Legalism, Daoism, and Confucianism all come from the same period during the Zhou Dynasty: the Era of Warring States. Zhou China was feudal and decentralized, with families and nobles claiming land and offering protection. This fractured state was plagued with war, and in the general chaos of the time the three philosophies were formed.
Legalism sought to centralize China by putting in place a system of laws based on punishment and reward. This was best implemented in the Qin Dynasty by Qin Shi Huangdi.
Confucianism sought to centralize China by implementing a moral/social system based in ethics. Confucianists believed in five main principles: rites and ritual (li), humaneness and benevolence (ren), empathy (shu), righteousness (yi), and filial piety (xiao). There was a clear hierarchical social system based on age and gender, and it helped organize the chaos left over from the Era of Warring States.
Daoism, unlike the other two, rejected manmade laws and customs. For Daoists, nature is...
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