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Three Chinese Schools Of Thought Essay Research

Three Chinese Schools Of Thought Essay, Research Paper The Three Schools Joseph Kemling Chinese Civ Essay 2 The three schools of thought-Confucian, Taoist, and Legalist, all have different views and

Three Chinese Schools Of Thought Essay, Research Paper

The Three Schools Joseph Kemling

Chinese Civ

Essay 2

The three schools of thought-Confucian, Taoist, and Legalist, all have different views and

reasons as to whether or not the United States should be involved in the conflict in Kosovo. Each

school perceived Tao in different ways and had different view?s on human nature. To consider how

each school would take its side on this issue, we must first have some background information on the

schools.

Confucius was one of the main contributors of the Confucian school of thought. He had one

overwhelming message: if men are to achieve a state of orderliness and peace, they need to return to

traditional values of virtue. These values are based entirely on one concept: jen , which is best

translated as “humaneness,” but can also mean “humanity,” “benevolence,” “goodness,” or “virtue.”

This humaneness is a relatively strange concept to Western eyes, because it is not primarily a

practicable virtue. Rather, the job of the “gentleman,” ch’?n tzu , was to concentrate on the highest

concepts of behavior even when this is impractical or foolish. Like his contemporaries, Confucius

believed that the human order in some way reflected the divine order, or the patterns of heaven. More

than anything, for Confucius the ancients understood the order and hierarchy of heaven and earth; as

a result, Confucius established the Chinese past as an infallible model for the present.(Reader p.

81)

What is incumbent on individual people is to determine the right pattern to live and govern

by; this can be achieved by studying the sage-kings and their mode of life and government and by

following rituals scrupulously, for the pattern of heaven is most explicitly inscribed on the various

rituals, li , prescribed for the conduct of everyday life. Neglecting ritual, or doing rituals incorrectly,

demonstrated a moral anarchy or disorder of the most egregious kind. These heavenly patterns were

also inscribed in the patterns of music and dance, y?eh , so that order in this life could be attained by

understanding and practicing the order of traditional and solemn music and dance. Music and dance

are talked about constantly in the Confucian writings. Why? Because traditional music and dance

perfectly embody the humaneness and wisdom of their composers, who understood perfectly the

order of the world and heaven; one can create within oneself this wisdom by properly performing this

music and dance.(Reader p. 97)

Taoism is, along with Confucianism, the most important strain of Chinese thought through the

ages. It is almost entirely different from Confucianism, but not contradictory. It ranges over entirely

different concerns, so that it is common for individuals, philosophers, Chinese novels or films, etc., to

be both Confucianist and Taoist. The Taoist has no concern for affairs of the state, for mundane or

quotidian matters of administration, or for elaborate ritual; rather Taoism encourages avoiding public

duty in order to search for a vision of the transcendental world of the spirit. (Website)

Taoism is based on the idea that behind all material things and all the change in the world lies

one fundamental, universal principle: the Way or Tao. This principle gives rise to all existence and

governs everything, all change and all life. Behind the bewildering multiplicity and contradictions of

the world lies a single unity, the Tao. The purpose of human life, then, is to live life according to the

Tao, which requires passivity, calm, non-striving (wu wei ), humility, and lack of planning, for to

plan is to go against the Tao .The text of Lao Tzu is primarily concerned with portraying a model of

human life lived by the Tao; later writers will stress more mystical and magical aspects. But Lao Tzu

was, like Confucius, Mo Tzu, and Mencius, also concerned with the nature of government; he

believed unquestioningly in the idea that a government could also exist in accordance with the Tao.

What would such a government look like? It would not wage war, it would not be complex, it would

not interfere in people’s lives, it would not wallow in luxury and wealth, and, ideally, it would be

inactive, serving mainly as a guide rather than as a governor. There were people who tried to

translate Lao Tzu into real political action during the Han dynasty; these were, as you might imagine,

spectacular failures. Taoism is frequently called in China, “The Teachings of the Yellow Emperor

and Lao Tzu,” or “The Teachings of Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu.” Now, Chuang Tzu (369-286 B.C.)

was a real person; his teachings come down to us in a short collection of his sayings. The Yellow

Emperor is entirely mythical. This Lao Tzu, however, we know nothing about; we cannot say with

certainty if he existed and when; on the other hand, we cannot say with certainty that he did not exist.

All we know is that we have a very short book, the Lao Tzu (or Tao te ching), whose author is

supposed to be Lao Tzu. The book is hard to read (as is Chuang Tzu), for one of the underlying

principles of Taoism is that it can not be talked about. Hence, Lao Tzu uses non-discursive writing

techniques: contradiction, paradox, mysticism, and metaphor.(Reader p. 82)

The Legaliats presented a first in Chinese government: the application of a philosophical

system to government. And despite their dismal failure and subsequent demonization throughout

posterity, the philosophical and political innovations they practiced had a lasting effect on the nature

of Chinese government.

The basic starting point for the early Confucianists (Confucius and Mencius) was that human

beings were fundamentally good; every human was born with te , or “moral virtue.” The third great

Confucianist of antiquity, Hs?n Tzu (fl. 298-238 B.C.), believed exactly the opposite, that all human

beings were born fundamentally depraved, selfish, greedy, and lustful. However, this was not some

dark and pessimistic view of humanity, for Hs?n Tzu believed that humans could be made good

through acculturation and education (which is the basic view of society in Europe and America from

the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries: humans are fundamentally base and vulgar but can be taught

to be good and refined). His pupil, Han Fei Tzu, began from the same starting point, but determined

that humans are made good by state laws. The only way to check human selfishness and depravity

was to establish laws that bountifully rewarded actions that benefit others and the state and ruthlessly

punish all actions that harmed others or the state. For Confucius, power was something to be wielded

for the benefit of the people, but for Han Fei, the benefit of the people lay in the ruthless control of

individual selfishness. Since even the emperor cannot be counted on to behave in the interests of the

people, that is, since even the emperor can be selfish, it is necessary that the laws be supreme over

even the emperor. Ideally, if the laws are written well enough and enforced aggressively, there is no

need of individual leadership, for the laws alone are sufficient to govern a state. (Website)

When the Ch’in gained imperial power after decades of civil war, they adopted the ideas of

the Legalists as their political theory. In practice, under legalists such as Li Ssu (d. 208 B.C.) and

Chao Kao, the Legalism of the Ch’in dynasty (221-207) involved a uniform totalitarianism. People

were conscripted to labor for long periods of time on state projects, such as irrigation projects or the

series of defensive walls in northern China which we know as the Great Wall; all disagreement with

the government was made a capital crime; all alternative ways of thinking, which the Legalists saw as

encouraging the natural fractiousness of humanity, were banned. The policies eventually led to the

downfall of the dynasty itself after only fourteen years in power. Local peoples began to revolt and

the government did nothing about it, for local officials feared to bring these revolts to the attention of

the authorities since the reports themselves might be construed as a criticism of the government and

so result in their executions. The emperor’s court did not discover these revolts until it was far too

late, and the Ch’in and the policies they pursued were discredited for the rest of Chinese history.

(Reader p. 82)

But it is not so easy to dismiss Legalism as this short, anomalous, unpleasant period of

totalitarianism in Chinese history, for the Legalists established ways of doing government that would

profoundly influence later governments. First, they adopted Mo Tzu’s ideas about utilitarianism; the

only occupations that people should be engaged in should be occupations that materially benefited

others, particularly agriculture. Most of the Ch’in laws were attempts to move people from useless

activities, such as scholarship or philosophy, to useful ones. This utilitarianism would survive as a

dynamic strain of Chinese political theory up to and including the Maoist revolution. Second, the

Legalists invented what we call “rule of law,” that is, the notion that the law is supreme over every

individual, including individual rulers. The law should rule rather than individuals, who have

authority only to administer the law. Third, the Legalists adopted Mo Tzu’s ideas of uniform

standardization of law and culture. In order to be effective, the law has to be uniformly applied;

no-one is to be punished more or less severely because of their social standing. This notion of

“equality before the law” would, with some changes, remain a central concept in theories of Chinese

government. In their quest for uniform standards, the Ch’in undertook a project of standardizing

Chinese culture: the writing system, the monetary system, weights and measures, the philosophical

systems (which they mainly accomplished by destroying rival schools of thought). This

standardization profoundly affected the coherence of Chinese culture and the centralization of

government; the attempt to standardize Chinese thought would lead in the early Han dynasty (202

B.C.-9 A.D.) to the fusion of the rival schools into one system of thought, the so-called Han

Synthesis.(Website)

With this background information, I believe that the Confucianists and the Legalists would

support the U.S. involvement in Kosovo; while the Taoists would be against it. The Confucianists

would view it as their duty to help out the people in Kosovo, and to stop the atrocities that are

occurring there. Not getting involved would be not being virtuous. The power of the United States

should be wielded to help the people and the state.

The Legalists would also support involvement in Kosovo, but for a different reason than the

Confucianists. They would see it as their right to show tough love to the Yugoslavians. They would

want to support the UN?s decision that no country can break the law and not be punished. Once the

Yugoslav?s were punished, they would see the light as to what is the proper thing to do. The

Legalists believed that

only punishing Yugoslavia for their bad behavior would benifit the world and give it order.

The Taoists would not support the U.S. involvement in Kosova for many reasons. The

Taoists believe in the virtues of inaction. They believed that the purpose of human life, then, is to

live life according to the Tao, which requires passivity, calm, non-striving (wu wei ), and humility.

The Taoists would therefore not engage in an aggressive attack in Kosovo.

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