Two great thinkers with far-reaching influence on Chinese history emerged in the Spring and Autumn Period—Confucius and Lao Tze.
Confucius, named Qiu and style-named Zhongni, was a thinker of the State of Lu. His thoughts were mainly re-corded in The Analects of Confucius, a book compiled by his disciples.The essence of Confucianism is Ren (benevolence) and Li (ritual norms). He advocated the idea that "the benevolent loves his fellow people,"and requested the rulers experience and observe the situation of the people. He was against tyranny and arbitrary punishment. He advocated the behavior codes of loyalty and tolerance, and called for "not doing to others what you don't want to be done to you" and understanding others to adjust personal relationships and stabilize social order. Confucius also held the opinions of "ruling by morality" and "ruling with the ritual norms" and maintaining the political and educational system of the country by restraining one-self and restoring the ritual system and practice of moral norms. He attempted to correct the confused social class orders in accordance with the ritual system of the Zhou Dynasty and make it perfectly justifiable. This reflected Confucius' conservative political ideology. However, Confucius was not against improving and reforming some obsolete ritual customs and political orders on the basis of maintaining the old system based on social classes. Mencius and Xun Zi in the Warring States Period inherited and developed Confucius' theory and made the political ideals and moral norms of Confucianism the mainstream of traditional thought in China for more than two millennia.
2 Lao Tze
Lao Tze, surnamed Li, named Er and style-named Ran, was a thinker of the State of Chu. Erudite and knowledgeable, he was once the historical official in the royal court of Eastern Zhou, responsible for managing collections. Confucius once asked Lao Tze about the knowledge about "ritual norms." Tao Te Ching, a book compiled by the followers of Taoism in the Warring States Period, records all the thoughts of Lao Tze and is full of philosophy and wisdom typical of the oriental world. Lao Tze denied the absolute authority of destiny, advocated following natural laws and ruling without intervention. "Ruling without intervention"stands for not intervening arbitrarily. Lao Tze warned the rulers not to oppress the common people too much. However, his ideal that "though the noises made by the chickens and dogs can be heard, the people do not contact each other until death" and his opinion "making the people ignorant and without desire"led to some negative effects. His philosophy contains rich dialectic thinking. Lao Tze pointed out that everything has two contradictory sides, for example—high and low, front and rear, existence and void, difficult and easy, life and death, noble and humble—and both parties could transfer to the opposite. Lao Tze has been regarded by later generations as the founder of Taoism, whose thoughts imposed great influence upon Chinese culture, including philosophy and ethics, as well as the mode of thinking, morality and personality of the Chinese people.
3 Contention of a hundred schools of thought
The increasingly intense competition among all vassal states for hegemony in the Warring States Period led to a more urgent need for talents. The profound social reforms offered scholars with improving consciousness a broad stage for independent thinking and creative exploration.
King Xuan of Qi once had hotels near Jimen, Linzi, capital of Qi, expanded to accommodate literators and persuasive talkers, and awarded such scholars as Zou Yan, Tian Pian and Shen Dao mansions and official titles to encourage them write books and establish theories. The academic house at Jimen then grew into a center for communication among various sorts of academic cultures. Under such a background, representatives from different class and schools offered different opinions towards different issues and held discussions with each other, resulting in the situation of "contention of a hundred schools of thought."
Among the active schools of thought were Confucianism, Mohist School, Taoism, Legalism, Yin-Yang School, the School of Names, Military School and the School of Eclectics.
4 Mencius and Xun Zi
Mencius and Xun Zi were the representatives of Confucianism in the Warring States Period. Mencius further developed the "benevolence" thought of Confucius into a systematic political doctrine, proposing the concept of "The people are the most important element in a state; next are the gods of land and grain; least is the ruler himself." He also stressed "righteousness comes first and then the benefit"and "giving one's life for righteousness," and advocated the spirit of "never to be corrupted by wealth or title, never depart from your principles when in poverty and hardship, and surrender never to power and force." Xun Zi said that ruling a state should be based on ritual norms and supplemented by laws. He also held the opinion that "nature has its laws" that wouldn't be changed by humans' wills but humans should give play to their abilities to "make use of the objective laws" and thus benefit themselves.