Three Styles of Humanism

in Ancient China

Extracted from The Six Patriarchs of Chinese Humanism by its

author: Peter M.K. Chan


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Table of Content




Chapter One
The Humanism of Confucius


1.1  Destiny and the Decree of Heaven

1.2  The Importance of Learning

1.3  The Kingly and the humane

1.4  Humaneness, Propriety, and Righteousness

1.5  Method of Self-Cultivation

1.6  Essentials of Government



Chapter Two

The Religious Humanism of Moh-zi


2.1 Mutual Love and Benefit

2.2 The Will of Heaven

2.3 Condemnation of War and Extravagant Consumption

2.4 The Origin of State and Effective Government

2.5 Ghosts and Spiritual Beings

2.6 Against the Confucians

2.7 Taking Stock



Chapter Three

The Natural Humanism of Lao-zi


3.1 About Lao-zi

3.2 The Dao of Nature

3.3 The Operation of Dao

3.4 The Sagely Way of Life

3.5 Government by Non-action

3.6 The Contrarianism of Lao-zi

















Peter M.K. Chan is accessible at




         The purpose of this book is to bypass all intermediaries so as to let Confucius, Moh-zi, Lao-zi, to speak directly and systematically for themselves. It is designed for those who would like to know what they had actually said about the problem of man and society, but were not able to get a systematic view from their isolated utterances on various topics scattered here and there in the ancient texts where their actual words are to be found. It is with this objective in mind that I have sought to reconstitute a friendly and systematic version of what they had actually said -- by extracting directly from the very documents that are known to contain their words, namely: the Analects, the Great Learning, the Doctrine of the Mean, the Book of Moh-zi, and the Dao Der Jing. It is to show that when many of their utterances on one and the same topic are gathered to roost, what these ancient patriarchs of Chinese humanism had in mind were in fact more comprehensive and engaging than any secondary material is able to duplicate. 


For those who are not already in the know, the period in which our three patriarchs had to find themselves is known in Chinese history as the Warring State Period (ca.475 – 221 BC). This was a period of political disorder and unceasing inter-regional conflict, leading eventually to the disintegration of the once glorious Zhou Dynasty (ca.1027BC 249 BC). Fortunately though, the flip side of this period was its intellectual diversity. As historians have come to see, this was the most creative and productive period in the intellectual history of China, quite analogous to “a simultaneous blooming of a hundred flowers”. It was in this kind of open intellectual environment that the philosophical seeds of Chinese humanism were sown. It appeared in three styles: represented respectively by the teachings of Confucius (ca.551-479 BC), Moh-zi (ca.479-438 BC), and Lao-zi (ca.550 – 450 BC). The issues with which they were concerned are: What is wrong with man and society? How could world order and social harmony be restored?


As we shall see, despite the fact that Confucius and Moh-zi were rather sore with each other on certain cultural and metaphysical issues, both were of the view that the world had fallen asunder because those who governed had departed from the humane and righteous way of the ancient Sage-kings. As to what could really be done, Confucius’s answer is that the moral character of man has got to be reformed. If those in power in particular were to observe the rules of propriety as instituted by the ancient Sage-kings, world order and social harmony would in due course be restored. Moh-zi implicitly agreed. Only that he also thought that an enlightened kind of authoritarian rule as well as religious sanction would also be required. However, Lao-zi, who was older and supposedly wiser, did not agree. He believed that if those who govern would just let people be, and those self-appointed preachers of humaneness and righteousness would just keep their mouths shut, man and society would naturally become well in and of themselves. All that is required is for people to abandon the way of man and live according to the Way of Nature.


Well, do not take my word for it. The real flavor of the cake is in the eating. It is my hope that by the end of this book, readers will find that the actual words of these three ancient patriarchs of Chinese Humanism are really more engaging than any advertising is able to convey. That alone will be my greatest reward. 



Note:  ebooks about 

 these patriarchs of Chinese humanism

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