Hundred Schools of Thought 諸子百家 (first draft)

Net-worked Performance/happening:
“From the end of reign King P’ing [720 B.C.]… the feudal political institutions were beginning to collapse; simultaneously the social system and the way of life of the feudal aristocracy were being transformed. The dividing line between aristocracy and commoner was gradually disappearing . Service in government and the acquisition of learning, both privileges originally limited to the noble families, were now opened to commoners. The historians tell about the displacement of the hereditary court officials, and not without foundation in fact. Moreover, a multiplicity of feudal states coexisted, and contented with each other for supremacy. Clearly, uniformity of learning and thought could not be maintained. Thought was freed, learning was unrestricted. Scholars without official responsibilities, were able to develop their views freely; “heterodoxies” thus could widely prevail. Rulers of princedoms, intent upon self-aggrandizement, greatly valued the services of talented scholars. As this time, when “throughout the world there is no Tao“, during this transitional period of social metamorphosis, not only strife and disorder persist, making the livelihood of the people ever more precarious, but also all of the customs and institutions that previously had united people’s minds and preserved social order were shaken to the point of collapse, their former effectiveness dissipated. Men of profound thought and far vision inevitably were moved to make critical inquires into the causes and influences of these great changes, and quite naturally voiced opposition or offered constructive proposal. In consequence, political thought suddenly flowered. All of the factors mentioned above were already incipient in the Spring and Autumn Period, and by the Warring States Period they had intensified. Consequently, the development of thought also reached its most intense stage only in the Warring States Period.
The social environment, however, provides no more than the conditions for the budding of thought. Had there not been born into that special environment thinkers of intellectual capacity far beyond the ordinary, men such as Confucius, Mencius, Chuang Tzu, and Han Fei Tzu, how could that all-important “Golden Age” in China’s intellectual history have come to being? …”
A History of Chinese Political Thought, Kung-chuan Hsiao, translated by F.W.Mote, Page 4-7
Hundred Schools of Thought were philosophers and schools that had flourished from 770 to 221 BC, an era of great cultural and intellectual expansion in China. Even though this period, known in its earlier part as the Spring and Autumn period and the Warring States period (春秋戰國時代/春秋战国时代) in its latter part, was wrought with chaos and bloody battles, it is also known as the Golden Age of Chinese philosophy because various thoughts and ideas were developed and discussed freely. This phenomenon has been called the Contention of a Hundred Schools of Thought (百家爭鳴/百家争鸣). These thoughts and ideas have profoundly influenced lifestyles and social consciousness up to the present day in East Asian countries. The intellectual society of this era was characterized by itinerant scholars, who were often employed by various state rulers as advisers on the methods of government, war and diplomacy. This period ended with the rise of the Qin dynasty and the subsequent purge of dissent, namely Burning of books and burying of scholars .
In this performance, six main philosophers, Lao Zi, Zhuang Zi, Kong Zi, Mo Zi, Han Fei Zi and Sun Zi reside in the Grand View Garden, presenting their thoughts and strategies freely, confronting yet respecting each other. They can be identified by their unique appearances and activities. Performers are encouraged to pick their favorite character and interpret it based on their own reading of the character’s life, philosophy and influence.
Performance Location: Red Chambers Court Yard (east of Grand View Garden in Land of Illusion)

Schedule: filming: 2nd or 3rd week in December; exhibition: “Paradise” at NY Broadway Gallery, February 2009

Actions (subject to change as necessary):
Lao Zi: (by west chamber) wandering around on his water buffalo.
Zhuang Zi: (by east chamber) dreaming of butterfly
Mo Zi: (central chamber) designing mechanical birds or wheeled, mobile “cloud ladders” used to besiege city walls
Han Fei Zi: (by south chamber) announcing punishment by torture devices
Sun Zi: (west chamber) writing Art of War surrounded by war imagery and sound
Kong Zi: (east chamber) putting ritual vases on the sacrifice table

Lao Zi
Lao Zi meets Yin Xi
Lao Zi is a philosopher of ancient China and a central figure in Taoism (also spelled “Daoism”). Laozi literally means “Old Master” and is generally considered an honorific.

According to Chinese tradition, Laozi lived in the 6th century BC. Historians variously contend that Laozi is a synthesis of multiple historical figures, that he is a mythical figure, or that he actually lived in the 4th century BC, concurrent with the Hundred Schools of Thought and Warring States Period.[1] A central figure in Chinese culture, both nobility and common people claim Laozi in their lineage. Zhuangzi, widely considered the intellectual and spiritual successor of Laozi, had a notable impact on Chinese literature, culture and spirituality. Throughout history, Laozi’s work was embraced by various anti-authoritarian movements.

Popular legends say that he was conceived when his mother gazed upon a falling star, stayed in the womb for sixty-two years, and was born when his mother leaned against a plum tree. He accordingly emerged a grown man with a full grey beard and long earlobes, which are a symbol of wisdom and long life.[7][8] In other versions he was reborn in some thirteen incarnations since the days of Fuxi; in his last incarnation as Laozi he lived to nine hundred and ninety years, and traveled to India to reveal the Dao.[9]

According to popular traditional biographies, he worked as the Keeper of the Archives for the royal court of Zhou. This reportedly allowed him broad access to the works of the Yellow Emperor and other classics of the time. The stories assert that Laozi never opened a formal school, but he nonetheless attracted a large number of students and loyal disciples. There are numerous variations of a story depicting Confucius consulting Laozi about rituals.[10][11]

Traditional accounts state that Laozi grew weary of the moral decay of city life and noted the kingdom’s decline. According to these legends, he ventured west to live as a hermit in the unsettled frontier at the age of 160. At the western gate of the city, or kingdom, he was recognized by a guard, Yin Xi. The sentry asked the old master to produce a record of his wisdom. This is the legendary origin of the Daodejing. In some versions of the tale, the sentry is so touched by the work that he leaves with Laozi to never be seen again. Some legends elaborate further that the “Old Master” was the teacher of the Buddha, or the Buddha himself.[14][15]According to legends, Laozi leaves China on his water buffalo.


Zhuang Zi:

Zhuangzi’s thought can also be considered a precursor of relativism in systems of value. His relativism even leads him to doubt the basis of pragmatic arguments (that a course of action preserves our lives) since this presupposes that life is good and death bad. In the fourth section of “The Great Happiness” (至樂 zhìlè, chapter 18), Zhuangzi expresses pity to a skull he sees lying at the side of the road. Zhuangzi laments that the skull is now dead, but the skull retorts, “How do you know it’s bad to be dead?”

Another well-known part of the book, which is also found in Chapter 2, is usually called “Zhuangzi dreamed he was a butterfly” (莊周夢蝶 Zhuāng Zhōu mèng dié).

Once Zhuangzi dreamt he was a butterfly, a butterfly flitting and fluttering around, happy with himself and doing as he pleased. He didn’t know he was Zhuangzi. Suddenly he woke up and there he was, solid and unmistakable Zhuangzi. But he didn’t know if he was Zhuangzi who had dreamt he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming he was Zhuangzi. Between Zhuangzi and a butterfly there must be some distinction! This is called the Transformation of Things. (2, tr. Burton Watson 1968:49)

Zhuang Zi
Points that Zhuangzi makes
  • Everything is everything.
  • There is no good or bad, only thinking makes it so.
  • The world around us may be perceived as an illusion from our senses our experiences and our interpretations, thus illusions are irrelevant to conclude a definite right or wrong way.
  • Death is just a passage of the illusion of life.


Mo Zi:

Mo Zi (ca. 470 BCE–ca. 391 BCE), was a philosopher who lived in China during the Hundred Schools of Thought period (early Warring States Period). He founded the school of Mohism and argued strongly against Confucianism and Daoism. During the Warring States Period, Mohism was actively developed and practiced in many states, but fell out of favour when the legalist Qin Dynasty came to power. During that period many Mohist classics were ruined when Qin Shihuang carried out the burning of books and burying of scholars. The importance of Mohism further declined when Confucianism became the dominant school of thought during the Han Dynasty, disappearing by the middle of the Western Han Dynasty.[1]

Most historians believe that Mozi was a member of the lower artisan class who managed to climb his way to an official post. Mozi was a native of the State of Lu, although for a time he served as a minister in the State of Song.[2] Like Confucius, Mozi was known to have maintained a school for those who desired to become officials serving in the different ruling courts of the Warring States.[2]

Mozi was a master engineer and craftsman, designing everything from mechanical birds to wheeled, mobile “cloud ladders” used to besiege city walls (see Lu Ban). Though he did not hold a high official position, Mozi was sought out by various rulers as an expert on fortification, and managed to attract a large following during his lifetime which rivalled that of Confucius. His followers – mostly technicians and craftspeople – were organized in a disciplined order that studied both Mozi’s philosophical and technical writings.

His pacifism led Mozi to travel from one crisis zone to another through the ravaged landscape of the Warring States, trying to dissuade rulers from their plans of conquest. According to the chapter “Gongshu” in Mozi, he once walked for ten days to the state of Chu in order to forestall an attack on the state of Song. At the Chu court, Mozi engaged in simulated war games with Gongshu Ban, the chief military strategist of Chu, and overturned each one of his stratagems. When Gongshu Ban threatened him with death, Mozi informed the king that his disciples had already trained the soldiers of Song on his fortification methods, so it would be useless to kill him. The Chu king was forced to call off the war. On the way back, however, the soldiers of Song, not recognizing him, would not allow Mozi to enter their city, and he had to spend a night freezing in the rain.

Though Mozi’s school faded into obscurity after the Warring States period, he was studied again two millennia after his death: Both the Republican revolutionaries of 1911 and the Communists saw in him a surprisingly modern thinker who was stifled early in Chinese history.


Han Fei Zi:

Han Fei (ca. 280–233 BC) was a philosopher who, along with Li Si, developed Xun Zi‘s mutualism into the doctrine embodied by the School of Law or Legalism. Unlike the other famed philosophers of the time, Han Fei was a member of the ruling aristocracy, having been born into the ruling family of the state of Han during the end phase of the Warring States Period. In this context, his works have been interpreted by some scholars as being directed to his cousin, the King of Han.[2] After many years in the Qin court, Han Fei committed suicide by drinking poison [1].

Han Fei’s philosophy, called Legalism, centered on the ruler. In his philosophy, the ruler firmly controls the state with the help of three concepts: his position of power (勢, Shi); certain techniques (術, Shu), and laws (法, Fa). Legalism assumes that everyone acts according to one principle: avoiding punishment while simultaneously trying to achieve gains. Thus, the law must severely punish any unwanted action, while at the same time reward those who follow it. (compare: Legalism) Legalism synthesised the ideas of Shang Yang, Shen Buhai, and Shen Dao. He borrowed Shang Yang’s emphasis on laws, Shen Buhai’s emphasis on techniques, and Shen Dao’s ideas on authority and legitimacy.

Apart from the Confucianist Xun Zi, who was his and Li Si‘s teacher, the other main source for his political theories was Lao Zi‘s Daoist work, the Tao Te Ching, which he interpreted as a political text, and on which he wrote a commentary (chapters 20 and 21 in his book, Han Feizi). He saw the Tao as a natural law that everyone and everything was forced to follow. Parallel to this, he believed that an ideal ruler made laws, like an inevitable force of nature, that the people could not resist.

His philosophy was very influential on the first King of Qin and the first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang, becoming one of the guiding principles of the ruler’s policies. After the early demise of the Qin Dynasty, Han Fei’s philosophy was officially vilified by the following Han Dynasty. Despite its outcast status throughout the history of imperial China, Han Fei’s political theory continued to heavily influence every dynasty afterwards, and the Confucian ideal of a rule without laws was never again realized. Han Fei’s philosophy experienced a renewed interest under the rule of the Communist Party during the leadership of Mao Zedong, who personally admired some of the principles laid out in it.


Sun Zi:

is traditionally considered to be the author of The Art of War (also simply called the Sun Tzu), an immensely influential ancient Chinese book on military strategies. The work is considered to be a prime example of Taoist strategy.[1] Whether or not he is an authentic historical figure is vigorously debated by historians. Traditional accounts place him in the Spring and Autumn Period of China (722–481 BC) as a heroic general of the King of Wu that lived c. 544—496 BC. Scholars accepting his historical place his writing of the Art of War in the Warring States Period (403–221 BC), based on the descriptions of warfare in the text. Traditional accounts state that his descendant, Sun Bin, also wrote a master treatise on military tactics.

The Art of War is one of the oldest books on military strategy in the world. It is the first and one of the most successful works on strategy and has had a huge influence on Eastern and Western military thinking, business tactics, and beyond. Sun Tzu was the first to recognize the importance of positioning in strategy and that position is affected both by objective conditions in the physical environment and the subjective opinions of competitive actors in that environment. He taught that strategy was not planning in the sense of working through a to-do list, but rather that it requires quick and appropriate responses to changing conditions. Planning works in a controlled environment, but in a competitive environment, competing plans collide, creating unexpected situations.


Kong Zi:

According to tradition, Confucius was born (in Shan Dong) 551 BC, in the Spring and Autumn Period, at the beginning of the Hundred Schools of Thought philosophical movement. The Records of the Grand Historian (史記), compiled some four centuries later, indicate that the marriage of Confucius’ parents did not conform to Li (禮) and therefore was “illicit union”,[10] for when they got married, his father was a very old man and past proper age for marriage but his mother was only in her late teens. His father died when he was three,[11] and he was brought up in poverty by his mother. His social ascendancy linked him to the growing class of shì (士), a class whose status lay between that of the old nobility and the common people, that comprised men who sought social positions on the basis of talents and skills, rather than heredity.
As a child, Confucius was said to have enjoyed putting ritual vases on the sacrifice table.[10] He married a young girl named Qi Quan (亓官) at 19 and she had their first child Kong Li (孔鯉) when he was 20. Confucius is reported to have worked as a shepherd, cowherd, clerk and book-keeper.[12] His mother died when Confucius was 23, and he entered three years of mourning. He is said to have risen to the position of Justice Minister (大司寇) in Lu at the age of 53.[13] According to the Records of the Grand Historian, the neighboring state of Qi (齊) was worried that Lu was becoming too powerful. Qi decided to sabotage Lu’s reforms by sending 100 good horses and 80 beautiful dancing girls to the Duke of Lu. The Duke indulged himself in pleasure and did not attend to official duties for three days. Confucius was deeply disappointed and resolved to leave Lu and seek better opportunities, yet to leave at once would expose the misbehavior of the Duke and therefore bring public humiliation to the ruler Confucius was serving, so Confucius waited for the Duke to make a lesser mistake. Soon after, the Duke neglected to send to Confucius a portion of the sacrificial meat that was his due according to custom, and Confucius seized this pretext to leave both his post and the state of Lu.[10][14] According to tradition, after Confucius’s resignation, he began a long journey (or set of journeys) around the small kingdoms of northeast and central China, including the states of Wei (衞), Song (宋), Chen (陳) and Cai (蔡).[15] At the courts of these states, he expounded his political beliefs but did not see them implemented.

Confucius argues that the best government is one that rules through “rites” and people’s natural morality, rather than by using bribery and coercion. He explained that this is one of the most important analects: 1. “If the people be led by laws, and uniformity sought to be given them by punishments, they will try to avoid the punishment, but have no sense of shame. If they be led by virtue, and uniformity sought to be given them by the rules of propriety, they will have the sense of shame, and moreover will become good.” (Translated by James Legge) {The Great Learning} This “sense of shame” is an internalisation of duty, where the punishment precedes the evil action, instead of following it in the form of laws as in Legalism.

While he supported the idea of government by an all-powerful sage, ruling as an Emperor, probably because of the chaotic state of China at his time, his ideas contained a number of elements to limit the power of rulers. He argued for according language with truth; thus honesty was of paramount importance. Even in facial expression, truth must always be represented. In discussing the relationship between a subject and his king (or a son and his father), he underlined the need to give due respect to superiors. This demanded that the inferior must give advice to his superior if the superior was considered to be taking the wrong course of action. This was built upon a century after Confucius’s death by his latter day disciple Mencius, who argued that if the king was not acting like a king, he would lose the Mandate of Heaven and be overthrown. Therefore, tyrannicide is justified because a tyrant is more a thief than a king. Other Confucian texts, though celebrating absolute rule by ethical sages, recognise the failings of real rulers in maxims such as, “An oppressive government is more feared than a tiger.”

Some well known Confucian quotes:

“When you have faults, do not fear to abandon them.”

“What you do not wish for yourself, do not do to others”

“With coarse rice to eat, with water to drink, and my crooked arm for a pillow – is not joy to be found therein? Riches and honors acquired through unrighteousness are to me as the floating clouds”


One reply on “Hundred Schools of Thought 諸子百家 (first draft)”

“it becomes significant that each of the pre-Ch’in philosophers established a distinct “school”, that disputation arose among the later followers of the schools, and that attack and counterattack among the schools raged fiercely. Mencius, for example, opposed Yang Chu and Mo Tzu, Hsun Tzu ridiculed the Confucians, and Chuang Tzu criticized and evaluated all the philosophers according to their implemention of Tao. These are but some of the more obvious examples. Although nominally at least their purpose was to uphold the teachings of their founders and to silence the suspect deviations, we witness in fact battling protagonists and antagonists, clashing predilections and prejudices. …”
– Kung-chuan Hsiao, translated by F.W.Mote, A History of Chinese Political Thought, Introduction, page11-12

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