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PHIL 336 (Chinese Philosophy): Historical Background

by: Yisu

PHIL 336 (Chinese Philosophy): Historical Background PHIL 336

Marketplace > University of New Mexico > Philosophy > PHIL 336 > PHIL 336 Chinese Philosophy Historical Background
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FREE version available on my notes page for my notes sampling! Historical background for China before and during Confucian thought developments.
Chinese Philosophy
Emily McRae
Class Notes
China, philosophy, Confucianism, Confucius, Confucious, confucian, history, PHIL336, ChinesePhilosophy
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This 2 page Class Notes was uploaded by Yisu on Monday October 3, 2016. The Class Notes belongs to PHIL 336 at University of New Mexico taught by Emily McRae in Fall 2016. Since its upload, it has received 4 views. For similar materials see Chinese Philosophy in Philosophy at University of New Mexico.


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Date Created: 10/03/16
Historical Background and Confucianism (Week 1)  Professor McRae posted online readings scanned from the work of Bryan W. Van Norden, co-author of the text that is used in class— “Readings in Classical Chinese Philosophy” by P. J. Ivanhoe and B. W. Van Norden.  In the readings, we learn of ancient leaders in China known as the 3 Sovereigns and 5 Kings. They lived essentially before the time of any Chinese dynasties. They are essentially legends and the details of their existence are often mythical in nature and are not necessarily factually accurate. They are credited in giving “mankind” the knowledge needed to establish a civilization: writing, animal husbandry, medicine, irrigation, farming, astronomy/seasons, etc. They last of the 5 kings (Yao, Shun, Yu) are the founder and successors (respectively) of the 1 dynasty: Xia (c. 2070 – c. 1600 BC).  The Chinese understanding of dynasties is “cyclic” in nature. This means that each dynasty and its rulers are given a “mandate” by the heaven above, and this gives them the right to rule, but only if they do so for the good of the people and their prosperity in livelihood. Once a ruler in a line of succession becomes corrupt (which is understood as only a matter of time) and he fails to govern and begins to oppress his people, it is claimed by the people and those that rebel against him that he has lost the mandate and therefore also the right to rule. If the rebels are successful, their leader often claimed to have obtained the mandate (since they won and therefore must have been favored by heaven) and became the new ruler.  And so Xia eventually gave way to the 2 Dynasty: Shang (from c. 1600 to 1046 BC). And Shang in its turn prospered and declined, giving way to rd the 3 Dynasty: Zhou (1046-256 BC).  During the Zhou, there has traditionally been an “emperor” who was more widely known as the “son of heaven”, since the word “emperor” has actually not been invented as a title yet. The Zhou was split into two famous periods known has the Spring and Autumn Period (1046-479 BC) and the Warring States Period (479- c. 220 BC). During all this time the “son of heaven” held no real power since the “country” of China was split into as many as 20 or so “states” that each had their own name, culture, writing, political agendas and armies.  Confucius (KongZi in original Chinese) lived during the end of the Spring and Autumn period. A good way to remember his lifetime is that he was believed to be born in exactly 550 BC and died shortly around the beginning of the Warring States at c. 480 BC.  During most of the Spring and Autumn and the Warring States, an “intellectual movement” known as the Hundred Schools of Thoughts saw many great thinkers expressing their views on many subjects of study that were considered important by the Chinese culture. Some examples other than the more famous Confucianism and Daoism are: Sunzi’s “Art of War” and its teachings of warfare; the School of Names that dedicated itself to the study of the art of logic and argumentation; the Legalists, who advocated the rule of Law should apply to everyone instead of exempting the elite of society; Mozi of Mohism who believed in treating everyone equally and with love as if they are one’s own family, and of never striking out violently unless it is strictly for the defense and preservation of one’s own life or people.  Confucius’ most famous work is the ‘Analects of Confucius’. It is basically a collection of quotes and conversations by KongZi himself and some of his disciples. It is not written by KongZi himself, but rather by his disciples during and after his lifetime, though it is attributed to him for being the originator of virtually all of the material therein.  Confucianism essentially tries to tackle the problem of living the “right” life, and in practicing this “right” way, also lends to helping with social/political/personal struggles for justice, goodness, harmony, and happiness. Some central themes of study in Confucianism include: o Goodness in a person. What makes a good person? o The “Gentalman” (who is good and right by practicing, learning, and thinking of all the aspects of what is good in a person) vs. the Petty “Little” Person who is concerned only with selfish gains in life. o The importance of Ritual, which is basically the correct “mannerism” that one should treat others and the correct way of conduct in all activities in everyday life. o The importance of our activities in everyday life here upon this world (as opposed to rewards/punishments in the next or any other) o The importance of Learning/Education and Self-Cultivation so that one can strive to be the ideal “gentleman” instead of the petty man


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