By Nicholas Miller

The Warring States Period of Ancient China (480- 230 BCE) saw the rise of the golden age of Chinese philosophy. Numerous philosophies were developed on how to man should govern itself, how to be a good person, and how should one pursue one’s life.

Confucianism (儒家) became the prominent state philosophy within Ancient China whose influence spread throughout East Asia and is still a defining feature in most modern East Asian countries. The philosopher Kǒng Fūzǐ (551-478 BC), known to the West as Confucius, developed its ethical philosophy. In his writings,The Analects, he stresses that good governance is attained through cultivating virtue and developing strong morality as the methods of ruling over the people.

  • Filial Piety and Five Bonds

The core of his ideas focused on familial relationships and filial piety, which he believed was key for proper governance. The leader is to act like a responsible father and treat his subjects like his children. Confucius considered filial piety to be one of the greatest virtue that all people should strive to achieve is the reverence of one’s parents and ancestors. Additionally, there were five bonds that are needed to create a harmonious relations were: Ruler to subject, father to son, husband to wife, elder brother to younger brother, and friend to friend. These roles are held together through filial piety and reverence for authority as the Emperor is seen as father to the people. The practice of filial piety and the five relationships serves as the foundation for the creation of becoming the ideal citizen. Confucius believed that if filial piety was practiced at home it would not lead to people becoming rebellious against the state and promote loyalty to the ruler.[1]

  • Loyalty (忠)

One is to obey their rulers as long as they were force of morality and virtue and held the Mandate of Heaven. Loyalty was seen as an extension of the five relationships.

  • Humanity– rén ( 仁)

Confucius felt this was necessary for one to be virtuous and moral person. If a person has not properly cultivated this then one can never get the loyalty of other people. If a ruler was lacking rén then the people will not follow him. People are moved to join a leader through morality and virtue of a leader rather the use of force.

To Confucius the ideal human was a Jūnzǐ (君子), was a person who has perfected virtue and lives a moral life. They were the perfect scholar-gentleman. This is a lifelong process but a Jūnzǐ was to work on the perfection of cultivating themselves morally, follow filial piety and be loyal to his ruler, and cultivate rén, and act with benevolence.


  • Meritocracy

Confucius desired that the creation of a meritocratic society. He felt that nobility should not be based on blood lineage but rather through an individual’s virtue and scholarly knowledge. It was through the study of Confucian texts that the civil servants exams in Ancient China were based on.

  • Confucian leaders

It is through the leader’s guidance he acts like the model for all others to follow. If the leader is instep with the Way of Heaven and ruling through proper morality and virtue then all will be well with kingdom. There would be no corruption, rebellions would not happen within the kingdom, nor would natural disasters strike the country. The Chinese people viewed all of these events as being directly linked to heaven’s view of a leader. If kingdoms were beset with natural disasters, plagues, and corruption this was taken as a sign that a leader has lost of the mandate of heaven and would necessitate the overthrowing of the ruler. This was further expounded in the writing of the key ancient Confucian writers Mencius (372-289BC).[2]

During the 20th century Confucianism fell out of favour as the Qing Empire collapsed because it was blamed as one of the reasons as to why China was not able to compete with European foreign powers. During the Cultural Revolution the Red Guards destroyed any relics of China’s past that were seen as feudalistic or an obstacle to China’s modernizing. It is only recently that Confucianism been experiencing a resurgence within China.[3] The CCP has been looking to Confucianism to fill the ideological void after losing socialism as a way to bind the people together. Confucianism is the most logical path for the CCP promotes the ideas that the people respect authority, avoiding conflict, and lead an ethical life.[4]

In addition to Confucianism Ancient China had two other schools of thought – Taoism and Legalism.

  • Taoism (道家)

The mythical sage Laozi founded Taoism in the 6th century BC. Taoist most well known text is the Tao Te Ching. Taoist scholars have categorized Taoism into two categories- Philosophical Taoism- which focuses more on the writings in the Tao Te Ching and other Taoists philosophers and Religious Taoism. It should be known that the major texts of Daoism were composite texts compiled over centuries by anonymous authors and editors. Taoist texts are often cryptic in nature and meant to be studied and understood by a select elite. Since Taoism was never a unified religion or philosophy it never grew to political dominance as Confucianism did throughout China’s history. Some of the more famous Taoist philosophers were Yang Chu and Zhuangzi. Taoist philosophers were not as concerned with the Confucian ideals of the cultivation of virtue, filial piety, etc rather focusing on individual expression and living within nature.[5]

(More information on Taoism can be found here:

  • Legalism (法家)

Legalism was one of the major philosophical school that came about during the Warring State Period of Ancient China. The most famous philosopher from this school was Han Fei Zi, who served the First Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang. Legalism was a ulititarian political philosophy and that believed in the absoluteness in the rule of law. All people under the emperor were equal under the law. There was no sense of individual rights or personal freedoms and saw the state as supreme. Legalist philosophy zenith occurred during the rule of Qin Shi Huang. It was since later discredited by later imperial dynasties.

(More information on legalist political philosophy can be found here –

[1] Lee Dain Rainey, Confucius and Confucianism: The Essentials, p. 27.

[2] For further general information on Confucianism please consult: For counter-arguments please see Antony Ou’s series of articles at Political Reflection (From Issue No.1 to No.4), CESRAN. The Political Reflection Magazines can be downloaded via the following link:

[3] For more information please see Miller, Nicholas J.S. Pragmatic Nationalism and Confucianism: The New Ideology of the CCP:

[4] Maureen Fan, “Confucius Making a Comeback in Money- Driven China,” Washington Post, 07/24/2007,

[5] Yang Chu’s Garden of Pleasure: The Philosophy of Individuality, Astrolog Publishing House, 2005, p. 4

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