Chinese Early Philosophers | Confucius, Laozi And Other Early Philosophers


Confucius, Laozi And Other Early Philosophers

Source of Chinese Culture

The main tradition of Chinese history over thousands of years featured: the imperial system in politics, agricultural system in the economy, and Confucius and Laozi’s teachings in social ideology, that began to take shape during the Spring & Autumn and Warring States periods(770-221 B.C.). But the tradition could further be traced back to the earliest source: the Dragon. In other words, the dragon culture could only produce Confucius and Laozi, and the Confucius and Laozi’s teachings could only produce feudalism through the long history. During the Spring & Autumn and Warring States periods, there were tens of independent sub-states conquering each other, and the emperors were eager to meet some wise men and their advice-the weapon that could make their states stronger. The special time has really made many great philosophers and strategists who created their academic schools and offering their scholarly works, and was known as the unique time of “Contention of A Hundred Schools of Thought”. Confucius was by then one of these scholars. The theories and doctrines created by these scholars had reached its top so high that none of any scholars in later dynasties could go beyond them. Probably, the control of Confucius’ doctrine was too overwhelming in history, and there was no room left for freedom of thinking anymore, something like none of any small plants could grow up under the shadow of a big tree. As a result, China’s brilliant ancient civilization had turned out to be a barrier kept China from advancing further ahead.

Confucius & Mencius

Confucius (551-479 B.C.), his family name was Kong, and given name was Qiu, a Shandong native, was the founder of Ru school. His theory about politics could be summarized into two words: “benevolence”(emperors should love their people) and “etiquette”(establishing a hierarchy system and every person should stick to their own status). He also called for people to have individual morals, mostly featuring filial piety (toward parents), affection(to brothers), honesty(to friends), and called for intellectuals to cultivate themselves aspirant to manage country affairs. Confucius had been the premier with Lu State(in south Shandong Province) for three months and achieved big, describing “people won’t take any stuff left by the roadside and doors weren’t bolted at night”. But he was quickly dismissed by the Lu emperor. He tried to offer his theory to other emperors, yet all of his efforts were failed, and finally, he couldn’t but set his career teaching students in his native state. As a teacher, he formed a norm for his students “put promoting moral integrity prior to learning knowledge”. His teachings were collected and compiled by his student into a book named Lun Yu, literally meaning commentary words, which, through thousands of years, were the guiding code for people’s ideology and behavior, as well as the textbook for school boys for their initial education.

It was in Han Dynasty(206 B.C.–25 A.D.) that the emperor honored Confucius’ doctrine as the country’s official ideology, and Confucius began to win the laurel as “The Teacher of Supreme Sage”, and a great temple was built in his native town where the ritual ceremony was held in his memory annually. Now, Confucius Temple, along with Confucius Residence and Confucius Tomb, have become a hot resort receiving visitors both from home and abroad.

Mencius(372–289 B.C.) was the successor of Confucius’ doctrine in the Warring States Period. He advocated “People are superior, and emperors are inferior”, an unique view commendable appearing at that time. He had also brought forward a famous word, sounded: ” Respect one’s own parents, and respect other’s parents; love one’s own kids, and love other’s kids”, a moral code that is promoted by the present-time government. Mencius liked to dispute with other scholars, and in his book Mencius, his viewpoints were penetrating, his logic was convincing, and his words were eloquent. So, he was honored with the title of “Second Sage”. People put Confucius and Mencius’ teachings together, and gave them a combined name as “Con-Meng Doctrine”. People held that Con-Meng philosophy was a kind of “inside-world philosophy”, that instructed people how to act as an honest man and how to manage individual, social and state affairs.

Laozi & Zhuangzi

Laozi was the founder of Taoism School, his family name was Li, and given name was Er, a native of Henan Province. People held that Taoism doctrine was a kind of ” outside-world philosophy”, as it advised people to withdraw from worldly life. Laozi had been a functionary of a library, and when he was going to seclude himself by riding a buffalo, he was stopped by an official at Hangu Pass, one of the gates along the Great Wall, and was asked to write a book before his disappearance. Laozi assented and wrote down his classical book Laozi, also named Taoism Bible. Laozi’s theory was too fantastic and mysterious, and therefore was hard to understand. At the beginning of the book, he declared his so-called “Tao” was a thing indescribable, neither to be seen nor to be touched. It existed before the birth of the universe, and it had a “Gate of Life”, from which something came out, one divided into two, two divided into four, …and finally produced all things of creation in the world. Laozi pointed out, the Tao, though as a creator, but it denied itself as the owner and ruler, so Laozi advocated a policy of, in his words “noninterference governing”, i.e., gave up any management toward society and state. He also asserted, all kinds of evil things were derived from human’s wisdom, because the wise men enacted the laws, then the crimes would come out, so he called for people to reject knowledge and abandon wisdom, and return back to the pure and honest society of pre-history era. But Laozi brought forward some clever ideas, such as:”the weak could defeat the strong” “retreat in order to advance” “arrogance causes failure, modesty makes success”, so he advised people always to “keep low-profile manner”, “feel content happy” and “retire after success”.

Zhuangzi, his family name was Zhuang, given name was Zhou, was Laozi’s successor. In his book Zhuangzi also named South China Bible, he explained his Taoist theory even much more mysterious and fantastic than that of Laozi. He said: Pengzu, a man enjoyed a long life of 3-hundred years was the most short-lived, while a die-young baby was a god of longevity. He also said: it’s all of the same between a charitable man and a murderer, because in the eye of Taoist, one was after fame, and the other after wealth. Life was only a short dream. Fame, honor, wealth, everything would all reduce to ashes after one’s death.

But Taoism teaching had been accepted by a certain number of intellectuals including high officials in different dynasties, who, in their later years, found the world described in Taoism doctrine was an ideal and peaceful Garden of Eden.

Other schools

Mo school: The core of its theory was “universal fraternity” and “stop mutual conquering”. Its founder was Mo Di.

Legalist School: Its theory had been carried out by Qin State, Through “ruling by law”, the Qin finally defeated other 6 states, and unified China.

Military School: The era saw many important military strategists, among whom, the most famous one was Sun Wu who wrote the book The Law of war known world-wide.

Diplomacy School: They engaged in advising some states to ally and opposing others.

There were many other schools. Though the schools mentioned and recommended above were very simple, they were really the ideological foundation of China’s culture and civilization over thousands of years.

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