Confucianism and Taoism: The Shaping Philosophies of China

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Eastern society is an enigma to many Westerners. Its cultural and technical traditions vary so greatly from those of western thought. What influences shaped China, the largest eastern civilization? It is said that the basis of western thought stems from the ideas and principles set out by Socrates and Plato and their contemporaries. In a similar vein it can be said that Confucian and Taoist principles are the basis of eastern thinking. It may not be so evident today, as technology shrinks our world, and western thought, carried on the back of commerce, invades the east, but Confucianism and Taoism are the two principle philosophies that shaped ancient and dynastic China, both culturally and politically.

Confucianism was based on the writings and teachings of Confucius or K'ung-fu-tzu (551BCE-479BCE) , from whom it derives its name. Confucius lived in what is known as the Spring-and-Autumn period in China (722 BCE- 481BCE) .

The Spring-and-Autumn period took place when the Zhou dynasty was diminishing in power. Aristocratic family-states established themselves in walled cities and began vying for power militarily and diplomatically . In this chaotic time with hundreds of competing armies on the loose all over China, many different philosophers and schools of philosophy established themselves, in the hopes of establishing peace and order. Many people yearned back for a golden age when legend had it that China had been at peace under one ruler . Confucius was one of these philosophers, although his teachings did not immediately quell the violence, they became important later on.

Confucius believed that social interactions could be modelled on a series of a few simple relationships based on the family . These relationships generally consisted of one dominant party and one servile party, for instance father-son, husband-wife, or master-servant .