China’s Three Philosophies

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Name:_______________________ Date:__________

Eastern Civilizations: Period:_______

China’s Three Philosophies

There are three main philosophies of China, which are Confucianism, Legalism, and Daoism. You will be put into three different groups and assigned one of the three philosophies. Your goal is to work together to read information about your philosophy, create an outline of the most important facts, and make a poster. Your group will use this poster to teach the class about your assigned philosophy and everyone will fill out a graphic organizer.


1. You will be split into three groups and each group will be assigned a philosophy (Confucianism, Legalism, or Daoism). Each group will get a reading on their philosophy.

2. Read the information on the philosophy assigned to your group and then create an outline of 7-10 of the MOST important facts on your philosophy.

  • Pretend that the person reading your poster has never studied the information.

  • Who is the founder of the philosophy?

  • Are their any important texts/books that belong to the philosophy?

  • What are the beliefs of this philosophy?

3. When your group is done outlining you must get your outline checked by me.

4. Once your outline is checked, you will be given a large poster paper. You are to put your facts on this poster paper.

5. When all groups are done you will present your philosophy to the class and your classmates will take notes from your poster.
Things to Remember:

1. You will only get ONE piece of poster paper!

2. BE PRODUCTIVE! You must work cooperatively in your group. This counts as a classwork grade each day as well as a final project grade.

3. BE NEAT! You must spell everything correctly and capitalize properly on your poster. Failure to do so will result in points taken off your grade.


5. SHARE the work. Everyone must participate and have a job while working on this project. On the back of the poster each group member will write what they did.

During the late Zhou period, thinkers came up with ideas about how to restore order in China. One such person, Confucius, became the most influential teacher in Chinese history. The name Confucius means “Master Kong” or “Kongfuzi”.

Confucius felt that China was overrun with rude and dishonest people. Upset by the disorder and people’s lack of decency, Confucius said that the Chinese needed to return to ethics, or moral values. The ideas of Confucius are known as Confucianism.

Confucius wanted China to return to ideas and practices from a time when people knew their proper roles in society. In Confucianism there were five basic relationships. Each type of relationship had its own duties and its own code of proper conduct:

  1. Father and son

  2. Older brother and younger brother

  3. Husband and wife

  4. Friend and friend

  5. Ruler and subject

These are basic guidelines that Confucius thought would restore family order and social harmony:

  • Fathers should display high moral values to inspire their families.

  • Children should respect and obey their parents (filial piety).

  • All family members should be loyal to each other.

Confucius’s ideas about government were similar to his ideas about family:

  • Moral leadership, not laws, brought order to China.

  • A king should lead by example, inspiring good behavior in all of his subjects.

  • The lower classes would learn by following the example of their superiors.

As Confucius traveled to many different regions, he earned the reputation of a respected teacher. His ideas were passed down through his students and later compiled into a book called The Analects.

Because Confucianism focuses on morality, family, society, and government, people often think of it as a philosophy or a way of thinking. But it is much more. Confucianism is a unique teaching that is both philosophical and religious. It has been a guiding force in human behavior and religious understanding in China.

Confucius believed that when people behaved well and acted morally, they were simply carrying out what heaven expected of them. Over the centuries Confucius’s ideas about virtue, kindness, and learning became the dominant beliefs in China.

Legalism, as defined by the writings of Han Feizi, is a philosophy where it is believed that human nature is wicked and people do good only if they are forced to do it. They believed that harsh punishments were needed to make people afraid to do wrong. Unlike the beliefs of Confucianism and Daoism, Legalism was a political philosophy without religious concerns. Instead, it dealt only with the government and social control. Followers of Legalism disagreed with the moral preaching of Confucius. Legalists also reject Daoism because it didn’t stress respect for authority.

Legalists felt that society needed strict laws to keep people in line and that punishments should fit crimes. For example, they believed that citizens should be held responsible for each other’s conduct. A guilty person’s relatives and neighbors should also be punished. This way, everyone would obey the laws.

Shang Yang, a supporter of Legalism, wanted to force people to report lawbreakers. In fact, he thought that people who did not report lawbreakers should be cut in two. Legalists taught that rulers should reward people who do their duty.

Legalists do not want people to complain about the government or question what it did. They favored arresting people who questioned the government or taught different ideas. They also taught that rulers should burn books that contained different philosophies or ideas.

Unity and efficiency were also important to Legalists. They wanted to appoint officials, not nobles, to run China. Legalists wanted the empire to continue to expand. Therefore, they urged the state to always prepare for war.

Daoism is said to have begun with Laozi. No one knows if he really existed, but some say he lived in the 500s B.C.E. The name Laozi means “Old Master”. The book of his teachings is the Dao De Jing (The Book of the Way of Virtue). Daoism developed in part as a reaction to Confucianism. Daoists didn’t agree with the idea that active, involved leaders brought social harmony. Instead, they wanted the government to stay out of people’s lives. The ideas of Daoism differ greatly from the philosophies of Confucianism and Legalism.

Daoists believed that people should avoid interfering with nature or each other. They should be more like water and simply let things flow in a natural way. For Daoists the ideal ruler was a wise man who was in harmony with the Dao. He would govern so effortlessly that his people would not even know they were being governed. Daoists taught that the universe is a balance of opposites: female and male, light and dark, low and high. In each case, opposing forces should be in harmony.

The most notable symbol the Daoists are known for is the Yin and Yang. The outer circle represents “everything”. The inner shapes represent the interaction of the forces---Yin and Yang. The yin (black) stands for all that is cold, dark, and mysterious. The yang (white) represents all that is warm, bright, and light. The forces complement each other. The forces are always changing and evolving. Understanding yin and yang helped a person understand how he or she fit into the world.

While Confucianism focused its followers’ attention on the human world, Daoists paid more attention to the natural world. Daoists regarded humans as just part of nature, not better than any other thing. In time the Dao, represented by nature, became so important to the Daoists that they worshipped it.

Laozi was the most famous Daoist teacher. He taught that people should not try to gain wealth, nor should they seek power. Laozi is credited with writing the basic text of Daoism, The Way and Its Power. Later writers created many legends about Laozi’s achievements.

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