Legalism, Confucianism and Daoism have informed Chinese history in various ways. Legalism, first invoked around Fourth Century B.C.E., was focused on maintaining law and order (Wheeler, 2012). In the formulation used by Ch’in, legalism was totalitarian in nature and engaged to enforce and encourage the unity of China. Whenever China fell into disharmony, legalism was elevated by the unifying ruler. This is evidenced under the rulers of the Sui dynasty (Murphey, 2009, p. 516-518). Tempered with Confucianism, the codification of principles ordering relationships between and among people, elevating deference, benevolence and self-cultivation, the Sui Dynasty was short-lived (p. 519) However, Confucian influences, the application of such toward learning, toward improvement for the benefits of society and the resultant Civil Service Exam based upon these principles, has continued to infuse Chinese society and culture through present day.
Daoism, like Confucianism arose within the third or fourth century B.C.E. However, Lao-tzu used the Taoist philosophy to appeal to rulers in China in 2500 B.C.E. approximately. Purporting the Taoist tenets, the laws of nature, of the paths of least resistance, and the applications of such within all facets of life, rulers adopted some of the principles and subsequently blended them with Confucianism and Buddhism (Fairbanks & Reischauer, p. 103-105). Yet, this type of syncretic recombination occurs throughout Chinese history and culture. Not surprisingly then, the Dao de Jing, the Book of Changes, Taoist in nature is still consulted. Chinese medicine draws upon Daoism, Buddhism and Confucianism and Chinese leaders recombined the aforementioned philosophies in congruence with societal needs.
For these reasons, legalism, Confucianism and Daoism continue to inform government and society. While legalism reinforces the social order Confucianism supports, Daoism alternately informs the social adaptations and the ways Chinese people live within the moment. They do not choose the path of most resistance. Rather, Chinese society values harmony, the collective, full participation and the cultural concepts perpetuated across generations. As exemplified by the national holidays such as Qing Ming festival, the day everyone visits graves and reveres their ancestors, Confucianism is important.
Fairbank, J. K., & Reischauer, E. O. (1989). China: Tradition & transformation. Sydney: Allen &
Murphey, W. R. (2009). A history of Asia. New York [etc.: Pearson/Longman.
Wheeler, K. (2012). Legalism and Chinese philosophy. Retrieved from http://web.cn.edu/kwheeler/chinese_legalism.html