Lao Tzu (6th to 5th Century BCE)
Lao Tzu or Laozi, who existed in the 6th century B.C, was the founder of the Chinese philosophical ‘School of the Tao’ or ‘Taoism’. He was known to be a contemporary of the great and the most revered Chinese teacher and philosopher ‘Confucius’, but some legends believe that they both were same person, whereas according to some he existed before Confucius. The origin and life of Laozi is extremely ambiguous and even after centuries of research very little is known about his life. Nevertheless, his teachings have been handed down through centuries and today his followers are manifold.
Laozi’s philosophy was particularly known have been prominent during the Han Dynasty, though the philosopher lived in the Zhou Dynasty, the longest surviving dynasty in primeval China. It was in the Han Dynasty that Taoism was strongly established and was religiously followed. However, none of the original texts about Taoism have any reference about Laozi’s life. Due to less information, several speculations, confusions and also conflicts about the life and death of Laozi, have arisen in the past few decades. Many researchers are of the view that ‘Tao te ching’ the religious and philosophical book written by Laozi, was in fact not written by him alone. Some others are even of the opinion that the philosopher never existed and Laozi can be referred to any old wise man of the ancient China who preached Philosophy.
Confucius (551- 479 BCE)
Confucius was an ancient Chinese teacher, politician, and philosopher. He belonged to the Spring and Autumn period of Chinese history. Confucius is one of the few leaders who based their philosophy on the virtues that are required for the day-to-day living. His philosophy centered on personal and governmental morality, correctness of social relationships, justice and sincerity.
Known as Master Kong to the Chinese, he taught people how to cultivate the value of modesty, planning, respect, moral behavior, honesty and sincerity, apart from common sense. He preached that adopting these values was the only way a human being could lead a good life. Confucius was of the opinion that true happiness would only be brought from well-planned actions and helping of the fellow men. His philosophy was aimed at benefiting not only a few selected groups, but all the people of the empire he was a part of.
Mozi (468 – ca. 391 BCE)
Mo Di (Mo Ti), better known as Mozi (Mo-tzu) or “Master Mo,” was a Chinese thinker active from the late 5th to the early 4th centuries B.C.E. He is best remembered for being the first major intellectual rival to Confucius and his followers. Mozi’s teaching is summed up in ten theses extensively argued for in the text that bears his name, although he himself is unlikely to have been its author. The most famous of these theses is the injunction that one ought to be concerned for the welfare of people in a spirit of “impartial concern” that does not make distinctions between self and other, associates and strangers, a doctrine often described more simplistically as “universal love.”
Mozi founded a quasi-religious and paramilitary community that, apart from propagating the ten theses, lent aid to small states under threat from military aggressors with their expertise in counter-siege technology. Along with the Confucians, the Mohists were one of the two most prominent schools of thought during the Warring States period (403-221 B.C.E.), although contemporary sources such as the Hanfeizi and the Zhuangzi indicate that the Mohists had divided into rival sects by this time.
Mencius (372-289 BCE)
Mencius was a famous Chinese philosopher, born in the state of Zou. He was controversially considered the most popular Confucian, after Confucius himself. The philosophy of Mencius is distinguished by idealism and the declaration that the nature of man is basically good.
Although many Confucian philosophers emerged out, but amongst them Mencius was the most intelligent and popular. He even expanded and improved several ideas of Confucius. Also, his understandings and analysis of these ideas became equally influential and powerful as that of the master Confucius.
Mao Zedong 1893-1976 CE
Turn down the pages of Chinese history and one name that draws enough eyeballs, both for reasons right and wrong is Mao Zedong. Termed as the most controversial figure of China, Mao Zedong was a Chinese communist revolutionary, politician and socio-political theorist. Founder of the People’s Republic of China, he converted the nation into a single-party socialist state, with industry and business being nationalized under state ownership and socialist reforms implemented in all areas of society. He governed the country as Chairman of the Communist Party of China until his death.
His Marxist-Leninist ideology, together with his political and military strategies and policies are today known as Maoism. While his supporters honor him for taking the country on road to development and claim him to be responsible for the rise of modern China his critics rebuke him for being a dictator under whose administration human rights abuses were as common as muck. They even think him responsible for the loss of about 70 million lives through starvation, forced labour, suicide and execution.
Deng Xiaoping 1904-1997 CE
Remembered as the Paramount Leader of People’s Republic of China, Deng Xiaoping was a prominent politician and reformist who led the country to domestic stability and economic growth after the disastrous excesses of the Cultural Revolution. Though he never acquired office as the head of state, head of government or General Secretary of the Communist Party of China, he nevertheless exerted extreme influence and guidance. During his rule which stretched from 1978 until 1992, he brought about many significant changes. It was under his leadership that the country progressed socially, economically and culturally.
Under his leadership, he raised the standard of living of people and expanded their cultural and personal freedom. He dominated the department of foreign ministry and expanded ties of China with the Western countries. By far, he is credited with developing China into one of the fastest growing economies in the world for over 30 years and raising the standard of living of hundreds of millions of Chinese.
Sun Tzu (544 BC – 496 BC)
Sun Tzu was an ancient Chinese military general, strategist and philosopher, who is believed to have written the famous ancient Chinese book on military strategy, “The Art of War”. Through his legends and the influential “The Art of War”, Sun Tzu had a significant impact on Chinese and Asian history and culture. The book drew immense popularity during the 19th and 20th centuries when the Western Society saw its practical use. This work still has continued its impact on both Asian and Western culture and politics.
Sun Tzu’s authenticity is still a question of debate, but the traditional Chinese accounts place him in the Spring and Autumn Period of China (722–481 BC), where he was a military general serving under King Helu of Wu. Based on the description of warfare in “The Art of War” and the striking similarity of the text’s prose to other works from Warring States period led the modern scholars to place the completion of “The Art of War” in the Warring States Period (476–221 BC).