confucianism vs legalism vs daoism
Legalism was the approach that actually ended all the fighting, but at a heavy price: books were burned, and all free thinking was stopped. People were not inspired by their leaders, but scared. Almost all crimes had similar, harsh punishments. It didn’t matter if you stole a loaf of bread or murdered a person – you were still a criminal. There was a strict punishment-reward system. Eventually, the people of Ancient China revolted and Legalism ended.
Confucianism was started by Kung Fuzi (We know him as Confucius, but his name actually meant “Kung the philosopher”). He felt that if rulers were honest and children respected their parents, everything would fall into place. In Confucianism, each person has a role that they must follow. In the family, the father has the most say, with the eldest son next in line. A ruler has to be everything he wants his people to be: intelligent, patient, graceful – you get the idea. Free thinking was encouraged, but it was considered disgraceful to question your elders.
Being a good and virtuous human in every ordinary situation was the goal of Confucianism. This virtue was called “jen,” and humans were seen as perfectible and basically good creatures. Ceremonies and rituals based on the Five Classics, especially the I Ching, were strongly instituted. Some ethical concepts included Yì (the moral disposition to do good), Lǐ (ritual norms for everyday life) and Zhì (the ability to see what is right in the behavior of others).
Depiction of Shang Yang. Shang Yang was a Legalist reformer under the Qin.
Confucianism is represented by Confucius (founder, 551-479 B.C.), Mencius, and Xunzi. Literary works include The Analects, the Mencius, and the Xunzi.
Confucianism also advocates ruling the country by etiquette and convincing people by virtue.
Daoism’s impact on Chinese culture is pervasive in history, arts, literature, science, philosophy, folklores, politics, religion, and medicine. Its importance is second only to Confucianism. Within the intelligentsia class, throughout the past two thousand years, Daoist values and practices—such as retreating into the lifestyle of a hermit—have often been an “escape route” for Confucian officials/scholars who, for whatever reason, were no longer in a position of political influence. This co-existence of contrasting Confucian and Daoist values in the lifetime of a Confucian scholar is a good example of the fusion of two very different philosophies, and point to the sometimes perplexing nature of “duality” in Chinese culture.
The overriding authority of the state and strict enforcement of the law are two of the fundamental elements of Legalism. Although the Qin Dynasty (221- 206 BC), which practiced Legalism, was short lived, the effects of Legalism lived on throughout China’s political history. Evidence abounds: from a centralized political governing structure, to the absolute authority of the Emperor; from the overriding interests of the state, to the subdued rights of its individual subjects.
The basic ideas and doctrines of philosophical Daoism are set forth in the Daodejing (“Classic of the Way to Power”)—a work traditionally attributed to Laozi but probably composed after his lifetime by many hands—and in the Zhuangzi (“Master Zhuang”) by the 4th–3rd-century-BCE Daoist philosopher of the same name. The philosophical concept from which the tradition takes its name, dao, is broad and multifaceted, as indicated by the many interrelated meanings of the term, including “path,” “road,” “way,” “speech,” and “method.” Accordingly, the concept has various interpretations and plays various roles within Daoist philosophy. In its most profound interpretation, the Cosmic Dao, or the Way of the Cosmos, it is the immanent and transcendent “source” of the universe (Daodejing), spontaneously and incessantly generating the “ten thousand things” (a metaphor for the world) and giving rise, in its constant fluctuation, to the complementary forces of yinyang, which make up all aspects and phenomena of life. The Cosmic Dao is “imperceptible” and “indiscernible,” in the sense of being indeterminate or not any particular thing; it is the void that latently contains all forms, entities, and forces of particular phenomena. Another important interpretation of dao is that of the particular “way” of a thing or group of things, including individuals (e.g., sages and rulers) and humanity as a whole.
The two great indigenous philosophical and religious traditions of China, Daoism and Confucianism, originated about the same time (6th–5th century BCE) in what are now the neighboring eastern Chinese provinces of Henan and Shandong, respectively. Both traditions have permeated Chinese culture for some 2,500 years. Both are associated with an individual founder, though in the case of Daoism the figure, Laozi (flourished 6th century BCE), is extremely obscure, and some aspects of his traditional biography are almost certainly legendary. A conventional but unlikely story has it that Laozi and Confucius (551–479 BCE), the founder of Confucianism, once met and that the former (older) philosopher was not impressed. Be that as it may, their respective traditions share many of the same ideas (about humanity, society, the ruler, heaven, and the universe), and, over the course of millennia, they have influenced and borrowed from each other. Even since the end of the dynastic period (1911) and the establishment of the communist People’s Republic (1949), which was often violently hostile to religion, the influence of both Daoism and Confucianism in Chinese culture remains strong.