Confucianists -

Taoists -

Buddhists -

Naturalists -(Yin-Yang Chia) - Theory of Two Forces and Five Elements

Legalists - Developed ideas of Hsun Tzu

Logicians -

Mohists -

Skeptics -

Idealist (Sung and Ming) -

Materialists -


Theory of Five Elements

Back to 350-270 BCE. to Tsou Yen, founder of Chinese scientific thought. May not have invented theory but stabilized it. Recorded in Shih Chi - Historical Record. His far reaching sayings not in accord with classics. Classified mountains, rivers, birds, water, soil . Had great social importance and prestige. His ideas threatened rulers since doctrine of Naturalists half scientific, half political . Spoke of 5 Elements or Virtues, each followed by next it can not conquer. Extended such that every ruler reigned by virtue of one of the elements, providing theory for rise and fall of dynasties. (Mutual or Cyclic Conquest) Therefore:

Naturalist view partly speculative, partly based on observation and on practical arts: astronomy, alchemy (older than alchemy elsewhere in the world), calendar making; also magic.

Description of 5 Elements from Shih Chi:

"As for the 5 Elements, the first is called Water, the second Fire, the third Wood, the fourth Metal, and the fifth Earth. Water [is the quality of Nature] which we describe as soaking and descending. Fire [is the quality in Nature] which we describe as blazing and uprising. Wood [is the quality of Nature] which permits of curved surfaces or straight edges. Metal [is the quality of Nature] which can follow [the form of the mold] and then become hard. Earth [is the quality of Nature] which permits of sowing, [growth] and reaping".

That which soaks, drips and descends causes saltiness. That which blazes, heats and rises up generates bitterness. That which permits of curved surfaces or straight edges gives sourness. That which can follow [the form of a mold] and then become hard produces acridity. That which permits of sowing, [growth] and reaping, gives rise to sweetness".

Elements not so much 5 kinds of matter, but more like 5 fundamental processes. Again, ideas concentrate on relation not substance or matter. From the description the following table an be constructed.

ELEMENT property/process modern equivalent associated taste
water soaking, dripping, descending (dissolve) liquidity, fluidity, solution saltiness


fire heating, burning, ascending heat, combustion bitterness
wood accepting form by submit to carving, instruments solidity involving workability sourness
metal accepting form by molding solidity involving congealing and re-congealing acridity
earth producing edible vegetation nutritive sweetness

5 element theory attempt to classify properties of material things, but properties that would be become apparent when they were undergoing change. Elements - where 5 forces in ever-flowing cyclic motion, not passive, motionless substances.

Characteristics of 5 Elements:

Parallels with West Elements:

Difference are greater than similarities, suggest no transmission

Interpretation of Theory change with time, become more political and associated with lore in Han Era. - govt. or social changes would lead to dislocation of 5 Element process on Earth and heavens. Becomes increasingly connected to prophecy and divination. Ex: "When we see the cyclical sign ping-tzu arrive, the element Fire begins it reign. If the emperor now takes hurried and hasty measures, epidemics will be caused by drought , plants will die and the people will perish. After 72 days this period is over.: or, Confucian natural philosopher, Tung Chung-Shu, 135 BCE, "Thus Wood has its place in the east and has authority over the chhi of spring. Fire has its place in the south, and has authority of the chhi of summer. Metal has its place in the west, and has authority over the chhi of autumn. Water has its place in the north and has authority over the chhi of winter. This being so. Wood takes charge of life-giving, and Metal of death dealing; Fire of heat, Water of Cld, Men have no choice but to go by this succession. Officials have no choice but to operate according to these powers. For such are the calculations of Heaven".

Incorporated in Han political ideas but proto-scientific aspects rejected by Confucians. Alchemy and pharmaceutical components not lost in process, since absorbed into Taoist ideas.

Stabilized 5 Element Theory from Han Era: Enumeration Order, Symbolic Correlations

Enumeration Orders: Orders in which 5 elements names in various times.

  1. The Cosmogonic order - order elements came into being (w F W M E) (water, Fire, Wood, Metal Earth) Start with water
  2. Mutual Production (generation) order (W F E M w) order in which elements supposed to give rise to one another
  3. Mutual Conquest (control) order (W M F w E) series in which each element conquer predecessor. Most venerable order since associated with Tsou Yen himself. Based on logic and experience. Ex: Metal conquer Wood because it can cut and carve it; Fire conquer Metal for it can melt and vaporize it. water conquer Fire since it can extinguish it. Earth conquer water since it can dam it and contain it. Important politically since explain course of history.
  4. The Modern Order (M W w F E) - obscure significance. Found even in nursery rhymes.

    starchinelement.gif (4342 bytes)

    Two important principles that determine rate of change:

    Principle of Control: (from Mutual Conquest Order) - given process of conquest controlled by element that conquers the conqueror. Ex: Metal conquers Woods but Fire controls the process. Logical flow of thought, useful in interesting ways.: abundance of various forms that prey on one another in a sequence depend on size, habits. Increase in number of birds, indirectly benefit population of greenfly since thinning effect (conquest of) ladybirds which earth the greenfly but are themselves eaten (controlled) by the birds. Criticism: Nothing every happen since control cyclic. But Chinese believed that all elements not necessarily present at once. Also social consequences.

    Principle of Masking: depends on both Mutual Production and Mutual Conquest Orders - Refers to masking of a process of change by some other process which creates more of the material than is being destroyed or makes it faster. Thus wood destroys (conquers) Earth, but Fire masks the process since Fire will destroy Wood and made Earth (ash) at a greater rate than Wood can destroy Earth.

    Both principles contain quantitative ideas. Conclusions depend on quantities, speeds, rates.

Symbolic Correlations

5 Elements came to be associated with every conceivable category of things in the universe that was possible to classify in 5's. Examples:

category wood fire earth metal water
directions east south center west north
tastes sour bitter sweet acrid salty
smells goatish burning fragrant rank rotten
heav. body stars sun earth constellation moon
planets Jupiter Mars Saturn Venus Mercury
weather wind heat thunder cold rain
Yin/Yang lesser Yang great. Yang equal lesser Yin greater Yin
psycho/func. demeanor vision thought speech hearing
govt. style relaxed enlightened careful energetic quiet
colors green red yellow white black
dom. anim. sheep fowl ox dog pig
viscera spleen lungs heart kidney liver
body parts muscles pulse-blood flesh skin/hair bones
sense organ eye tongue mouth nose ear
affect anger joy desire sorrow fear
musical scale pe- nt- at- on- ic scale
changes germinate grow transform reap store

Different groups compile by different scholars. Ex: Astronomers, Naturalists, Agriculture, Medicine. Medical Philosophers developed 6 folds series, complementing or replacing 5 fold series form scientific thinkers. (6 External Yang Organs and 6 Internal Yin Organs).

Correlations met with criticism, since led to many absurdities as pointed out by Wang Chhung, 1st cent. ACE. example: "...animals do not overpower one another with Fire, and the rat with water. If Water rally conquers Fire [it would be much more convincing if] rats normally attached horses and drove them away." In spite of criticism, correlations helpful to scientific thought in China. No worse than 5 elements of Greeks which dominated European thought. Description of chemical reactions, which were viewed as transmutations, are accurate, but reasons not understood.

Theory of Two Fundamental Forces - Yin/Yang: 4th Cent. BCE

Know more about the 5 Element Theory than 2 fundamental forces since no appear in remaining fragments of Tsou Yen works, even though his school was called the Yin-Yang Chia.

Associative Thinking and Its Significance

5 Elements and Two Forces are two principles behind scientific ideas. Since not everything groups into 5-fold arrangement, they could be grouped in other ways (4, 9, 28, etc.). Wider approach gave rise to number mysticism, trying to relate various numerical groups to each other. Critics suggest this associative thinking prevented rise of scientific theory in China. Did it contribute something positive?

Primitive magic operates on two principles: Law of Similarity - like produces like; and Law of Contagion - things that have once been in contact, but no longer in contact, still continue to act upon on another. These two laws lie behind Chinese correlation and associations. Hugh tables compiled for magical motives, which probably nurtured early science everywhere. Provide a guide for choosing conditions in intuitive way.

Associative thinking, uses intuition, has internal logic, and own laws of cause and effect. It is not superstition, but reasonable within its own standards. Differs from modern science, where emphasis on external causes. Classify ideas not in series of ranks, but side by side in patterns. Influences one another not by mechanical causes but by kind of induction. (pg. 163)

What is important in early Chinese thinking is Order and Pattern; Things behave in certain way not because of prior actions of other things, but because of position in every-changing cyclic universe. If didn't behave in certain way would lose position and relation to other things. Nothing uncaused, but nothing was caused mechanically. Everything fit into its place in Universe and act based on external cycle. Changes are made in relation to something else and give regularity in Universe. The Universe was ordered, governed not by creator/lawgiver by mechanistic math, but by harmony of properties

Hence, thought shouldn't be considered primitive, since if it where, anything could cause anything else. Everything would be credible, nothing impossible or absurd.


  1. way taken by Greeks: refine ideas of causation, ultimately ending with a mechanical view of the world (like Democritus)
  2. way taken by Chinese: systematize the universe of things and events into a structural pattern which determines mutual influences of different parts.

Use of numbers differ: numerology contrary to modern science, and contributed little scientific value to Chinese ideas, but neither did it contribute bad effects either.

Concepts of time and space different: Ancient China, time not abstract, but divided into separate seasons, each with own divisions, which flowed in only one direction. Likewise, space not uniform, but divided into 5 regions, each connected with time (see table). Similar to Europe before Galileo and Newton extended geometric space and gravity throughout Universe

Ancient Chinese, things connected rather than caused. In this type of system, causality not like chain of events, but things working in orchestrated fashion, with easily isolatable lead. - This type of view required in modern science as well, when emergent properties (like consciousness) are difficult to explain from a simple sum of parts argument (neurons forming connections).

Western Science:   Analogy and Effect of Chinese Thought

Effects of Eastern outlook on Western Science: Trend in West to move past mechanical interpretation and develop understanding of natural organization.

Modern example: Gaia hypothesis - planet earth as a "biological organism"

Leibniz, 17th century, co-discover of the calculus and founder of symbolic logic. Wanted to devise a "science of motion that unites matter with forms". Idea that ultimate reality in universe is a "monad" - indestructible, have no causal relation with other monads, but contain within themselves element of change. At moment of creation all monads in harmony; now each reflects all changes without being affected by others. Leibniz had studied translations of 12th century Neo-Confucianist, Zhu Xi (Chu Hsi).

Early example of Universe as Organism - Doctrine of Microcosm and Macrocosm - similar to Chinese thoughts about pattern, but not dominant in West. Two aspects:

  1. Detailed correspondence between the universe and the body of Man.
  2. Detailed correspondence between the body and the state

Prominent in 4th cent. BCE with Pythagoras, Plato and Aristotle. Aristotle: "If this can happen in the living being, what happens in the little world [microcosm], [it happens] also in the great." Stoics argued that world was animate and rational being. Seneca (1st cent. ACE Roman) state that Nature was like the body of Man; Rivers correspond to veins, earthquakes to convulsions, etc.

Persistent through Middle Ages in Europe, in Islam, and even after Renaissance. Paracelsian physician and mystic, Robert Fludd, set up opposites:

Bruno, who was burned at stake in 1600's, regarded Universe as an organism

May have had common origin from Babylonian, from methods used for divination using sacrificial animals. Shang Chinese use tortoise shells or shoulder-blades of ox and deer. Romans used liver. Idea: heavens or parts of an animal could be divided into areas, and key to future found in signs in one or another of these. Animals act as microcosm of the universe.

Still difference between West and East ideas of Universe as an Organism:

Was 5 Element and Two Force Theory Hindrance to Advance of Natural Science in China?

Theory of Change (I Ching) -

Third component of eastern philosophy which impact scientific thought. Originate in peasant omens (probably from farmers), book is elaborate system of symbols and explanations without parallel elsewhere. Symbols "mirror" the processes of Nature, so used to explain nature Nature.

Symbols: sets of lines, either broken (representing Yin) or unbroken (representing Yang). All possible combinations give 8-trigrams (3-lined sets) and 64 hexagrams (6-lined sets which consist of 2 sets of stacked trigrams), all known as kua, arranged in book in definite order, and given a paragraph of explanation. More text in appendices. The first figure below shows the 8 possible trigrams, and the second a few of the hexagrams. 

Trigrams and Associations

Example of Hexagrams

What is the rationale for the presence of three lines in the trigrams? It appears to have to do with nature of Yin/Yang and their mutual relationships.    The top line is most Yang (Heaven), the bottom most Yin (Earth), and the center (Man) representing the interaction  of Yin and Yang.   In one sense the trigram represents teh Heaven - Man - Earth relationship.  As Tou Yen said::

"Heaven is high, earth is low, and thus are fixed. Heaven is Yang and Earth is Yin."

The number three can also arise from the way Yin and Yang transform into each other. Such transformation is the source of all change. The transformation is analogous to the fact that inhalation is followed by exhalation. If disharmony exists, three changes can occur: rebalance, transformation into opposites, or separation of Yin/Yang (cessation of existence).  These can be viewed as the three transformations.

Another way to envision the relationship between Yin and Yang is as follows (as derived from Kaptchuk):

1.  Yin and Yang create each other - No speak of temperature (without cold, hot), or temperament (without active/passive).     In another example, the activity of the body (Yang) nourished by physical form (Yin) and physical form created and maintained by activity. As  Lao Tzu said:

"Being and non-being produce each other; Difficult and easy complete each other."

2.  Yin and Yang control each other - When Yin is excessive, Yang to weak; If temperature is neither too cold or hot,  both aspects mutually controlled and in check. Extent to which 1 person active depend on extent other passive; Lao Tzu:

"He who stands on tiptoes is not steady. He who strides forward does not go."

3.  Yin and Yang transform into each other - This is the nature of organic process. Change can be harmonious, or sudden ruptures of disharmonious situations.  Constant transformation source of all life. Inhalation followed by exhalation. Exertion followed by rest and nourishment.

These transformations are expressed by  Lao Tzu:

"In order to contract, it is necessary first to expand.
In ordre to weaken it is necessary first to strenghten.
In order to destroy it is neccesary first to promote."

From Yin and Yang and 3 "transformations/relationships"   get 8, 3-tiered diagrams.  Notice from the trigram picture that Heaven, wind, and mountain not correlated to five elements. Thus five elements which make up man and surroundings predominantly Yin. 3 Yang energies (Heaven, wind, and mountains) bring balance.  (See links above.)

Probably reached its present form in end of Chou dynasty (3 cent BCE). Commentaries probably from 1st cent BCE to 1st cent ACE, compiled by Qin and Han Confucians. Appendices give it higher status, and as they became more abstract, more people found explanations for all concepts in nature.

45 kua dealt with some aspect of time/space, only 19 that don't. Suggests that later commentaries move kua from areas of human significance.

Naturalists and Han scholars thought the kua to be repositories of nature, and from lines obtain symbolic representation of all nature. Like Taoist, lust for peace of mind through classification. Later scientific writers made vast use of them in Astronomy and Alchemy, biology and medicine. (Ex. lines tell alchemists exact time for adding reagents or removing products. In Biology: Wang Khuci writes: "The blood of Man and animals is always red. This is because it is Yin and belongs to watery things, which are under the aegis of the kua Khan. But the blood also harbors a Yang, and it is red too because of what is contains. The interaction of Khan with [the kua] Li is what causes the motion of the chhi [of the blood]. Now if the blood leaves the body for too long, it turns black, and if it is heated it also turns black. This is because it tends to return to its origin"

I Ching powerful hold on China even to recent times. Last century still claim all truths about light, electricity, etc., in trigrams and hexagrams. Not true today. In contrast to 2 Forces and 5 Elements, I Ching major handicap in development of Scientific thought. But why did it last so long? Maybe since it was an administrative approach to nature, mirror of Chinese bureaucratic society, almost like a heavenly bureaucracy 


Superstition flourished as in all ancient cultures, but some lead to discovery. Also skeptical approach present. But lack last ingredient, concept of theories. Never pass beyond primitive and unquantifiable theories of 5 elements and 2 forces.

Pseudo-sciences - Divination: Predicting the Future

Skeptical Tradition in Chou and Han eras

Even in 6th century BCE, argued that prince's health depend on work, travels, food, and not on spirits of mountains and rivers.

Wang Chhung, one of greatest thinkers of China. Wrote Lun Heng - Discourses Weighed in the Balance, 83 ACE. Critical attitude toward all things, rationalist. Though believed in Yin/Yang and 5 elements, denied Heaven conscious:

Later skeptical thinkers: Runs through Chinese history. Because of it, Confucians ridiculed belief in spirits, karma, etc. Fan Chen, 484 ACE, attack Buddhist doctrine of karma: "the spirit is to the body as the sharpness is to the knife, We have never heard that after the knife has been destroyed, the sharpness can persist". Lu Tshai, 632 AD, add skeptical preface to books on divination and Yin/Yang, 5 elements; Hsieh Ying-Fang, 1348 AD, collection of anti-superstitious material in Pien Huo Pien (disputations on doubtful matters).

Skeptical tradition gave rise to humanistic studies, textual criticism and archaeology. Humanistic studies in West didn't blossom until late 17th. century. In China, blossomed in 10-13th. centuries, same as peak in science and technology in China, and rise of Neo-Confucianism. Nothing in Europe at same time.


Taoist Thought in Chin (4th cent. AD)

Political and philosophical doctrines of Taoism decline, but experimental approaches flourish. Alchemy extended. Ko Hung, greatest alchemist in China, wrote Pao Phu Tzu, describes scientific principle. Logical argument, broad vision. Mix of strange beliefs and facts. "Water and fire, which are in the heavens, may be obtained by the burning mirror and the de mirror. Lead which is white, can be turned into a red substance. This red substance can again be whitened to lead. Clouds, rain, frost, and snow, which are all the chhi of heaven and earth, can be duplicated exactly and without any difference, by chemical substances.

Taoist reinterpret I Ching, elaborate it to get general scientific theory. Alchemists considered the book and systems to be of great importance in determine their choice of precise times for performing heating, etc.

Taoist Thought in Tang and Sung

Chen Thuan - 980 AD. Written about in I Thu Ming Pien (Clarification of Diagrams in the Book of Changes), which has a great deal of critical and careful history of relationship between alchemy and I Ching. Chen Thuan construct relationships between tri- and hexagrams and nature.

Chhen Hsien-Wei, "The guest [living things or phenomena] come and go, but material basis remain unchanged. Almost law of conservation of energy.

Look for something more fundamental in universe than Chhi (matter) and Li (form). Early Taoist - Tao sufficient, but want more. Realize that actualization - coming into being- more difficult than decay. "The construction of things is difficult; the destruction of things by the Tao is easy. Of all the things under Heaven, there is none that does not reach its completion with difficulty, and none that is not easily destroyed". Some understanding of induction and deduction: "But the true sage unites himself with Heaven; he see neither the Tao nor the things, for one Tao includes all the separate Taos. If you do not apply it to individual things you reach the Tao of all things - if you apply it to the individual Taos, then you understand the thing". But still distrust logic and abstract reasoning. Still mixture of magic, experimentation, culture.

Than Chhiao: 10th century, wrote Hua Shu (Book of the Transformations in Nature). External world is real, but our knowledge of it is affected by the way it is perceived, so can't see full reality. To an owl the night is bright and day dark; for the hen the converse is true. Which is normal? Abnormal? For cause and effect in Nature, must look for determining factors, even if not apparent.

Neoconfucians in Sung

Taoists thrive, but must contend with Buddhists and Confucians. Confucians feel that they need cosmology to offset that of Taoists and metaphysics of Buddhist. Neoconfucianism borrow from both other doctrines, which rescued ethical teachings of classics.


Main thinkers of of 14th-16th centuries concern themselves with Li and chhi (Qi).


Idealism - assertion that reality lies only in our minds and not in external world. - climaxed with Wang Yang-Ming about 1500. Upsurge in metaphysical idealism stem from Buddhist influence. Idealist Lu Chiu-Yuan (1138-1191), contemporary and opponent of Zhu Xi (Chu Hsi), said: "Space and time are [in] my mind, and it my mind which [generates] space and time... The myriad things are condensed into a space, as it were, of a cubic centimeter, filling the mind. Yet emanating from it, they fill the whole of time and space." Place Neo-Confucian idea of Li or organization wholly within the mind. His ideas expand to Wang Yang-Ming: "The master of the body is the Mind; what the mind develops are thoughts; the substance of thought is knowledge; and those places where the thoughts rest are things." Once again impede scientific advancement.

Reaffirmation of Materialism:

Wang Fu-Chih (1619-92), Ming Dynasty. Materialist and skeptic, opponent of Wang Yang-Ming. Attack astrology, superstition, support Neo-Confucianism. To him, reality was matter in constant motion., gave Li and Chhi equal importance. Idea of dynamic equilibrium, - control of complex organism by feedback mechanism that tend to keep parts of system constant and in harmony. Form (Li) remains constant even though material composition (Chhi) is in constant change, as in fountain or flame. Five elements simply basis for all different kinds of substances, but myriad forms of things wasn't composed of unchanging material but material in constant change. Believed that things disperse and return into the Great Undifferentiatedness, to origin of Generative Force of Nature, and that nothing is completely extinguished. Similar to Law of Conservation of Matter. Spent lots of time on history.

Yen Yuan (1635-1704) and Li Kung 1659-1733) found group called Yen-Li School. or Back to the Han Movement. Attacked Neo-Confucians. to get back to ideas of Han scholars. Pave way for Wang Fu-Chih's great 18th century successor, Tai Chen (1724-77). Recovered old works on math. Great interest in science and technology. Greatest of few philosophical thinkers from the Ching Dynasty. Rid Neo-Confucians of Taoist and Buddhist thought. Li - heaven sent entity in the mind, and assume chii alone account for everything. Return to old idea of Tao as order of Nature as exhibited by Yin/Yang and 5 element theory. Rediscovery of meaning of pattern in Li. Meditation and introspection is not way to find out the principles of things. Learn only by careful investigation, exact thinking, clear reasoning, sincere conduct, not flashes of enlightenment. Reasoning not imposed by Heaven but exemplified in every aspect of person's being. No man's private opinion should be called Li. Didn't like bookish Neo-Confucian thought but ancient basis of education. which were more practical. In 1694 he introduced technical and practical subjects in schools. But school destroyed by a severe flood, and he died few years later. School had gym, separate rooms for math, geography, and observatory, facilities for engineering, architecture, agriculture, applied chem. Advanced even by European standards.

Jesuit influence starts surfacing at this time, who introduced post Renaissance western science.


Less written info. about Buddha and early Buddhism than with Confucius. Also Buddhist split into two sects (Mahayana - the predominant form in China, and Theravada) long before written records. But all united on certain aspects, the central being Karma. The idea that good/evil in life depend on past lives, and that after death, the soul migrates to another body, predates Buddha. Buddha regarded experienced misery and happiness in terms of ethics and morality of past lives only, not in ritual or sacrificial acts. 4 Noble truths:

  1. suffering exists
  2. its cause is desire
  3. it can be overcome
  4. it can overcome in a specific way: to eliminate desire through the 8-fold path.

Idea of inevitable consequences contained in karma expressed as cosmic law. Connected by circle from which humans had to escape - the twelve Nidanas (ignorance, aggregates, consciousness, mind and body, six sense organs, contact, sensation, craving, grasping, coming into existence, birth, old age and all miseries. Form cycle of propositions , one gives rise to another but the last leads back to the first in endless cycle, leading to expression: "Turning the Wheel of the Law". Buddhism aim to free people from this cycle. Theravada doctrine - salvation by own efforts; Mahayana doctrine - individual's actions lead to salvation of others. Liberation from world central theme, and enter Nirvana.

Buddhist deny existence of an individual soul, but parts that makeup individual stay together in after lives till reach perfection, then scattered. Also deny that person annihilated at death. But did introduce concept of individuality. Before Buddhism enter China, it was doctrine intended for ascetic hermit monks, living in communities. Only later expanded to ordinary people. Maybe why Buddhist disappear from India, once educated monks gone, nothing to distinguish Buddhist layman from Hindu. In monasteries, Buddhist took over yoga practices like meditation to reach insight. Whatever befell Buddhism, refused to answer any questions which concerned matters that were consider unknowable, like if universe eternal, finite, if the vital principle same as the body, etc. Refusal to speculate - made Buddhism antithetical to scientific thinking.

Two forms of Buddhism:

Reaction of Chinese Naturalism:

One of chief causes of strain between Buddhist and indigenous philosophies Buddhist forced to admit the existence of something individual which persisted through successive reincarnations. Here they collided with skeptical traditions of Confucians and selflessness of Taoists. Also Buddhist belief that visible world was an illusion contract Confucian and Taoist teachings. The result was a Chinese alternative to Buddhism - i.e. Neo-Confucianism, the union of Confucianism and Taoism in Sung Dynasty. Taoist said little, partly since absorbing Buddhist thoughts , practices, and liturgies themselves. Zhu Xi (Chu Hsi), greatest Neo-Confucian philosopher always wage war against Buddhists.

Influences of Buddhism on Chinese Science:

Despite all of the above, aspects of Buddhist thought had broadening effect on Chinese thought and maybe favorable effect on science. Ex: infinity of space and time, existence of other worlds besides the earth; recurrent world catastrophes; Also Buddhist thought with respect to Biological change. Reincarnation arouse interest in animal transformations. Led to much discussion about birth as well, and embryology. Also Buddhism introduce into China discussions about logic and theory and nature of knowledge. But none seemed to have great affect on development of science.


After legalists, law remain connected with custom which was based on ethical principles - defined as natural Law (fathers no kill sons). as opposed to law laid down by rulers not necessarily connected with morality, but which may be useful (vehicles stay to right) - defined as positive Law. In China, positive law, after the Legalists, were reduced to minimum. This hindered development of systematized scientific thinking.

Legalist rise in 3rd century; their policies allow last prince of Chin to become first emperor of united China. But harsh rule lead to decline. Legalist ideas:

Conflict between theoretically constructed fa and ethics, equity, and common sense. Obedience, not virtue to state required. Six parasitic functions (care for elderly, living without employment, beauty, love, ambition, and virtuous conduct sapped power of state. They glorified war. But one feature which favorable for science: tendency to quantitate - express things in numerical terms. Account for standardization by first Chin emperor, unification of script, normalize weights. Exact penalties, etc. Nothing not numerical. Reduce complex relationships to mathematical simplicity, kind of mechanistic materialism. But didn't develop abstract system of human relationships similar to Roman Law. But Legalists politically failed.



The information for the time line and descriptions come directly from a variety of sources, including:

Fairbank, Reischauer, and Craig.East Asia: Tradition and Transformation.Houghton Mifflin Company, 1989

Ronan & Needham, The Shorter Science and Civilization in China: 1. Cambridge University Press, 1988.

Advanced Textbook of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Pharmacology, Volume 1. New World Press, Beijing, China. 1995

Last Update: 02/10/2004