The Time of the Warring States in China happened at the end of the Zhou dynasty in 402-221 B.C.E. In this era of political and social confusion, schools of thought like Daoism, Confucianism and Legalism flourished. This resulted in a deep influence on the Chinese cultural and political traditions and life. The Confucianism school of thought emerged from the teachings and thinking of a personal educator called Confucius. Confucius emphasized on morality at its primary level and demanded that everybody, from politicians to family members, to must uphold moral values and standards. Confucius is credited with motivating the development of precursor modernistic bureaucratic system in China. He encouraged the development of ‘superior individuals’ referred to as junzi in Chinese who undertook a wide interest in public issues and did not allow their individual interests to meddle with their decisions.
Confucius students’ wrote a book titled The Analects that flourished Confucianism. Basically, Confucius argued that superior persons would form a superior government by obtaining a high value of moral integrity and a sense of fair judgment. The most significant virtues taught in Confucianism were kindness and compassion towards others (ren), a virtue of deference and propriety towards superiors and elders (li), and family piety which essentially taught children to respect their parents (xiao). In the context of these virtues, moral, excellent persons could lead by example and exercise fair judgments.
Daoism school of thought rose as an opposition criticism to the Confucianism teaching by stressing on the intrinsic reflection and internal rationalization on the natural forces that governs the universe. By concentrating on comprehension of these natural forces, Daoism argued that humans could learn how to live at peace with these natural forces. The famous founder of Daoism was a philosopher called Laozi. Laozi is considered as the author of the book titled Classic of the Way and of Virtue. The primary teaching of Daoism was keeping Dao or the Way, which referred to the natural or cosmos way. Daoism adherents believed that the cosmos comprised of an immortal, unchanging principle that governed all the operations of the universe. They believed that Dao did nothing but accomplished everything. By observing Dao principles, people would look internally and extricate themselves from the ambitions, conflicts, and activism of the wider social and political world. By separating themselves from this world, and looking internally into the fundamental, immortal principle of nature and the cosmos, individuals could live at peace with the cosmos. In turn, they will know how to live simply with this greater force of tranquility. Daoism advocated for a simplistic government structure that called for a shift from the expansive empires and kingdoms. The basic principle to be employed was wuwei that advocated for dissociation from the competitive experiences and active participation in the world’s affairs.
Legalism was the third school of thought that emerged during the Period of the Warring States period in China. It was an efficient, practical approach to statecraft and politics. The legalists dedicated all their attention to governing the state and sought to expand legal and political power by all possible means. Legalism initially began in the western China area from the philosophy of the chief minister of the Duke of the Qin who reigned in the region in around 390 B.C.E. The duke’s name was Shang Yang. Shang Yang and his students’ philosophy are documented in a book titled The Book of Lord Shang. The major promoter of Shang Yang’s legalist thought was Han Feizi, a counsel in Qin’s court who lived in 280-233 B.C.E. Han Feizi argued that the state’s strength was anchored in the military forces and pursuit of agriculture. Legalists were hence famous for channeling manpower to farming and military service rather than vocations like scholars, philosophers, artists, merchants, educators, and poets. Strict state laws were the basis of the Legalist perspective. Explicit expectations were articulated in these strict laws and people who violate them were punished. Furthermore, Legalists emphasized on the collective responsibility of communities and families and also stressed that people should report violations. Legalists also stressed that failing to report violations meant that a collective punishment would be meted on all in the community or family members.
Confucianism, Daoism and Legalist schools of thought are important in comprehension of the unification of China under the Qin in the third and fourth century B.C.E. from the legalist teachings, and the flourishing of the ancient Chinese culture and civilization under the Han dynasty from 206 B.C.E. onward. The school of thoughts also explains why the Hans dynasty survived for the next five hundred centuries by emphasizing Confucianism over Legalism. In real sense, majority of the centralization principles of legalism and Qin remained, though the Han dynastic governors sought to establish an educational system in the whole of China founded on Confucian thought. Under the most powerful Hans Dynasty governor Han Wudi, the Confucian school of thought was adopted as the de facto imperial ideology. Wudi was also famous for his aggressive expansionism and imperialist ambition to extend the Chinese empire. A number of the Hans’ dynasty achievements included the fast growth of the iron industry, the flourishing of the textile industry from increased demand of Chinese silk in Persia, India, and Mesopotamia, and the discovery of paper. These progress boosted Chinese economy, and subsequently the Han dynasty became the longest of all ancient Chinese dynasties, ruling for more than five centuries.