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Chinese philosophy

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Confucianism is the main path of Chinese philosophy and has only rarely been shelved. All education was based in the first place on the books forming the „Confucian Canon”: including Shi Jing or Book of Poems, Yi Jing or Book of Changes, Annals of Lu, Confucius Interviews and the book of Mencius. Almost all scholarly production in China can be interpreted as a commentary on these revered works as the essence of the Chinese spirit. Almost all Confucianist movements of thought presented themselves as having reconnected with the true thought of the Sage. Between the „realists” like Xun Zi and the followers of his „idealist” Mencius, later on between Wang Yangming and Zhu Xi, trends emerged and debated Master’s thought, enriching philosophy with new concepts and interpretations. It is the lineage of Mencius that Zhu Xi will privilege and his comments will be those considered as orthodox, that is to say as references, by the imperial examiners of the Ming and Qing dynasties (the last one).


Neo-Confucianism refers to a late and distant development of Confucianism but has roots other than Confucianism. It began its development under the Song Dynasty and achieved its greatest expansion under the Ming. There are traces of it since the Tang dynasty.

This school of thought had a great influence in the East, particularly in China, Japan and Korea. Zhu Xi is considered the greatest neo-Confucian master of the Song, while Wang Yangming is the most famous masters under the Ming. But there are conflicts between the schools of these two thinkers.


道 dào "the Way"
Source https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Dao-caoshu.png

(道 dào „the Way”, calligraphy 草書 caoshū „wild grass”, a very free style influenced by Taoism.)

Taoism, a religion, a philosophy?

The term „Taoism” covers texts, authors, beliefs and practices, and even historical phenomena that have been able to claim each other, spread over 2,500 years of history.

The category „Taoism” was born during the Han Dynasty (200 BC to 200 AD), long after the writing of the first texts, the need to classify the funds of the princely and imperial libraries. Dao jiā (道家) or dao jiào (道教), a „Taoist school”, distinguished at the time one of the philosophical schools of the Warring States period (500 BC to 220 BC). ). School is here to hear in its Greek sense, even Pythagorean, of a community of thought also devoting itself to a philosophical life; to see an intellectual current there is a modern anachronism. But this school was probably only virtual, because its authors, to the extent that they really existed, did not necessarily know each other, and some texts are attributed to different schools according to the catalogs.

During the period of the Three Kingdoms (220-265), the terms dao jai (道家) and dao jiao (道教) diverge, the first designating philosophy and the second religion. For the category quickly encompassed religious beliefs and practices of various origins: „… Taoism has never been a unified religion and has constantly been a combination of teachings based on various original revelations […] it can not be seized only in its concrete manifestations „.

Is Taoism a philosophy or a religion? Both, can we say. The ancient conceptions of Zhuangzi (Chuang Tzu) and Dao De Jing (Tao Te King) are evoked, as these texts continue to inspire Chinese thought, as well as the West, with themes such as the Dao, the critique of dualistic thought, technique, morality; in a praise of nature and freedom. There will also be a presentation on Taoist practices, focusing on the Chinese Middle Ages (the six dynasties, 200-400). The period reveals mystical techniques, medical ideas, alchemy, collective rites. Their development began well before and continued thereafter, but this moment makes it possible to offer a richer table, and more attested. The result is a broad panorama, based on recent texts and commentary, so that everyone can get their idea of ​​Taoism as it was in the past, but by focusing on the most significant sources, the most evocative.


Xuanxue 玄學, Hsuan Hsue or neo-Taoism refers to a current of Chinese philosophical and cultural thought. It was created during the dismantling of the Han Empire in the third century AD. The philosophers of this current have developed a coherent metaphysical interpretation of Dao De Jing, Zhuangzi and Yi Jing, in which the dao, identified with wu (nothing or empty), is the ontological origin of all things. Their comments and editions quickly became authoritative and had a decisive influence on how these works will be interpreted by later generations.

Its essential cultural component is qingtan („pure conversation”), a sort of codified oratorical contest whose themes, often philosophical, avoided the hot topics of contemporary politics. This practice was associated with an individualistic, hedonistic and anti-conformist lifestyle.

The Hundred Schools

Under this designation, we find many doctrines, with, among others:

  • the Shang Yang or Han Fei Zi legalism, which is a purely political, very authoritarian doctrine, strongly resembling totalitarianism.
  • the Moist or Mohism, founded by Mo Zi (Mo-tzu), born in reaction to Confucianism.
  • the School of Names, or Logicians, is interested in the language and the logical relationships it describes, in order to convince.

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