Ancient Chinese Ideas
ancient Chinese ideas were developed greatly by a lot of philosophers called
Zhu zi bai jia (諸子百家), who established their own ideas during 770-221 B.C. or the era called
Chun xiu zhan guo shi tai (春秋戦国時代). Some of their ideas influenced not only China
but many surrounding countries including Japan in those days, and these
ideas are still influencing many countries in the world.
paper I would like to describe three important ideas from their philosophy,
which were Confucianism (儒教), Taoism (道教) and Legalism (法治主義) by Hanfeicius, associating them with the contemporary world and
appending my own idea.
Chapter 1 Confucianism
was established by Confucius (孔子) in 500 B.C. approximately and developed firmly by his successor Mencius (孟子). The idea of Confucius
was represented by the word “Ren (仁)”, which meant human love and its fundamentals were to love one’s
parents and elderly people wholeheartedly. In order to put this idea into practice,
people had to be faithful and keep the rule of the society.
developed his idea “Ren” into the field of politics and set up the thoughts
called “Domination by Dharma”, whose idea was as follows: To take the reins of
government by “Domination by Dharma” is likened to the way the Polestar is
situated in the same place forever and twinkles in the center of many stars
which are rotating around it. In the same way, if a leader who has dharma or
virtue takes the reins of government, people’s minds will be clean and right.
over the thought of Confucius and advocated “Good Human Disposition”, which
meant “Human beings have such minds by nature as they cannot overlook
unhappiness of others, so human nature is naturally good. Mencius’s fundamental
idea was “Good Human Disposition” and the idea was expanded to the field of
politics. He denied “Hegemonism” or politics by force of arms and advocated “Highroad”
or politics by human love. He carried out such policies as people having stable
jobs and salaries so that they were able to live peacefully with the best
able to bring up eight typical words which represent Confucianism: “Ren (仁) or human love”, “Yi (義) or right judgement”, “Li
(礼) or proper deed”, “Zhi (智) or wisdom”, “zhong (忠) or loyalty”, “xin (信) or true heart”, “Xiao (孝) or filial piety”, “Ti (悌) brotherly affection”,
which were originally good and right platonic ideas. These ideas were spread
accurately or inaccurately at times around many countries, including Japan.
These ideas had an influence upon Japan, deeply and correctly, but
sometimes incorrectly. Especially in the Edo Period, The Tokugawa Shogunate
regarded these two ideas of “Zhong” and “Xiao” very important. The two ideas
became the backbone that supported the Tokugawa feudal system and the class
system, such as warriors, farmers, artisans and tradesmen, whose hierarchy was
very strict. In addition, the two ideas were passed to the following eras
(Meiji, Taisho and Showa in succession), and became the fundamental idea of
supporting the Emperor system and its absolutism that were the central idea of
promoting the offensive war of conquest.
Chapter 2 Taoism
also started from Chun xiu zhan guo shi tai (春秋戦国時代), but it exists even now and continues to influence many countries in
the world in various forms. For instance, the hippies, who were young and
rejected conventional ways of living, behaving, and tried to live a life based
on peace and love, were deeply influenced by Taoism in the 1960s and 70s. The
ideas of Taoism were mainly presented by two philosophers and their books
called “Laozi (『老子』)” and “Zhuangzi (『荘子』)”, but there were some points in common and differences between the two.
used the word “Tao (道)”, whose definition of the conception was difficult to explain clearly,
but we can suppose that it meant not only the origin of the universe and
creation, but also eternal, solitary and absolute existence. “Tao” was often
likened to water by Laozi. Water is able to have mercy on all things, but never
fights other things. As water is flexible, it is able to defeat solid things.
It is Laozi’s fundamental conception of his thought that people will acquire
wisdom to live, through behaving like water. In addition, Laozi advocated “Do
Nothing and Be Natural (無為自然)” and “Benefit from Emptiness (無用の用)”, which two ideas were as follows: The former is the attitude that
people should live as they really are, without any artifice. The latter is the idea that a thing
which has its own shape is useful, not because of its visible outer shape but
its invisible emptiness, which no one perceives. Laozi cited examples of “Benefit
from Emptiness” as chinaware and a room which were able to encase things and
useful because the insides of these things are empty.
to these two ideas, Laozi insisted on the importance of “Small Nation and Few
People (小国寡民)” as a political idea.
This idea meant that there would be an idealized society only by being
self-renunciation, denying civilization, and producing a self-sufficient
society. In those days this kind of idea stood in direct opposition to the
trend of the times, in which the leaders sought the policy of increasing a
nation’s wealth and military, and its expansionism as well.
forward “Wan Wu Ji Tong (万物斉同)” and thought such a society ideal as “Wu He You Zhi Xiang (無何有之郷)”. The first word, “Wan
Wu Ji Tong”, meant that all creation was equal. Zhuangzi thought it ideal. To
enter into the details, he insisted that right or wrong, good or evil, truth or
falsehood, beauty or ugliness, wealth or poverty, life or death and so on,
which were regarded as opposite conceptions by other philosophers, were
meaningless and relative codes of value. The second word “Wu He You Zhi Xiang”
meant the empty world where it was wide but there was nothing shackled. He
regarded the world as ideal.
I would like
to quote a short story called “Becoming a butterfly in a dream” from the book “Zhuangzi”
and study his idea.
One day Zhuangzi dreamt that he became a butterfly in his dream. He was
flitting freely in the sky as a butterfly, before long he woke up and noticed that
he was still Zhungzi not a butterfly. He did not know whether he became a
butterfly or a butterfly became Zhuangzi in the dream. (My translation)
In this short
story, Zhuangzi described that there was no absolute difference between dream
and reality, and that both situations just denoted temporary aspects in the
widely and deeply from a long time ago. In the field of religion, it was
well-known from a long time ago that Taoism had an effect on “Shugendo (修験道)” which had been a
mountain religion from the Nara Period. In the field of medical science, we can
find its influence in the book “Yojokun (養生訓) written by Ekken Kaibara (貝原益軒) in the previous period of Edo.
We can say
the fundamentals of Taoism were to deny mighty forces and maintain a harmonious
balance with others by seeking small happiness with no desire.
Chapter 3 Legalism by Hanfeicius
regarded legalism as very important and insisted that a leader should command
his subjects by power of law and impel the policy of increasing a nation’s
wealth and military (富国強兵政策). There is a story called “Disservice by infringing on the role of
others (侵官之害)” in his book “Hanfeicius
『韓非子』”, which said that the
regulation was more important than human feeling or love. The short story was
as mentioned below.
Long ago, Zhao hou (昭侯), the king of Han (韓) Dynasty, was sleeping after drinking. The dian guan (典冠), or the member in charge
of the crown, thought that the king felt cold and he overlaid a jacket on the
body of the king. After a while, the king was very pleased after waking up and
said to his attendant, “Who did overlay this jacket on me?” and the attendant
answered, “The dian guan did”. Then the king punished both of the dian guan and
dian yi (典衣) who were in charge of
the clothes of the king. The reasons why the king punished the dian yi was that
he did not do his job, while the dian guan infringed on the role of others.
The punishment was done because of disservice by infringing on the role
of others, which was more dangerous than the problem of coldness that was the
problem for the king. (My translation)
Shi huang di
(始皇帝) in Qin (秦) Dynasty changed the
former policy by which he had given lands to the feudal lords and made them to
govern their people, into a new policy whereby he would govern all the people
only by himself as the emperor. He chose the system that all power was
centralized to the emperor and all the people were ruled by the emperor as the
absolute monarch. The emperor needed a lot of bureaucrats, who worked as his
instrument, under this system in order to rule over the whole country. It was
very important for him to set strict limits to the bureaucrats’ free will so
that they could never exceed their competence and infringe on the role of
system to control the bureaucrats was adopted by the dictator Shi huang di.
In the same
book there was an interesting short story titled “Er Bing (二柄)” concerning reward and
punishment by a monarch. This story described the importance of authority that
a monarch must maintain firmly, and insisted that if the monarch lost either of
the two powers, or reward and punishment, he was not able to maintain his
status as a monarch.
Now, let me cite another example, which was regarded as his central idea.
In the first place, the reason why the lion can make the dog obedient is
that the lion has claws and fangs. If the tiger gave up its claws and fangs and
the dog used them, the tiger would obey the dog. The monarch should rule his
subjects by authority of reward and punishment. Therefore, if the monarch
released authority and the subjects used authority, the monarch would obey the
subjects. (My translation)
In this short story, we can find the idea of “Xin
Shang Bi Fa (信賞必罰)” meaning that a monarch will give a reward to the subjects who achieved
good jobs, while he will severely punish the subjects who did wrong or betrayed
This idea was
adopted often by many leaders during warring states periods in Japan
as well in order that the leaders treated their followers. In recent times, we
can find the instance where the premier Bismarck of Germany adopted a similar
idea, which was called “carrot-and-stick policy”, or the policy of compromise
and punishment. Moreover, in the modern world, we can cite many examples of
this idea not only in America
but in major nations. The idea of “Xin Shang Bi Fa” became the methodology of
the policy of increasing a nation’s wealth and military in the world of
politics. To make matters worse, it often came to lead to expansionism and
aggressive policy. I dare to give a name to this policy as “Exvandalism”, a
coinage from “Expansionism and vandalism”.
Chapter 4 Conclusion
People say human beings have five desires:
appetite, sexuality, sleep, fame and wealth. Moreover, I would like to add
intellectual curiosity, and make them six desires. First three desires are
essential for human beings to live or leave offspring. The fourth desire is
very important in order that human beings live humanly unlike other creatures.
We can never deny that all of these desires, called libido by Freud, have
advanced civilization, advanced our society, developed our economy and improved
our condition. Of course, we are allowed to let out these desires within
are the only creatures that have desires for fame and wealth. In some cases
these two desires will be dangerous for us, if we have a strong passion for
fame or wealth. For instance, some strong leaders or dictators invaded other
countries or embarked on wars because they had these two desires strongly. Some
politicians wanted to become a great leader in a big country, others wanted to
have a lot of land in another country. Desires for fame and wealth never cease
till they are granted. We should know how to receive satisfaction within
I would like
to cite a short story called “Takasebune,” written by Ogai Mori who was one of
the most famous writers in Japan
and express myself in relation to the story. “Takasebune” was a ship that sent
prisoners under guard to a distant island in Edo Period. An officer Shobei and
prisoner Kisuke was on board. Kisuke killed his brother, who had been seriously
ill and tried to commit suicide, but the brother could not die after cutting
his throat by himself. Kisuke granted his brother’s request “Please kill me. My
throat is very painful.” and cut his brother’s throat. Thus Kisuke became a
criminal. Shobei wondered why Kisuke was smiling happily and asked Kisuke, “What
are you thinking now?” Kisuke answered “I suffered from extreme poverty till now. I had no
experience to have money inside my kimono. Howsoever I worked hard, I couldn’t
have my own money. The authorities gave me 200 mon as the money for hard work
at the island, which is probably small money for ordinary people, but it’s
enough for me.” Shobei was very surprised to learn that Kisuke didn’t have any
desire and thought Kisuke knew “Contentment represents great riches” or to know
sufficiency even if it’s not enough. Then Shobei speculated as to the life of
human beings and noticed that we have many kinds of desires, which don’t cease
in every point, but Kisuke could stop his desire and felt happy.
point of view, it is not easy to know “Contentment is great riches” but
important to realize. Many kinds of desires have advanced civilization and
improved our condition doubtlessly, but we should know how to control our desires
I will give support to Taoism for the reasons mentioned above. I will stand for
selflessness. It is not easy for the rich or the famous to do so, but I am not
either of them. In addition, I am not young by now and able to be contented
with honest poverty.
A list of References:
2002” (Written by Britannica Editors)
“Japan An illustrated
Encyclopedia 1993” <Edited by Edwin O. Reischauer, Ichiro Kato and
『儒家の思想』＜諸橋 轍次・鎌田 正 共編＞（大修館 １９８３）
『道家・法家の思想』＜諸橋 轍次・鎌田 正 共編＞（大修館 １９８３）
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