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Indian and Chinese Philosophy

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Adrián Slavkovský

This textbook offers a brief overview of the main philosophical schools of the two most significant cultures in ancient Asia, from where these thoughts have spread widely – it concerns ancient India and China. Most important philosophical concepts of that region like holistic or ceremonial approach to reality, openness to transcendence, pluralism of opinions, behaviour leading by a sense of harmony are somehow complementary to our prevailing contemporary Western thought. Therefore they can be enriching and balancing for us and our culture.
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7. Origins of Chinese Philosophy

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Keywords: history, Chinese script, Tao, Heaven and Earth, Mandate of Heaven

7.1 Typical Signs of Chinese Thinking and of Approach to Reality

Chinese culture is the oldest continuously existing culture. In its complexity and significant time span (around five thousand years), it is extremely rich and diversified. The presence of man on Chinese territory dates back hundreds of thousands of years. The best known cultures of Neolithic age are Yang-shao and Lung-shan (5th to 2nd millennium B.C.), which used ceramics, reared domestic animals, and wove textiles. The first ancient dynasties came in the Bronze Age: Xia (around 2100 – 1600 B.C.), Shang (around 1600 – 1500 B.C.) and Zhou (around 1050 – 250 B.C.). Under the reign of the Zhou dynasty, China was divided into several states and principalities, which fought against each other. This period is further divided into the Spring and Autumn periods (722 – 481 ← 69 | 70 → B.C.) and the Period of Fighting States (475 – 221 B.C.). The period between the 8th and 3rd centuries B.C., which was an unstable time of great social change and the gradual decline of Zhou dynasty, is known as the most productive period, when all the main philosophical schools were formed and the most important works were written.

Before we introduce the most significant Chinese (especially ancient China) philosophical streams, let me mention the typical themes of Chinese thinking and the approach to reality as they differ considerably from our approach.

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