism with their teachings.

Taoism bears resemblance to naturalism and preaches for human immortality, longevity, harmonized coexistence, and simplicity. Compassion, moderation, and humility are considered three jewels of life.

Shang Yang, a fourth century BC statesman, founded this school of Chinese philosophy. The thoughts are centered around upholding the rule of law, respect for jurisprudence, and obedience to state power. Law (Fa) is the basis of statecraft (Shu) and people should obey governing power for charisma or legitimacy (Shi). Legalism espouses militaristic national policy and a totalitarian society with strict laws and their implementation. Li Si and Han Fei were among other proponents of this school of thought.

Founded by Mozi, a Chinese philosopher in fifth century BC, the school of thought merged with Taoism in the later stage. Revolving around impartial care and universal love, Mohism denounced partiality and unethical conduct. Reevaluation of behavior on nonviolent lines can contribute to change in attitude and emotion. Meritocracy, morality, impartiality, and denunciation of ostentation were core philosophies of this Chinese school of thought.

Zen Philosophy
With advent of Buddhism in first century AD, a new school of Chinese philosophy called Zen thought appeared. Based on high religious ground, the school introduced new concepts focused on metaphysics, reincarnation, karma, rebirth, and enlightenment. Discover of true reality through consciousness spiritual level was its core principle. It advocated meditation, martial art practice, simplicity, universal love, and moral life.

Other Schools of Thought
Deriving explicitly from these above mentioned five schools, a number of minor philosophies came into existence in China starting from the middle age. Neo-Confucianism, an intricate mix of Zen Buddhism and Confucian preaching, was founded by Zhu Xi. A new school of thought called Xuanxue combining Confucianism and Taoism elements also came into existence. Naturalism evolved around the Tea culture advocating harmony of nature.

Modern era saw emergence of Han nationalistic thoughts and Maoism, a rigid form of Communism and class struggle. New Confucianism, a contemporary intellectual Chinese philosophy deriving elements from Neo-Confucianism, humanism, and western rationalism, came into existence after Mao’s death and has been spreading fast in China.

Read More:

Neo-Confucianism: Rational and Religious Confucian Philosophy

Neo-Confucianism came into existence in the 11th century AD as an attempt to reassert Confucian heritage that was losing ground to Buddhism and Taoism.

Confucianism: The Bedrock of Chinese Civilization, Philosophy

Confucianism is the most prominent Chinese philosophical system that influenced its rulers, scholars and common citizens for the most part of the last three millennia.

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