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Sunday, August 26, 2007

Taoism and Confucianism

The Emperors of ancient China did not always follow Confucianism as their ruling philosophy. Initially, it was Taoism they turned to. Unfortunately, they were badly misled by "masters" who themselves did not understand the Tao. Several Emperors died from drinking "elixir of immortality" made with mercury. One Emperor spent his days doing nothing productive and justified it with Tao-sounding excuses, while his government fell apart and the people suffered. These negative experiences eventually forced a switch to Confucianism.

In mainland China, there is a TV show that highlights this turning point in Chinese history. It has become one of the more popular historical dramas there, but it is virtually unknown over here.

In general, Westerners who understand only the surface level of the Tao often cast Taoism and Confucianism as diametrically opposed competitors. Because most people in the West don't know much about Confucianism, it is quite easy to turn it into a convenient villain. This idea is reinforced by the good-versus-evil notion where Taoism represents the people who wish for freedom, while Confucianism represents the ruling elite and their oppressive rigidity. Thus, Taoism gets set up on a pedestal while Confucianism is looked down upon.

This bears no resemblance to how the Asians themselves approach the two traditions. In actuality, real Chinese people living in Asian tend to revere both Laozi and Confucius equally. They follow teachings from Taoism as well as Confucianism and see no conflict between the two.

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