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4 Chinese Philosophers Worth Knowing

Updated on February 2, 2017
InspiringWriter profile image

Originally from Birmingham, England, Ava has been living in Shenzhen on South China's tropical South East coast since 2013.

Chinese philosophy is admired throughout the world
Chinese philosophy is admired throughout the world | Source

A Brief Introduction to 4 Chinese Philosophers

In many of China's public places the writings from Scholars of old are engraved onto huge stone tablets.

The exquisite words of these wise men are carefully preserved and purposefully embedded into today's society in order to direct the youth and uphold morals applicable to all generations.

This is my humble, bite-size offering of quotes from four philosophers whom you may or may not already have heard of.

These men, despite their average beginnings in some cases, made a significant impact on China, a country which they loved more than life itself. Forgive the cliche, but it's true.

Rocky ancient Chinese landscape
Rocky ancient Chinese landscape

Drumroll please for...... Confucious

Born in Shangdong Province in Northern China on September 28, Confucious is probably the most famous and the most quoted Chinese philosopher.

He began life as a government worker before tending sheep and horses. A drastic change, perhaps the civil service was too constraining for his unique intellect.

He lived at a time when the role of women was strictly confined to being a wife and a mother with total deference to the male leader of the house. Consequently in recent times he has been denounced by some as misogynistic, but when his own mother died he followed the tradition at the time which was to mourn for three years.

Besides, every leader has his or her detractors. Stick your head above the parapet and you can guarantee that sooner or later someone will come along and take a swing at it.

This critique, however, has had little impact on his ability to influence thinking throughout the ages, and now there are many Confucious Institutes worldwide where his words and his wisdom are practiced and imbued with life.

'Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.' The Golden Rule; Confucious

Confuscious / KongZi 孔子家語

'Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it. ' Confucious
'Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it. ' Confucious | Source

5 Confucious Quotes

1. Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.

2. When anger rises, think of the consequences.

3. If you think in terms of a year, plant a seed; if in terms of ten years, plant trees; if in terms of 100 years, teach the people.

4. The gem cannot be polished without friction nor man without trials.

5. There are three methods to gaining wisdom. The first is reflection, which is the highest. The second is limitation, which is the easiest. The third is experience, which is the bitterest.

Landscape; The Great Wall of China
Landscape; The Great Wall of China | Source

And now, a round of applause for Lao Zi

A philosopher, a poet and the father of Taoism. Not a bad resume.

Born in Henan, central China, sometime around the 5th or 6th century he had many different career interests including keeper of archives at the central court. Maybe reading all of the weighty material was the seed for his own special brand of wisdom.

His name, Lao Zi, literally means Old Master, which is appropriate because at the age of 80 he traveled to Tibet on China's western border and from there subsequently recorded 5,000 characters of the Tao Te Ching (The Way and Its Power).

'Having to live on, one knows better than to value life too much.' Lao Zi.

Lao Zi 老子

'Act Without Expectation' Lao Zi
'Act Without Expectation' Lao Zi | Source

Lao Zi Quotes

1. Kindness in words creates confidence. Kindness in thinking creates profoundness. Kindness in giving creates love.

2. Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don't resist them -- that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.

3. I have three precious things which I hold fast and prize. The first is gentleness; the second is frugality; the third is humility, which keeps me from putting myself before others. Be gentle and you can be bold; be frugal and you can be liberal; avoid putting yourself before others and you can become a leader among men.

4.People in their handlings of affairs often fail when they are about to succeed. If one remains as careful at the end as he was at the beginning, there will be no failure.

5. By letting it go it all gets done. The world is won by those who let it go. But when you try and try. The world is beyond the winning.

Chinese Landscape
Chinese Landscape | Source

Let's hear it for Sun Tzu

Famous for his work; The Art of War, which is still in print today and which has had a great impact on MIlitary strategy worldwide. Although there is some doubt as to its original author or authors, it's commonly attributed to him.

Sun Tzu philosophized about life through the lens of preparing for battle. Not surprising considering he was a general strategist and tactician within the Chinese military. It's not known if he ever intended for his strategies to be used in a civilian setting, but many claim they are indeed apt for this purpose.

He was born in 544BC

'Appear weak when you are strong, and strong when you are weak.', Sun Tzu

Sun Tzu 孙子兵法

'All War is Based on Deception' Sun Tzu
'All War is Based on Deception' Sun Tzu | Source

Sun Tzu Quotes

1. The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.

2. When envoys are sent with compliments in their mouths, it is a sign that the enemy wishes for a truce.

3. All men can see these tactics whereby I conquer, but what none can see is the strategy out of which victory is evolved.

4. Hence to fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting.

5. The general who wins the battle makes many calculations in his temple before the battle is fought. The general who loses makes but few calculations beforehand.

Chinese Mountain Landscape
Chinese Mountain Landscape

Last but by no means least....Sun Yat Sen

In the city of Guangzhou in the Guangdong region of South China, just across the water from the sparkling metropolis of Hong Kong, you'll find the Sun Yat Sen university.

It was founded in 1924 by the man himself and is home to almost 83,000 students spread over 4 campuses, majoring in a variety of subjects from humanities to sciences to management.

Sun Yat Sen is known as a great revolutionary and democratic leader of the country, responsible for it's early opening up to the western world.

In researching him I got the impression that he was urgent about his quest and that he didn't suffer fools gladly. He was determined that the Chinese people could and should be more, for the benefit and continuing longevity of the nation which he prized above anything else, hence his alias; Father of the Republic.

'An individual should not have too much freedom. A nation should have absolute freedom.' Sun Yat Sen

Sun Yat Sen 孫中山

'Revolution is not a dinner party' Sun Yat Sen
'Revolution is not a dinner party' Sun Yat Sen | Source

Sun Yat Sen Quotes

1. Only powerful people have liberty

2. To understand is hard. Once one understands, action is easy

3. The revolution is not yet complete, comrades, keep up the fight!

4. China is now suffering from poverty, not from unequal distribution of wealth. Where there are inequalities of wealth, the methods of Marx can, of course, be used; a class war can be advocated to destroy the inequalities. But in China, where industry is not yet developed, Marx's class war and dictatorship of the proletariat are impracticable.

5. In the construction of a country, it is not the practical workers but the idealists and planners that are difficult to find.

China Landscape
China Landscape | Source

Final Thoughts

This, of course, is just a snapshot of Chinese philosophical understanding and knowledge. There are many more men and women highlighted tthroughoutChina's 5,000 years of history for leaving an indelible mark on the people, the culture and the governance.

Researching and writing this article has been a pleasure.

For more information about living and working in modern China please see

Who's your favourite Chinese scholar and why?


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    • InspiringWriter profile image

      Ava Ming 2 years ago from Shenzhen, China

      Thanks for stopping Manatita44 and the kind words. Glad you enjoyed (-:

    • manatita44 profile image

      manatita44 2 years ago from london

      Very nice article, Ava. Some great men and great quotes. I like it. Peace.