The Hundred Schools of Thought
were philosophers and schools that had flourished from 770 to 221 BC, an era of great cultural and intellectual expansion in China
. Even though this period, known in its earlier part as the Spring and Autumn
period and the Warring States
period (春秋戰國時代/春秋战国时代) in its latter part, was wrought with chaos and bloody battles, it is also known as the Golden Age of Chinese philosophy
because various thoughts and ideas were developed and discussed freely. This phenomenon has been called the Contention of a Hundred Schools of Thought
(百家爭鳴/百家争鸣; bǎijiā zhēngmíng
; pai-chia cheng-ming
; "hundred schools contend"). These thoughts and ideas have profoundly influenced lifestyles and social consciousness up to the present day in East Asian countries. The intellectual
society of this era was characterized by itinerant scholars, who were often employed by various state rulers as advisers on the methods of government
, and diplomacy
Confucianism and its derivatives
Confucianism (儒家; Rújiā
; "School of scholars") is the body of thought that arguably had the most enduring effects on Chinese life. Its written legacy lies in the Confucian Classics
, which later became the foundation of traditional society. Confucius
(551–479 BC), or Kongzi "Master Kong", looked back to the early days of the Zhou dynasty
for an ideal socio-political order. He believed that the only effective system of government necessitated prescribed relationships for each individual: "Let the ruler be a ruler and the subject a subject". Furthermore, he contended that a king must be virtuous in order to rule properly. To Confucius, the functions of government and social stratification were facts of life to be sustained by ethical values; thus his ideal human was the junzi
, which is translated as "gentleman" or "superior person".
Mencius (371–289 BC), or Mengzi, was a Confucian follower who made major contributions to the spread of humanism in Confucian thought, declaring that man, by nature, was inherently good. He argued that a ruler could not govern without the people's tacit consent, and that the penalty for unpopular, despotic rule was the loss of the "mandate of heaven".
The effect of the combined work of Confucius, the codifier and interpreter of a system of relationships based on ethical behavior, and Mencius, the synthesizer and developer of applied Confucianist thought, was to provide traditional Chinese society with a comprehensive framework by which to order virtually every aspect of life.
There were many accretions to the body of Confucian thought, both immediately and over the millennia, from within and without the Confucian school. Interpretations adapted to contemporary society allowed for flexibility within Confucianism, while the fundamental system of modeled behavior from ancient texts formed its philosophical core.
Diametrically opposed to Mencius, for example, was the interpretation of Xunzi (c. 300–237 BC), another Confucian follower. Xunzi preached that man is not innately good; he asserted that goodness is attainable only through training one's desires and conduct.
The School of Law or Legalism (法家; Fǎjiā
; "School of law") doctrine was formulated by Han Feizi
(d. 233 BC) and Li Si
(d. 208 BC), who maintained that human nature was incorrigibly selfish; accordingly, the only way to preserve the social order was to impose discipline from above, and to see to a strict enforcement of laws. The Legalists exalted the state above all, seeking its prosperity and martial prowess over the welfare of the common people.
Legalism greatly influenced the philosophical basis for the imperial form of government. During the Han Dynasty, the most practical elements of Confucianism and Legalism were taken to form a sort of synthesis, marking the creation of a new form of government that would remain largely intact until the late 19th century.
Philosophical Taoism or Daoism (道家; Dàojiā
; "School of the Way") developed into the second most significant stream of Chinese thought. Its formulation is often attributed to the legendary sage Laozi
("Old Master"), who is said to predate Confucius, and Zhuangzi
(369–286 BC). The focus of Taoism is on the individual within the natural realm rather than the individual within society; accordingly, the goal of life for each individual is seeking to adjust oneself and adapting to the rhythm of the natural (and the supernatural) world, to follow the Way (tao
) of the universe, and to live in harmony. In many ways the opposite of rigid Confucian morality, Taoism was for many of its adherents a complement to their ordered daily lives. A scholar serving as an official would usually follow Confucian teachings, but at leisure or in retirement might seek harmony with nature as a Taoist recluse.
Mohism or Moism (墨家; Mòjiā
; "School of Mo") was developed by followers of Mozi
(also referred to as Mo Di; 470–c.391 BC). Though the school did not survive through the Qin Dynasty
, Mohism was seen as a major rival of Confucianism in the period of the Hundred Schools of Thought. Its philosophy rested on the idea of universal love: Mozi believed that "everyone is equal before heaven", and that people should seek to imitate heaven by engaging in the practice of collective love. His epistemology can be regarded as primitive materialist empiricism
; he believed that our cognition ought to be based on our perceptions – our sensory experiences, such as sight and hearing – instead of imagination or internal logic, elements founded on our capacity for abstraction.
Mozi advocated frugality, condemning the Confucian emphasis on ritual and music, which he denounced as extravagant. He regarded warfare as wasteful and advocated pacifism. The achievement of social goals, according to Mozi, necessitated the unity of thought and action. His political philosophy bears a resemblance to divine-rule monarchy: the population ought always to obey its leaders, as its leaders ought always to follow the will of heaven. Mohism might be argued to have elements of meritocracy: Mozi contended that rulers should appoint officials by virtue of their ability instead of their family connections. Although popular faith in Mohism had declined by the end of the Qin Dynasty, its views are said to be strongly echoed in Legalist thought.
School of Yin-yang
The School of Naturalists or Yin-yang (陰陽家/阴阳家; Yīnyángjiā
; "School of Yin-Yang") was a Warring States era philosophy that synthesized the concepts of yin-yang
and the Five Elements
. Zou Yan
is considered the founder of this school. Their theories attempted to explain the universe in terms of basic forces in nature: the complementary agents of yin (dark, cold, female, positive) and yang (light, hot, male, negative) and the Five Elements or Five Phases (water, fire, wood, metal, and earth). In its early days, these theories were most strongly associated with the states of Yan
. In later periods, these epistemological theories came to hold significance in both philosophy and popular belief.
The School of Names or Logicians (名家; Míngjiā
; "School of names") grew out of Mohism, with a philosophy that focused on definition
. It is said to have parallels with that of the Ancient Greek sophists
. The most notable Logician was Gongsun Longzi
Zixu(太史公自序) of Shiji
(史記/史记) lists the above six major philosophies within the Hundred Schools of Thought. The Yiwenzhi
(藝文志/艺文志) of Hanshu
(漢書/汉书) adds four more into the Ten Schools (十家; Shijia
The School of Agriculture (農家/农家; Nongjia) encouraged farming and agriculture and taught farming and cultivation techniques, as they believed that agricultural development was the way to have enough food for the country. For example, Mencius once criticized Xu Xing (許行) for advocating that rulers should work in the fields with their subjects.
The School of Diplomacy or School of Vertical and Horizontal [Alliances] (縱橫家/纵横家; Zonghengjia) specialized in diplomatic politics; Zhang Yi was a representative thinker. This school focused on practical matters instead of any moral principle, so it stressed political and diplomatic tactics, and debate and lobbying skill. Scholars from this school were good orators, debaters and tacticians.
The Miscellaneous School (雜家/杂家; Zajia) integrated teachings from different schools; for instance, Lü Buwei found scholars from different schools to write a book called Lüshi Chunqiu (呂氏春秋) cooperatively. This school tried to integrate the merits of various schools and avoid their perceived flaws. Thus, the thought of this school lacked originality.
The School of "Minor-talks" (小說家/小说家; Xiaoshuojia) was not a unique school of thought.
Indeed, all the thoughts which was discussed by and originated from non-famous people on the street were included into this school. At that time, there were some government officials responsible for collecting ideas from non-famous people on the street and report to their senior. This was where this school originated from. This also explains its Chinese name, which literally means "school of minor-talks".
Another group is the School of the Military (兵家; Bingjia) that studied warfare and strategy; Sunzi and Sun Bin were influential leaders. However, this school was not one of the "Ten Schools" defined by Hanshu.
History and origins
From the Taishigong Zixu of Shiji and Yiwenzhi of Hanshu the schools are developed from Zhou Dynasty
officials. The Burning of books and burying of scholars
banned people to keep most of their texts. The texts officially kept might be burned with the Qin Palace by Xiang Yu
. From the Yiwenzhi, there are still many officially kept texts in the Former Han Dynasty
, and some are written by Han dynasty
people. The Wudi
of Han ordered the study of the Confucian classics the basis of the government examination system and the core of the educational curriculum; there were little students to these schools except a few and many texts were lost later. Their thoughts can only be seen in the existing texts and newly discovered texts.
- Graham, A.C., Disputers of the Tao: Philosophical Argument in Ancient China (Open Court 1993). ISBN 0-8126-9087-7