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Chinese philosophies

During much of the Zhou dynasty, the political organization of China closely resembled a feudal system, with the King of the royal house of Zhou at the head of the social structure and hundreds of princes under him, each of them ruling a state. The land of these states was also divided into different fiefs, each of them controlled by a feudal lord who reported to a prince. Under the feudal lords were the common people who were not part of the aristocracy. This structure was secured by family relations linking all the different rulers with the royal house of Zhou. If family relationships did not exist, they were arranged by marriage. Ultimately, the local lords were expected to accept the authority of the king as the head of a large family.

Under this system, education was only available to aristocrats. While the common people had no access to formal learning, the houses of the feudal rulers were centres of education. As the Zhou dynasty started to deteriorate, many aristocrats lost their lands and titles. As a result, many former court officials, who had training in different branches of learning and art, became unemployed and dispersed among the population.  In order to make a living, they would use their specialized skills and teach in return for a fee. For the first time in Chinese history, we see the birth of the professional teacher, different from the court official.


The breakdown of the social order produced a diverse set of ideas as Chinese thinkers were trying to address and respond to the challenges that society was experiencing. The mix of ideas was so vast, that some ancient writers refer to this time as the ‘Hundred Schools’ of thought. Sima Tan (c. 165-110 BCE), the Grand Astrologer of the Han court, wrote a summary classifying the main schools of thought in Ancient China. His list presents just a fraction of the schools of thought that were active in ancient China.

Yin & Yang School (Yin-Yang jia)

Also known as the School of Naturalists, the Yin and Yang School derives its name from the Yin-Yang principles, which in Chinese tradition are regarded as the two major principles of Chinese cosmology: Yin, being the female principle, and Yang the male principle. The combination and interaction of these two opposites is believed by the Chinese to cause all universal phenomena.