Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism

Statue of Confucius
Statue of Confucius. XiXinXing/Getty Images

Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism constitute the essence of the traditional Chinese culture. The relationship among the three has been marked by both contention and complementation in history, with Confucianism playing a more dominant role.

Confucius (Kongzi, 551-479 B.C.), the founder of Confucianism, stresses "Ren" (benevolence, love) and "Li" (rites), referring to respect for the system of social hierarchy. He attaches importance to education and was a pioneering advocate for private schools. He is particularly famous for teaching students according to their intellectual inclinations. His teachings were later recorded by his students in "The Analects."

Mencius also contributed a great part to Confucianism, lived in the Warring States Period (389-305 B.C.), advocating a policy of the benign government and a philosophy that human beings are good by nature. Confucianism became the orthodox ideology in feudal China and, in the long course of history, it drew on Taoism and Buddhism. By the 12th century, Confucianism had evolved into a rigid philosophy that calls for preserving heavenly laws and repressing human desires.​

Taoism was created by Lao Zi (around the sixth century B.C.), whose masterpiece is "The Classic of the Virtue of the Tao." He believes the dialectical philosophy of inaction. Chairman Mao Zedong once quoted Lao Zi: "Fortune lies in misfortune and vice versa." Zhuang Zhou, the main advocate of Taoism during the Warring States period, founded a relativism calling for the absolute freedom of the subjective mind. Taoism has greatly influenced Chinese thinkers, writers, and artists.

Buddhism was created by Sakyamuni in India around the 6th century B.C. Believing that human life is miserable and spiritual emancipation is the highest goal to seek. It was introduced into China through Central Asia around the time Christ was born. After a few centuries of assimilation, Buddhism evolved into many sects in the Sui and Tang Dynasties and became localized. That was also a process when the ingenious culture of Confucianism and Taoism were blended with Buddhism. Chinese Buddhism has played a very important role in traditional ideology and art.

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Custer, Charles. "Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism." ThoughtCo, Sep. 1, 2021, Custer, Charles. (2021, September 1). Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism. Retrieved from Custer, Charles. "Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 22, 2023).