A Hundred Schools of Thought

The Warring States Period was a time when dozens of small kingdoms in China were all vying for power, one with another. It was also the greatest time of Chinese philosophy, art, scientific scholarship, and religious revival for China. This is when both Confucius and Lao-Tse lived along with many other great philosophers. The time period is known as The Hundred Schools of Thought. This period, when scholars were free to discuss and write and debate without fear, was followed by the first Qin (pronounced Chin) emperor, who killed the scholars and burned the books. Sigh.

This is Confucius, a famous Chinese philosopher who lived in the 6th century BC. He taught morality in personal lives and in government. This painting of him was done in about 1770 AD by an unknown artist.

The philosophers of this time were mostly itinerant teachers and political advisers. Not only was China a hotbed of thought, but it was also a big experimental pool of politics and war. The many small kingdoms were all trying to come up with the perfect way to create a strong lasting state. It was a time of competing ideologies. In the end, the guy with the biggest stick won.

Make a paper garland with a symbol for each of the major schools of thought (you can do the ancient Chinese ones listed below or you can choose modern philosophies instead). Tape each symbol to a long piece of yarn or string and hang it on a wall or in front of a window. As you work, talk about the idea of intellectual freedom, freedom of speech, political debate, and scholarship. Are these things important? Why? What do you believe about competing philosophies? Should people be able to disagree freely or does this destroy society? Think of modern day examples.

  • Confucianism
  • Taoism
  • Legalism
  • Mohism
  • Yin-Yang
  • Logicians
  • Diplomacy
  • Military
  • Agriculturalists

Additional Layers

  • Thousands of years later, in 1956, Mao Zedong would use the “Hundred Schools of Thought” concept to pretend a desire for real free thinking and competing ideologies.  His slogan was “Let a hundred flowers bloom; let a hundred schools of thought contend.”  Mao was certain that his own brand of socialism would easily be preferred by all. When Mao’s supporters began to criticize certain policies and practices, Mao retaliated brutally.  Find out what happened.  Think about why it happened.
  • This activity is part of Unit 1-10 in the Layers of Learning Curriculum.

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