The Hundred Schools of Thought () were philosophies and schools that flourished from the 6th century BC to 221 BC during the Spring and Autumn period and the Warring States period of ancient
China China, officially the People's Republic of China (PRC), is a country in East Asia. It is the world's most populous country, with a population exceeding 1.4 billion, slightly ahead of India. China spans the equivalent of five time zones an ...
. An era of substantial discrimination in China, it was fraught with chaos and bloody battles, but it was also known as the Golden Age of Chinese philosophy because a broad range of 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; ''bǎijiā zhēngmíng''; ''pai-chia cheng-ming''; "hundred schools contend"). The thoughts and ideas discussed and refined during this period have profoundly influenced lifestyles and social consciousness up to the present day in East Asian countries and the East Asian diaspora around the world. The
intellectual An intellectual is a person who engages in critical thinking, research, and reflection about the reality of society, and who proposes solutions for the normative problems of society. Coming from the world of culture, either as a creator or ...
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 imperial Qin dynasty and the subsequent purge of dissent.

Schools listed in the ''Shiji''

A traditional source for this period is the ''Shiji'', or '' Records of the Grand Historian'' by Sima Qian. The autobiographical section of the ''Shiji'', the "Taishigong Zixu" (太史公自序), refers to the schools of thought described below.


Confucianism (儒家; ''Rújiā''; ''Ju-chia''; "School of scholars") is the body of thought that arguably had the most enduring effects on Chinese life. Its written legacy lies in the
Confucian Classics Chinese classic texts or canonical texts () or simply dianji (典籍) refers to the Chinese texts which originated before the imperial unification by the Qin dynasty in 221 BC, particularly the "Four Books and Five Classics" of the Neo-Confucian ...
, which later became the foundation of traditional society. Confucius (551–479 BC), or Kongzi ("Master Kong"), looked back to the early days of the
Zhou dynasty The Zhou dynasty ( ; Old Chinese ( B&S): *''tiw'') was a royal dynasty of China that followed the Shang dynasty. Having lasted 789 years, the Zhou dynasty was the longest dynastic regime in Chinese history. The military control of China by t ...
for an ideal socio-political order. He believed that the only effective system of government necessitated prescribed relationships for each individual: "Let the ruler be a ruler and the subject a subject". Furthermore, he contended that a king must be virtuous in order to rule the state properly. To Confucius, the functions of government and social stratification were facts of life to be sustained by ethical values; thus his ideal human was the junzi, which is translated as "gentleman" or "superior person".
Mencius Mencius ( ); born Mèng Kē (); or Mèngzǐ (; 372–289 BC) was a Chinese Confucian philosopher who has often been described as the "second Sage", that is, second to Confucius himself. He is part of Confucius' fourth generation of disciple ...
(371–289 BC), or Mengzi, formulated his teachings directly in response to Confucius. The effect of the combined work of Confucius, the codifier and interpreter of a system of relationships based on ethical behavior, and Mencius, the synthesizer and developer of applied Confucianist thought, was to provide traditional Chinese society with a comprehensive framework by which to order virtually every aspect of life. There were many accretions to the body of Confucian thought, both immediately and over the millennia, from within and without the Confucian school. Interpretations adapted to contemporary society allowed for flexibility within Confucianism, while the fundamental system of modeled behavior from ancient texts formed its philosophical core. Diametrically opposed to Mencius, in regards to human nature (性), was the interpretation of Xunzi (c. 300–237 BC), another Confucian follower. Xunzi preached that man is not innately good; he asserted that goodness is attainable only through training one's desires and conduct.


The School of Law or Legalism (法家; ''Fǎjiā''; ''Fa-chia''; "School of law") doctrine was formulated by Li Kui, Shang Yang (d. 338 BC),
Han Fei Han Fei (233), also known as Han Feizi or Han Fei Zi, was a Chinese philosopher or statesman of the " Legalist" (Fajia) school during the Warring States period, and a prince of the state of Han. Han Fei is often considered to be the greatest r ...
(d. 233 BC), and
Li Si Li Si (Mandarin: ; BCSeptember or October 208 BC) was a Chinese philosopher, politician, and calligrapher of the Qin dynasty. He served as Chancellor (or Prime Minister) from 246 to 208 BC under two rulers: Qin Shi Huang, the king of the Qi ...
(d. 208 BC), who maintained that human nature was incorrigibly selfish; accordingly, the only way to preserve the social order was to impose discipline from above, and to see to a strict enforcement of laws. The Legalists exalted the state above all, seeking its prosperity and martial prowess over the welfare of the common people. Legalism greatly influenced the philosophical basis for the imperial form of government. During the
Han dynasty The Han dynasty (, ; ) was an Dynasties in Chinese history, imperial dynasty of China (202 BC – 9 AD, 25–220 AD), established by Emperor Gaozu of Han, Liu Bang (Emperor Gao) and ruled by the House of Liu. The dynasty was preceded by th ...
, the most practical elements of Confucianism and Legalism were taken to form a sort of synthesis, marking the creation of a new form of government that would remain largely intact until the late
19th century The 19th (nineteenth) century began on 1 January 1801 ( MDCCCI), and ended on 31 December 1900 ( MCM). The 19th century was the ninth century of the 2nd millennium. The 19th century was characterized by vast social upheaval. Slavery was abolish ...
, with continuing influence into the present.


Philosophical Taoism or Daoism (道家; ''Dàojiā''; ''Tao-chia''; "School of the Way") developed into the second most significant stream of Chinese thought. Its formulation is often attributed to the legendary sage Laozi ("Old Master"), who is said to predate Confucius, and Zhuangzi (369–286 BC). The focus of Taoism is on the individual within the natural realm rather than the individual within society; accordingly, the goal of life for each individual is seeking to adjust oneself and adapting to the rhythm of nature (and the Fundamental) world, to follow the Way ( tao) of the universe, and to live in harmony. In many ways the opposite of rigid Confucian morality, Taoism was for many of its adherents a complement to their ordered daily lives. A scholar serving as an official would usually follow Confucian teachings, but at leisure or in retirement might seek harmony with nature as a Taoist recluse. Politically, Taoism advocates for rule through inaction, and avoiding excessive interference.


Mohism or Moism (墨家; ''Mòjiā'';'' Mo-chia''; "School of Mo") was developed by followers of
Mozi Mozi (; ; Latinized as Micius ; – ), original name Mo Di (), was a Chinese philosopher who founded the school of Mohism during the Hundred Schools of Thought period (the early portion of the Warring States period, –221 BCE). The anci ...
(also referred to as Mo Di; 470–c.391 BC). Though the school did not survive through the Qin dynasty, Mohism was seen as a major rival of Confucianism in the period of the Hundred Schools of Thought. Its philosophy rested on the idea of impartial care (): Mozi believed that "everyone is equal before heaven", and that people should seek to imitate heaven by engaging in the practice of collective love. This is often translated and popularized as "universal love", which is misleading as Mozi believed that the essential problem of human ethics was an excess of partiality in compassion, not a deficit in compassion as such. His aim was to re-evaluate behavior, not emotions or attitudes.The Shorter Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward Craig. Routledge Publishing. 2005. His epistemology can be regarded as primitive materialist empiricism; he believed that human cognition ought to be based on one's perceptions – one's sensory experiences, such as sight and hearing – instead of imagination or
internal logic In classical deductive logic, a consistent theory is one that does not lead to a logical contradiction. The lack of contradiction can be defined in either semantic or syntactic terms. The semantic definition states that a theory is consistent ...
, elements founded on the human capacity for
abstraction Abstraction in its main sense is a conceptual process wherein general rules and concepts are derived from the usage and classification of specific examples, literal ("real" or "concrete") signifiers, first principles, or other methods. "An abst ...
. Mozi advocated frugality, condemning the Confucian emphasis on ritual and music, which he denounced as extravagant. He regarded offensive warfare as wasteful and advocated pacifism or at the most, defensive fortification. The achievement of social goals, according to Mozi, necessitated the unity of thought and action. His political philosophy bears a resemblance to divine-rule monarchy: the population ought always to obey its leaders, as its leaders ought always to follow the will of heaven. Mohism might be argued to have elements of meritocracy: Mozi contended that rulers should appoint officials by virtue of their ability instead of their family connections. Although popular faith in Mohism had declined by the end of the Qin Dynasty, its views are said to be strongly echoed in Legalist thought.

School of Yin-yang

The School of Naturalists or Yin-yang (陰陽家/阴阳家; ''Yīnyángjiā''; ''Yin-yang-chia''; "School of Yin-Yang") was a philosophy that synthesized the concepts of yin-yang and the Five Elements; Zou Yan is considered the founder of this school. His theory attempted to explain the universe in terms of basic forces in nature: the complementary agents of yin (dark, cold, female, negative) and yang (light, hot, male, positive) and the Five Elements or Five Phases (water, fire, wood, metal, and earth). In its early days, this theory was most strongly associated with the states of Yan and Qi. In later periods, these
epistemological Epistemology (; ), or the theory of knowledge, is the branch of philosophy concerned with knowledge. Epistemology is considered a major subfield of philosophy, along with other major subfields such as ethics, logic, and metaphysics. Epis ...
theories came to hold significance in both philosophy and popular belief. This school was absorbed into Taoism's alchemic and magical dimensions as well as into the Chinese medical framework. The earliest surviving recordings of this are in the Ma Wang Dui texts and
Huangdi Neijing ''Huangdi Neijing'' (), literally the ''Inner Canon of the Yellow Emperor'' or ''Esoteric Scripture of the Yellow Emperor'', is an ancient Chinese medical text or group of texts that has been treated as a fundamental doctrinal source for Chine ...

School of Names

The School of Names or Logicians (名家; ''Míngjiā''; ''Ming-chia''; "School of names") grew out of
Mohism Mohism or Moism (, ) was an ancient Chinese philosophy of ethics and logic, rational thought, and science developed by the academic scholars who studied under the ancient Chinese philosopher Mozi (c. 470 BC – c. 391 BC), embodied in an epo ...
, with a philosophy that focused on
definition A definition is a statement of the meaning of a term (a word, phrase, or other set of symbols). Definitions can be classified into two large categories: intensional definitions (which try to give the sense of a term), and extensional definit ...
and logic. It is said to have parallels with that of the Ancient Greek
sophists A sophist ( el, σοφιστής, sophistes) was a teacher in ancient Greece in the fifth and fourth centuries BC. Sophists specialized in one or more subject areas, such as philosophy, rhetoric, music, athletics, and mathematics. They taught ...
or dialecticians. The most notable Logician was Gongsun Longzi.

Schools listed in the ''Hanshu''

In addition to the above six major philosophical schools within the Hundred Schools of Thought, the " Yiwenzhi" of the ''
Book of Han The ''Book of Han'' or ''History of the Former Han'' (Qián Hàn Shū,《前汉书》) is a history of China finished in 111AD, covering the Western, or Former Han dynasty from the first emperor in 206 BCE to the fall of Wang Mang in 23 CE. I ...
'' adds four more into the Ten Schools (十家; ''Shijia'').

School of Diplomacy

The School of Diplomacy or School of Vertical and Horizontal lliances() specialized in diplomatic politics; Zhang Yi and Su Qin were representative thinkers. This school focused on practical matters instead of any moral principle, so it stressed political and diplomatic tactics, and debate and lobbying skill. Scholars from this school were good orators, debaters and tacticians.


Agriculturalism () was an early agrarian social and political philosophy that advocated peasant utopian communalism and
egalitarianism Egalitarianism (), or equalitarianism, is a school of thought within political philosophy that builds from the concept of social equality, prioritizing it for all people. Egalitarian doctrines are generally characterized by the idea that all h ...
. The philosophy is founded on the notion that human society originates with the development of agriculture, and societies are based upon "people's natural propensity to farm." The Agriculturalists believed that the ideal government, modeled after the semi-mythical governance of Shennong, is led by a benevolent king, one who works alongside the people in tilling the fields. The Agriculturalist king is not paid by the government through its treasuries; his livelihood is derived from the profits he earns working in the fields, not his leadership. Unlike the Confucians, the Agriculturalists did not believe in the division of labour, arguing instead that the economic policies of a country need to be based upon an egalitarian self sufficiency. The Agriculturalists supported the fixing of prices, in which all similar goods, regardless of differences in quality and demand, are set at exactly the same, unchanging price. For example, Mencius once criticized its chief proponent Xu Xing for advocating that rulers should work in the fields with their subjects. One of Xu's students is quoted as having criticized the duke of Teng in a conversation with Mencius by saying:


Syncretism, or the School of Miscellany () integrated teachings from different schools; for instance,
Lü Buwei Lü Buwei (291–235 BCE) was a Chinese merchant and politician of the Qin state during the Warring States period. Originally an influential merchant from the Wei () state, Lü Buwei met and befriended King Zhuangxiang of Qin, who was then a ...
found scholars from different schools to write a book called '' Lüshi Chunqiu'' cooperatively. This school tried to integrate the merits of various schools and avoid their perceived flaws. The (c. 330 BC) '' Shizi'' is the earliest textual example of the Syncretic School.

School of "Minor-talks"

The School of "Minor-talks" () was not a unique school of thought. Indeed, all the thoughts which were discussed by and originated from non-famous people on the street were included in this school. At that time, there were some government officials responsible for collecting ideas from non-famous people on the street and report to their seniors. Such thoughts formed the origin of this school.

Unlisted schools

These schools were not listed in the Hanshu but did have substantial influence.

School of the Military

Another group is the School of the Military () that often studied and discussed about what westerners called the philosophy of war. Some of them studied warfare and strategy, others focused on kinds and skills of weapons.
Sun Tzu Sun Tzu ( ; zh, t=孫子, s=孙子, first= t, p=Sūnzǐ) was a Chinese military general, strategist, philosopher, and writer who lived during the Eastern Zhou period of 771 to 256 BCE. Sun Tzu is traditionally credited as the author of ''The ...
and Sun Bin were influential leaders. Some of their famous works are Sun Tzu's
The Art of War ''The Art of War'' () is an ancient Chinese military treatise dating from the Late Spring and Autumn Period (roughly 5th century BC). The work, which is attributed to the ancient Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu ("Master Sun"), is com ...
and Sun Bin's Art of War. Their theories influenced later
China China, officially the People's Republic of China (PRC), is a country in East Asia. It is the world's most populous country, with a population exceeding 1.4 billion, slightly ahead of India. China spans the equivalent of five time zones an ...
and even East Asia more broadly. These classical texts have received great interest among contemporary interpreters, some of whom have applied it to military strategy, the martial arts, and even modern business.


Yangism was a form of ethical egoism founded by Yang Zhu. It was once widespread but fell to obscurity before the Han dynasty. Due to its stress on individualism, it influenced later generations of
Taoists Taoism (, ) or Daoism () refers to either a school of philosophical thought (道家; ''daojia'') or to a religion (道教; ''daojiao''), both of which share ideas and concepts of Chinese origin and emphasize living in harmony with the ''Tao' ...

School of the Medical Skills

School of the Medical Skills () is a school which studied medicine and health. Bian Que and Qibo were well-known scholars. Two of the earliest and existing Chinese medical works are
Huangdi Neijing ''Huangdi Neijing'' (), literally the ''Inner Canon of the Yellow Emperor'' or ''Esoteric Scripture of the Yellow Emperor'', is an ancient Chinese medical text or group of texts that has been treated as a fundamental doctrinal source for Chine ...
Shanghan Lun The ''Shanghan Lun'' (; variously known in English as the ''Treatise on Cold Damage Diseases','' ''Treatise on Cold Damage Disorders'' or the ''Treatise on Cold Injury'') is a part of ''Shanghan Zabing Lun'' (. It is a Traditional Chinese medi ...

History and origins

The " Yiwenzhi" of the '' Hanshu'' claims that the officials working for the government during the early Zhou Dynasty lost their position when the authority of the Zhou rulers began to break down in the Eastern Zhou period. In this way, the officials spread all over the country and started to teach their own field of knowledge as private teachers. In this way the schools of philosophy were born. In particular, the School of Scholars (i.e. the Confucian School) was born from the officials of the Ministry of Education; the Taoists from the historians; the Yin-yang School from the astronomers; the Legalist School from the Ministry of Justice; the School of Names from the Ministry of Rituals; the Mohist School from the Guardians of the Temple; the School of Diplomacy from the Ministry of Embassies; the School of Miscellany from the government counselors; the School of Agriculture from the Ministry of the Soil and Wheat; the School of Minor Talks from the minor officials. Although the details are unclear, the
burning of books and burying of scholars The burning of books and burying of scholars (), also known as burning the books and executing the ru scholars, refers to the purported burning of texts in 213 BCE and live burial of 460 Confucian scholars in 212 BCE by the Chinese emperor Q ...
during the Qin was the end of the period of open discussion. It should be stressed that only the Ru, or Confucians and the Mohists were actual organized schools of teachers and disciples during this period. All the other schools were invented later to describe groups of texts that expressed similar ideas. There was never an organized group of people describing themselves as "Legalists," for example, and the term "Daoist" was only coined in the Eastern Han after having succeeded the Western Han's Huang-Lao movement.

See also

Axial Age Axial Age (also Axis Age, from german: Achsenzeit) is a term coined by German philosopher Karl Jaspers. It refers to broad changes in religious and philosophical thought that occurred in a variety of locations from about the 8th to the 3rd centu ...
* Hellenistic philosophy *
Hundred Flowers Campaign The Hundred Flowers Campaign, also termed the Hundred Flowers Movement (), was a period from 1956 to 1957 in the People's Republic of China during which the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) encouraged citizens to openly express their opinions of t ...
* Jixia Academy


External links

Classics of the hundred schools
Chinese Text Project (Chinese and English)
Many fragmentary and newly discovered texts of the hundred schools of thought.(Chinese)
《子藏》總序 - 臺北大學中國文學系05子藏-1155部

Hundert Schulen

* Mo Zi-
Wikisource Wikisource is an online digital library of free-content textual sources on a wiki, operated by the Wikimedia Foundation. Wikisource is the name of the project as a whole and the name for each instance of that project (each instance usually re ...
{{DEFAULTSORT:Hundred Schools Of Thought Agriculturalism Chinese philosophy Confucian schools of thought Legalism (Chinese philosophy) Mohism Taoism History of Taoism