Ancient Chinese Philosophy

Yi Jing, also known as Book of Changes

Yi Jing, also known as Book of Changes [BUY NOW]

The vast majority of ancient Chinese philosophy originated in the Warring States and Spring Autumn eras during the period  known as the Hundred Schools of Thought. This was the renaissance of cultural and intellectual development in the history of Chinese philosophy. Though classical Chinese philosophy started in this era, Chinese understanding of philosophy have already existed for about thousands of years. Some of these Chinese philosophies can be easily found in the Yi Jing, also known as Book of Changes. It served as compendium of divination for ancient Chinese society during 672 BCE. The Daoism, Legalism, Mohism and Confucianism have started during the Warring States together with  other philosophies such as Logicians, Chinese Naturalism and Agriculturalism.

In the Qin Dynasty, Confucianism became the most dominant philosophical school of China. When it comes to philosophical rivals, Mohism and Legalism are considered as the rivals of Confucianism before the well known Han Dynasty. Legalism is recognized as coherent philosophy in ancient Chinese culture, however it was disappeared due to the relationship of the authoritarian rule of the Qin Shi Huang. Confucianism represents their collected teachings together with the well known Chinese sage Confucius who lived from 551 to 479 BCE. The Confucianism covers Chinese political, ethical, and medical philosophy. It expounds on governmental and personal morality, sincerity, traditionalism, justice, social and correctness relationships. Legalism and Confucianism are responsible in creating the world’s first meritocracy–that is being determined by character and education than friendship, wealth and ancestry.

Even in modern Chinese philosophy, Confucianism continue to influence the Chinese tradition and culture, as well as the surrounding areas of Southeast Asia. During 20 th century, the Philosophy of the Chinese integrated into Western philosophy. This is one of the reasons why the revolutionaries of Anti- Qing Dynasty became involved in Xinhai Revolution. The Western philosophy is recognized as the alternative to traditional philosophical students and schools in the May Fourth Movement in China. In this period, Chinese scholars attempted to incorporate their Western philosophical ideologies that include nationalism, anarchism, republicanism, liberalism, socialism, Marxism and democracy.

The examples of this ideology include Mao Zedong’s Maoism, Sun Yat-Sen’s Three Principles of the people and Marxism-Lennism. In China, the official ideology is known as Deng Xiaoping or also called as market economy socialism. Presently, Chinese philosophy still carries the influence among the people of Southeast Asia and East Asia.



The Mandate of Heaven and The Great Ming Code (Asian Law Series)

The Mandate of Heaven and The Great Ming Code (Asian Law Series) [BUY NOW]

A Short History of Chinese Philosophy

Shang Dynasty was based upon cycles. When Shang is under Zhou, there is a philosophical, religious and political concept that was introduced that is known as “Mandate of Heaven“. During 500 BCE, Zhou weakened and the country  moved into its Autumn and Spring period, which many consider as the golden age of Philosophy for the Chinese. It is also an interesting fact that they coincide with the emergence of Greek philosophers. The most influential school during the Warring States period includes Legalism, Mohism, Daoism and Confucianism.


Classical & Modern Chinese Philosophy


According to researchers, Confucianism is considered as one of the best philosophical schools creatively developed from the unique teachings from the Analects of Confucius. It is a type of system that is associated with religious, political, social and moral thought which has had tremendous influence in the history of Chinese culture. There are some Westerners that recognize Confucianism as their state religion of imperial China. Confucianism also influences other countries including Japan and Korea. Most of the Confucian concepts include “ren” which means humaneness or humanity, zhengming or also known as rectification of names, xiao or filial piety, zhong or loyalty and ritual. Confucius is also the one who taught negative and positive versions of the well known Golden Rule. The concepts of Yang and Yin represent the two opposing forces leading to change and perpetual contradiction.


Daoism developed into a religion that is based on Dao Te Ching. The term Dao means way or path however in Daoism, it is typically referred as meta physical term. It is also focus on what is being perceived and this is one of the reasons why they strive hard for harmony and at the same time minimizing the harmful interference with human affairs and nature.


Legalism is a Chinese political philosophy made by a philosopher named Han Fei. According to him, rulers must govern their subjects with Shi — charisma, power or legitimacy, Shu — statecraft, art, tactic and method, and Fa — principle or law. In connection with this, Legalism is considered as the chosen philosophy of Qin Dynasty. The Han Fei and Shang Yang are the one that promoted the adherence to the law. It is a fact that philosophy is highly progressive and it is extremely critical to Mohist and Confucian schools.


The Yin-Yang school is a part of Warring States period that synthesize the overall concept of five elements and yin-yang. The founder of this school is Zou Yan and most of his theory explain basic universal forces. The yin agents include negative, female, cold and dark and the elements of yang includes positive, male, hot and light. The five elements or phases include earth, metal, wood, fire and water. In the recent year, this kind of theory is being associated with the states of Qi and Yan.


This kind of philosophy school is founded by Mozi wherein it promotes mutual benefit and universal love. According to Mozi, it is very important to love one another impartially and equally to prevent the occurrence of war and conflict. Mozi was against the ritual of Confucian. Mozi instead emphasized pragmatic survival in the form of statecraft, fortification and farming.



Many people together won’t fear a tiger, and many dogs together won’t fear a wolf.

As quoted in John S. Rohsenow, ABC Dictionary of Chinese Proverbs, (2003).

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