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All three originated during and as a result of a time of intense turmoil in China following the collapse of the Zhou dynasty known as the Period of the Warring States. It constituted such a great conflagration that thinkers began to contemplate the meaning of a stable society and the role of the individual within it. Since the Chinese are not innately spiritualists, none of them contained truly supernatural beliefs.
Confucianism has no relationship to supernatural beliefs; it is/was rather a philosophy that government positions should be filled by people who were honest and morally upright. Moral integrity to Confucius was more important than a good education. Three special qualities were emphasized:
- Ren: One should be respectful, courteous and loyal as well as diligent.
- Li: One should conduct oneself in a manner that was appropriate. Courteous to all people and respect for elders and superiors.
- Xiao: Respect for elders and parents. This meant care for them in their later years and veneration after they died.
Daoism: From "Daoism" meaning "the way" encouraged living simply in harmony with nature, and disengaging from worldly concerns. It emphasized withdrawing and reflection of oneself. Advanced education was considered worthless as it only emphasized trivial matters. The chief moral virtue, known as wuwei involved such intense withdrawal that one would not even visit neighbors, much less interact with them; but would rather be content within oneself.
Legalism: Advocated strict adherence to the letter of the law, with no regard for compassion, morality, or even ethics. Legalists believed that the chief strength of a nation were its agriculture and military; merchants , poets, scholars, etc. were useless wastes of time and resources. Legalist teaching was that any deviation from the established law should be punished so severely that others would learn from example and dare not transgress. If a family did not report a transgressor, the entire family would be punished. If one threw trash in the street, his hands were amputated. Draconian, but effective.
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