Confucius also taught that it was a ruler's responsibility to provide good government. In return, the people would be respectful and loyal subjects. Confucius believed that people were naturally good. The best ruler, he taught, was a virtuous man who led by example: “If a ruler is upright, all will go well without orders. But if he himself is not upright, even though he gives orders, they will not be obeyed.”
Confucius put great emphasis on education for men. “By nature, men are pretty much alike,” he said. “It is learning and practice that set them apart.” He urged rulers to take the advice of wise, educated men. In time, education would become the road to advancement in Chinese society.
In the centuries after Confucius died, his ideas influenced many aspects of Chinese life. Confucianism never became a religion, as Buddhism did. But over many centuries, Chinese rulers would base their governments on Confucian ideas. Only scholars educated in Confucian thought could become government officials.
The yin and yang symbol represents the Chinese belief that the universe reflects a delicate balance between yin, linked to earth, darkness, and female forces, and yang, which stands for heaven, light, and male forces.
The Confucian emphasis on filial piety bolstered traditions such as reverence for ancestors and the importance of family. Confucianism reinforced the social hierarchy of inferior and superior while stressing the mutual duties of each.
Confucianism also introduced a long-lasting Chinese belief that the universe reflected a delicate balance between two forces, yin and yang. Yin was linked to Earth, darkness, and female forces, while yang stood for heaven, light, and male forces. To the Chinese, these forces were not in opposition.
Rather, the well-being of the universe depended on harmony between yin and yang. People could play a role in maintaining this harmony. For example, the king had to make the proper sacrifices to heaven, while at the same time taking practical steps to rule well.
After Confucius's death, dedicated students of his teachings kept his ideas alive. For some future dynasties, Confucianism became the official state philosophy. As Chinese civilization spread, hundreds of millions of people in Korea, Japan, and Vietnam accepted Confucian beliefs. Nearly one third of the world's population came under the influence of these ideas.
The second school of thought or belief system that influenced China was a philosophy called Daoism (DOW iz um). Unlike Confucianism, Daoism was not concerned with bringing order to human affairs. Instead, Daoists sought to live in harmony with nature.
The founder of Daoism was a mysterious figure known as Laozi (LOW dzee), or “Old Master.” He is said to have “lived without leaving any traces” at the time of Confucius. Although little is known about Laozi, he is credited with writing the The Way of Virtue, a book that had enormous influence on Chinese life.
Laozi looked beyond everyday worries to focus on the Dao, or “the way” of the universe. How does one find the Dao? The Dao, he explained, was hard to understand fully or put into words. “Those who know the Dao do not speak of it,” said Laozi. “Those who speak of it do not know it.” Daoists often gave such seemingly puzzling answers to show the conflict between human desires and the simple ways of nature.
Daoists rejected the world of conflict and strife. Instead, they emphasized the virtue of yielding. Water, they pointed out, does not resist, but rather yields to outside pressure—yet it is an unstoppable force. In the same way, Daoists might give way in a conflict, only to return again, like water, to their natural course.