Influence of Chinese Philosophies on Governance in Ancient China
The major prevalent Chinese philosophies that had a great impact on the Chinese way of life including governance, social life, and economic systems include Taoism, Legalism, Mohism, Buddhism, and Confucianism (Wong 90). Ancient Chinese governments were ruled by dynasties. While sometimes competing, dynasties ruled different regions. A strong central government was necessary to control the vast country’s vast size, population, and resources. Chinese philosophies emerged as a response to the need to find stability in governance. Alliances between states were formed and dissolved, and several kings were overthrown, a factor that made life dangerous and chaotic. The warring state period pushed Chinese intellectuals to look for a solution for the violence and disorder that surrounded them. The philosophers Laozi, Confucius, and Han Feizi, drastically developed solutions to the issue.
The philosophies cropped by these philospheres continue to impact Chinese governance, culture, and society today. Confucianism One of the philosophies that helped in the governance of ancient China was Confucianism, a philosophy that emphasized proper management, virtue, and merit-based promotion for offices of leadership within the government. The applications of Confucian philosophy, which emphasized the need for hard work, responsibility, and accountability brought accountability and stability within the region that paved the way for economic achievements. Steel production in China was the largest in the world and could only be compared to the with that of Great Britain in the year 1800. The Confucian education system was mandatory for those who wanted certification, that would grant them government positions (Mote 6). All the officials had to be certified after undergoing the Confucian teaching to earn a position in the civil service (Mote 6).
The Confucian graduates ruled over the most stable nation in world history for one of the longest periods. He recommended family as the basis of ideal government, an aspect that can be traced from his emphasis on strong family loyalty and respect for the elderly by the younger people (Cioffi-Revilla et al. He developed the philosophy because he believed the Chinese society was seriously broken and needed a change so that a peaceful China could emerge. Part of his idea came from the fact that he lived in Lu province, currently known as Shandong province, where several invasions occurred when lords fought for its control. The philosopher believed that honesty, fairness in leadership, and acting as role models were needed among government officials so that they could earn the trust of the people.
According to the philosopher, order would be restored if rulers showed integrity (Durant 66). Therefore, they decided to select government officials based on their qualifications, not personal connections (Selbitschka 3). Unlike before, government positions were given to the noble families. The Han created civil service exam, highest scores were given government post. Such provisions were as a result of the influence of Confucius’ teaching that the merit-based system would bring back order and respect to the society (LIU 118). His ideas were taught at every level in school, and the philosophy significantly influenced the individuals who passed search exams. It focused on the concept of order and the possibility of according man with order. Daoism mainly touched on religious aspects of the society (LIU 117).
Unlike Confucianism and Legalism, Daoism paid little attention to politics compared to religion. On political aspects, it also differed with other philosophies. Unlike Confucianism, Daoism favored pluralism, anarchism, and laissez-faire and is among the early examples of philosophies that championed liberalism. The political implication of Daoism was majorly in opposition to the authority. Coercion, government, and normal socialization of values were some of the teachings of Lao. Proponents of Daoism provided several texts that were helpful in promoting governance principles based on Daoism. The texts, namely Zhuangzi contains a list of Daoism thinkers and notes their ideas that championed a laisses faire system of governance (Fu 14). The texts preferred “fishing to political office or high status. ” Legalism Legalism is the third philosophy that also contributed to the Chinese system of governance.
The founder of the philosophy, Han Feizi, lived between 280-233 BCE, just before the end of Zhou dynasty. The two major fundamentals of Legalism were strict enforcement of the law and the overriding authority of the state. Despite that fact that the Qin Dynasty that significantly embraced the philosophy was short-lived, its impacts spread throughout the country try’s political history. It was based on a centralized government structure which was a feature in the Qin Dynasty, where the ruler was an absolute emperor or authority. Shang Yang one of the leading applicants of legalism was mainly concerned with sociopolitical and administrative innovations. He is considered a leading reformer of ancient China. He transformed the peripheral state of Qin into a militarily strong and powerful centralized kingdom.
Legalism emphasized on several ideas that paved the way for Yang’s reforms, a factor that significantly helped Qin to conquer other states. Shang’s successor Han Fei (c. The rule had to surround himself with authority, influence, and power, and apply statecraft. Rulers who followed the ideas moved from righteousness and benevolence; they discarded ability and reasons. They subdued people’s rights through statutes (FA). The basis of their actions was that only absolute ruler could restore order. The Fa-Jia doctrine that contained the Legalism succeeded in propelling the centralization of state and creating the foundation of Buearocracy in China, establishing effective and efficient codes that later become the patterns of politics in China (Ch’ien 9). His philosophy contradicts Confucius by arguing that China's problem did not come from lack of respect or fairness among families and relationships.
The teachings of the belief were that humans were mainly selfish and only embarked on self-fulfilling endeavors. The above concept was the basis of his philosophy. The philosophy argued that rules should enact strict regulations and ensure control by punishing bad behavior and rewarding good ones. He watched the end of Zhou dynasty that was characterized by grabbing of power among leaders, unrests, and several governments were overthrown. The emperor accomplished a lot at the time of his governance and set the pace for the dynasties that came after him. Some of the negative impacts of the application of Legalism was that thousands of people were killed and he became popular that his successor who took over after his death was overthrown (Selbitschka 7).
After the transition of power, the Han dynasty took over control of the country and governed using the philosophy and ideas of Confucianism and not Legalist as applied by the Qin dynasty. The earlier emperors did not embrace the concepts of the philosophy like the Qin Dynasty under Emperor Qin Shi who believed that the crisis in the government was as a result of confusion brought by Confucian scholars. Qin wrote that “I suggest that official histories, except the memoirs of Qin, be all burnt, those who try to hide should be brought before the authorities so they can be burnt. Conclusion Chinese system of governance was influenced by the works of ancient philosophers. The government structures and features such as authoritarian regimes, and regimes that issued government and public positions based on merit were as a result of the influence that they had from the teachings of the ancient philosophies.
The philosophies developed with the aim of providing answers to the governance problems in ancient china that was characterized by wars and conflicts. Therefore, the philosophers provided suggestions that were later embraced and were applied in governance of ancient china. The major influence point was the inclusion of the philosophers’ teachings in school systems such as Confucianism. It was difficult to determine if Chinese rulers applied these philosophies interchangeable to suit different occasions, situations, circumstances, or to solve particular problems. More research should be done to provide clarity on the issue of interchanging philosophies to meet different occasions. Daoism stands out as the only philosophy that focused much on religion, the other two majored on systems of governance and ways of life.
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