The Pre-Qin Period

Zhou culture was a mixture of different nations and cultures living in the Weihe River (渭水) basin. Zhou people, after leaving the Wei River Plain and expanding their boundaries, keenly accepted the culture of the Shang (商). Oracle divination, bronze casting for rituals and burial rites were almost the same as that imposed by the Shang rulers. At first, writing was used to record the results of divination and other important events, on bones and bronze wares buried with abandoned aristocrats. However, the Western Zhou Dynasty also developed its own style on the decoration of ships and vessels. In the early centuries of the 1st millennium BC, the types of ornaments and utensils appeared very different from those of the early Shang Dynasty.


But the Western Zhou Dynasty used bamboo strips (jian简, ce策 or 册) to record the historical events which did not survive but the texts spread over centuries. The most critical Zhou texts had become the core of the later Confucian classics. The Book of Document (Shujing 书经, literally, Texts of the Old) is a series of quotes and speeches of great masters from the Xia and Shang Period to the Western Zhou Period. The Book of Songs (Shijing 诗经) is a collection of popular songs of the Western Zhou Dynasty and the Spring and Autumn Period. The third text is the Book of Changes(Yijing 易经, or Zhou Yi 周易), which was said to be a divination manual created by the King Wen or the Duke of Zhou.



The Hundred Schools of Thought (Baijia 诸子百家)


In a time of warfare and state reforms, practical advisors were greatly favored, the most famous and successful of which were the Legalists (fajia 法家), almost engaged in the state of Qin, aiming only to enforce the ruler's authority. The representatives were Guan Zhong (管仲),  Shang Yang (商鞅), Li Kui (李悝), Shen Buhai (申不害), Shen Dao (慎到) and Han Fei (韩非).


Military treatises (bingjia 兵家), another practical school, was also popular, with the examples of the famous books of wars written by Sunzi (孙子), Sun Bin (孙膑), Wuzi (吴子), Yu Liaozi (尉繚子), as well as the books Simafa (司马法) and Liutao (六韬).


A third was Coalition persuaders (zonghengjia 縱橫家), meaning geographical vertical and horizontal coalitions with or against the state of Qin, whose most essential masterpiece was the Stratagems for the Warring States, also translated as Intrigues (Zhanguoce 战国策), a novel-like work, including many anecdotes of persuaders. The book Master Yan (Yanzi Chunqiu, 晏子春秋) was also in this category. 


The most world-famous school abroad should be the Confucian school (rujia,儒家). Rather than creating new thing, Confucius (Kongzi,孔子) defined as a protector and transmitter of old good knowledge and customs, such as the sage rulers Yao (堯), Shun (舜), King Zhou Wenwang(周文王) who were humane and righteous to gather people in their domain and to rule without weapons and punishments. Mengzi (孟子), his follower, believed that man was  good by nature. Nonetheless, social hierarchy, reigning and serving were the best ways to avoid chaos and wars. Xunzi (荀子), the youngest Confucian, on the contrary, assumes that mankind was naturally evil and therefore had to be dominated by ritual and rules. The collection of Confucius' sayings is called the Analects or Lunyu (论语).


There were two contemporaneous schools of thought which were much less famous abroad. Mohists (mojia 墨家), with the only representative Mozi (墨子), castigated lavishness and fighter against expenditures for burials, rites and music. As the pioneering  socialist, Mozi devoted himself to the overwhelming love that would overcome murder and war, poverty and envy. The other was that of the Divine Farmer (nongjia 农家), proposing the equality of everyone, even requiring a king to engage in farming.


The second great philosophical school of China is Taoism (daojia,道家), with the most important philosophical pre-Han books,  Daodejing (道德經) of Laozi (老子) and the book of Zhuangzi (庄子) advocating the integral concept of Taoism of the withdrawal from worldly affairs and the self-cultivation, while the latter pursuit  eternity with different methods, such as herbal drinks or meditation, leading to a development of alchemy. A throughout relationship in all beings in Zhuangzi made the Taoism similar to Buddhism to this point.


The many other schools of thoughts could hardly be separated from neither the Mohist nor the Taoism, most of whose theories were only scattered in different collections, such as Lüshi Chunqiu (呂氏春秋) whose structure showed the correlative thinking of the two principles Yin and Yang (阴阳) and the Five Phases or Elements (wuxing,五行). The differences among the Hundred Schools of thoughts mostly laid in the interpretation and emphasis of some values, such as dao (道, way), de (德, virtue), ren (仁, humanity), yi (义, righteousness), li (禮, etiquette) and li (理,  order).


Unknown books unearthed from the Warring States period tombs showed the importance of philosophical schools in assisting a ruler to survive and govern in a difficult time.


Besides, an abundant books from the Warring States period were still existent which were said to have been composed during the  last years of Zhou Dynasty. Among these were geographies, such as Shanhaijing (山海经) which referred to magical beings in different regions, Books of Ritual, historical and poetical character like the Confucian Classics, including the Book of Documents(Shujing,书经), the Book of Poetry (Shijing 诗经), the Book of Changes (Yijing 易经) and the Book of Etiquette and Rites(Yili, 仪礼). The Poetry of the South (Chuci, 楚辞), ascribed to Qu Yuan (屈原), was an interesting book presenting the mystical, nature-bound characters of the southern thinking.

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