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Philosophers and Hundred Schools of Thought

Last updated by fabiowzgogo at 2016/12/16


The Hundred Schools of Thought is a general title in reference to various academic and ideological genres, their schools of thought and ideas, and their representative figures. Philosophers refer to the infamous theorists Confucius, Mencius, and Xun Zi of the Confucian School; Lao Zi of Taoism; and Han Feizi of the School of Law. After the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC-220), Philosophers after Spring and Autumn Period can be summarized as disciples of the Confucian School, Taoism, School of Yin-Yang, School of Law, School of Ming, Mohism, School of Zong and Heng (diplomacy), School of Za, School of Nong (agriculture), as well as School of Xiaoshuo (novels). Except for the School of Xiaoshuo, the others are more familiarly known as the Ten Genres and Nine Schools. The most important schools of thought are the Confucian School, Taoism, School of Yin-yang, School of Law, School of Ming, and Mohism.

Confucian School

Representative Figures: Confucius, Mencius, and Xun Zi

Works: Confucius, Mencius, Xun Zi



The Confucian School was one of the most important schools of thought in the Warring States period. It admires Confucius as its master and regards the Six Skills as its standards. This school emphasizes liyue (civilized and enlightened behavior) and renyi (benevolent and upright character), advocates zhongshu (loyalty and catholicity) and the theory of the golden mean, and upholds dezhi (rule by moral education) and renzheng (enlightened governance). It also focuses on moral and ethnic education as well as self-cultivation of character.

The Confucian School highly values the function of education. It holds that the development of education and less punishment is a necessity to national stability and a happy life. It believes that everyone should receive education and enlightenment so that the whole nation may become civilized and its people may gain a high sense of morality.

On politics, this school proposes that the head of the country should govern his nation with rites and morality. It also suggests the recovery of the Zhouli school of thought, which is considered the ideal way of implementing politics. In the Warring States period, the Confucian School was divided into 8 genres, the most important of which were the schools of Mencius and Xun Zi.


Representative Figures: Lao Zi and Zhuang Zi

Works: Lao Zi’s Tao De Jing, and Master Zhuang’s Zhuangzi

Lao Zi

Lao Zi

Like the Confucian School, Taoism was one of the most highly regarded schools of thought in the Warring States period and is also called the School of Morality. This school takes the ideas of Taoism as its theoretical basis, and use Taoism to explain the nature, source, composition, and changes of the earth. It believes that everything in nature appears automatically and that there is no god or immortal that has the power to control anything. Therefore, Taoism advocates that humans should let everything be as it is, follow what is going to happen, live without desire, and cultivate the heart calmly. People should take an amiable and reasonable way to persuade others rather than resorting to force.

On politics, the school of Taoism upholds that a nation should be ruled with enlightenment instead of military force. After Lao Zi’s time, Taoism differentiated into several groups, and the most famous 4 are the schools of Zhuang Zi, Yang Zhu, Song Yin, and Huang Lao.


Representative Figure: Mo Zi

Works: Mo Zi

Mo Zi

Mo Zi

The theoretical basis of Mohismis benevolence and benefits for all. It suggests that people should love others as they love themselves. As long as people in a country can love each other, they can benefit each other in communication. Mohism has strict regulations and secret organizations. Its members are mostly from the middle and lower social classes; it is said that all of them are very capable and also courageous enough to strengthen their characters.

On politics, Mohism upholds co-existence and harmonization rather than exclusion. On economic development, it emphasizes consolidation and preservation. On thought, it believes the existence of and worships God. At the same time, Mohism proposes the theory of Feiming, which means people should survive and prosper through hard work and efforts.

When the figure of Mohism, Mo Di, passed away, the school of thought developed into various genres. In the late Warring States period, it particularly evolved into 2 lines of thought. One emphasized ideology, logistics, math, optics, and mechanics, and was therefore called Late Mohism. The other turned into the paladins in the Qin (221 BC-206 BC) and Han Dynasties (206 BC-220).

School of Law

Representative Figures: Han Feizi and Li Si

Works: Han Fei Zi

The School of Law was another very important school of thought in the Warring States period. It upholds the rule of a country by law, and proposes that all the people, no matter rich or poor, royal or common, should be treated equally and fairly under established law and according to law. During the times of the Spring and Autumn period, Guan Zhong and Zi Chan were well-known disciples of this school. Then in the early years of the Warring States period, Li Li, Shang Yang, Shen Buhai, and Shen Dao officially established the School of Law. At the end of the Warring States period, Han Fei combined "Fa" (the idea of Shang yang), "Shi" (proposed by Shen Dao), and "Shu" (advocated by Shen Buhai), and largely promoted the development of the School of Law.

On politics, it holds that a country should abolish divisions of power while setting up prefectures and counties under imperial autarchy and rule with serious codes of punishments. On economy, the School of Law emphasizes agricultural values with rewards while restricting commerce. On education and thought, it highly advertises banning the ideas of the Hundred Schools while instead educating the public with law and history. Suggestions and propositions of this school provide the theoretical foundation and guidance of behaviors for the imperial autarchy.

School of Ming

Representative Figures: Deng Zhe, Hui Shi, Gongsui Long, and Heng Tuan

Works: Gongsun Long Zi

The School of Ming was one of the most important schools of thought in the Warring States period. Its academic activities center on the explanation and argumentation of "Ming" (referring to names and concepts) and "Shi" (means fact), for which it is called School of Ming. Disciples of this school are named Bianzhe (arguer), Chashi, or Xing Ming Jia. Outstanding figures of the School of Ming are Hui Shi and Gongsun Long.

School of Yin and Yang (the principles of light and shade)

Representative Figures: Zou Yan

The School of Yin and Yang was also one of the famous schools of thought in the Warring States period. It advocates the theory of yin and yang as representation for contrast and balance, the five elements, and uses them to explain what happens in social life. This school originated from the ruling class of the then empire and its representative figure is Zou Yan of the Warring States period.

The School of Yin and Yang believes that yin and yang are 2 opposite and invertible kinds of strength within an object, and they therefore can be utilized for the explanation of the rule of development. The theory of five elements holds that the world is composed of five kinds of matter, namely wood, fire, earth, gold, and water. These five elements rely on and facilitate each other, an idea which was later interpreted as 2 laws for explaining the changes in and source of the world. Based on the 2 laws, Zou Yan referred to the character of the five elements as five moralities and thus developed and proposed the Law of Five Moralities. Later, the law was used to interpret the prosperity and decline of a dynasty, and it was inherited as the theoretical basis for national unification.

School of Zong and Heng

Representative Figures: Su Qin and Zhang Yi

Works: Most of their ideas are recorded in Intrigues of the Warring States

The School of Zong and Heng comprises of the ideals of men in the Warring States period. Its disciples maneuvered among various political groupings when campaigning, and they also conducted political and diplomatic activities. This school was listed as one of the Hundreds Schools of Thought, represented by Su Qin and Zhang Yi.

During the Warring States period, the combination of the south and the north of China was called Zong, while that of the west and the east was called Heng. Su Qin strongly recommended 6 states, namely Yan, Zhao, Han, Wei, Qi, and Chu, to cooperate with each other in the south and north and to resist Qin. However, Zhang Yi suggested that the 6 states should join hands with each other in the east and west, and deal with Qin respectively. Therefore, this school won its name as the School of Zong and Heng because of the ideas of its representatives. Their activities had wide and deep influence on the changes of political and military patterns during the Warring States period.

School of Za

Representative Figure: Lv Buwei

The School of Za was a combined school of thought that came about at the end of the Warring States period. Za in Chinese means "various." This school was known for combining the soul and extracts of different schools. Lv Buwei, Chief of Councilor in the Qin Dynasty, and his followers collaborated on Lü’ s Spring and Autumn Annals, a classic work of the School of Za.

School of Nong (agriculture)

The School of Nong was an important school of thought during the Warring States period. Nong, used in this context, in Chinese refers to agriculture or peasants. It famously emphasizes the importance of farming, and the school was actually established by agricultural experts and professionals. It holds that agriculture is the very foundation of social life and should be put above everything else.

School of Xiaoshuo (Novels)

The School of Xiaoshuo was one of the 9 major schools of thoughts in the early Qin Dynasty. It collected stories and folklores from the common people so future generations may know and value various local customs and traditions.