I - Ancient Chinese History

This summary comes directly form East Asia: Tradition and Transformation by Fairbank, Reischauer, and Craig (1989).   Additional info is derived from a variety of other sources.

Chinese society developed differently than in the West. It was relatively isolated (by large distances, mountains and deserts). To the east was the Pacific, to the West the Himalayans and Tibetan Plateau, to the north the deserts of central Asia, and to the south rugged mountains and jungles. Agriculture developed first in Northern China, particularly in the Great Bend of the Yellow River, and then spread from there (much like parallel development along the Tigers/Euphrates and the Nile Rivers. First a word about the Chinese writing system and how it affected Chinese culture.

Writing: Writing developed, and some characters are identical to this day, which fosters a sense of identity with ancestors. Characteristics of writing:

Several classes of symbols:

  1. characters: over 2000 in the Shang period, but look quite different from modern characters. . Approx. 8000-9000 characters usually used in modern times, but up to 50,000 in the modern dictionary. Recognized more like pictures of things in Shang than in present.
  2. ideographs: sketches of ideas rather than actual pictures.
  3. compound types: contains two parts, a phonetic pictograph (indicate approx. sound) coupled with a significs - which is placed to the left or above the phonetic and which shows category or meaning. Examples: hundreds of characters for words associated with trees or wood (like maple, pear, branch, to plant, spear) comprised of character for tree - signfiic- combined with character used for phonetic value.

Majority of modern characters of last type, and significs basis for system of classifying characters. 214 characters commonly used as significs selected as radicals (classifiers) under which characters grouped according to number of brush strokes need to write rest of character.


  1. more time and effort to master
  2. individual characters complex - average one 12-13 strokes
  3. must memorize 2000-3000 before reading a simple text.
  4. much memorization in education, and limits other subjects
  5. limits literacy to upper class and few who had time for long study.
  6. bigger problem in modern time when need literacy
  7. printing more complicated (even though Chinese invented printing); no simple typewriter.


  1. complexity give aesthetic value; calligraphy ancestor of graphic arts
  2. great for prose/poetry
  3. written word precedence over spoken word; many text, few speeches; old writing considered sacred;
  4. may affect high value placed on education
  5. surmount differences in dialect. If phonetic system, may have broken up into separate national groups;
  6. led to unity of Chinese civilization and others in east Asia.

Web Links for Chinese Characters and Language


SHANG: around 1750 BC - 1050 BCE; early writing, bronze weapons and vessels; writing often on tortoise shells, or shoulder blades, both of which used in divination..

WESTERN CHOU: 1050 BCE - 770 BCE: Conquered Shang about 1050 BCE. In Wei Valley west of great bend of Yellow River; earlier vassals of Shang. (Western Chou era)


EASTERN CHOU: After 770 BCE, Eastern Chou rule. Divided into two shorter periods:

  1. Spring and Autumn (721-481 BCE)
  2. Warring States (403-221 BCE)

This era characterized by growth, creativity. Lack of central authority. Lots of rural states. Seven largest states about 20 million people, like West Asia and Mediterranean.; hence most populated land on earth. Used iron by 5th century BCE (century later than West) for weapons and agriculture. Large scale irrigation system; construct canals for transportation. Led to rapid growth in production, trade, wealth. New wealthy class of merchants, challenged old aristocratic order in which society 4 classes of people (from top to bottom):

  1. warriors/administrators
  2. peasants (primary producers)
  3. artisans (secondary producers)
  4. merchants

This division lasted through the Chou and through the next 2000 years. Population shifts led to growth of political units - city states Lu, Sung, Chi , Chin, Yen, Chu. Old communal use of land replaced by private ownership, leading to wealthy families and state monopolies. Military much greater scale, more ruthless. when conquered neighboring states would obliterate them and turned into provinces. Used cavalry and iron weapons. Greater mobility speed up communication between West and East Asia, leading to some import of ideas into East China. Northern pastoral peoples on horseback greater threat, so start erection by northern Chinese states of long walls, later unified into the Great Wall.

Chou authority decrease among growing ferocity of warfare. Attempts to decrease fighting and form alliances, treaties.


All the changes listed above lead to need for new ideas, values, and change which resulted in intellectual outburst in China that paralleled in time and impact the Greek Philosophers, the Hebrew Prophets, and Buddha in India. Possible reasons:

  1. As communication increased, intellectual stimulation among centers of world civilization
  2. Areas become wealthy enough to support large numbers of thinkers
  3. Increased rate of inventions shatter traditional points of view and led to questioning the purpose and meaning of life.

Although the questions were similar the answers were very different. Chinese philosophy center primarily on people as social and political creatures. Social philosophy emphasize society more than the individual, in contrast to emphasis on divine and "other worldly" in India and Mediterranean. Why? Possibly because of great anarchy of Chou era occurring within 1 cultural unit. Philosophers also were practical politicians, a new class of bureaucrats produced by spread of literacy and need for increasing complex social and political system. They would wander from state to state, offering services, attracting followers and becoming teachers, with disciples, forming ultimately schools of philosophy.

Classics: Philosophers, as in other societies, would often look to the past "classics" for insight, to a time that was perceived to be better. This interest in the past, along with respect of writing (as described above). produced great veneration for old texts. This veneration lasted until recent times. The classics consists of books associated with Confucian tradition and associated commentaries - i.e. a defined canon. The 5 classics date from 2nd century BCE.

  1. 1st classics of Songs (or Book of Poetry) - 305 songs dating from 10th to 7th century BCE. Have meter, rhythm and rhyme Ability to recite and compose poetry mark of educated person.
  2. Classic of Documents (Shu ching or the Book of History) - semihistorical documents and speeches from early centuries of Chou, but contains of later forgeries.
  3. The Classic of Changes (I ching or Book of Divination) - system of divination of 8 trigrams (all possible combinations of 3 line combination of complete or broken lines) and 64 hexagrams
  4. Spring and Autumn Annals (Chun chiu) - brief chronological record of events in statue of Lu from 722 to 481 BCE. Terse and factual
  5. Record of Rituals (Li Chi or Book of Rites) - compiles in 2nd century BCE dealing with rites and rituals. Contain key elements of Confucian concept of social order.

All 5 became so closely identified with Confucianism that all called Confucian Classics. 1000 years after end of Chou, 4 works chosen as supreme embodiment of Confucian teachings:

  1. Great Learning (Ta hsueh - Chapter from Record of Rituals)
  2. Doctrine of the Mean (Chung yung - Chapter from Record of Rituals)
  3. Analects (Lun-yu - Conversations) of Confucius
  4. Mencius (Meng-tzu) by Mencius


Confucianism: Confucius was first known professional teacher and philosopher in China, and the greatest in East Asia. Latinized form of K'ung-fu-tzu (tzu means master). Known from his Analects. Deals lots with political problems. Although recognized spirits and heavens, not much interested in them.

"Not yet understanding life, how can we understand death?"

Thought himself transmitter of past wisdom. Disorder and disharmony in world (especially during the Period of Warring States, in which horrific carnage occurred during wars and when the victors annihilated the conquered) could be corrected if men return to political and social order created by founds of Chou. People should play specific roles.

"Let a ruler be ruler, a subject a subject; let father be a father and the son a son."

His real innovation: Good government a matter of ethics. Rulers rule by virtue and contentment of people, rather than power. Ideal was an aristocrat - a man of nobility, cultivated, and a gentlemen, with inner virtues of integrity, righteousness, loyalty, altruism, and love. Gentleman must also have not only internal virtues but wen - culture or polish, and li - ritual (or understanding of etiquette). Led to increase importance of ritual, etiquette in East Asia. Balance of inner virtue and external polish lead to moderation, seeking middle path, balance. This explained the triumph of his views, which adopted by bureaucrats and rulers. Ethical standards gave political authority stronger foundation than just hereditary rights. Growing number of educated people (arising from political needs) acquired Confucian philosophy. Believed educated people had right to tell leaders how they should conduct themselves. Led to career by talent, and a challenge to hereditary powers.

Confucius stressed the five relationships:

  1. parent to child
  2. husband to wife
  3. elder sibling to younger sibling
  4. older friend to younger friend
  5. ruler to subject.

First three stress family, which led to importance of the family unit. Likewise, respect for age led to tradition of valuing older people. 

He also described the Doctrine of the Means.   The mean stands in the middle between two unworkable extremes.  He, like Aristotle, (who believed that virtues lay between extremes - courage in the man between cowardice and foolhardiness)  believed nothing should be done in excess.   Striving for the mean brings balance and harmony and encourages compromise.   Confucianism involved worldly issues - specifically the appropriate relationships among people themselves and between the governed and the those who govern. 

Excerpts from Analects

Taoism: To a large part a philosophy of retreat and withdrawal by those appalled by perpetual death and war. Remove self from struggle for power, status, and wealth. In infinite time and space, accept the unimportance of the individual except as manifestation of cosmic force. Protest against despotic rulers and rigidity of moralists, who want people to conform to social pattern. Taoist champion independence of each individual whose only concern to fit into great pattern of nature - the Tao.

The Tao has many meanings: 

  1. The way of ultimate reality, which can't be perceived or clearly conceived. 
    "The Tao that can be spoken is not the true Tao." 
    It has been said that if try to understand the Tao, we will be unsuccessful since we are preventing the only way to come to such an understanding - which comes through experiencing the Tao.  The main paradox is that so few find it although it is common.   Consider darkness and light.  Since light is experienced in the absence of darkness and darkness in the absence of light, it becomes clear that both have the same source.  Experiencing the Tao is finding the Tao.
  2. The way of the Universe - reflecting the order of Nature, or the spirit of the Universe.
  3. The way of human life.

Early Taoists attempt to fit human life into natures' rhythm - possibly linked with deities and mysticism from shamans. Three major books:

  1. Lao-tzu or Tao te ching (The Way and Power Classic) - composed about 3rd century BCE, attributed to sage (probably mythical) Lao-Tzu (or old master), which given diverse interpretations and translations.
  2. Chuang Tzu - 3rd cent. BCE; great parables, metaphors, poetic passages, with high literary merit
  3. Lieu-Tzu.

Taoist, like all mystics, found it difficult to express ideas in words.

"The one who knows does not speak, and the one who speaks does not know."

The Tao is founded in nameless, formless, "non-being". Is in essence the totality of natural processes. Although constantly changing, Tao doesn't distinguish between big/little (which reflects one quality called size), good/bad, life/death. All things are relative and depend on their opposites.

"Water, which is life to fish, is death to man.".... It is only because everyone recognizes beauty that we have the idea of ugliness."

Water was considered the closest thing to the Tao.  It sustains one if you learn not to resist it and give yourself over to it for support.

"Do you have the patience to wait til your mud settles and the water is clear?  Can you remain unmoving until the right action arises by itself?

If can transcend ordinary and become one with the Tao, one is beyond harm, and can achieve tranquility in the midst of strife. Key to merging with Tao is "doing nothing" - wu wei - not inaction but doing what comes naturally.

"Do nothing and nothing will be not done."

"One may move so well that a foot-print never shows, Speak so well that the tongue never slips, Reckon so well that no counter is needed.

Water reflects the properties of wu wei:

"the supreme good is like water, which nourishes all things without trying to.
It is content with the low places that people disdain.  Thus it is like the Tao."

But despite how water accomodates all things, it has much power:

"Nothing in the world is as soft and yielding as water;
Yet for dissolving the hard and inflexible nothing can surpass it."

"The soft overcomes the hard; the gentle overcomes the rigid.  Everyone knows this is true, but few can put it into practice."

Many efforts to change and improve nature only destroy harmonies and produce chaos. For their vision of a perfect society, Taoist look back to the golden age - a time of perfect knowledge before people realized things had come into existence and had distinguished among them. Concept of good and bad source of all human misery. Law was source of crime. Without wealth their is not stealing. Knowledge corrupts. Primitive was ideal. Ingenious devices lead to devious mind, so more praiseworthy to carry water than use water wheel. Political ideal was small states close by but never visit since people content. Taoist sage rule without effort, accomplishing everything by doing nothing.

Taoism as philosophy corrupted in latter centuries but attitudes remain strong throughout Chinese history. Serve as balance to main concepts of Chinese culture. Centralized power restrict human freedom. Confucian morality and social mores more restrictive. Through Taoism, individual achieve self-expression. Confucianism and Taoism not mutually exclusive, as Western religions, so individual and society could be both at same time. Dualism persist to today.

Huston Smith differentiates three different types of Taoism:

  1. Philosophical - unorganized, reflective.  Conserve te (power) by expending it efficiently.  Associated with Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu.  It is essentially attitude toward life and hence most readily adoptable form of Taoism by others.  Try to align life with the Tao.     Wu Wei important concept- effortless action; creative quietude) .  Reject all forms of self-assertiveness and competition.  Nature should be befriended, not dominate nature.  Temples blend with environment.
  2. Vitalizing - unorganized, active.  Try to increase vitality.   Chi = breath or vital energy, power of the Tao coursing through body).   Maximize Chi by matter (eating natural substances - like herbs), movement (callistenics, Tai Chi) and mind (meditation, Yoga).  Since socially concerned, led to belief that Chi yogi's accumulated could be transmitted to others. 
  3. Religious (most popular) - organized like formal religion with monasteries, etc.  (Influenced by import of Buddhism).  Since Philosophical and Vitalizing Taoism took time and effort which working people had little extra of.   Instutionalized superstitious practices, magical beliefs. 

All have in common same concern: how to maximize te which animates the Tao. 

Taoism Information Page

Naturalist: Explain nature working on basis of cosmic principles: Yin/Yang and Five Element Theory

yinyangsymbol.jpg (4306 bytes)

Yin Yang

Often considered as a "force" or way to describe how things function in relation to each other and how they change.  All things are viewed in relationship - nothing exists by itself.  All things are part of the whole.   All things contain two different aspects, Yin and Yang, representing dualism in nature.

Not like dualisms in West, where good and evil in perpetual conflict. Yin and Yang mutually complementary and balancing. Fits into rhythms of day, night; winter, summer, etc. Fits philosophies as well: Confucianism - Yang, Taoism - Yin.

Principles of Yin/Yang:

  1. All things have two aspects - Yin and Yang.  Examples time (night and day), place (heaven and earth), temperature (hot and cold).  Appear to be opposites but reflect aspects of single phenomena. 
  2. Any Yin or Yang aspect can be further divided into Yin and Yang
  3. Yin and Yang mutually create each other.  They can't be separated from each other since complementary aspects of one phenomena.  (Ex:   in relationship, one person active (relatively) only in comparison to and if partner is passive
  4. Yin and Yang control each other.  If one is excessive the other will be weak. 
    Lao Tzu:  " He who stands on tiptoes is not steady
    He who strides forward does not go
    He who shows himself is not luminous
    He who boasts of himself is not given credit
    He who brags does not endure for long".
  5. Yin and Yang transform into each other. This is source of all change:   activity must be followed by rest, night by day.

Five Element (Phase) Theory:  (see extensive description in History of Science - East)

5 elements or phases that combine to make up all of nature: wood, metal, fire, water, earth. Other categories (color, taste, sound, planets, direction) then linked through analogy to them. Extended to areas of astrology, numerology, divination, etc.

Logicians: move toward logic by analyzing meaning of words.

Mo-Tzu: Chief competitor of Confucius. Wrote book like Analects. Extreme and utilitarian. Anything not enriching country, increase population, and bring order he condemned. Food, clothing, housing limit to bare necessities. Suppress emotion and aesthetics. Music wasteful. Warfare greatest waste, so develop defense until offense useless. First pacifist. Envisioned rigid disciplinary state. Believe in universal love to reach utopia. Achieved if "everyone would love every other person as much as he loves himself." Ideas didn't last past 3rd century BCE.

Mencius (Meng-tzu): Considered himself transmitter of Confucianism. His book had profound effect on East Asia. His ideas on relationship important:

  1. Man, by nature, is good
  2. Develop innate goodness by inner self-cultivation and education.
  3. Extend love past family

Government, he thought, was an exercise in ethics. If leader was moral, the whole nation would gravitate to him. A moral leader provide schooling, ensure economic well being. The only way to become true leader is by providing for well-being of people and win their support. Moral rulers have "mandate from heaven" - a justification of rulers powers - which is made evident only through the acceptance of the ruler by the people. If people depose him, he has lost the mandate from heaven. Allowed justification of rebellions against leader. Leader couldn't be deposed if had mandate from heaven.

His thought was second only to Confucius. Achieve egalitarian society only if al men good, which must be true if accept goodness of human nature, and all men created morally equal. Led to government on behalf of the people.

Legalists: Developed ideas of Xunzi (Hsun-Tzu) (300-237 BCE), who, in contrast to Mencius view that man was good, thought that human nature derived form an impersonal, amoral heaven. Emotion and desire lead to conflict, and hence people are by nature bad. The cure was education, which lead to a great reverence for teacher throughout Chinese history. Xunzi (Hsun-Tzu) was a Confucianist.   He believed that culture holds society together and protects people from their own natures (much like Hobbes state of nature).  The most educated and cultured people should govern, not the aristocrats.  In this sense he was an authoritarian.

His disciples, Han Fei-tzu and Li Szu, believed server laws and harsh punishment only way to bring order and security. Dismissed ways of ancients. People were selfish, bureaucrats untrustworthy. Rulers therefore should not rely on their moral virtues but by control, using strict rewards and punishments. People judged by accomplishments and should be punished if don't achieve. People should be made mutually responsible for another's actions. Rights are what the ruler wants. Legalist were really totalitarians, who didn't have modern means to control people. Led to Eastern concept of Law - which was the rulers law. Little civil law to protect citizens, but punitive administrative and penal law. This contrasts to Western law, which was seen in West as embodiment of higher order of God or Nature. Western law seen as high point of western civilization. Westerns felt safer ruled by impersonal laws rather than fallible judges. The Chinese (after Mencius) felt safer to be ruled by ethically minded administrator than by impersonal arbitrary law. The Legalist tradition, which didn't last long, but was used by Chin following their triumph which ended the Chou era, was partly responsible of highly centralized government, with its harsh, arbitrary rule in the Chin dynasty - which unified China into an empire, and in subsequent dynasties.

CHIN (QIN) Chin capital in Wei valley. Defense simple due to land barriers. Used Legalists techniques for organization. Create central govt. Shang Yang leading official. Chin defeat rivals, and in 25 BCE exterminate Chou. King ascend throne as boy in 246 BCE. Conquered Han, Chao, Wei, Chu, Yen and Chi. By 221 created "universal, everlasting empire", unified China and adopt title Shih Huang-Ti - 1st emperor.

Capital in Wei valley. Made great palace and mausoleum with over 1000 terracottoa statues. Sent armies to south down to modern Vietnam. Secured borders of NW against pastoral people using forced labor to unite defensive wall into the 1400 mile long Great Wall. (more was added later). Build great canals, irrigation systems through public, forced labor projects. To consolidate, laid out radiating roads, unified weights, measures. Viewed ancient writings and writings of philosophers as subversive, tried to rid China of them. Burning of books, except those used in agriculture, medicine, divination. Helped bring end to golden age of Chinese thought. His violent ways laid seeds to end of his dynasty. Educated repelled, commoners burdened by building projects. Prove efficiency of Legalist, but also validity of Mencius, that government depend on consent of governed. Emperor increasingly obsessed with immorality through magical practices of Taoist. His dynasty didn't last, but imperial system lasted 2000 years.

HAN: 209 BCE, rebellion. Chin armies destroyed. Eventually rebel general, Liu Pang became emperor (posthumously known as Kao Tsu) Capital at Ch'ang-an in Wei value and took Han (tributary of the Yangtze) for dynastic name. Dynasty lasted 2 centuries until 8 ACE, then resurrected from 25-220 ACE. The Han correspond to Roman Rule in the West in chronological time, power, prestige, and historical significance. Today, Chinese consider themselves "men of Han. Writing use Han characters. Successful dynasty because built on Chin, moved slowly, decreased taxes, punishment so more loyalty - i.e. had mandate from heaven. Made some relatives and generals kings of principalities, removing non-loyal rulers. Threat to emperors power remained throughout China's history. One threat arose from family of empress. Emperor had many consorts. When child of one of them became heir apparent, the consort recognized as empress, and when son assumed power, became empress dowager. Happened after Kao Tsu's death when the empresses family almost took over throne. Another continual threat was from pastoral people of North, known to Chinese as Hsiung-nu, and early form of name later known as Huns in the West. Often raided north China.

Height of Han power during reign of Wu Ti, when China expand to about modern size. Went as far West as Greek Kingdom of Sogdiana, where it crushed army, possibly with Roman soldiers.

Philosophy: None of pre-Chin schools of thought survive into Han as distinct and mutually exclusive philosophical systems. Elements survived piecemeal, including late Chou concept of yin/yang and 5 elements of naturalists. Also held allied idea that unusual natural phenomena (earthquakes, floods, etc.) portent of future. Taoist traditions survive political upheavals better than other schools, but philosophies almost lost in primitive beliefs - search for immortality. Great interest finding substances to prolong life and give immortality, as well as elements into gold - first alchemy in world. Specific diets, yoga, to increase life. Nature and ancestral cults survive, increasingly allied with Taoism. Scholars busy with recovery of early writings. Lift Chin ban on philosophical works in 191 BCE, devised 5 classics. Start of major intellectual activity. First great dictionary appear around 100 ACE. Greatest literal achievement in historical writings (others classics and commentaries, philosophical writings, and letters.)

Although Wu Ti Legalist, Confucianism prevail and became predominant philosophy through the Han era. But Confucianism that survived hybrid of ancient philosophies and current superstitions. Set up studies on the 5 classics, and in 124 BCE assigned 50 students to them, like a small state university. Grew to 3000 students in late 1st century BCE. 1 ACE, 100 men/yr. entered government through exams administered by scholars. Confucian ideas incorporated into law (not what Confucius would have wanted. Incorporation of Confucianism into Legalist state explain superior lasting ability of Chinese Imperial system. Land won by sword governed by brush. Need efficient civil administration; men of education support government. Developed civil service system based on merit 2000 years before the West. Legalist victory, seeking to destroy Confucianism, created stable society where it flourished. Likewise, Confucian victory made Legalist empire indestructible. Illustrates yin/yang principle.

Dynastic cycles in China characterized by founding, a period of great power, a long decline, then collapse. Cycles tend to obscure growth and development of Chinese civilization. Empress and eunuchs source of problems for ruler. Eunuch initially guard and administer imperial harem, but spread into military. Since no descendents, good allies of emperors but bureaucrats didn't like them since rivals for power and not educated. Decline usually attributed to fiscal problems, administrative inefficiency and military.

Cultural Growth: Increase in trade with western regions of Asia, some with India and Roman orient. Got horses from central Asia, glass from Mediterranean. Silk was in great demand in Roman empire, so much so that Silk Road developed. Trade brought to China foreign influences in art, music, agriculture, but flow great to West than East. Han textiles were centuries ahead of West. In later Han, water-powered mill, fire casting. Two of greatest Chinese inventions, paper and porcelain start in Han. Rag paper found about 100 ACE in Han outpost. It soon replaced wood and bamboo slips or silk for writing. Took more than 1000 years before paper-making appear in West. Porcelain glazes known in Han.

Decline caused by financial and administrative weakness, increased taxes, peasant revolts. Challenge for Empress, eventually popular Taoist rebellion. Generals became independent warlords, overshadow main government. Divided into three states (3 Kingdom Period). Start to disintegrate about the same time as the Roman empire. Both Han and Roman Empire were highly technological but incapable of adjusting to increased population and wealth, and the complex institutions that centralized rule made possible.

Barbarian Invasions: Han defenseless against pastoral people of North. Original subjugation of pastoral people by Han sow seeds for barbarian conquest. North border armies of Han filled with barbarian horseman with great martial skills. Fall similar to fall of Roman empire with Germanic barbarian invasion. 304 ACE, Hsiung-nu (Hun) declare independence in North, and in 316 sack Chin capital killing 30,000 inhabitants. Chinese flee south where geographically protected and population increases.

Fall of Han Dynasty followed by 6 Dynasties period, with a capital in Nanking. Oscillated between unity and disunity. In this period foreigners challenge Chinese civilization more than any other time, until 19th century. The challenges were overcome by incorporating challenges into the Chinese system, and a growth of a richer civilization. In this times the invasions were on two fronts: a physical menace from barbarian invaders, and an ideological threat from an alien religion from India - Buddhism. Han political collapse allow for Hun invasion. The Han synthesis of Confucianism, magic/superstition, Taoism, and Legalist practices was spiritually unsatisfying and political inadequate, making Chinese susceptible to Buddhism. Many educated desert Confucianism to Taoism and then Buddhism.

Upsurge of Taoism: In late Han, people turn away from Confucianist social teachings, look inward. Interest in Taoist ideas of individual's relationship to nature and their own perfection and salvation. Alchemy to prolong life. Led to experimental eating of substances. (affect future culinary arts) Lead to medical system of beliefs, but based on proto-scientific thinking. Immortality cults center on inner hygiene, breathing exercise, suppression of 3 worms that cause disease, old age, and death. Popular and organized Taoist "religion" develop, probably derive from increasing Buddhist influences. Faith healing popular in both traditions. Popular Taoism had three deities and at a lower level immortals and historic human beings. Borrowing from Buddhism, accept concept of indestructible soul, afterlife in heaven, and value of good works on earth. Later on distinction between popular Taoism and Buddhism vague. After suppression of some Taoist uprisings, Taoism became decentralized again. 

Buddhism: Resurgence of Taoism in times of political corruption understandable, but popularity of Buddhism surprising. It contracted concepts and ideals of Chinese (Confucianism which deals with human relationships and virtue and Taoism which deals with relationship to the Tao), and was more direct challenge to Chinese civilization than did Western Culture in 19th century. This adoption represented the greatest borrowing on ideas in China until modern times. It was chief cultural link between peoples of East and South Asia.

Indian Buddhism based on premises ancient Chinese never would have understood: Life is essential painful; Life in unending, since each existence tied to next by karma - endless chain of causality providing a thread from self to all others, which explain different statuses and injustices in world. Unlike Chinese Confucians (interested in establishing orderly relationships governed by ethics  in social world) and Chinese Taoists (interested in living in harmony with Nature - the Tao), Buddhist not interested in correcting injustice and perfecting social order or living in harmony with their environment, but escaping cycle of existence. Four Noble Truths and Eight-Fold Path led to extremely ascetic way of life. End objective Nirvana, which represented not salvation of soul as in West, but breaking chain of existence by ending all desire.    Buddha said it was incomprehensible, unutterable, like the wind.

Four Noble Truths and Eight Fold Path

Four Noble Truths:

  1. Life is suffering
  2. Source of suffering is human desire
  3. Overcome human desire to overcome suffering
  4. Specific way to overcome human desire - Eight Fold Path

Eight Fold Path:

  1. Right View
  2. Right Intent
  3. Right Speech
  4. Right Conduct (5 Precepts: Do not kill, steal, lie, be unchaste, drink intoxicants)
  5. Right Livelihood
  6. Right Effort
  7. Right Mindfulness - steady awareness of each moment
  8. Right Concentration

Buddhism became universal religion, all men equal. Spread rapidly like Christianity and Islam to SE Asia and South China, and to Greek Kingdoms left by Alexander's conquests. Two great divisions

  1. Mahayana or Great Vehicle - Buddhism in China, Korea, and Japan derive form this. Distinguish between absolute and relative truths, so tolerate contradictory ideas as different degree of relative truths. Led to much metaphysical speculation. In place of Godless religion of historical Buddha, they had myriad's of godlike Buddha's. Developed new kind of deity - the Bodhisattva (Enlightened Existence)- who attained enlightenment like Buddha but stayed in the world to help others to Nirvana (salvation) before passing on to salvation himself. Led to shift from idea of enlightenment through ones own strength to salvation through strength of others. Faith only necessary thing. Bodhisattvas became popular gods of Mahayana Buddhism. Examples: the Buddha Amitabha (Omitto Fo in China, Amida Butsu in Japan) became the great savior (as in the West); /Avalokitesvara (Kuayin in China, Kannon in Japan) change sec and became "Goddess of Mercy". Gods provided for every human need. Nirvana also changed to mean salvation in afterlife in paradise. Bodhisattva ideal of aid to other led to charity to contribute to own salvation. Made social work important. Salvation through faith made monasticism, celibacy, and asceticism less necessary.
  2. Hinayana or Less vehicle, also called Theravada - closer to original Buddhism, and predominates now in SE Asia.

Tolerance for other religious ideas and inclusiveness of Mahayana Buddhism made it palatable to Chinese. First appear as variant of Taoism to Chinese, with new magic and superstitions. Introduced as the result of a dream in 64 ACE of 2nd emperor of late Han. Transmitted by traders, propagated by missionaries. Unlike Christianity in Roman Empire, it was taken up by Rich and spread to the poor. Part of its success stemmed form its readiness to compromise with Taoism (which Buddhist thought offered inferior level of truth) and Confucianism (which offered political and social philosophy not incompatible with its own teachings). Ever since, there has been some tendency to integrate the 3 religions or maintain them side by side. During 4th to 9th century ACE, might consider time Buddhist age of Chinese and Asian history. Buddhism blanketed all Asia, giving rise to cultural unity never again seen. But it declined and virtually disappeared from India by 15th century. Wiped out in central Asia by Islam, and declined in China.

Parallels between Roman and Chinese empires interesting. Both overrun by barbarians and swept by new religions. But the Roman empire died while the Chinese succeeded in making a facsimile of old empire (Sui) which by 7th century ACE was stronger and richer (Tang) than previous (Han). Why? Several reasons have been suggested:

  1. southern dynasties less influence by Northern barbarians and had stronger influence on North than Greek Byzantine culture had on Italy or France.
  2. Han ideals superior. The was just and ethical rule by emperor who had mandate of heave, support of people, and bureaucracy staffed with educated people chosen by merit.
  3. Written language gave China a greater cultural continuity than Latin or Greek. Barbarians had to learn Chinese.
  4. Size and population density of China led to rapid and complete absorption of Barbarian in comparison to in Europe.

SUI AND EARLY TANG: Yang Chien, a general of mixed blood, and Hsien-pei took throne and founded Sui Dynasty, but Barbarians so absorbed into society it was hard to tell the difference. Conquered south in 589, restored unified Chinese empire, but successors fail to hold their gains. They did to much to soon (like in Chin dynasty), such as reconstructing the Great Wall, digging great canals and huge palaces. Military actions against barbarians. Emperor assassinated 648 ACE. Then Li Shih min (mixed Chinese/Barbarian ancestry), also known as Tai Tsung or Great Ancestor) captured capital and founded Tang Dynasty. Whole Tang dynasty, like earlier Han dynasty, regarded as 1 or 2 Golden Ages of Chinese Empire. Tang power extended over vast areas - to Southern Siberia, SE Asia, through Tibet and Central Asia to the Caspian sea. Like the Han Dynasty, it was almost brought to end by Empress Wu who dominated emperor in remaining years and rule through puppet emperors later. In 690 she assumed the title herself - the only woman ever to do this in China, and changed the dynastic name to Chou (although still referred to as Tang). Palace coup d'etat replace her in 705 ACE and by 712 ACE Hsuan Tsun start second blossoming of dynasty. Arabs defeat him in 751, with apparent breakup of dynasty, but with aid of barbarians dynasty restored for another century but not as powerful as before.

Tang dynasty really restored centralized rule in China, which was made impossible by powerful independent families in South and tribal divisions of barbarians in North. In addition, Buddhism had introduced new economic disruption. Rich monasteries became great landowners, contended with central government for financial power. Government had ample taxes. Developed unit of measure for commodities like bolt of silk. Advances in technology led to affluence, along with increased agricultural growth in the Yangtze valley.

Capital of Tang empire was Ch'ang-an (modern city of Xian). Was the Eastern terminus of trade routes across Central Asia. Capital of largest empire world had yet seen. Population rose to about 2 million people. Walls around city form larger rectangle with perimeter 5-6 miles. Broad north/south and east/west streets divide city into blocks. 500 foot wide central street led form central southern gate of city to Imperial City - Government Headquarters - and then to imperial palace. Size and granduer of city show wealth of city and dynasty - which towered above anything in the world. Start of about 1000 years of China being the strongest, richest, and most advanced country in world.

Tang continued and expanded government schools and exams, which took years of study (only rich could afford the time for studies). Tang system represents true start of civil service merit system, one of greatest achievements of Chinese civilization. It produced an intellectually unified nation. Confucian ideology basis of Chinese education. Ruling class imbued with ethical principles. Great loyalty to authorities, and great sense of ritual and decorum. Men of intellect became supporters of government not its critics. Won support of low class since there was order in society and even a humble man could pass the exams. The main weakness was that it perpetuated a division of society by education. It contributed to stability over the next 1000 years, but long run to instability.

Absorption of Buddhism: Just as Chinese had incorporated barbarians, also absorbed Buddhism, enriching its culture while neutralizing its challenge of Chinese values. Buddhism peaked around 700 ACE under Empress Wu but ore little resemblance to early Buddhism. Indians loved philosophical speculation, while china loved classification, resulting in organization of different philosophies into Buddhist sects. Those that prospered most stressed elements native to Chinese thinking. Many different sects, including:

  1. Tien't'ai - Developed concept of relative truths. Conflicting truth organized into different levels of truth, each valid at own level.
  2. Chen-yen -the True Word. Esoteric or secret doctrine. Ultimate reality could not be expressed by words but best suggested by magic symbols. Had incantations, magic, and ceremonies which Chinese like.
  3. Ching't"u - Pure Land. Based on Mayahana concept of salvation through faith. Call on Buddha's name - simple act of faith. By 5th century, entrenched. Greatest force in East-Asian Buddhism.
  4. Ch'an or meditation sect, also called by Japanese name: Zen. Close to primitive Buddhism in stress on meditation and intuitive insight or enlightenment. Also draw from philosophical Taoism which stress these ideas. Taught only true reality was Budda nature within each persons heart. Derive a sense of other worldly and infinite from India, and apply in China to mundane life of the individual. Meditative life became life of hard work and rugged self-reliance. Zen's anti-scholastic, anti-textual ideas were Taoist. Stress oral instruction, particularly by posing outwardly nonsensical questions (koans) meant to shock students dependence on logic. Discipline of mediation and emphasis on self-regulation made it stronger than other sects. Zen only type of Buddhism that continue intellectual life after Tang. Rest of the cults absorbed into Zen or Land sect. Eventually all blur into what became of Chinese Buddhism.

Here are some Zen Koans from "The Little Zen Companion" by David Schiller.:

Chinese modify Buddhist ideas to fit into Chinese society. Monasteries take on social functions as inns, baths, banks, etc. Rich holdings of great Buddhist monasteries present state with only true Church problem it faces. Accumulate more riches through further gifts of land or treasures from believers. In eyes of state, monasteries fiscal menace to state, removing land and men from tax roles, so they tried to limit number and size of monks and monasteries. Also, the regulated it to support its positive values. In north, rulers appoints Bishops.

In long run Buddhism failed and sometime harshly persecuted. Many Chinese viewed it as a foreign religion which threaten family continuity. Taoist priest wer also jealous. Most importantly, the state wanted the return of land and monks to the tax rolls. In 841-45, a crazed Tang Emperor who was a fanatic Taoist had 4600 monasteries, 40,000 shrines, 260,000 monks and their 150,000 slaves returned to tax roles, dealing a crippling blow to Buddhism. Luckily, a permanent shrine in NW China with temples known as the Caves of the 1000 Buddha's, which contained a great library, was sealed shut about 1035 to save if from raiding Tibetans. It was reopened in 1900.

Buddhism left little permanent impression in Chinese civilization. Rather this was added to traditional culture, but did not fundamentally change it. It was source of much popular religion and mythology among common people and add metaphysical dimension to Chinese thought which enriched literature and art. It did not remold civilization like Christianity in Europe.

Growth of Chinese Culture: During 6 Dynasties and early Tang, China pervaded by spirit of cultural tolerance. Trade by sea and land growing. Early Tang brought China into contact with India and West Asia, but it wasn't until the 20th century was China responsive to foreign influence. Foreign contact brought new agricultural products, such as Tea from SE Asia, and some inventions. Tea first valued as medicine and subsequently spread form China to become worlds most popular drink. The chair, introduced from the West, gradually replaced mats.

Many inventions were made in China. As mentioned earlier, paper and porcelain were developed almost 1000 years before the West. Gunpowder was developed but it was used only for fireworks. The wheel barrow, the major means of transportation on narrow footpaths didn't spread to the West for centuries. Coal used in the 4th century in North China, and was a marvel to Marco Polo in the 13th century. Trade and foreign embassies brought 1000's of foreigners to the Tang capital and with them their religion. Judaism was small and isolate until the 19th century. Islam grew steadily until it had about 1 million followers in the NW and SW.

Buddhism had profound influence on art (especially sculpture) and music. Early Buddhist sculptures in China stiff abstractions of deities. By Tang, Buddhism concept of deity more human-like. Also in Tang more secular sculptures. Little Tang painting left but Buddhist influence great. Religious as well as secular works flourish. Not much remains of architecture as well, but some temples built in Chinese style in Japan in the 7th century still remain. In literature, large proportion of scholarship devoted to Buddhist works.