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Zhou-era chariot
The last stage of the Zhou Dynasty was called the Warring States Period. It was characterized by a state of near perpetual war between a half dozen warring states that vied for control of China. The war persisted for 500 years until the warring states collapsed and China was united under Emperor Qin in 221 B.C. The Warring States Period was marked by violence, political uncertainty, social upheaval, a lack of powerful central leaders and an intellectual rebellion among scribes and scholars that gave birth to a golden age of literature and poetry as well as philosophy. Great works of art from the Warring States Period include bronze vessels with inlaid geometric silver decorations, snake-shaped bronze fittings, jade and gold wire jewelry and bows made with dragons with glass eyeballs.

Of the four great Spring and Autumn powers — 1) Jin, 2) Qin (Central States), 3) Qi and 4) Chu— Qi, Chu, and Qin survived into the Warring States Period. Jin had been divided into three states of Han, Zhao and Wei, sometimes collectively referred to as the "Three Jins". Of the two late-arising powers of the Spring and Autumn, Wu and Yue, the former had been snuffed out in 476 B.C., while the latter was no longer a significance player after the death of King Goujian in 465 B.C. The state of Yan, north of Qi, although ranked considerably below its greater rivals, is sometimes counted as a seventh powerful state competing for dominance. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University indiana.edu /+/ ]

Patricia Buckley Ebrey of the University of Washington wrote: “The Warring States Period (475-221 B.C.) was a time of turmoil and violence, with constant warfare between the regional states, but it was also a time of great intellectual and artistic activity, when the intellectual traditions of Confucianism, Daoism, and Legalism originated. [Source: Patricia Buckley Ebrey, University of Washington, depts.washington.edu/chinaciv /=\]

Dr. Eno wrote: “The Warring States period resembles the Spring and Autumn period in many ways. The multi-state structure of the Chinese cultural sphere continued as before, and most of the major states of the earlier period continued to play key roles. Warfare, as the name of the period implies, continued to be endemic, and the historical chronicles continue to read as a bewildering list of armed conflicts and shifting alliances. In fact, however, the Warring States period was one of dramatic social and political changes. /+/

“The fast growing need for skilled men able to administer the vastly more complex military and political demands of the Warring States period created a lively demand for men of intellectual talent. Whereas the most prized skills of the Spring and Autumn period had been the charioteering skills and ritualized etiquette of the patrician born – abilities that could be drilled into any young man – the Warring States prized the ability to devise clever and original strategies of war, or of economic and diplomatic policy. Raw intelligence and learning which was often derived through study of books or with an expert teacher were now the qualities most prized; whatever their virtues of bravery, bearing, and clan loyalty, the patrician class held no monopoly on intelligence, and, in time, little advantage with regard to learning as well. Consequently, the Warring States was a time of sharply increasing social mobility. Positions of power gradually shifted into the hands of men of wit, many of whom were of low birth or sons of very junior branches of the shi class. Along with changes in agricultural technology and commerce, these factors made the Warring States both the bloodiest and most dynamic era of Chinese history.” /+/

Ian Johnson wrote in the New York Review of Books: “Back in the Warring States Period, rising literacy and urbanization gave rise to a class of gentlemen scholars, or shi, who advised kings; some thought that they might be better qualified than the person born to the throne—the origins of the meritocracy argument. Today, similar trends are at work, but on a much broader scale. Now, instead of a scholar class that wants a say, it is the entire population. One might even say that” ancient “texts show a more freewheeling society than today’s. Here we encounter a past that was home to vigorous debates—a place where Confucians approved of kings abdicating, and might even have fancied themselves capable of ruling. Today’s China also has such ideas, but like the bamboo slips before their discovery, they are buried and their excavation taboo. [Source: Ian Johnson, New York Review of Books, April 21, 2016]

Good Websites and Sources on Early Chinese History: 1) Robert Eno, Indiana University indiana.edu; 2) Chinese Text Project ctext.org ; 3) Visual Sourcebook of Chinese Civilization depts.washington.edu ; 4) Zhou Dynasty Wikipedia Wikipedia ; 5) Ancient China Life ancientchinalife.com ; 6) Ancient China for School Kids elibrary.sd71.bc.ca/subject_resources ; 7) Oriental Style ourorient.com ; Books: Cambridge History of Ancient China edited by Michael Loewe and Edward Shaughnessy (1999, Cambridge University Press); The Culture and Civilization of China, a massive, multi-volume series, (Yale University Press); Mysteries of Ancient China: New Discoveries from the Early Dynasties by Jessica Rawson (British Museum, 1996); “Early Chinese Religion” edited by John Lagerwey & Marc Kalinowski (Leiden: 2009); A fully annotated translation of the “Shiji” text appears in William Nienhauser, et al., The Grand Scribe’s Records (Bloomington), v. 1. The best concise narrative history of the Western Zhou is Edward Shaughnessy’s chapter, “Western Zhou History,” in Michael Loewe & Edward Shaughnessy, ed., The Cambridge History of Ancient China (Cambridge: 1999), 292-351.

Good Chinese History Websites: 1) Chaos Group of University of Maryland chaos.umd.edu/history/toc ; 2) WWW VL: History China vlib.iue.it/history/asia ; 3) Wikipedia article on the History of China Wikipedia 4) China Knowledge; 5) Gutenberg.org e-book gutenberg.org/files ; Links in this Website: Main China Page factsanddetails.com/china (Click History)

Sources and Books on the Warring States Period

The Warring States era is named after a text, the Zhanguo ce, or Intrigues of the Warring States, an extensive collection of anecdotes recounting the backgrounds and consequences of court speeches delivered by ministers or visiting shi to rulers of the various states. These anecdotes provide us with very detailed accounts of the political events of the period from the mid-fifth to late third centuries B.C. The text served as a basis for much of the narrative of the Warring States period that Sima Qian included in his “Shiji”. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University indiana.edu /+/ ]

Ancient Chinese chariot

Because it is relatively long, complex and influential, the Warring State era is often divided into a number of periods. Dr. Robert Eno of Indiana University wrote: ““However, the chaotic political situation of the Warring States era does not lend itself readily to simple periodization.” Some periods “overlap substantially” and “are distinguished less by their dates than by the themes we will draw from them. Likewise, largely because there exists no Warring States literary equivalent to the Zuo commentary to the “Spring and Autumn Annals”, the period is not as rich in extended narrative accounts. For this reason, there are fewer of these here, and they are confined to the latter part of the narrative.” /+/

Eno divides the Warring State Perion into four narratives: Period I: Structures of Social Mobility 453-380 B.C.; Period II: Reforms in Qin 360-338 B.C.; Period III: The Horizontal and Vertical Alliances 320-256 B.C.; Period IV: The Great Ministerial Lords of the Third Century 300-230 B.C.; Epilogue: The Final Conquest of the Qin The birth of philosophical thought in China took place during a period when political and social structures that had been long established were subject to acute stress.

No primary text provides the type of detailed narrative of Warring States political history that we find for the Spring and Autumn period in the Zuo zhuan. The closest comparable text is a book called the Zhanguo ce, or Intrigues of the Warring States, which consists largely of collected speeches of political advisors of the period, delivered to rulers in the context of policy discussion. This book was a major source for the historian Sima Qian as he prepared his “Shiji”. However, scholars now view the Zhanguo ce as a text composed less to record actual speeches that contained factual information than as a sort of textbook for aspiring courtiers, illustrating how to develop clever policy arguments so as to prevail in their court careers. This view of the text questions the historical reliability of its accounts.

A fine summary overview of the Warring States period is provided in the Cambridge History of Ancient China (Cambridge: 1999) by Mark Lewis, in his chapter, “Warring State, Political History” (pp. 587-650). Maspero’s China in Antiquity, also includes a good account. Hsu Cho-yun’s book Ancient China in Transition, also noted earlier as an important work for understanding the social dynamic of the entire Eastern Zhou era, is particularly useful in its discussions of social, political, and economic changes that transformed China during the Warring States era. Some of Hsu’s important ideas are challenged in interesting ways by Mark Lewis in his Sanctioned Violence in Ancient China (Albany: 1990)

Eastern Zhou, Spring and Autumn and Warring States Periods

Beginning in the 8th century B.C. the authority of the emperors degenerated and hundreds of warlords fought among themselves until seven major kingdoms prevailed. This led to the formulation of the Eastern Zhou Dynasty (770-221 B.C.). The Spring and Autumn period (771-482 B.C.), the Warring States period (481-221 B.C.) and the Age of Philosophers and the China’s Classical Age (6th century to 3rd century B.C.) occurred within the Eastern Zhou Dynasty.

The Spring and Autumn (722 to 476 B.C.) and Warring States (476 to 221 B.C.) periods though marked by disunity and civil strife, witnessed an unprecedented era of cultural prosperity--the "golden age" of China. The atmosphere of reform and new ideas was attributed to the struggle for survival among warring regional lords who competed in building strong and loyal armies and in increasing economic production to ensure a broader base for tax collection. To effect these economic, military, and cultural developments, the regional lords needed ever-increasing numbers of skilled, literate officials and teachers, the recruitment of whom was based on merit. [Source: The Library of Congress *]

Also during this time, commerce was stimulated through the introduction of coinage and technological improvements. Iron came into general use, making possible not only the forging of weapons of war but also the manufacture of farm implements. Public works on a grand scale--such as flood control, irrigation projects, and canal digging--were executed. Enormous walls were built around cities and along the broad stretches of the northern frontier. *

Historian Francis Fukuyama of Johns Hopkins wrote: “As a result of the 500 years of intensive warfare that occurred during the Spring and Autumn and Warring States period (the eastern Zhou dynasty, 711-211 B.C.), Chinese states formed and began to consolidate into a smaller number of larger polities. As a result of the desperate need to mobilize resources for war, they developed bureaucratic administrations that relied increasingly on impersonal administration rather than patrimonial recruitment that as typical of earlier periods of Chinese history."

Dr. Eno wrote: “China’s Classical age was a tumultuous era, filled with the dangers of constant civil war, political disruptions, and unpredictable social change. The intellectual elite of that period, who are the authors of all the textual records of that time, were anxious to search the past looking for political and ethical models that could help them extricate society from this era of crisis and chaos. The human past was for them as promising a field of study as the world of the natural sciences much later became for the West. At the same time, there was an urgent desire to make out a glimpse of the future, an almost millennial urge to see a new age of order emerge. These interests in history and the millennium were connected because the literate elite looked to the past as the key to their future. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University indiana.edu /+/ ]

Military Advances During the Warring States Period

Zhou chariot fitting

Dr. Eno wrote: “Perhaps the most basic of these changes concerned the ways in which wars were fought. During the Spring and Autumn years, battles were conducted by small groups of chariot-driven patricians. Managing a two-wheeled vehicle over the often uncharted terrain of a battlefield while wielding bow and arrow or sword to deadly effect required years of training, and the number of men who were qualified to lead armies in this way was very limited. Each chariot was accompanied by a group of infantrymen, by rule seventy-two, but usually far fewer, probably closer to ten. Thus a large army in the field, with over a thousand chariots, might consist in total of ten or twenty thousand soldiers. With the population of the major states numbering several millions at this time, such a force could be raised with relative ease by the lords of such states. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University indiana.edu /+/ ]

“During the Warring States period, the situation was very different. One reason why the armies of Wu and Yue had been so effective during the period 506-476 B.C. was that they did not employ chariot warfare. The uneven country of the south, split by rivers everywhere, made chariot warfare impractical, and Wu and Yue chose instead to raise massive armies of infantry. Infantry armies moved as rapidly as traditional ones – after all, the infantrymen that accompanied chariots limited the mobility of the whole – and they could be used much more flexibly than armies tied to chariot riding patricians. Horseback command, rather than chariot command, also gave patrician officers more freedom of movement. /+/

“The northern states learned the lessons of the period of Wu-Yue hegemony. The chariot was largely discarded, and instead of concentrating on the size and training of their elite officer corps, patrician lords cultivated huge armies of peasant infantrymen.

Political Impact of Warring States Militarization

Dr. Eno wrote: “The fifth century was an era during which the growth of armies and military technology began to be felt. During the first century of the Warring States era, the new scale of battles made it impossible for the smaller central states to compete. Consequently, the war aims of the larger states began to change. Whereas during the Spring and Autumn period the usual motives of a campaign had been the formation of security alliances, the great states now became outright predators, seeking to occupy and annex the territories of neighboring states. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University indiana.edu /+/ ]

“The results were quickly apparent. Venerable states such as Lu, which fell under the power of Qi, retained only a nominal existence, while one after another, border states between Qin and Wei, Qi and Chu, and Chu and Qin fell prey to the great new armies, whose soldiers now numbered in the hundreds of thousands. /+/

“In consuming their near neighbors, these great states were also eliminating the buffer regions that insulated them against one another. The expansion of their territories increased their shared borders, thus bringing gradually closer the inevitability of a military conflict engaging armies so massive that the casualties of a single campaign could number close to a half million men.” /+/

Rise of the Chinese State During the Warring States Period

bronze bow device for controlling chariots

Dr. Eno wrote: “During the Warring States years, the overall population of China grew rapidly, spurred by great strides in agricultural technology – the raw material for massive armies was there. Traditional state structures were not conducive to the raising of such numbers of men, however. To achieve the military ends that became increasingly vital to the survival of the state, the patrician lords and their advisors engineered fundamental changes in the structure of the state itself. Three of these changes stand out: 1) the altered relationship between the peasant and the lord; 2) revisions in political administration that increased centralized control to the disadvantage of the patrician class; 3) a sharp rise in social mobility occasioned by the need for true expertise in the management of large armies and growing, centralized states. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University indiana.edu /+/ ]

“Most profoundly changed was the relationship between the lord and the peasantry. The altered military situation now made farmers doubly valuable to their lords: they represented not only his main source of income, but the heart of his war machine as well. Systems of taxation in state after state were reformulated so that the peasant’s payment to his lord no longer took the form of field labor, but was a direct payment in cash or in crops, resources that could sustain the lord’s household or be converted to funds necessary to raise and provision armies. In the course of this transition, the peasantry for the first time were viewed as, in some sense, possessing the lands upon which they paid tax. In some states they were even licensed to buy and sell land, the truest test of ownership in the modern sense. /+/

“The altered relationship between ruler and people is also reflected in the restructuring of administration which occurred in many states. The degree of change varied widely from state to state: among the major states, Chu was probably least touched by them, while Qin was unquestionably the most fundamentally transformed. The nature of the changes also differed among states, but there was a common thread. In virtually all cases, state administration was restructured so that lands and cities were divided into centrally designated units and control over these units was directly determined by the ruler and his close advisors, rather than becoming the hereditary prerogatives of patrician clans. Thus the peasants and city-dwelling commoners fell increasingly under the control of the ruler’s court, and the regional patrician clans more and more found themselves excluded from access to real power. The increased control that the lord exercised aided him in the task of maintaining the state’s readiness in war and coherence in diplomatic policy. /+/

Age of Philosophers

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Confucius Confucianism and Taoism developed in a period of Chinese history from the sixth century to the third century B.C., described as "The Age of Philosophers," which in turn coincided with the Warring States Period.

During the Age of Philosophers, theories about life and god were debated openly at the "Hundred Schools," and vagrant scholars went from town to town, like traveling salesmen, looking for supporters, opening up academies and schools, and using philosophy as a means of furthering their political ambitions. Chinese emperors employed court philosophers who sometimes competed in public debates and philosophy contests, similar to ones conducted by the ancient Greeks.

The uncertainty of this period created a longing for a mythical period of peace and prosperity when it was said that people in China followed rules set by the ancestors and achieved a state of harmony and social stability. The Age of Philosophers ended when the city-states collapsed and China was reunited under Emperor Qin Shihuangdi.

Dr. Eno wrote: “China’s Classical age was a tumultuous era, filled with the dangers of constant civil war, political disruptions, and unpredictable social change. The intellectual elite of that period, who are the authors of all the textual records of that time, were anxious to search the past looking for political and ethical models that could help them extricate society from this era of crisis and chaos. The human past was for them as promising a field of study as the world of the natural sciences much later became for the West. At the same time, there was an urgent desire to make out a glimpse of the future, an almost millennial urge to see a new age of order emerge. These interests in history and the millennium were connected because the literate elite looked to the past as the key to their future. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University indiana.edu /+/ ]

See Confucius, Confucianism, Legalism and Taoism Under Religion and Philosophy

Confucius and Mencius

Confucius (551-479 B.C.), also called Kong Zi, or Master Kong, looked to the early days of Zhou rule for an ideal social and political order. He believed that the only way such a system could be made to work properly was for each person to act according to prescribed relationships. "Let the ruler be a ruler and the subject a subject," he said, but he added that to rule properly a king must be virtuous. To Confucius, the functions of government and social stratification were facts of life to be sustained by ethical values. His ideal was the junzi (ruler's son), which came to mean gentleman in the sense of a cultivated or superior man. [Source: The Library of Congress]

Mencius (372-289 B.C.), or Meng Zi, was a Confucian disciple who made major contributions to the humanism of Confucian thought. Mencius declared that man was by nature good. He expostulated the idea that a ruler could not govern without the people's tacit consent and that the penalty for unpopular, despotic rule was the loss of the "mandate of heaven." [Ibid]

The effect of the combined work of Confucius, the codifier and interpreter of a system of relationships based on ethical behavior, and Mencius, the synthesizer and developer of applied Confucian thought, was to provide traditional Chinese society with a comprehensive framework on which to order virtually every aspect of life. There were to be accretions to the corpus of Confucian thought, both immediately and over the millennia, and from within and outside the Confucian school. Interpretations made to suit or influence contemporary society made Confucianism dynamic while preserving a fundamental system of model behavior based on ancient texts. [Ibid]

Confucius and the Shi Class

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Dr. Eno wrote: “ The division of Jin in 453 B.C., in which a ruling house sanctioned by Zhou tradition was displaced by three upstart patrician clans who sliced the old state into smaller ones over which they ruled, was part of a larger process in which the prerogatives of the old patrician class began to decay. While it is possible to view this as the end of the Zhou aristocracy, it is probably more accurate to say instead that the boundary between the older clans of high birth and the common people became more porous. It is during this period that the word “shi,” denoting a trained warrior possessing the learning and etiquette of the nobility, came to be applied to a class of people, and the characteristics of the members of the shi class came to be viewed as a function of training rather than birth (though of course, birth still largely determined who was likely to receive training). Being a shi thus became a goal rather than a mere fact. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University indiana.edu /+/ ]

“The most famous theoretician of this new view of the manly ideal was Confucius (551-479 B.C.), and although he died before the beginning of the Warring States period, his life and ideas also serve as an appropriate starting point for a Warring States narrative. To review briefly some of the most relevant aspects of Confucius’s career and influence, Confucius was born of parents who were probably members of patrician lineages of very low standing. “When young,” he once remarked, “I was of low station, hence I had to become skilled in many humble arts.” Confucius lived in a patrician state that was undergoing progressive political disintegration. The dukes of Lu had, like those of the much greater state of Jin, lost much of their power to a group of warlord clans. In Lu, these clans were all cadet branches of the ruling Ji lineage (the royal lineage of the house of Zhou, descended, in the case of Lu, from the Duke of Zhou). The warlord clan leaders controlled most of the territory of Lu and their influence at the ducal court was paramount. Their own clan lands were generally controlled by powerful stewards, able retainers in the paid service of these warlords. /+/

“The distinctive character of the state of Lu had, in the past, been derived from its association with the Duke of Zhou, whose contributions to the establishment of the Zhou state in the eleventh century had been so great. As his descendants, the dukes of Lu were entitled to employ ritual, music, and sacrificial forms otherwise reserved for the Son of Heaven alone. Lu was seen as preserving the ritual forms and learning of the early Western Zhou, and it possessed a special type of cultural legitimacy. The warlord clans, however, by destroying both the political and the ritual order of the state were destroying this state character.Confucius, for reasons that seem personal and lost to history, developed a deep affinity for the decaying rituals of the Zhou, and in his mind, he seems to have associated those forms of ceremony and etiquette with the prodigious political success of the Zhou founders. For Confucius, the warlord society of the Spring and Autumn period showed a sharp decline in both the moral values of society and the forms of social, religious, and court behavior. He saw these dimensions as intertwined, and became deeply committed to restoring ethical and political order through restoration of ritual order and personal morality. /+/

“However, Confucius’s situation was paradoxical. He was an advocate of the old patrician order, but being of low birth, he himself could play no legitimate role in the revival he sought. From this background, Confucius developed a very powerful combination program. He preached a conservative restoration of the patrician society of the Zhou, but he maintained as a radical tenet that personal virtue, rather than birth, was the qualification for membership in the ruling elite. For him, virtue was expressed in terms of ritual skills and humane dedication to social rather than personal advantage. At the same time, Confucius looked to the existing “legitimate” sovereigns, men like the Zhou kings or the dukes of Lu, as the best potential bases for a social revolution. All things being equal, birth still counted. If the men who occupied the thrones of the Zhou patrician rulers could, by means of revived personal virtue (and the aid of morally talented men like Confucius), lead the population as a whole, the new order could be more effectively established.” /+/

Impact of Confucius

Dr. Eno wrote: “During his younger life, Confucius attracted a number of political actors in the state of Lu, who came to him to learn more about Zhou ritual forms and his own political views (which he came to claim reflected those of the sages of the past, including the Zhou founders). Two of these men were actually stewards of the leading warlord clans – men of substantial influence. It appears that Confucius plotted with them to arrange an effective disarmament of the warlord strongholds and a restoration of legitimate ducal power. Presumably, Confucius hoped that his assistance to a revived ducal house would induce the dukes to change their policies and behavior along Confucian lines as well. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University indiana.edu /+/ ]

“About 500 B.C., Confucius and his disciples put their plan into action. It did not work. The outcome was that Confucius fled into exile and, for the next fifteen years, he wandered with many of his disciples from state to state in eastern China, looking for a ruler who would adopt his policies and employ him as minister. The search was fruitless, and about 485 B.C., one of his disciple-stewards in Lu, having made major contributions to his master in war, brokered an arrangement whereby Confucius was allowed to return to Lu and live in retirement as a teacher. Confucius died in Lu in 479 B.C.

“While Confucius saw himself as a revivalist, the impact of his teachings was entirely radical. It is doubtful whether the intensely ritualized past on which he modeled his ideal future had ever existed in the form he imagined. In fact, Confucius’s dual celebration of legitimate rulers and men of moral talent left little role for the hereditary patrician class. Few class members belonged to ruling lineages, and if social and political prestige was to be tied to issues of etiquette and learning rather than birth, what significant advantage did this leave them? Confucius was known to accept as a disciple any man who could afford as little as a (proverbial) bundle of sausages for tuition. While it may be doubtful how many of Confucius’s own disciples rose to high rank, his ideas spurred a new growth industry of private teachers who trained all comers for participation in the political and military arenas. /+/

“Confucians also seem to have made a radical reconfiguration of the past in their story of the history of Chinese culture. In the Confucian account of China’s history, the founding rulers and most perfect sages are the three emperors Yao, Shun, and Yu (known as the founder of the Xia Dynasty). The first two are particularly revered. The mythology connected with Yao and Shun places great emphasis on the fact that they chose not to pass along their thrones to their sons. Instead, acting in a way radically different from the norms of the truly historical periods of the Shang and Zhou, they passed the throne on the basis of merit alone, without any consideration of birth. According to the Confucian story, Shun and Yu were chosen solely as the most worthy men of the land; their fathers are, in fact, generally pictured as evil men of uncertain social background. This mythology seems to reflect an important tendency among Warring States Confucians to attack the very notion of hereditary legitimacy, for rulers as well as for patrician warlords. In this way, Confucius represents the articulation of an ideology that challenges the exclusivity of the patrician class, and reconceives the very notion of the patrician as a person of high worth, rather than a person of high birth.” /+/

Hundred Schools of Thought

So many different philosophies developed during the late Spring and Autumn and early Warring States periods that the era is often known as that of the Hundred Schools of Thought. From the Hundred Schools of Thought came many of the great classical writings on which Chinese practices were to be based for the next two and onehalf millennia. Many of the thinkers were itinerant intellectuals who, besides teaching their disciples, were employed as advisers to one or another of the various state rulers on the methods of government, war, and diplomacy. [Source: The Library of Congress *]

rightRival schools fought among themselves for dominance, with each claiming the authority of the ancients and each promising to restore order if his doctrines were followed. Among these schools were the Confucians and the Taoists as well as the Mozi (Mo-tzu, Mo Di), who argued that order could be restored by following the principalis of universal love, and the Legalists, who argued that order could be restored by following legal principals rather than moral ones. *

The body of thought that had the most enduring effect on subsequent Chinese life was that of the School of Literati (ru), often called the Confucian school in the West. The written legacy of the School of Literati is embodied in the Confucian Classics, which were to become the basis for the order of traditional society. One strain of thought dating to the Warring States Period is the school of yin-yang and the five elements. The theories of this school attempted to explain the universe in terms of basic forces in nature, the complementary agents of yin (dark, cold, female, negative) and yang (light, hot, male, positive) and the five elements (water, fire, wood, metal, and earth). In later periods these theories came to have importance both in philosophy and in popular belief. *

Dr. Eno wrote: “We possess a number of texts that these wisdom traditions generated, and so important did these become to the intellectual history of China that they became the emblems of the Classical age, which is sometimes thought of simply as the “Age of the Hundred Schools.” Modern Western scholarship has tended to treat these texts as “philosophical” rather than as historical or literary, but they are not, in fact, confined to any single disciplinary interest. They represent the free play of the Classical imagination – philosophical, literary, and historical. They should be understood as a byproduct of the persuader tradition for several reasons. /+/

“First, many parts of these texts were composed as arguments that could be used to persuade rulers to adopt certain policies or employ certain types of people (including the authors) at court. They are, essentially, persuasions, although they generally argue broad points of doctrine or ideology rather than positions related to some specific situation. /+/

“Second, like many persuaders who wished to attract patronage not on the basis of their specific ideas but on the basis of their general skills in rhetoric, these texts are displays of virtuoso abilities that were often intended to induce rulers or warlords to accept the authors as retainers whether or not their ideas are acceptable as bases for court policy. Wealthy patricians often enhanced their own prestige by providing talented men with financial and other forms of support. /+/

“Third, the authors of these texts, like the “wandering persuaders” who roamed from court to court in search of employment, were usually itinerant men of learning in search of patronage. These texts represented their “dossiers.” When rulers of states announced that they were opening their courts to talented men from afar and urged those seeking honor to come seek an audience, the authors of these texts would take their places besides military experts seeking armies to lead and glib Machiavellians offering clever schemes in return for ministerial positions. /+/

“But unlike the other persuaders, the authors of these texts addressed audiences beyond the court: disciples, for whom the texts were intended as important teaching tools, potential disciples, who would be attracted by the texts and come to study with those who were masters of them (bringing some form of tuition payment with them), and authors of competing texts, whose positions the author would attempt to discredit. These are the “academic” audiences of the text, and it is because the texts were written with them in mind that they seem, in many ways, to be talking to one another. /+/

Mo Zi, Xun Zi and the Legalists

Diametrically opposed to Mencius, for example, was the interpretation of Xun Zi (ca. 300-237 B.C.), another Confucian follower. Xun Zi preached that man is innately selfish and evil and that goodness is attainable only through education and conduct befitting one's status. He also argued that the best government is one based on authoritarian control, not ethical or moral persuasion. [Source: The Library of Congress]

Xun Zi's unsentimental and authoritarian inclinations were developed into the doctrine embodied in the School of Law (fa), or Legalism. The doctrine was formulated by Han Fei Zi (d. 233 B.C.) and Li Si (d. 208 B.C.), who maintained that human nature was incorrigibly selfish and therefore the only way to preserve the social order was to impose discipline from above and to enforce laws strictly. The Legalists exalted the state and sought its prosperity and martial prowess above the welfare of the common people. Legalism became the philosophic basis for the imperial form of government. When the most practical and useful aspects of Confucianism and Legalism were synthesized in the Han period (206 B.C.-A.D. 220), a system of governance came into existence that was to survive largely intact until the late nineteenth century. [Ibid]

Still another school of thought was based on the doctrine of Mo Zi (470-391 B.C.”), or Mo Di. Mo Zi believed that "all men are equal before God" and that mankind should follow heaven by practicing universal love. Advocating that all action must be utilitarian, Mo Zi condemned the Confucian emphasis on ritual and music. He regarded warfare as wasteful and advocated pacificism. Mo Zi also believed that unity of thought and action were necessary to achieve social goals. He maintained that the people should obey their leaders and that the leaders should follow the will of heaven. Although Moism failed to establish itself as a major school of thought, its views are said to be "strongly echoed" in Legalist thought. In general, the teachings of Mo Zi left an indelible impression on the Chinese mind. [Source: The Library of Congress]


1785 image of a Taoist
Taoism (or Daoism in pinyin), the second most important stream of Chinese thought, also developed during the Zhou period. Its formulation is attributed to the legendary sage Lao Zi (Old Master), said to predate Confucius, and Zhuangzi (369-286 B.C.). The focus of Taoism is the individual in nature rather than the individual in society. It holds that the goal of life for each individual is to find one's own personal adjustment to the rhythm of the natural (and supernatural) world, to follow the Way (dao) of the universe. In many ways the opposite of rigid Confucian moralism, Taoism served many of its adherents as a complement to their ordered daily lives. A scholar on duty as an official would usually follow Confucian teachings but at leisure or in retirement might seek harmony with nature as a Taoist recluse. [Source: The Library of Congress]

Taoism’s most famous work is the Daodejing, attributed to Laozi, who may have existed in the 6th century B.C. and is said to predate Confucius. It developed into an organized religion by the A.D. 2nd century. Although its practices vary widely, it generally advocates self-discipline and good living as a way to attain immortality, as well as elaborate rituals to purge individuals or communities of evil. Its ideas of harmony with nature underlie many aspects of Chinese culture, from calligraphy and painting to architecture and medicine. For generations, its formal teachings were passed down by Taoist priests as well as lay practitioners.

Taoism is derived from the Chinese word Tao ("The Way"), which is pronounced "dao.” It is the second most important stream of Chinese thought after Confucianism. Like Confucianism it developed during the Zhou period. As is true with Confucianism, it isn't really a religion in the Western sense of the word. It is more of a mystical philosophy built on a set of ethical principals for everyday living. Unlike Confucianism, which is a practical philosophy with religious overtones, Taoism is more spiritual, rooted in magic and shamanism and concerned with things like self awareness, transcendentalism, and immortality.

Taoism is regarded as the oldest of China's three religion-philosophies (Confucianism and Buddhism are the other two). Like Confucianism it emerged during the Age of Philosophers and was given some structure by influential Taoist scholars such as the Taoist master Zhuangzi Chuang Tzu. Some historians have argued that Taoism it a revival of religious thought dominant in the Shang Dynasty (1558 to 1102 B.C.).

Taoism formally grew out religious ideas that were circulated at the academy of Chi-gate which was very active in the 4th century B.C. Among the thinkers that were active there were Tsou Yen, regarded as the creator of the Chinese “scientific” view of the universe based on yin and yang; Sung Hsing, Yin Wen and Yang Chu, who advocated a philosophy revolving around individual salvation; Mo Zi, the leader of the Motzi “universal love” school; and Yang Chu, who was so committed to living as long as possible and avoiding trouble he would not “pluck out a single hair even if it might have benefitted the whole world.”

The thinking of Yang Chu was particularly influential. He drew on old physical theories, many based on idea of chi (“breath”), regarded as the breath of all life. His aim was to collect “fine parts” associated with chi to prolong life and find happiness and elevated spirituality. A number of methods, including diet and consuming certain herbs, were developed to accumulate these “fine parts.”

Around the same time the Schools of Lao-tze and Zhuangzi were exploring similar ideas. Scholars there developed the theory of Tao: 1) that the fundamental basis of all beings is based on a state of non-being rather than being; 2) that it was possible to avoid death through uniting oneself with the universal nothingness of Tao; and 3) the best way to do this was to empty oneself of desires and live like a hermit.

Xi Shi: One of the Four Great Beauties of China

Xi Shi

Xi Shi (506 B.C. – ?), originally named as Shi Yiguang, was born in Zhuluo Village, Zhuji City, Zhejiang Province during the late Spring-autumn and Warring States Period. Xi Shi was a patriotic, charming lady. In order to realize the national independence, Xi Shi was selected as a "gift" by Yue King who was the king of Yue State. She sacrificed her happiness and served Wu King who was the king of Wu State and strong opponent of Gou Jian. Wu King was so addicted to Xi Shi that he ignored all the national affairs. Day by day, Wu State gradually fell in decay. Yue King seizes the excellent chance and defeated Wu King, realizing the dream of national independence. [Source: CITES]

Li Bai of the Tang dynasty wrote a poem about Xi Shi. Imogen Heap released a song in 2012 titled “Xizi She Knows” after spending time in Hangzhou, China. The Shih Tzu dog is believed to be an attempt to make a dog as beautiful as Xi Shi. The West Lake in Hangzhou is said to be the incarnation of Xi Shi, hence it is also called Xizi Lake, Xizi being another name for Xi Shi, meaning Lady Xi. In his famous work of song poetry, Drinks at West Lake through Sunshine and Rain, renowned scholar Su Dongpo compared Xi Shi's beauty to the West Lake. The Xi Shi Temple, which lies at the foot of the Zhu Luo Hill in the southern part of Zhuji, on the banks of the Huansha River. [Source: Wikipedia +]

According to the Story of Xi Shi: King Goujian of Yue was once imprisoned by King Fuchai of Wu after a defeat in war, and Yue later became a tributary state to Wu. Secretly planning his revenge, Goujian's minister Wen Zhong suggested training beautiful women and offering them to Fuchai as a tribute (knowing Fuchai could not resist beautiful women). His other minister, Fan Li, found Xi Shi and Zheng Dan, and gifted them to Fuchai in 490 BC. Bewitched by the beauty and kindness of Xi Shi and Zheng Dan, Fuchai forgot all about his state affairs and at their instigation, killed his best advisor, the great general Wu Zixu. Fuchai even built Guanwa Palace (Palace of Beautiful Women) in an imperial park on the slope of Lingyan Hill, about 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) west of Suzhou. The strength of Wu dwindled, and in 473 B.C. Goujian launched his strike and put the Wu army to full rout. King Fuchai lamented that he should have listened to Wu Zixu, and then committed suicide. +

In the legend, after the fall of Wu, Fan Li retired from his ministerial post and lived with Xi Shi on a fishing boat, roaming like fairies in the misty wilderness of Taihu Lake, and no one saw them ever again. This is according to Yuan Kang's Yue Jueshu. Another version, according to Mozi, is that Xi Shi eventually died from drowning in the river. +

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons, University of Washington

Text Sources: Robert Eno, Indiana University indiana.edu /+/ ; Asia for Educators, Columbia University afe.easia.columbia.edu <|>; University of Washington’s Visual Sourcebook of Chinese Civilization, depts.washington.edu/chinaciv /=\; National Palace Museum, Taipei npm.gov.tw \=/ Library of Congress; New York Times; Washington Post; Los Angeles Times; China National Tourist Office (CNTO); Xinhua; China.org; China Daily; Japan News; Times of London; National Geographic; The New Yorker; Time; Newsweek; Reuters; Associated Press; Lonely Planet Guides; Compton’s Encyclopedia; Smithsonian magazine; The Guardian; Yomiuri Shimbun; AFP; Wikipedia; BBC. Many sources are cited at the end of the facts for which they are used.

Last updated November 2016

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