The Chinese pride themselves in not just one of the richest histories but also some of the greatest thinkers of all time.
In this article, we’ll look at 10 of the famous Chinese philosophers, as well as the contributions they made to the country or how they may have influenced not just China but the rest of the world.
Top 10 Famous Chinese Philosophers and Their Contributions
Confucius is one of the biggest names in Chinese philosophy, and every time you mention the name Confucius, Confucianism comes to mind. This is because Confucius is not just one of the greatest Chinese philosophers but also the most famous thinkers in the whole world. In China, Confucius’ philosophies dominate feudal Chinese societies for at least 2,000 years.
Confucius is said to behave lived between 551 and 479BC and was a great philosopher who emphasized morality and living peacefully, especially within the structures of society. He also encouraged societies to love each other. Over the years, and even after his death, the philosophies laid down by Confucius continued to play a significant role in Chinese history, with most of these philosophies known to have created the foundation that the Chinese societies are based on today.
Confucius came up with the Golden Rule, which is (and was used) as the principle for morality. This rule also exemplified his brand and belief in humanity. To date, the value ethics shared by Confucius plays an important role in Chinese history.
Laozi is the other big Chinese philosopher who lived between the 6th and the 5th Century BCE. Laozi was one of the greatest Chinese philosophers who is believed to have come up with Taoism. Laozi largely advocated for The Inaction Thought, which means – To Do Nothing is Actually To Do Everything. According to the beliefs held by Laozi, human beings are required to adhere to all the laws of nature and shouldn’t demand too much from nature.
Thanks to Laozi’s line of thinking, he is believed to be one of the greatest contemporary thinkers alongside Confucius. Laozi is older than Confucius, and it’s said that Confucius visited Laozi, who gave him precious advice that guided him.
Zhuangzi lived in the 4th Century BCE and is said to be one of the greatest Taoist thinkers to have ever lived during the Warring States Period of circa 475 – 221 BCE. He came after Laozi, and like his predecessor, he believed a lot in inaction and also believed that circulating freely in the realm in which individuals and the heavens existed together and that all things and individuals would, as a result, be united as one. He is known for his famous book Zhuangzi in which he expressed his beliefs that life is rather limited, but the amount of knowledge that can be gained is unlimited.
Mencius, also known as Mengzi, who lived between 372 and 289 BCE, is the other popular Chinese Philosopher. He was a strong Confucius follower, and he interpreted Confucianism ideas, writing about the philosophical works of Confucius. His book Mencius gives an outline of his sayings and doings, as well as his statements about the goodness of human nature.
Dating back to 312 – 230 BC, Xunzi was a great Confucius philosopher, and he lived during the Warring States Period of 475-221BC. His views opposed those of Mengzi, and he believed that man’s inherent tendencies needed to be restricted, and this would be possible through certain rituals and education. Xunzi, therefore, considered that the ethical norms in society came to be as a way of rectifying human beings and human behavior.
- Dong Zhongshu
This is another great Chinese thinker who lived between 179 – 104 BC. This Chinese thinker was an important part of the Han Dynasty of circa 206BC – 220AD, and he was behind the establishment of Confucianism back in 136BCE – this time saw the establishment of Confucianism as the official Hans’ Dynasty political philosophy. This philosophy guided the individuals and leaders in Imperial China.
- Zhu Xi
Zhu Xi lived between 1130 and 1200, and he was a great Confucian Scholar whose works became popular in Song Dynasty’s reign between 960 and 1279. Zhu Xi is said to have been one of the most influential Neo-Confucian scholars that existed in China, and his Neo-Confucian thoughts have dominated the lives of the Chinese intellectual people for decades. According to the Neo-Confucianism school of thought, ethical, moral, and metaphysical Chinese Philosophies are largely influenced by Confucianism, and it is believed to have been an attempt at creating a more secular and rationalism version of Confucianism through the rejection of the superstitious and the mystical elements associated with Buddhism and Taoism – things that had an influence on Confucianism.
Zhu Xi is said to have assigned the book – The Four Books as his primary study material in trying to understand Confucianism. His teachings placed emphasis on the need for accurate investigations into things, which is why he is considered China’s second most important and influential thinker after Confucius.
- Wang Shouren
Wang Shouren lived between 1472 and 1529 and was one of the most influential thinkers/ philosophers of the Ming Dynasty circa 1368 and 1644. Wang’s philosophies noted and advocated for the harmonization of the human mind and rationalism. He also emphasized the need for unity of doing/ actions and shows, as well as the need for pure investigations of things.
- Huang Zongxi
Huang Zongxi is the other Chinese philosopher who made a great impact on the country. He was alive between 1610 and 1695, and this Chinese Thinker was also part of the Ming Dynasty but also part of the early days of the Qing Dynasty. Huang taught and believed in Neo-Confucianism, but with great emphasis on the need for the development of constitutional law to guide society.
- Wang Fuzhi
Last on our list is the Chinese philosopher known as Wang Fuzhi. Wang was alive between 1619 and 1692, meaning that he also served late in the Ming Dynasty and in the earlier days after the Qing Dynasty came to power. Wang’s time came with the establishment of a system known as Simple Materialism. This system and his beliefs taught about the materialism of the world and the fact that material things are primary but also eternal.
These are just some of the great Chinese thinkers and philosophers who made great contributions to Chinese societies. Others include Mozi, who founded Mohism – ancient school of thought on logic and scientific thoughts; Shang Yang, who founded the school of thought on Legalism and how the law can be used for the sake of stability; Huineng, who was the Buddhist that established the ideas of Zen and Chan Buddhism hence modern-day Zen and enlightenment; Mao Zedong known for Maoism which expanded on the Marxist-Leninist ideas in the semi-feudal/colonial agricultural societies; and finally, Deng Xiaoping who contributed to Chinese Communism and the inclusion of the Two Systems, One Country idea for China –he’s also credited for the development of the modern Chinese meteoric economic growth.