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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 introduced some of the most fundamental terms of Chinese philosophy. Its age can only be estimated (its first flowering is generally considered to have been in about the 6th century BC), but it draws on an oracular tradition that goes back to neolithic times.
Brief history Edit
Early Beliefs Edit
Early Shang Dynasty thought was based upon cyclicity. This notion stems from what the people of the Shang Dynasty could observe around them: day and night cycled, the seasons progressed again and again, and even the moon waxed and waned until it waxed again. Thus, this notion, which remained relevant throughout Chinese history, reflects the order of nature. In juxtaposition, it also marks a fundamental distinction from western philosophy, in which the dominant view of time is a linear progression. During the Shang, fate could be manipulated by great deities (Chinese: 神; py: shen), commonly translated as Gods. Ancestor worship was present and universally recognized. There was also human and animal sacrifice.
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 Shang Di, with ancestor worship becoming commonplace and a more worldly orientation coming to the fore.
Hundred Schools of Thought Edit
- Main article: Hundred Schools of Thought
In around 500 BC, after the Zhou state weakened and China moved in to the Spring and Autumn Period, the classic period of Chinese philosophy began (it is an interesting fact that this date nearly coincides with the emergence of the first Greek philosophers). This is known as the Hundred Schools of Thought (諸子百家; zhūzǐ bǎijiā; "various philosophers hundred schools"). Of the many schools founded at this time and during the subsequent Warring States Period, the four most influential ones were Confucianism, Daoism (often spelled "Taoism"), Mohism and Legalism.
Imperial Era Edit
The short founder Qin Dynasty, where Legalism was the official philosophy, quashed Mohist and Confucianist schools. Legalism remained influential until the emperors of the Han Dynasty adopted Daoism and later Confucianism as official doctrine. These latter two became the determining forces of Chinese thought until the 20th century, with the introduction Buddhist philosophy (mostly during Tang Dynasty) negotiated largely through perceived similarities with Daoism.
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.
Modern Era Edit
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 Tse-Tung (Máo zé dōng) added Marxism, Stalinism, and other communist thought.
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 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.
Main Schools of Thought Edit
- Main article: Confucianism
Confucianism is the collective teachings of the sage Confucius from BC 551 - 479. It is a complex system of moral, social, political, and religious thought which has had tremendous influence on the history of Chinese civilization down to the 21st century. Some people in the West have considered it to have been the "state religion" of imperial China. It is arguable that Confucianism is most responsible for shaping the Chinese culture and state of China.
See also: Analects of Confucius
- Main article: Taoism
Taoism is the English name for:
- (a) a philosophical school based on the texts the Tao Te Ching (ascribed to Laozi and alternately spelled Dào Dé Jīng) and the Zhuangzi.
- (b) a family of organized Chinese religious movements such as the Zhengyi ("Orthodoxy") or Quanzhen ("complete reality") sects.
The Yin Yang symbol was created by the Taoist school, which symbolizes a primitive version of dialectical materialism. The Yin and the Yang represent two opposing forces that are permanently in conflict with each other, thus leading to perpetual contradiction and change. This notion of two opposite polars and perpetual change is prevalent in Chinese thoughts and culture throughout the Chinese History. For example, 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 to compromising oppositions and arriving at some optimal middle ground.
- Main article: Legalism (Chinese philosophy)
Legalism is the totalitarian pragmatic political philosophy of Han Fei, with maxims like "when the epoch changed, the ways changed" as its essential principle, than a jurisprudence. In this context, "legalism" here can bear the meaning of "political philosophy that upholds the rule of law", and is thus distinguished from the word's Western sense. Legalism was the chosen philosophy of the Qin Dynasty.
A ruler should govern his subjects by the following trinity:
- Fa (法 fǎ): law or principle.
- Shu (術 shù): method, tactic or art.
- Shi (勢 shì): legitimacy, power or charisma.
- Main article: Buddhism
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 a person who discovers the true nature of reality through years of spiritual cultivation, investigation of the various religious practices of his time, and meditation. To the Buddha, any person can follow his example and become enlightened through the study of his words "Dharma" and putting them into practice, by leading a virtuous, moral life, and purifying his mind.
- Main article: Mohism
Mohism was founded by the philosopher Mozi , which promotes a philosophy of universal love, i.e. an equal affection for all individuals. In Mohism, morality is defined not by tradition, but rather by a constant moral guide that parallels utilitarianism. Tradition is inconsistent, and human beings need an extra-traditional guide to identify which traditions are acceptable. The moral guide must then promote and encourage social behaviors that maximise general utility.
See also: Logicians
Great philosophical figures Edit
- Confucius, seen as the Great Master but sometimes ridiculed by Taoists.
- Lao Zi, the chief of Taoist school.
- Mozi, the founder of Mohist school.
- Han Fei, one of the theoreticians of Legalism
- Lin-chi, a great Buddhist Ch'an thinker and teacher, essentially shaped what would become one of the largest schools of Buddhism (Rinzai school of Zen)
Concepts within Chinese philosophy Edit
Although the individual philosophical schools differ considerably, they nevertheless share a common vocabulary and set of concerns.
Among the terms commonly found in Chinese philosophy are:
- Tao (the Way, or one's doctrine)
- De (virtue, power)
- Li (principle)
- Qi (vital energy or material force)
- The Taiji (Great Heavenly Axis) forms a unity, from which two antagonistic concepts, Yin and Yang originate. The word Yin originally referred to a hillside facing away from the sun. Philosophically, it stands the gloomy, passive, female concept, whereas Yang (the hillside facing the sun) stands for the bright, active, male concept. Both concepts, though antagonistic, are also complementary and the present domination of one implies the future rise of the other, as moon's phases (this is one of the meanings of the well-known Yin-Yang figures).
Among the great controversies of Chinese philosophies are:
- The relation between matter and principle
- The method of discovering truth
- Human nature
Among the commonalties of Chinese philosophies are:
- Epistemological optimism. The belief that the big questions can be answered even if the answers are not currently known.
- The tendency not to view man as separate from nature.
- The tendency not to invoke a unified and personified supernatural power. Questions about the nature and existence of God which have profoundly influenced Western philosophy have not been important in Chinese philosophies.
- The belief that the purpose of philosophy is primarily to serve as an ethical and practical guide.
- The political focus: most scholars of the Hundred Schools were trying to convince the ruler to behave in the way they defended.
Comparison between Chinese and Western philosophyEdit
The focuses of Western and Chinese philosophy are radically different, thus they have a considerable effect on mentalities of both societies. Western philosophy emphasizes ambition, individualism, rationality, power, and liberty, while Chinese philosophy emphasizes benevolence, harmony, wisdom, family, and honoring one's ancestors. Chinese philosophy primarily focuses more internally, while Western philosophy focus is more external.
In many ways, the Western and Chinese philosophies are the antithesis of each other. For example, Platonism stressed on the rule of law, and Confucianism preached a society ruled of ethics. 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. It is not to say Chinese philosophy was 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 completely thought 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 had 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.
- ↑ Antony Flew & Stephen Priest [edd], A Dictionary of Philosophy. Pan Macmillan, 2002. ISBN 0-330-48730-2.
Further reading Edit
- A History of Chinese Philosophy (Princeton Paperbacks), Fung You-lan, tr. Derk Bodde, 1983.
- Disputers of the Tao; Philosophical Argument in Ancient China, A. C. Graham, 1989.
- Three Ways of Thought in Ancient China, Arthur Waley, 1983.
- Chinese Thought, from Confucius to Mao Zedong, Herrlee Glessner Creel, 1971.
- The Importance of Living, Lin Yutang, 1996.
See also Edit
- Culture of China
- Five Elements
- Chinese classic texts
- Eastern philosophy
- Chinese history
- Chinese philosophers
- Religion in China
- Notable publications in Chinese philosophy
- Article "The Chinese Concept of Space"
- Article "The Chinese Concept of Time"
- The Hundred Schools of Thought in http://www.chinaknowledge.de
- Chinese Text Project - Chinese philosophy texts in classical Chinese with English and modern Chinese translations
- dmoz' Eastern Philosophy directory
- Chinese Philosophical Etext Archive
- Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on Chinese-Western Comparative Philosophy
- Chinese Philosophy Forum - Discussion about chinese philosophy such as Confucianism, Legalism, Daoism, Buddhism etc.de:Chinesische Philosophie
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