Traditional Ideas In Modern China

CHINA The Chinese Philosophies From 500 to 200 B.C., three schools of thought about human nature and the universe developed in China— Confucianism, Daoism, and Legalism. Confucius was born in 551 B.C. Motivated by Chinese society’s moral decay and violence, Confucius tried to convince those in power to follow his ideas; his followers wrote down his sayings in the Analects. Confucianism, the system of Confucius’s ideas, has been a basic part of Chinese history.

Confucius tried to show the Chinese how to restore order to society. Confucius’s ideas of duty and humanity are perhaps his most important. Duty dictates that individuals subordinate their needs to the needs of family and community. Most important is duty to parents. Finally, rulers must set a good example if society is going to prosper. Confucius’s idea of humanity emphasizes compassion and empathy towards others because “all men are brothers.” One of Confucius’s most historically important political ideas was that government service should not be limited to the rich and noble, but of those with superior talent and virtuous character. Daoism was a system of ideas based on the teachings of Laozi.

Daoism’s chief ideas are in the book Tao Te Ching (The Way of the Dao). It expresses the proper forms of behavior for people on Earth. Daoists believe that the way to follow the Dao is inaction, not action. People should act spontaneously and let nature take its course. Legalism was a third philosophy. Unlike Confucianism or Daoism, Legalism believed human beings were essentially evil. Legalism’s formula for social order was having a strong ruler and harsh, impersonal laws, both of which made people obedient through fear.

The Qin Dynasty (221–206 B.C.) The Qin dynasty emerged in 221 B.C. from China’s bloody civil wars between 400 B.C. and 200 B.C. Qin Shihuangdi established the dynasty. The Qin dynasty adopted Legalism. Political opponents of the regime (the government in power) were imprisoned or executed. Books that opposed the official views were burned. The Qin made the central government stronger. Qin Shihuangdi unified the Chinese world by creating a monetary system and a road system. The harsh rule of the Qin dynasty angered many people. The dynasty fell in 206 B.C. The Qin emperor was concerned with the Xiongnu, a nomadic people who lived near the Gobi. The Xiongnu had mastered warfare from horseback. They attacked the Chinese living in the north. To protect these people, Qin Shihuangdi built a system of walls called the Great Wall of China. The Great Wall standing today was built 1,500 years later.

Han Dynasty Politics:

[1750 BCE ‒ 1050]

Kept much of the Qin structure and ideology of Legalism, however, relied more on Confucian thought - - Confucian philosophy was used to legitimate rule and control society - - The emperor was the “Son of Heaven” and ruled by the “Mandate of Heaven.” - - Han government depended on local officials for the day-to-day administration of the empire - Han emperors allied themselves with the “gentry,” a group of moderately prosperous landowners and professionals.

Religion: The Han Dynasty adopted Confucianism as state orthodoxy. Its values, particularly the importance attached to filial piety, helped link central government to both local elites and the common people. In addition, the idea that human beings were part of an orderly, interconnected universe, and that good government echoed the regular workings of such a universe, cemented the notion of a single shared world—what the Chinese called “All-Under-Heaven.” The Confucian code of ethics was revived during the Han period - - In the Han period Daoism took root - - Daoism emphasized the need to harmonize with nature - - Kept much of the Qin structure and ideology of Legalism, however, relied more on Confucian thought.

Social class: Early Chinese thinkers divided society into four social classes: the literate elite who served as 1) government bureaucrats, 2) farmers, 3) craftsmen, 4) merchants The vast majority of the population was farmers. During the Han, social prestige and political power became closely associated with Confucian values and learning. The Confucian classics became the standard for public and private behavior. Filial piety—the respect and obedience owed to parents by their children—was at the core of the Confucian value system. These values remained unchallenged until the early twentieth century.

Women: Women, especially from higher social classes had more freedom in Han times than under later dynasties. Marriages were arranged as alliances between important families. A bride entered her husband's household, but powerful relatives ensured good treatment. Widows were permitted to remarry. Upperclass women often were educated. Extended family living was not common among the peasantry. Women worked in households and in town markets. At all levels, however, women were subordinate to men. Their most vital social function was to produce male children. Elder males dominated households and males received the greater share of family property. Political positions were reserved for males.

Extra: The Han dynasty established a cyclical pattern of dynastic succession and overthrow enduring until the 20th century. A core of lasting Chinese cultural values emerged: political unity, rule by an emperor and a professional bureaucracy, and scholar-gentry dominance.