Traditional Worldview

What is the world and the cosmos? This is the basic question of Chinese philosophy.

Laozi, a thinker during the Spring and Autumn Period, was the first philosopher who tried to explain the basic question. According to Laozi, Dao, or "the Way", is the source and root of the Earth, heaven and everything between. The Way has no starting point and no end. The way is Nature itself and Nature itself is the Way.? Laozi borrowed the notion that "The Way follows Nature" to reveal a common yet profound truth: that all things and creatures in the world, including man and his society, have a natural character. Humans must obey the law of nature and should not put incessant demands on Nature. So it has become a mainstream rule in the traditional Chinese outlook on the world to "obey the laws of Nature and follow human desire." It is also an important ideological cornerstone of the architecture of China's culture.


The dialectic way of thought is another important characteristic of Chinese philosophy with respect to its outlook on the world. The early sages who wrote The Book of Changes in the Zhou Dynasty realized that the universe is made up of two opposing extremes, and that minor changes could lead to great ones. Zhuangzi inherited and continued Laozis idea. He carrying this idea to the extreme of regarding everything as a transient phenomenon. His famous, "Butterflies and Dreams" is a good illustration of this idea.

Utopia Theories

Each of the hundred schools of thought that sprang up during the Spring and Autumn Period raised its own ideas of an ideal society.

For Laozi, his utopia was described as this: "Let your community be small, with only a few people? He said that "to do nothing is actually to do everything." A good ruler should do nothing but let people care for their own interests. Zhuangzi reiterated Laozi's idea and carried it further by advocating that one "follows the natural way" totally, without reservation. For Mozi, philanthropy?and non-aggression?should prevail in a utopia. Hanfeizi advanced the idea of combining law, politics and power to create an ideal society.

Mainstream thought about the ideal society of China is contained in the theories of Confucius. For Confucius, a world of great harmony would be a society made up of many individuals acting rationally, organized around a series of societal orders. Etiquette and benevolence are integral to the social theories of Confucius. Confucius taught that a set of orders and norms must be established. From the top ruler, to his ministers, to fathers and to sons, everyone must behave in a manner appropriate to his position and follow an ordained set of rules and guidelines. No word may be uttered, nor any behavior in breach of these rules and guidelines be contemplated.

Morals and Ethics

The early sages in China believed that the family was the basic element of society. Since a family is bonded through blood, the relationship between father and son is the core of the relationship. This relationship is extended further, to encompass relationships between husband and wife, monarch and the subject, senior and junior and between friends: these are called the Five Cardinal Relationships, and they include most of the relationships between people in a society.

Confucius put forth benevolence as the highest standard of social ethics and the nation's moral benchmark when its welfare is at stake. He hoped that it would become the moral code for the Chinese people.

Mencius has taken Confucius' principle further, and raised the notion of righteousness as the core value and the supreme standard of ethics. For Mencius, among the five fundamental moral principles ?benevolence, righteousness, courtesy, intelligence and faith, righteousness was the core value. Righteousness implies justice and moral principles. Upholding righteousness has been one of the essential moral standards for the Chinese; this is in contrast to the principle of personal interest first.

Philosophy of War

Winning without fighting is an important thought in ancient Chinese military theory. The one who proposed this, Sun-Tzu (who styled himself Sun Wu), born around 500 BC, was a contemporary of Confucius. His masterpiece, The Art of War, is universally regarded as a classic even today. A second Art of War was written by another Sun-Tzu - Sun Bin. Sun Bin was said to be a descendant of Sun-Tzu, and was born some 100 years later. The two Sun-Tzu's wrote two treatises on the art of war, both of which are treasures of the Chinese civilization. Sun Wu advocated employing first strategies and then diplomacy to defeat the enemy. These were followed by invasion, and lastly laying siege to the enemy's cities and castles.

The reason why the Chinese philosophy of war values victory without battles is that the Chinese have a deep understanding of war and a clear assessment of its consequences. Laozi thought that war was not a good thing, and should be waged only when one must. One should put the approach of waging war under a bigger goal, and treat it with caution and deliberation. A quiet life lived without war or fighting is a good life.

Mencius says that benevolent gentlemen are matchless in the world, and sending forces further armed with benevolence to suppress armies not possessing this quality is an assurance of victory and can avoid the unnecessary loss of lives.

Traditional Chinese political culture always adheres to a people-centered policy. That is why, in Chinese military culture, benevolence and justice are always used in an evaluation of a decision to go to war, in order to determine the probable benefit to the people. Chinese military culture uses benevolence and justice as guidance, and will not let war escalate out of control. The emphasis is not on its military strength, nor will it engage in uncontrolled violence - rather, it strives to win without fighting.