Chinese philosophy

Chinese philosophy is the collective name for philosophical thought in China since around the time of the Zhou Dynasty. Through its influence on the East Asian cultural sphere of China, Japan, Korea and Taiwan, it has a similar position as the ancient Greek philosophy in the context of European thought in the context of Eastern philosophy. Despite the diversity of the Chinese philosophy of Confucianism occupies a central position.

  • 2.3.1 Han period (3rd century BC - 3rd century AD)
  • 2.3.2 Tang period (6th - 10th century)
  • 2.3.3 Song dynasty (10th - 13th century)
  • 2.3.4 17 - 18th century
  • 3.1 harmony of heaven, earth and man
  • 3.2 The five- element theory and Yin / Yang
  • 3.3 The highest principle of world



Origins (since 10th century BC )

The origins of Chinese philosophy dating back to the period around 1000 BC At that time, the I Ching ( Yijing ), the Book of Changes was created. It is one of the oldest literary works in Chinese language and was later understood as a source of cosmological and philosophical thought, especially by connecting to the ( much later trained ) Yin -Yang theory: The basic idea is that all existence from the legitimate change the fundamental forces of Yin and Yang is apparent. The individual states of this change are symbolized by 8 times 8 hexagrams.

Classical Period (6th - 3rd centuries BC)

The classical Chinese philosophy adopted in the period of the Hundred Schools of the 6th century BC to the start of the Qin Dynasty in 221 BC shape.


The classic begins in the 6th century BC, Confucius ( 551-479 BC). Confucius has not ordered his views in a closed system, but they have been handed down to us by his students in the form of interviews and anecdotes. In the center of his thinking is the sky concept. Heaven ( Tian ) is with him an impersonal being, although it occasionally carries anthropomorphic features. It provides absolute moral imperatives, which include both the duties and virtues of the ruler and the subjects of the people. Morality has so far Confucius a metaphysical basis, as it believes that it is the expression of an immutable universal law that in a cosmic harmony governs the course of history corresponding manner.

The Confucian ethics is based on the idea that man is inherently good and that all evil is caused to him by a lack of insight. The purpose of education is therefore to convey the right knowledge. The best means to do so is the study of history, with the great figures of the past provide the models, which you can emulate. The deference to parents is the first duty. But even beyond the family, there is a commitment to the earth as a whole.

The social life is regulated according to Confucian conception of the five relations (Chinese五 伦/五 伦, Pinyin wǔlún ): Father - son, husband - wife, older brother - younger brother, Prince - subject, friend - friends. From these relationships, each have different obligations arise.

As a practical rule of action Confucius recommends the Golden Rule, " What desirest not even, do not do to others. " Justice has its limits when it gets to the piety in conflict. Be such as the son of the father does not indicate when the father stole a sheep:

The moral ideal is the " noble " man dar. Its mission is to raise the entirety of the people to a higher moral level. His behavior is characterized by Polite, deference to authority, caring for the people. He is just and cares only about the truth, not about itself


The second major form of the classical era is Laozi ( 6 to 3 century BC) dar. Of his life, apart from a legend in Sima Qian (ca. 145-86 BC), in he appears as an older contemporary of Confucius, teachers, little is known. The designated attributed to him work that the Tao Te Ching, often referred to simply as " Laozi ", next to the Zhuangzi is the basic book of Taoism. It is the most translated work of the Far East. In its implications for the Asian region, there are the works of Plato for the Western philosophy alike.

The book ( Jing ) is about the World Act ( Dao, Chinese道, Pinyin dào ) and his work ( De,德Chinese, Pinyin dé ). The Dao is " the constant, true way ", " path without a path, a path that occurs under your very feet, by walking it ." In order to go this route and participate in the Dao can, it requires the De. A person who has De, according to the Tao Te Ching, although not light in the eyes of his fellows, but he seems very agreeable to this. He adds to harm anybody, he does good to friends and enemies, he asks nothing for himself, but also promotes through its not-doing the beneficent operation of all things. The seeker he is a role model, the worldly people no obstacle. The Dao is characterized by simplicity, lack of words, spontaneity and naturalness. It follows its own nature (自然chinese /自然, Pinyin ziran ) and is a "doing without doing" ( Wu Wei, Chinese无为/无为, Pinyin Wuwei ).

Following the example of the Dao and the actions of the wise is a non-action ( wu wei ). This means not merely doing nothing, but a natural act, without unnecessary intervention in the course of events: " The practice non-action: so everything is in order."

Laozi ethics differs in this respect to that of Confucius. It stresses the importance of living in harmony with nature, while the area of culture is more prominent in the background.

The post-classical period until the colonization

Han period (3rd century BC - 3rd century AD)

In the Han period (206 BC - 220 AD), the Confucian writings to be canonized; Confucianism evolves to state ideology. There are added elements of the Yin -Yang school and the I Ching. In the period of fragmentation of the Empire ( 200-600 ), Confucianism and Taoism disappears is predominant.

Tang period (6th - 10th century)

Between 500 and 900, in the time of the Tang Dynasty - Buddhism is the dominant ideological trend in China. Until about AD to 6th century BC, the Chinese philosophy (汉字, pinyin hanzi Japanese Kanji, kor Han writing, Chinese汉字/. Hanja ) used together with the Chinese writing all over East Asia and mingled with local ( matriarchy, Shinto ) and national (Buddhism ) teachings.

Song dynasty (10th - 13th century)

In the Song Dynasty (960-1280) of the Neo - Confucianism, which integrated into the classical elements of Taoism, Confucianism and Buddhism arises. The Neo - Confucianism developed into two schools. The monistic school - represented by Cheng Hao (1032-1085) - emphasizes the unity of the cosmos and I and focuses on the inward consciousness. The dualistic school - represented by Cheng Yi (1033-1107) and Zhu Xi (1130-1200), so called " Cheng- Zhu school" - disagrees firmly against the opposition of the cosmos and I. Zhu Xi interprets the Tian into a purely spiritual and transcendent universal reason, which is the essence of heaven and earth. It is different from the world and matter, and brings them forth. Among the Confucian thinkers of the Ming Dynasty, Wang Yangming protrudes (1472-1528), which represents an idealistic philosophy. The reason is with him the highest world principle, there is nothing outside her. The intuition is the primary source of knowledge; she also corresponds to the conscience.

17th - 18th century

In the 17th and 18th century, the " school of reality" (有 宗Chinese, Pinyin shixue ) arises. She is a Confucian revival movement, which rejects the written comments to the classical writings of the Sung and Ming period, which included her too much speculative. She champions a more on practical life oriented interpretation of Confucianism and explains the original comments from the Han period to the highest authority. During this time the initial reception of Chinese philosophy in Europe falls ( Malebranche, Leibniz, Wolff).

The development since the colonization ( 19th - 20th century)

Towards the end of the 19th century begins under the growing pressure of the colonial powers, the collapse of traditional Chinese philosophy. The attempt at a synthesis between traditional Confucianism and Western approaches fails.

At the beginning of the 20th century Western philosophy becomes dominant in China. From influence include Charles Darwin, Ernst Haeckel, Henry James, Karl Marx, Immanuel Kant, Arthur Schopenhauer and Friedrich Nietzsche. Hu Shi (1891-1962) attempts to connect to ancient Chinese traditions with the modern pragmatism. Feng Youlan (1895-1990) builds on Zhu Xi and tries to link Confucianism with Western rationalism.

Since the mid- 20s Marxism gets into the heart of the discussion, which included its first representatives Chen Duxiu and Li Dazhao.

After the founding of the People 's Republic of China ( 1949), a radical shift begins. The main objectives are the development of Marxist philosophy and critical engagement with the Chinese tradition.

Basic concepts of Chinese thought

The following terms are not really about " philosophical " terms, but traditional, originally pre-philosophical, partly religious, partly medical concepts of Chinese culture that have found their way into various philosophical currents and then learn each different Umprägungen.

Harmony of heaven, earth and man

Frequently encountered is the idea of ​​the four components of nature ( ziran ,自然, " all by itself -so- be " ): human (ren ,人), Earth ( di ,地), Heaven ( tian ,天) and " Dao " ( walk, run ,道). You are in a close reciprocal relationship and are governed all encompassing in their own naturalness. In a thought, all integrated into one unit, all phenomena in the macrocosm have their equivalent. This regulatory principle is also the human society. The prerequisite for a happy life is the harmony with the universe. The run ( Dao ) in nature, in the community and in detail are mutually dependent. A disturbance in one area always has interference in the other areas result.

The five- element theory and Yin / Yang

The Chinese thought is familiar with the five elements of wood, fire, metal, water and earth, which are not taken as a material substances, but as forces:

  • Wood: the organic rising from the inside to form end
  • Fire: the inflamed Falling
  • Earth: the ground, the balance of the mid-
  • Metal: the outward form of the end
  • Water: the down -relieving

The five elements have their counterparts in various states of change of heaven, earth and man. In later times, the doctrine of the five elements associated with the originally from Divinatorik Yin -Yang theory: The elements are then no eternal substances last longer, but owe their existence to the two polar and correlative principles of Yin and Yang. These are opposing principles that can not fight, but rather complement and their interaction produce all the phenomena of the cosmos. Yin and Yang are mainly in Daoism turn the two sides of the All-One, in constant change nascent beings.

The highest principle of world

The highest principle is expressed by three different terms in Chinese thought: Shangdi (上帝), and Tian Dao.

Shangdi literally means the highest or upper Ahn, ie a God who resides at a fixed point in the sky and under the eyes is going on world events. He must also serve kings. He is the author of what is happening to everything but itself remains while idle. Shangdi manifests as a personification of order in nature, morality, and in the rite. Through him the fullness of disjointed individual phenomena of the world joined together to form a greater whole. ( Originally Shangdi the deity of the Shang Dynasty, but was later replaced by the deity of the Zhou, the sky (天Chinese, Pinyin Tian ), displaced. )

Instead of Shangdi appear in many texts of Heaven ( tian ) as the highest principle of world. He is the source of all things, who brings everything together with its subordinate his " wife " of the earth. The concept of Tian roughly equivalent to that of the Shangdi. However, the human-like traits are even lower. From it is expressly said that he was not persuaded that it works silently and without a trace.

Dao originally means "way", especially the way the stars in the sky. But the word also referred to the " meaningful " way that leads to the goal, the order and the law, which acts in all. In the Tao Te Ching, the Dao was first shown as the highest principle. The Dao is as something substantial, albeit invisible thought. For some philosophers, it becomes the primary substance from which all things have become. It is sometimes spoken of as a personal being.