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Pre-Han Classical Chinese Thought: Confucianism and Daoism Essay

1. Confucianism is a system of ideological beliefs and ethical philosophy that is developed from the teachings and thoughts of ancient Chinese teacher Confucius. Confucianism originated during the Spring and Autumn period (770 to 476 BC). Confucius emphasized the morality of an individual and the government, the importance of how social relationships should be and how it affects social order and lastly, the justification and earnestness of people.

Some of Confucius’ main goals and hopes centralized on China’s period of chaos and turmoil which Confucius believed could be resolved by establishing a form of social order that could promote harmony among society. He also stressed the importance of knowledge to one’s self because this will create a refinement of one’s ethics and personal virtues to become a better individual. In order to achieve social harmony, one must cultivate social order by focusing on the pertinence of rituals, etiquette, respect towards others and the value of learning by reading Chinese classics and taking their ancient teachings and reestablishing them in society.

According to Confucius, social order ties into the significance of knowledge in society. The central core of Confucianism is humanism where he stresses humans are teachable and improvable by personally working on one’s self by taking advantage of knowledge and also by connecting to one’s community by self-cultivation and self-creation. The Analects is book that composes many of Confucius thoughts and beliefs. The book was compiled by his followers. In the Analects, Confucius’ focal point was the development of virtues and the maintenance of ethics. The three basic concepts of Confucianism are ren, yi and li.

Ren can be defined as humaneness for other individuals, love others. A famous quote from Confucius which puts ren in perspective is, “Do not do unto others what you would not have them do unto you. ” In other words, treat others with respect and love as you would want to be. Li is translated to propriety and good etiquette. To Confucius li was the underlining basis to adequate social order. Confucius believed “a man or a woman was not only supposed to perform the li properly, but to do so with the right attitude. For example, in mourning, a son should bury his father or mother according to the rules of li as well as mourn them with the utmost sincerity” (Sch. 33).

Confucius also believed li was invaluable for the importance of people giving respect to hierarchy. Lastly, yi stands for the act of righteousness and justice- someone’s disposition to do the right thing. Junzi was crucial in classic Confucianism. Junzi can be translated as “gentlemen. ” In the Analects, junzi is described as man who has reached ethical and cultural ideal or men of learning and noble truth. It was up to the junzi to positively influence the people around him by having the virtues of ren, li, and yi.

The junzi played an active role in advocating the teachings and study of Chinese classical traditions. Mencius is known as one of Confucius’s followers and also one of the most famous philosophers after Confucius’s death. Mencius is known for his assertion that humans are naturally good because they were born good. He believed it was society’s fault for cultivating and influencing the moral bad behavior and character of an individual. Mencius had a strong certainty that everyone had the potential to become a sage which is the culmination of human achievement.

He exudes, “the major difference between sages and ordinary people was that sages were the rare individuals who developed their moral potential through long and hard study and reflection” (Sch. 37). Mencius takes reference from Confucius’ main concepts and meanings of ren, li, yi and composes the idea system he refers to as “the four sprouts. ” He lists ren (humaneness), li (propriety), yi (righteousness), and zhi (wisdom) as the four ethical attributes which every person is predisposed to possess. These attributes can bring up a sense of commiseration or alarm, feelings of shame and the sense of right and wrong.

According to Mencius’ idea of the four sprouts, in order for one to reach their full moral potential they must cultivate these feelings and gain knowledge of them through study and reflection. Note, Mencius continued Confucius’s thought that a family’s structure and relationship can be the very foundation to measure the success or failure of society’s government. Xunzi is also known as an early philosopher of China. Like Mencius, he claimed to be a follower of Confucius, but had very different views and beliefs from Mencius and his views were widely more accepted during his time.

Xunzi is notoriously known for believing human nature to be evil. He suggests humans are born with no type of inclination to be able to act in an ethical way. Human beings are naturally inclined to disperse in chaos and quarrel. Though he had a ruthless view of human nature, he possessed the belief that humans had the potential to improve themselves. Xunzi saw the path to achieving sage hood was a transformative process that involved moral training, dedication to hard work and study. Xunzi developed a crisp theory on the origin of li and importance of it.

He explains because humans are predisposed to give in to chaos, there is a need for li. Though li isn’t essentially an innate part of human nature, it is developed through it and transforms human desires in social, communal and productive ways. Xunzi puts this in perspective by explaining, “All men, according to him, experience grief when their parents die. If men were left to their own devices, they would most likely be incapacitated by their grief and be unable to go about their business. They must express their feelings for their parents by burying them with incredible amounts of material wealth and even human sacrifices” (Sch.39).

He puts this in context by adding li, practices can be measured so the order of the states won’t be ruined. One must limit the time mourning, prohibiting of human sacrifices and how much wealth can be buried. Xunzi was definitely a reflection of his times because during his lifetime, he observed and experienced a time of political change, upheaval and the destructiveness of humans. This really made an unfathomable impression on Xunzi. Though Xunzi’s view of human nature was grim, he was still optimistic about people’s ability to change their basic natures and create a better society.

Though most of Xunzi’s views are seen more out of the Confucian thought spectrum, the concepts of his work shared some of Confucius’ sensibility. For example, despite Xunzi’s seeing humans naturally bad, he believed in the power of transformation. Such as Confucius, he believed the importance of knowledge when it comes to people bettering their human nature and their society developing with substantial means. Although there are clear distinct differences between Confucius, Mencius and Xunzi, they are all classified as Confucian thinkers due to them all having a fundamental foundation of Confucian thought.

The core idea and principle they have in common is the importance of study and education and the key idea that society has the ability to change its ways. 2. From a philosophical view, Daoism’s goal was to bring the human race back to harmony with nature within its hidden reality and ineffable reality. The Daodejing by Laozi had a strong philosophy of life and government stance. The first line of the text was, “The Way that can be named is not the eternal Way. ” This basically means “The way things are, as well as the way things should be” (Sch. 41). It stressed the importance to let things be what they are.

Let things become how they are through nature and let it be that way. When it came to the philosophy of government, Laozi advocates the best type of rulers allow their people to return to a life of simplicity where they can become one with nature. The ruler shall govern with restraint and with modesty. He must not ruin, the dao (way) by taking action of his own, but must allow things to happen on their own, how they are meant to be. The Zhuangzi is known as the mystical side of Daoism. In the text, it emphasizes the importance of reclusion and withdrawal compared to activism. Zhuangzi also emphasized the value of traditional mourning rituals.

To show his position on this, he draws from his own personal experience, when his wife died. A friend of his came over to give his condolences and he was shocked and flabbergasted to see Zhuangzi not weeping, but yet singing and drumming on a pot. Zhuangzi responds and says he at first mourned for her but then he began to think of her past, when was she was born and her time before that-her spirit. Now that she has passed she is going through another change such as the seasons and if he did not realize this and come to terms with what has happened, he wouldn’t understand anything about fate.

His personal story illustrated the distinctions and limits of conventional morality. He urges men and women to stop drawing distinctions. The second teaching of his story is having a thoughtful perspective on matters in life. The text explains the greatest insight in life is when one realizes that the human knowledge of itself and life is not exactly known or defined. c. Wuwei is the concept of non-action or non-doing. Wu can be translated as not to have, and wei can be translated as to do, with effort. Together it can be translated to do without effort/ action.

To apply wuwei to a situation in life, do the most “natural action,” let things happen naturally. Philosophically, wuwei is doing a selfless act, but one can only do this in an egoless state and go into an enlightened state of mind. For a mystical stance, one must cultivate the dao and then they will begin to become harmonious with the dao. Once this is achieved, a sage can begin to practice wuwei and will accomplish what is needed to be done while still cultivating the dao with perfect harmony and completing it all without trace of originally doing it. 3. The essence of Daoist is to live in harmony with dao( the way).

It stresses the dao is the underlining matter of everything and is the driving force of everything that happens and exists in the world. The Daoist true understanding of life begins of their urgency for men and women to stop drawing distinctions. They believed one should seek nature as refuge from mans’ world. They rejected all other “artificial devices” of civilization and believed one should take sources of naturalism. The Confucius approach takes the essence of having a system of thoughts representing “conventional values” and the strong belief of humanism.

Confucianism believed if there was social order, the world would be in less chaos. A good centralized government brings about good society. A good society and state starts within the family where ethics and order and strong influence of education begin. This also helps bring about good individuals in society who obtain the characteristics of humanness and righteousness. The Daoist approach and understanding of the world opposed to the Confucius approach and understanding of life, was that Daoist contested that the Confucians pursuit of knowledge and social order interfered with the natural characteristics of things.

Confucian ways created a distinction between men and other things in the world. In context, it complicated the way of life, provoked debates, and took away and divided people and all creatures from themselves and nature. To Daoist, life should be as simple as “the simplicity of unhewn log. ” They believed the Confucianist way did not help people realize and appreciate the dao, but would drive them away from the dao. In addition, Daoist opposed Confucian sages and felt they were the source of troubles in the world and their beliefs and ways created more harm than benefits.

People do bad things in the name of humanness and righteousness. These two Confucian virtues did not attribute to humanity because they were used by people to pursue honor and wealth which sourced from their inner greed. What made people “superior men” and “inferior men” caused people to twist their nature and stray away from the natural laws of the world. Daoist stressed the world would be in peace without the sage and if one does, they can start to cultivate inner virtues.


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