1993-01-19: Three Ways of Thought in Ancient China

Three Ways of Thought in Ancient China (1939)

by Arthur Waley (1889-1966)

This book compares the Taoist (mainly Chuang Tzu), Confucian (exemplified by Mencius), and Realist schools of thought and their influence on early Chinese thinking.

The Taoists never influenced government, but the other schools nonetheless evidently felt that they were a force to be reckoned with, even ridicule. Generally, they felt that government should do as little as possible, and that the best kings hardly ruled at all. Their primary interest was in the improvement of the inner man.

The Confucians claimed ancient precedent, derived from mythical Good Kings, but actually had little influence on real kings. They preached Government by Goodness, and the primary importance of conformance to Duty, particularly filial piety.

The Realists insisted on rule of Law, detailed and firmly enforced. They based their views, and laws, on real people with real human natures, not on unrealized ideals.

Compiling the memes of these three schools might be an interesting project, but I don’t know if this book contains the material to support it.


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