In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Chinese Philosophy

  • Introduction
  • Han Dynasty
  • Thematic Studies

Philosophy Chinese Philosophy
Bryan W. Van Norden
  • LAST REVIEWED: 21 September 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 August 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0141


Chinese philosophy is every bit as ancient, as diverse, and as profound as all of Western philosophy. Confucianism, Daoism (Taoism), and Buddhism are traditionally referred to as the “Three Teachings” of Chinese philosophy and religion, but this simple categorization ignores the variety found within and outside each movement. This bibliography covers only some of the most influential and philosophically interesting figures and texts, and is limited to translations and secondary works in English. Most romanizations of Chinese words are given in Pinyin, but names frequently encountered in the older Wade-Giles system are included in parentheses.

Pre-Qin Dynasty

The Eastern Zhou (Chou) dynasty (c. 1040–221 BCE) was a period of increasing chaos, as the central power of the Zhou rulers decayed, leading to warfare among the states that were formerly loyal to the ruling house. The Warring States period (403–221 BCE) was a time of particular philosophical vibrancy, as thinkers responded to the social crisis by seeking a dao (tao), or “Way,” to live and to organize society. Traditionally, there are said to be “Six Schools” of early thought: Confucianism, Daoism (Taoism), Mohism, School of Names, Legalism, and the Yin-Yang school. Two of the texts from this period best known in the West, the Analects of Kongzi (Confucius) and the Daodejing (Tao Te Ching), attributed to Laozi (Lao-tzu), are intriguing and historically important, but perhaps not the ones that Western philosophers will find most stimulating. This period came to an end when China was unified by the authoritarian Qin dynasty (221–207 BCE).

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