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Chapter 6: Daoism and Confucianism

Chapter Objectives
After reading this chapter, you will be able to do the following:
• Describe the basic elements of traditional Chinese belief that appear in later developments of Chinese religions.
• Relate basic details of the lives of the key founders of Daoism and Confucianism.
• Define the meaning of Dao.
• Discuss Daoist values and ideals, and the images used to convey them.
• Discuss the focus and goals of Confucianism, especially in terms of the Five Great Relationships, the Confucian Virtues, and the notion of the "noble person".
• Describe how Daoism and Confucianism shaped Chinese arts.
Chapter Summary
Ancient China, before the great religions emerged, already saw patterns in nature, had concepts of yin and yang, venerated ancestors, and had other beliefs associated with the Chinese way. Over the centuries, both Daoism and Confucianism developed these ideas further but in different directions.
The Daoists, beginning with Laozi (Lao Tzu), spoke cryptically about nature and its operation and what it meant to live harmoniously with the Dao, the principle or power that makes the universe move through the patterns and rhythms seen in nature. The Daoists saw the veneer of civilization as something artificial or at least far removed from the Dao, the source of all. Disdaining formal education, they advocated a more intuitive path best conveyed through stories or in images such as water. Simplicity, gentleness, humility, seeing the relative nature of things, and a certain earthiness were Daoist values. Yet this apparent ordinariness also embodied a different way of looking at the world and being in it. Daoists sought a special effortless way of acting to accomplish one's purposes, longevity, and often the attainment of extraordinary powers.
Confucius focused on human fulfillment in the social sphere of life, for surely the Dao flowed through the human world just as it did in nature. Troubled by the political turmoil and what he perceived as a decline in civilization, Confucius advocated a program of comprehensive education and the cultivation of special virtues. He wanted both to develop individuals who could be social leaders and to create a harmonious society. He appealed to tradition and the past as a model for the present. In Confucian thinking, to a great extent human beings are their relationships. Careful attention to the duties and obligations of a person's different relationships with others was a central focus. One must live up to the highest expectations or standards of the various social roles one occupied, beginning with the family.
The excellent or noble person would have an inner integrity and a deep consideration for others. This person would have mastered the social graces—all those countless rituals of propriety that allow for smooth interaction between people. The noble person would avoid extremes in life, maintaining equilibrium and harmony. Additionally, the aesthetic sense would be developed, manifested in a love for all the arts associated with civilization, such as poetry and literature, calligraphy, painting, and music. By automatically choosing to do what is right after years of practice and study and by fulfilling one's job duties and social obligations properly, one would be united with the force of the universe.
Despite changes brought by the modern world, Confucian values continue to influence not only China but all of East Asia. They include attention to family and social harmony while observing a hierarchy in both family and society; a respect for the aged; and the valuing of education and self-discipline. Confucian and Daoist values have shaped the arts of China. Ultimately, the two are seen to be complementary, with Confucianism dominating the social realm and Daoism informing one's private life.
The book of sayings of Confucius.
Dao (Tao)
The mysterious origin of the universe that is present and visible in everything.
Daodejing (Tao Te Ching)
The classic scripture of Daoism.
Five Classics
The classical literature of the time preceding Confucius, including poetry, history, and divination.
Four Books
The major Confucian books, which include sayings of Confucius and Mencius.
"Noble person," the refined human ideal of Confucianism.
Laozi (Lao Tzu)
The legendary founder of Daoism.
The strictest of Chinese philosophical schools, which advocated strong laws and punishments.
Appropriate action, ritual, propriety, etiquette.
A Chinese school of philosophy that taught universal love.
qi (chi)
The life force.
Empathy, consideration for others, humaneness; a Confucian virtue.
Reciprocity; a Confucian virtue.
Cultural refinement; a Confucian virtue.
wu wei
"No action," "no strain"; doing only what comes spontaneously and naturally; effortlessness.
xiao (hsiao)
Family devotion, filial piety; a Confucian virtue.
The active aspect of reality that expresses itself in speech, light, and heat.
Yijing (Yi Jing, I Ching)
An ancient Confucian book of divination, one of the Five Classics, still in use today.
The receptive aspect of the universe that expresses itself in silence, darkness, coolness, and rest.
Zhuangzi (Chuang Tzu)
Author of a book of whimsical stories that express themes of early Daoist thought.