Continued from: Ancient China

“Rather than expressing their thoughts in a logical and systematic prose, Chinese thinkers tended to be more poetical. They do not display a strong concern in providing strict rules; the ideas tend to be guidelines only. Texts on Chinese philosophy are often filled with aphorisms, allusions and parables. The general tendency is to be suggestive: the more an expression is articulated, the less suggestive it is. The sayings and writings of Chinese philosophers are, therefore, often vague so that their meaning is almost boundless.” (Source). Hence, kinship of poetry and philosophy. Poetry can be said to be the beginning of philosophy, just as philosophy is the beginning of science

“The 500-200 BCE period was the zenith, sometimes referred to as the ‘Classical Age’, of Chinese philosophy. During this time, China saw the gradual disintegration of the Zhou dynasty, which ended in 256 BCE, when the Qin army took control of the city of Chengzhou. As the end of the Zhou dynasty approached, the central authority disintegrated. This scenario encouraged a long struggle between states competing for the control and unification of China.”

The Chinese didn’t seem to have slavery, but theirs was a mix of patriarchy and feudal social relations: “During much of the Zhou dynasty, the political organization of China closely resembled a feudal system, with the King of the royal house of Zhou at the head of the social structure and hundreds of princes under him, each of them ruling a state. The land of these states was also divided into different fiefs, each of them controlled by a feudal lord who reported to a prince. Under the feudal lords were the common people who were not part of the aristocracy. This structure was secured by family relations linking all the different rulers with the royal house of Zhou. If family relationships did not exist, they were arranged by marriage. Ultimately, the local lords were expected to accept the authority of the king as the head of a large family.”

The “Yin-Yang School”: “Yin-Yang principles ... in Chinese tradition are regarded as the two major principles of Chinese cosmology: Yin, being the female principle, and Yang the male principle. The combination and interaction of these two opposites is believed by the Chinese to cause all universal phenomena.” This is their formulation of dialectic.

“The yin-yang is a symbol of opposites in balance - dark/light, passive/aggressive, female/male - everything except good and evil, life and death, because nature does not recognize anything as good or evil and nature does not recognize a difference between life and non-life.”

Yin-Yang school “had its origin in those court officials who practised occult arts. Some of these obscure practices included astrology, divination and magic.” Thus we see philosophy emerging from such earlier forms as astrology, divination and

Shamans from various tribes

magic. The shaman, the voodoo, the witch-doctor were the “philosophers” of the primitive tribes.

During the Shang era, the practice of divination became more popular through the reading of oracle bones which would tell one's future. Reading oracle bones led to a written text called the I-Ching (c. 1250-1150 BCE), the Book of Changes, which is a book still available today providing a reader with interpretations for certain hexagrams which supposedly tell the future. A person would ask a question and then throw a handful of yarrow sticks onto a flat surface (such as a table) and the I-Ching would be consulted for an answer to the person's question.

I-Ching hexograms

These hexagrams consist of six unbroken lines (called Yang lines) and six broken lines (Yin). When a person looked at the pattern the yarrow sticks made when they were thrown, and then consulted the hexagrams in the book, they would have their answer. The broken and the unbroken lines, the yin and yang, were both necessary for that answer because the principles of yin and yang were necessary for life."

Confuciansim “originated with those court officials who specialized in teaching the classics and the execution of traditional ceremony and music. After struggling during the Qin dynasty, Confucianism emerged as the final and permanent victor during the later Han period and, thanks to the patronage of the Han rulers, it would dominate Chinese thought ever after.”

Confucius lived in 6 century BCE, “his teachings are usually expressed in short phrases which are open to various interpretations. Chief among his philosophical ideas is the importance of a virtuous life, filial piety and ancestor worship. Also emphasized is the necessity for benevolent and frugal rulers, the importance of inner moral harmony and its direct connection with harmony in the physical world and that rulers and teachers are important role models for wider society.” (Source)


An image of Confucius from 8 century of our era.

“Raised in the city of Qufu (or K‘u-fou), Confucius worked for the Prince of Lu in various capacities, notably as the Director of Public Works in 503 BCE and then the Director of the Justice Department in 501 BCE. Later, he travelled widely in China and met with several minor adventures including imprisonment for five days due to a case of mistaken identity. Confucius met the incident with typical restraint and was said to have calmly played his lute until the error was discovered. Eventually, Confucius returned to his hometown where he established his own school in order to provide students with the teachings of the ancients. Confucius did not consider himself a ‘creator’ but rather a ‘transmitter’ of these ancient moral traditions. Confucius’ school was also open to all classes, rich and poor.”

“How should man live in order to master his environment, provide suitable government and achieve moral harmony? Central to Confucianism is that the moral harmony of the individual is directly related to cosmic harmony; what one does, affects the other. For example, poor political decisions can lead to natural disasters such as floods. An example of the direct correlation between the physical and the moral is evidenced in the saying, ‘Heaven does not have two suns and the people do not have two kings’. A consequence of this idea is that, just as there is only one cosmic environment, there is only one true way to live and only one correct political system.”

“Another important facet of Confucius’ ideas was that teachers, and especially rulers, must lead by example. They must be benevolent in order to win the affections and respect of the populace and not do so by force, which is futile. They should also be models of frugality and high moral upstanding. For this reason, Chinese education has often favoured the cultivation of moral sensibilities rather than specific intellectual skills.” Thus, teachers should lead by example, not by force.

Later, Confucianism became an official state religion in China in 2nd century BCE. Thus, philosophy, search for knowledge and a way to live, was turned into a dogma. “Throughout the imperial period an extensive knowledge of the fundamental texts of Confucianism was a necessity in order to pass the civil service selection examinations. Educated people often had a tablet of Confucius’ writings prominently displayed in their houses and sometimes also statues, most often seated and dressed in imperial costume to symbolise his status as ‘the king without a throne’.”

The Mo jia school: “The contrast between Confucius and Mozi is one of the most interesting in Chinese philosophy. Confucius was very respectful of traditional institutions, rituals, music, and literature of the early Zhou dynasty, and he tried to rationalize and justify them in ethical terms. Mozi, on the other hand, questioned their validity and usefulness and tried to replace them with something that was simpler but, according to his view, more useful. Confucius is seen as the keeper, rationalizer and justifier of the old ways, while Mozi was its critic.”

The Ming jia school: “this school focused its attention on the relation between ming (the name) and shi (the actuality), something like the subject and the predicate. Its members were well known for leading any discussion into paradoxical problems, they were ready to dispute with others and purposely affirmed what others denied and denied what others affirmed.” This is a very interesting and modern distinction, that between “the name” of a thing, and its “actuality”. By the “name” we can understand common, everyday notions of something, for example “love”, as it is proclaimed in popular songs and proverbs. But “actuality” is the real relationship that make up that concept, that which is hidden behind the surface.

The Fa jia school: “The word fa means pattern or law. This school was solely concerned with what must be done and how people should and should not behave in order to ensure the flourishing of the state. Because this school is not interested in moral considerations, it is sometimes seen as the opposite thought to Confucianism, which is based on moral principles. From the Legalist standpoint, moral institutions are not a good guide for society and good government should be based entirely on a fixed code of law and practices.”

The Dao jia, Daoism school: “As the Zhou dynasty began to collapse, there were those who became so skeptical of the aptitude of rulers and society itself to put an end to the growing chaos and restore order, that they became hermits and recluses, withdrawing from society and leading a simple life in solitude. The offshoot of this escapist attitude, some scholars believe, resulted in the development of Taoism. It challenges many of the ideas of Confucianism by focusing on individual life over social duty and spirituality over worldliness. In fact, Confucian texts describe many episodes where recluses would mock Confucius and his useless efforts (in the recluses’ views) in trying to improve society. The Taoist way of life follows simplicity, spontaneity and non-action or inactivity (letting nature do her job).” This is a very modern idea, as the society in Eastern Europe is disintegrating into chaos and so people try to escape.

“Lao-Tzu grew impatient with people and with the corruption he saw in government, which caused the people so much pain and misery. He was so frustrated by his inability to change people's behavior that he decided to go into exile. As he was leaving China through the western pass, the gatekeeper Yin Hsi stopped him because he recognized him as a philosopher. Yin Hsi asked Lao-Tzu to write a book for him before he left civilization forever and Lao-Tzu agreed. He sat down on a rock beside the gatekeeper and wrote the Tao-Te-Ching (The Book of the Way). He stopped writing when he felt he was finished, handed the book to Yin Hsi, and walked through the western pass to vanish into the mist beyond.”

“Taoist philosophy is centred around a concept hard to define, the Tao (Dao) or Way, described by Wing-tsit Chan as ‘the One, which is natural, eternal, spontaneous, nameless and indescribable’. The number one work of this tradition is the Laozi (Lao Tzu) or Daodejing (Tao Te Ching), sometimes translated as Classic of the Way and of Virtue.”

“It emphasizes doing what is natural and "going with the flow" in accordance with the Tao (or Dao), a cosmic force which flows through all things and binds and releases them.

”“The Tao-Te-Ching is not a 'scripture' in any way. It is a book of poetry presenting the simple way of following the Tao and living life at peace with one's self, others, and the world of changes. A typical verse advises, "Yield and overcome/Empty and become full/Bend and become straight".

Daoism was first a philosophy, originating from Lao Tzu, then a religion of the peasant classes.

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