Chinese philosophy is philosophy written in the Chinese tradition of thought. Chinese philosophy has a history of several thousand years; its origins are often traced back to the Yi Jing (the Book of Changes), an ancient compendium of divination, which uses a system of 64 hexagrams to guide action. This system is attributed to King Wen around 1000 years BCE and the work reflects the characteristic concepts and approaches of Chinese philosophy. The Book of Changes evolved in stages over the next eight centuries, but the first recorded reference is in 672 BCE.
The Tao Te Ching (Dào dé jīng, in pinyin romanisation) of Lao Tzu (Lǎo zǐ) and the Analects of Confucius (Kǒng fū zǐ; sometimes called Master Kong) both appeared around the 6th century BCE, slightly ahead of early Buddhist philosophy and pre-Socratic philosophy.
Confucianism represents the collected teachings of the Chinese sage Confucius, who lived from 551 to 479 BC. His philosophy concerns the fields of ethics and politics, emphasizing personal and governmental morality, correctness of social relationships, justice, traditionalism, and sincerity. The Analects stress the importance of ritual, but also the importance of 'ren', which loosely translates as 'human-heartedness, Confucianism, along with Legalism, is responsible for creating the world’s first meritocracy, which holds that one's status should be determined by ability instead of ancestry, wealth, or friendship. Confucianism was and continues to be a major influence in Chinese culture, the state of China and the surrounding areas of Southeast Asia.
Throughout history, Chinese philosophy has been molded to fit the prevailing schools of thought and circumstances in China. The Chinese schools of philosophy, except during the Qin Dynasty, can be both critical and yet relatively tolerant of one another. Even when one particular school of thought is officially adopted by the ruling bureaucracy, as in the Han Dynasty, there may be no move to ban or censor other schools of thought. Despite and because of the debates and competition, they generally have cooperated and shared ideas, which they would usually incorporate with their own. For example, Neo-Confucianism was a revived version of old Confucian principles that appeared around the Song Dynasty, with Buddhist, Taoist, and Legalist features in the religion.
During the Industrial and Modern Ages, Chinese philosophy had also began to integrate concepts of Western philosophy, as steps toward modernization. By the time of the Xinhai Revolution in 1911, there were many calls, such as the May Fourth Movement, to completely abolish the old imperial institutions and practices of China. There have been attempts to incorporate democracy, republicanism, and industrialism into Chinese philosophy, notably by Sun Yat-Sen (Sūn yì xiān, in one Mandarin form of the name) at the beginning of the 20th century. Mao Zedong blended Marxism with Confucianism and Taoism and other communist thought . The government of the People's Republic of China encourage Socialism with Chinese characteristics. Although, officially, it does not encourage some of the philosophical practices of Imperial China, the influences of past are still deeply ingrained in the Chinese culture. As in Japan, philosophy in China has become a melting pot of ideas. It accepts new concepts, while attempting also to accord old beliefs their due.
Chinese philosophy has spread around the world in forms such as the New Confucianism and New Age ideas (see for example Chinese traditional medicine). Many in the academic community of the West remain skeptical, and only a few assimilate Chinese philosophy into their own research, whether scientific or philosophical. However, it still carries profound influence amongst the people of East Asia, and even Southeast Asia.
When the Shang were overthrown by the Zhou, a new political, religious and philosophical concept was introduced called the "Mandate of Heaven". This mandate was said to be taken when rulers became unworthy of their position and provided a shrewd justification for Zhou rule. During this period, archaeological evidence points to an increase in literacy and a partial shift away from the faith placed in Shangdi (the Supreme Being in traditional Chinese religion), with ancestor worship becoming commonplace and a more worldly orientation coming to the fore.
Neo-Confucianism was a revived version of old Confucian principles that appeared around the Song Dynasty, with Buddhist, Taoist, and Legalist features. It was later popularized during the reign of the Ming Dynasty.
The respective influences of Daoism and Confucianism are often described this way: "Chinese are Confucianist during the day, while they are Daoists at night". Moreover, many Chinese mandarins were government officials in the daily life and poets (or painters) in their spare time.
When the Communist Party of China took over power, previous schools of thought, excepting notably Legalism, were denounced as backward, and later even purged during the Cultural Revolution. Their influence on Chinese thought, however, remains. The current government of the People's Republic of China is trying to encourage a form of market socialism.
Since the radical movement of the Cultural Revolution, the Chinese government has become much more tolerant with the practice of traditional beliefs. The 1978 Constitution of the People's Republic of China guarantees "freedom of religion" with a number of restrictions. Spiritual and philosophical institutions have been allowed to be established or re-established, as long they are not perceived to be a threat to the power of the CPC. (However, it should be noted that those organizations are heavily monitored by the state.) The influences of the past are still deeply ingrained in the Chinese culture. As in Japan, philosophy in China has become a melting pot of ideas. It accepts new concepts, while attempting also to accord old beliefs their due.
Confucianism is a philosophical school developed from the teachings of the sage Confucius (Kongzi 孔子, 551 479 BCE), collected in the Analects of Confucius. It is a system of moral, social, political, and religious thought that has had tremendous influence on Chinese history, thought, and culture down to the 21st century. Some Westerners have considered it to have been the "state religion" of imperial China. Its influence also spread to Korea and Japan.
The major Confucian concepts include rén (humanity or humaneness), zhèngmíng (rectification of names; e.g. a ruler who rules unjustly is no longer a ruler and may be dethroned), zhōng (loyalty), xiào (filial piety), and lǐ (ritual). Confucius taught both positive and negative versions of the Golden Rule. The concepts Yin and Yang represent two opposing forces that are permanently in conflict with each other, leading to perpetual contradiction and change. The Confucian idea of "Rid of the two ends, take the middle" is a Chinese equivalent of Hegel's idea of "thesis, antithesis, and synthesis", which is a way of reconciling opposites, arriving at some middle ground combining the best of both.
A ruler should govern his subjects by the following trinity:
Legalism was the chosen philosophy of the Qin Dynasty. It was blamed for creating a totalitarian society and thereby experienced decline. Its main motto is: "Set clear strict laws, or deliver harsh punishment"
Buddhism is a religion, a practical philosophy, and arguably a psychology, focusing on the teachings of Gautama Buddha, who lived on the Indian subcontinent most likely from the mid-6th to the early 5th century BCE. When used in a generic sense, a Buddha is generally considered to be someone who discovers the true nature of reality.
Although Buddhism originated in India, it has had a lasting effect on China. Since Chinese tradition focuses on ethics rather than metaphysics, it has developed several schools distinct from the originating Indian schools. The most prominent examples with philosophical merit are Sanlun, Tiantai, Huayan, and Chán (a.k.a. Zen). They investigate consciousness, levels of truth, whether reality is ultimately empty, and how enlightenment is to be achieved. Buddhism has a spiritual aspect that compliments the action of Neo-Confucianism, with prominent Neo-Confucians advocating certain forms of meditation.
Among the terms commonly found in Chinese philosophy are:
Among the great controversies of Chinese philosophies are:
Among the commonalties of Chinese philosophies are:
While Enlightenment Thinking calls for liberty and democracy, Legalism demands unquestioned loyalty to imperial authority. While competition is essential in the ideology of Capitalism, cooperation is seen as the key for harmony in the philosophy of the East. Western philosophers primarily value reason and rationality, while the Far Eastern philosophers generally emphasize meditation and wisdom. This is not to say that Chinese philosophy is irrational, nor to say that Western philosophy is unwise.
Despite their many differences, it would be far from the truth that Western and Chinese philosophy differ completely differently. The two philosophies explored deep into the realms of inquiry and covered similar grounds. Thus, naturally, they would have an ample number of schools that thought similarly. For example, there were philosophers in China, such as the Logicians, that made scientific rationality their chief focus, while there were philosophers in the West, such as Marcus Aurelius, that saw meditation as the path to knowledge. It is just the mainstream philosophical schools that make Western and Chinese philosophy different.