Compare and contrast the new ideologies that developed in the Han period, including neo-Daoism, Buddhism, and other new influences in China. What was the impact on Chinese society and politics of these new schools of thought?
A number of new ideologies began to take hold as China itself changed in a number of ways during the Han period. This occurred during a period of time that is considered to be something of a “golden era” in terms of almost every aspect of life. For the purposes of this paper, we will focus upon the way in which China changed on a philosophical, religious and ethical level with the advent of a number of thinkers weighing in on important issues. The principles ideologies that will be discussed here are neo-Daoism and Buddhism.
Neo-Daoism became extremely influential during this period. Chan (“Neo-Daoism”), when discussing this ideology notes that “throughout the Jin period and beyond, as another early source relates, whether “sounds do not have sorrow or joy” and the “four roots of capacity and nature” remained the stuff of philosophical discussion”. His contention is that much forward thinking conversation had stagnated during this time. It was, in many ways, the frustration of people such as Zhang Zhan and their writing that lead to a shift towards Buddhism.
This being said, it still introduced many new ideas when it came to topics such as ethics, metaphysics and a number of other important areas. This would include important work on the philosophy of nothingness, being and the pursuit of happiness. Its overall importance should not be understated while being careful to note that an eventual inertia would lead many leading philosophers to move onto Buddhism as the medieval period began. (Chan, “Neo-Daoism”) The shift towards Buddhism had been well under way as it first entered China in 65 AD. It is believed by some that it entered China via land from the east as opposed to over the sea. Schools would eventually begin to spring up as Buddhist teachings began to mesh with traditional Chinese ways of thinking, forming an early “version” of Chinese Buddhism which still remains one of the dominant religions in that country until today.
A clear connection between the way – and the why - Buddhism developed in China can be seen in terms of its connection with beliefs such as neo-Daoism. Importantly, a great focus is placed upon emotions and human reason as well as how to overcome these things. Topics such as nature, words and meaning and destiny are hugely important to Buddhism also. The inherent difference as that Buddhism develops many of the concepts found in neo-Daoism much further. Other teachings such as Legalism and Confucianism would also gain a foothold during this period, with a similar focus on ethics and the way in which we view the world.
The influence that all of these schools of thought would have is significant. Particularly, on a political level, whatever a particular leader was into at a given time could have a big influence. For example, Emperor Wu would give Confucianism exclusive patronage in around 136 BC. Due to the influence of other systems in place at this time, Confucianism was mixed with elements of metaphysical and cosmological elements that can be seen elsewhere. As a result of this decision, much Chinese academia and lower level education would be dominated by this school of thought during this period resulting in a big influence on policy for years to come. The rise of Taoism and Buddhism later on in the Han Dynasty would help lead to its eventual decline. As such, it is clear to see that the shifting plates of thinking had a huge influence on Chinese politics and society at the time. Dynasties decayed and the way people were taught altered over time as philosophies did the same.
Chan, Alan, "Neo-Daoism", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2014 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2014/entries/neo-daoism/>.