While, with little debate, Confucianism is the dominant guiding philosophy at play in the everyday lives of people across China and Eastern Asia, she has not been without her challengers.
Confucianism: Not Without Challengers
Daoism (also referred to as Taoism) arose about the same time as Confucianism and may be best characterized as a form of mysticism emphasizing man’s need to align with nature. Daoism remains alive today although with a relative minority following.
Mohism, also founded around the same time of Confucius, was a philosophy remarkably similar to concepts set forth the New Testament. Mohism was, however, quite shortly absorbed into Daoism texts. Most notably was the school of Legalism which was alive and flourishing for a period of perhaps 200 years starting around two centuries after the establishment of Confucianism. Legalism emphasized on one hand the rule of law and on the other hand was extended to encourage the use of pragmatic, and at times ruthless tactics and methods. Legalism was somewhat short-lived in ancient Chinese history but did result in a period of brutal territorial wars.
The Han dynasty ultimately rejected Legalism and adopted Confucianism as the official government philosophy as did most subsequent dynasties. Confucianism therefore held sway without significant competition until the recent times of Maoist attempts to refocus the people of China around idealism, populism and nationalism with new doctrines that made only marginal inroads.
Many view Maoism as more of a political effort than a purely philosophical one – intended to galvanize political power for the Maoists. Reformists dating to the recent times of Deng Xiao Peng have steadily attempted to cast off some of the idealism and populism of Maoism in favor of more economically practical approaches, but once again the reformist and their efforts may be seen as more related to creating increased political influence and economic success for China within a global context than as a fundamental philosophy.
The Chinese government today, with their relatively long historic focus on peace, harmonious development and efforts to avoid separatism are in many ways continuing to follow Confucianism.
Chinese companies, however, are often viewed by many as taking partial and illinformed lessons from their Western commercial counterparts and from Western governments to be following practices that are more akin to the ancient philosophy of Legalism – at least in their external dealings.
In summary, to be clear, Confucianism is alive and well in China and represents the single most powerful force affecting everyday life, behavior, social interaction and conduct of business within China and much of East and South-east Asia today.