China's period of slave society disintegrated during the Spring
and Autumn Period, sometime after 700 BC. Progress in productivity
brought about drastic changes in social life and politics. Different
classes with different schools of thought were unprecedentedly
active, giving rise to a situation of ``many schools of thought
contending with each other," and promoting science and culture.
The major schools were those of the Confucianists, Moists Taoists
Legalists, military strategists, Logicians, and Political Strategists.
Among them, the works and doctrines of such famous thinkers and
military strategists as Lao Zi, Sun Zi and Sun Wu are still widely
circulated in the world today.
Lao Zi, founder of Taoism, lived during the Spring and Autumn
Period. Whether he was the true author of the book Dao De Jing
(The Book of Virtue) has long been in dispute. However, the
majority of scholars tend to believe that the book reflects his
thinking. Lao Zi used the concept of the "Dao" (Way)
to explain all changes in the universe, and put forward dialectical
ideas such as "Dao gives rise to one, one gives rise to two,
two gives rise to three and three gives rise to all other things",
"All things under Heaven came from something which in turn
came from nothing" and "Good fortune lies within bad,
bad fortune lurks within good". In aesthetics, he advocated
the concepts of "Great sound is rarely heard" and "Great
images have no forms". The theory of Lao Zi exerted a great
impact on the development of philosophy in China, and later scholars
made use of his thinking in various ways. The Dao De Jing
has been translated into many languages. Apart from its philosophical
views, the moral principles standing for universal love as expressed
in the following words "To honor others' aged people as we
honor our own; and to be kind to others' young as we are to our
own" are often quoted with approval by people today.
Confucius (551-479 BC) toured various states during the Spring
and Autumn Period advocating his ideas on right conduct, in order
to shore up aristocratic rule. Later he devoted his energy to
teaching by opening schools and enrolling some 3,000 students.
Among them, seventy-two were noted scholars who helped compile
ancient books and put his teachings into the book titled The
Analects. For 2,000 years, Confucianism was the dominating
force in the feudal society of China, exerting a significant impact
on the stability and moral principles of society. Having spread
to East and Southeast Asia, his thinking became an important guiding
ideology in many countries, making Confucius a world-level thinker.
Sun Wu was an outstanding military strategist in the late years
of the Spring and Autumn Period, and helped Ge Lu, king of the
State of Wu, to realize his ambitions. His book, The Art of
War, is the earliest writing on military strategies in the
world. Some of the strategies and tactics in the book are still
used in military affairs and even enterprise management, commercial
competition and sports competition today. The book spread to other
Asian countries, and further on to distant Europe as early as
the Tang Dynasty (618-907). It is said that Napoleon read The
Art of War during his campaigns and Emperor William II of
Germany once expressed regret that he had not read the book 20
years earlier. Now this book has been translated into a dozen
Wang Chong, who lived in the early years of the Eastern Han Dynasty
(25-220) was an outstanding materialist thinker in Chinese history.
His Discourses Weighed in the Balance is an ancient philosophical
work that illuminates plain materialist thinking. In the book,
he discusses the materialist concept of nature, refutes the idea
of ghosts and elaborates on "the response between Heaven
During the Ming Dynasty, new idealist theories, such as what
was advocated by Wang Shouren, emerged. At the same time, progressive
thinkers with democratic characteristics were also produced, Li
Zhi (1527-1602) being one of the most outstanding representatives
in this regard. He was opposed to the deification of Confucius,
arguing that it was unnecessary to consult Confucius on everything
and that Confucian theory should not be adopted as the only criteria
for judging right and wrong. He refuted the feudal class system,
opposed feudal rites and propagated equality between men and women.
His theories aroused official alarm, and consequently Li Zhi was
persecuted to death.