who created daoism in ancient china out of confucius mencius han fei and lao zi
- The Zhou dynasty (c.1050-256 BCE) conquers and succeeds the Shang; later generations seek to reclaim and preserve the idealized peace of the early Zhou (or Western Zhou) period.
- The Zhou is divided into the Western Zhou (c.1050-771 BCE), when the capital was near Xian, and the Eastern Zhou (770-221 BCE), when the capital was moved eastward to Luoyang.
- The political system of the Western Zhou was characterized by the establishment of the numerous regional states mainly in East China. This served to stabilize the Western Zhou state, in the first place, but it also planted the seed for the future interstate conflict that took over China after the fall of the Western Zhou capital.
- The establishment of numerous regional states during the Western Zhou was a process by which a unified elite culture spread all over North China, marked first of all by the casting of inscriptions on bronze vessels, many of which are historically highly important.
- The Eastern Zhou period was one of political fragmentation with the power of the Zhou in decline; it is divided by historians into two sub-periods knows as the Spring and Autumn Period (770-c.480 BCE), named after an historical chronicle kept during the period, and the Warring States Period (c.480-221 BCE). Confucius was alive at the end of the Spring and Autumn Period and argued for a restoration of the social and political order of the earlier Western Zhou period.
- Essential components of Chinese civilization that are evident in the Zhou period include the Chinese notion of the ruler as the “Son of Heaven” who rules with the Mandate of Heaven. The Zhou introduced the concept of “Tian” or Heaven, as a supernatural power and deified physical presence. (Tian or Heaven, as the ultimate physical power, is more powerful than the “Shangdi,” or god on high, which the Shang and then the Zhou understood as a deity from which they claimed their ethnic origins.)
- The Book of Songs, reputedly compiled by Confucius, is a collection of odes from the Zhou period that tells us about the life of the people. (It is also referred to as the Book of Poetry or Book of Odes.)
- Confucius (551-479 BCE) emphasizes moral cultivation of individuals, service to the state, and leadership by ethical, educated men.
- Confucian thought builds on the fundamental Chinese world view of this time (that there is a universal order and it is moral, that men must find, preserve, and promote this order and rulers rule with the “Mandate of Heaven” to preserve it). In keeping with the values of universal order, Confucius propagates this world view and stresses the values of 1) filial piety, or respect of children for their parents (family and hierarchy); 2) humanity and 3) the importance of ritual — state rituals and family rituals — for preserving universal order.
- Confucius believes that man is primarily a social being in a set of relationships and that men must educate and cultivate themselves so that their behavior will be consonant with the moral order and they will be able to serve the state as moral leaders.
To Han Feizi it was axiomatic that political institutions must change with changing historical circumstances. It is folly, he said, to cling to outmoded ways of the past, as the Confucians did. It was also axiomatic that political institutions adapt to the prevailing pattern of human behaviour, which is determined not by moral sentiments but by economic and political conditions. In a year of famine people can hardly feed their own kin, while in a year of plenty they feast casual visitors—not because they are alternately heartless and generous but “because of the difference in the amount of food to be had.” In ancient times, when goods were abundant, men made light of them, but increased population pressure on resources brought economic scarcity; consequently, “men of today quarrel and snatch.” The ruler, therefore, should not try to make men good but only to restrain them from doing evil. Nor should he try “to win the hearts of the people” because, selfish as men are, they do not know their own true interests. The people’s mind is as undependable as an infant’s.
According to the Confucians, as virtue confers on a king the right to rule, misrule voids that right. Han Feizi thought differently. Whatever the ruler’s moral qualities and however he rules, possession of authority (shi) carries with it the leverage to exact obedience. “Subject serving ruler, son serving father, and wife serving husband” together constitute “an immutable principle of the world.” Even if a lord of men is unworthy, no subject would dare to infringe his prerogative. Moreover, political duty takes precedence over other duties. A soldier, it was said, ran from battle because he thought that, if he was killed, he could no longer serve his father. Han Feizi commented: “A filial son to his father can be a traitorous subject to his ruler.”
The question of whether there was a historical Laozi has been raised by many scholars, but it is rather an idle one. The Daodejing, as we have it, cannot be the work of a single author; some of its sayings may date from the time of Confucius; others are certainly later; and a version of the text has been recovered in an archaeological find at Guodian that dates to before 300 bce . Owing to these facts, some scholars have assigned the authorship of the Daodejing to the astrologer Dan; while others, giving credit to a genealogy of the descendants of the philosopher, which is related in the biography by Sima Qian, try to place the life of Lao Dan at the end of the 4th century bce . But this genealogy can hardly be considered as historical. It proves only that at the time of Sima Qian a certain Li family (see above) pretended to be descended from the Daoist sage; it does not give a basis for ascertaining the existence of the latter. The name Laozi seems to represent a certain type of sage rather than an individual.
Despite his historical importance, Laozi remains an obscure figure. The principal source of information about his life is a biography in the Shiji (“Records of the Historian”) by Sima Qian. This historian, who wrote in about 100 bce , had little solid information concerning the philosopher. He says that Laozi was a native of Quren, a village in the district of Hu in the state of Chu, which corresponds to the modern Luyi in the eastern part of Henan province. His family name was Li, his proper name Er, his appellation Dan. He was appointed to the office of shi at the royal court of the Zhou dynasty (c. 1046–256 bce ). Shi today means “historian,” but in ancient China the shi were scholars specializing in matters such as astrology and divination and were in charge of sacred books.
Sages are not a different kind of being, god-like, with a radically different nature; rather, they are individuals who manage to realize their authentic de to the full. Unlike the cosmological interpretation which essentially traces “sagehood” to a special inborn sage-nature, the idea of an authentic ontological core assures the possibility of attaining sagehood. Being one with Dao does not describe any mystical union with a divine source or sacred power, but reflects a mode of being that accords with the assumed original nature marked by natural goodness and the absence of excessive desire. Because the world is in a state of decline, the Laozi therefore speaks of a “return” to Dao, to naturalness and nonaction.
It is useful to recall the late Zhou context, where disorder marched on every front. The Laozi, one assumes, is not indifferent to the forces of disintegration tearing the country asunder, although the remedy it proposes is subject to interpretation. The problems of political decline are traced to excessive desire, a violation of ziran. Naturalness encompasses basic human needs, of course, but these are to be distinguished from desire that fuels and inflates self-gratification, which knows no end. Nonaction entails at the personal level simplicity and quietude, which naturally follow from having few desires. At the political level, the Laozi condemns aggressive measures such as war (ch. 30), cruel punishment (ch. 74), and heavy taxation (ch. 75), which reflect but the ruler’s own desire for wealth and power. If the ruler could rid himself of desire, the Laozi boldly declares, the world would be at peace of its own accord (chs. 37, 57).
Throughout classical texts, we find that daos are spoken, heard, forgotten, transmitted, learned, studied, understood and misunderstood, distorted, mastered, and performed with pleasure. Different countries and historical periods have different dao. Footprints of the linguistic component of the concept of dao are scattered through all kinds of modern Chinese compound words. ‘Preach’ is jiang–dao—speak a dao. To know is to know a dao. The character dao is part of compounds translated as ‘doctrine’, ‘truth’, ‘principle’, ‘law’ and of course, ‘morality’ or ‘ethics’, ‘reason’, ‘religion’, ‘philosophy’, ‘orthodoxy’, ‘thank’, ‘apologize’, ‘tell’, ‘explain’, ‘inform’ and so on.
Other figures classified in the School of Names responded to the Mohist realists. Gongsun Long (mentioned sporadically in the Zhuangzi) took himself to be defending Confucian accounts of rectifying names and Hui Shi constructs what looks like a relativist challenge to Later Mohist accounts. We will look only at Hui Shi’s account here because he plays such a significant role in the text of the Zhuangzi .