ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Chinese Thought

Updated on February 9, 2017
elayne001 profile image

Ruth, a.k.a. Elayne Kongaika, was raised in the orchard town of Orem, Utah. She married a Polynesian and has had amazing travel experiences.


This is a paper I wrote for a History class I took recently. I welcome your comments of agreement or otherwise.

Two indigenous systems of ethics and religion in China are Confucianism and Taoism. Relatively few people identify themselves as exclusively Taoist or Confucian, and there is considerable evidence to suggest that many members of the historic Confucian literati were also practitioners of Taoist arts. In the modern era, just as in the past, rather than professing a single doctrinal affiliation most Chinese people draw simultaneously from elements of all the teachings.

One must study both Confucianism and Taoism to understand the general attitude of the Chinese people who lived before 1500 B.C.E. The origins of both religions began about the same time in history between 600 and 500 B.C. Confucius was born in a time of war and his father had been a soldier. He had grown up fatherless and poor, which probably propelled him into action towards establishing order in his world. In a political climate based on suspicion and distrust, he advocated trusting others and making yourself trustworthy. In a time of war, he was asking them to play fair, to be civil.

However, Confucius did not consider himself the author of what he taught but rather an heir and transmitter of ancient learning developed over the course of many centuries. According to the worldview of Confucius, the culture he wanted to revitalize was epitomized in the enlightened reigns of several illustrious leaders of ancient times.

The earliest thinker venerated in the Daoist religion, and the best known of all Daoist texts are known by the name of Laozi, which literally means “Old Master” or “Old Child.” We learn about the Daoist beliefs in The Tao Te Ching (The Classic of the Way and its Power , also known as the Lao-tzu ) together with other classic works of philosophical Taoism stress mysticism, the virtue of performing no action (wu-wei ) that is contrary to nature, and learning and following the mysterious, constantly changing pattern of the cosmos, the Tao.

Although very different, Confucianism and Taoism have historically served as foils for each other, and are examples of yin-yang complements in Chinese religion: the image of the worldly Confucian is contrasted with the Taoist recluse seeing an escape from human concerns; and the Confucian observance of the rules of etiquette is set against the Taoist’s frequent flouting of social convention. Similar divisions were, and still are, often apparent within individuals, for example, a person could have exhibited Confucian values in their professional life, but express Taoist qualities when retired or relaxing with friends–particular modes of being are chosen when considered most appropriate.There is a generalized folk saying that every Chinese person is a Confucian, a Taoist, and a Buddhist. He is a Confucian when everything is going well; he is a Taoist when things are falling apart, and he is a Buddhist as he approaches death.

Confucius believed that the conduct of the affairs of a nation would benefit from maximum participation in government by cultivated people whose intellects and emotions had been developed and matured by conscious culture. As an educator, he helped people study a variety of subjects such as history, political science, sociology, literature, music, etiquette, and philosophy to deepen the human understanding. This study he believed, could help people prepare themselves to take on deliberate social responsibility.

Dao may be described as unfathomable and ineffable or represented by celestial powers, but it is always seen as lying at the root of creation yet manifest in all that exists on the mundane and visible plane. Dao is subtle and soft and essentially benevolent. Mediated through qi or cosmic, vital energy– also a key concept in Chinese medicine and general cosmology – Dao is essential and accessible to human beings in their everyday life. Aligning one self with Dao, creating harmony and a sense of participation in it, will bring out the best in people and create a state of overall goodness and well being – in cosmos, nature, society, and the human body. Unlike in Confucianism, this state of goodness is not primarily achieved through a moral effort.

Daoism is a highly unique religious tradition with characteristics and practices clearly distinct from those of Confucianism. It has its own specific cosmology centered on Dao (the way) as the underlying power and constituting pattern of the universe.

Confucians differ from Daoists, but the disagreement is not about whether or not to be socially active and whether or not to give in to personal greed and passions. Rather, the dividing issue is how to achieve social harmony and how to behave in society. They rely on cultivating the inherent goodness in people, their sense of rightness that comes forth through non action and naturalness, to create a harmonious world.

In the theory of knowledge of Confucianism, the most important thing is to set up a moral model for human behaviors. Next to it is to build useful knowledge for human beings; that is to make a big event, to attain great achievement in the world and contribute to later generations. Then, next to it is to write books and leave their thoughts for the later generations as spiritual assets. These are the three major things.

Daoist harmony with nature best resulted through humility and frugal living. According to this movement, political activity and learning were irrelevant to a good life, and general conditions in the world were of little importance.

Both religions have lasted through the ages. The Chinese people have always called Confucius the “Sage of All Time,” because his thought is tied to the human being’s symbiosis, coexistence and co-evolution and, is not affected by time and spatial factors.

Individuals did come to embrace some elements from both Daoism and Confucianism. Emperors usually favored Daoism because it posed little real political threat. The Chinese government from the Han dynasty on was able to persuade Daoist priests to include expressions of loyalty to the emperor in their temple services. This heightened Daoism’s political compatibility with Confucianism.

The division in belief systems, between Confucianism and Daoism, modifies the perception of an ultimately tidy classical China. Confucianists and Daoists tolerated each other. Sometimes their beliefs coincided, so that an individual who behaved politically as a Confucianist might explore deeper mysteries through Daoist rituals.

Tension in Chinese society showed in the way Confucian beliefs were combined with strict policing. The Chinese, in fact, early discovered the usefulness of alternating torture with benevolence, to make accused individuals confess.

In conclusion, Confucianism and Daoism started approximately the same time, but have very different concepts and beliefs. However, individuals have acquired an affinity for some parts of one as well as the other, according to the circumstances. It is very beneficial to be aware of both the Confucianist and Taoist ideas and beliefs when trying to understand Chinese philosophy.

Sources Cited

Allinson, Robert E. Understanding The Chinese Mind. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991.

Chiou-Hua Lin, Yuan-Kai Chi. Chinese Management Philosophy – Study on Confucius Thought. Journal of American Academy of Business, Cambridge. March 2007.

Cleary, Thomas.The Essential Confucius. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1992.

Dirlik, Arif, Confucius in the Borderlands: Global Capitalismand the Reinvention of Confucianism. Duke University Press, boundary 2, Vol. 22, No. 3. (Autumn, 1995).

Kohn Livia. Daoism and Chinese Culture. Massachusetts, Three Pines Press, 2001.

Oldstone-Moore, Jennifer, Taoism, New York, Oxford University Press, 2003.

Stearns, Peter N. World History in Brief: Major Patterns of Change and Continuity, Vol. 1, 6th Edition. Pearson Education, Inc., 2007.

Taves, Krista.The Wisdom of Confucius. Chinese American Forum: Jan 2007, Vol. 22 Issue 3, EBSCO.

© 2010 Elayne


This website uses cookies

As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

Show Details
HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)