Interpreting the Past

East Asia Unit: Learning About Three Ways of Thought - Confucianism, Daoism, and Legalism

Assignments to hand in: Stop Here & Discuss Questions in the Three Readings (See Below) | Who Said What? (Word Version) | What Did the Philosophers Mean?(Word Version)

Essential Questions, shared learning target & introduction:

Essential Question 2: Why do people live the way they do?
Essential Question 3: How and why do humans organize their societies the way they do?

What will I be able to do?: You will be able to explain the main ideas of the three following philosophies of China: Confucianism, Legalism, and Taoism. You will also be able to interpret quotes from the main authors of these philosophies.
What idea, topic, or subject is important for you to learn and understand so that I can do this?: You will learn about the main ideas of Confucianism, Legalism, and Taoism.
What I will do to show that you know this?: You will show what you know by answering comprehension questions on the three readings on Confucianism, Legalism, and Taoism. You will also show what you learn by completing the two graphic organizers: Who Said What? and What Did the Philosophers Mean?


Zhou dynasty soldiers destroying crops
(Zhou dynasty soldiers destroying peasant crops)

Around 1100 B.C.E., a group of people called the Zhou (pronounced JOE), living in northwest China, overthrew the Shang dynasty. The Zhou were tired of paying tribute to the Shang rulers, and they justified their actions by claiming they had been given the "Mandate of Heaven," or divine right, to rule China. The Zhou dynasty lasted for over 800 years, until 256 B.C.E. - longer than any other dynasty in Chinese history. However, the true rulers of China during much of this period were feudal lords. These were the leaders of the strongest states within the Zhou kingdom, including Lu, Chu, and Qin (pronounced CHIN). Originally, the feudal lords were members of the imperial family and trusted military leaders who had been appointed by the Zhou king. Over time, however, the allegiance of the feudal lords to the Zhou kings grew weaker. More and more, the lords engaged in bitter disputes for wealth and territory among themselves and with neighboring peoples outside the Zhou kingdom. As a result, the feudal lords became powerful regional leaders and the Zhou kings became little more than figureheads.

During this time of political instability, Chinese rulers searched for systems that would allow them to expand their political power. Ambitious rulers gathered large groups of advisors, scholars, and military strategists to advise them. As various masters came into favor, book recording their teaching were compiled and circulated. This development fostered the appearance of many schools of thought. So many teachers wrote and debated ideas about political rule during the period that the Chinese later named it the "Hundred Schools of Thought." Among the most important schools of thought, or philosophies, of this period were Confucianism, Daoism (also Taoism), and Legalism.

Step 1: Learning About the Three Ways of Thought - Watch the short videos for each philosophy and read the corresponding handout. Answer the "Stop Here & Discuss" questions in each handout on a separate piece of paper.


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Reading on Confucianism Handout


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Reading on Daoism Handout


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Reading on Legalism Handout

Conclusion (Interpretation) - Complete the tasks, Who Said What and What Did the Philosophers Mean, below.

Truth Cartoon

Who Said What? - Read each of the three quotes below and decide which philosopher said it. Then justify your response, explaining why you believe it was the philosopher (Confucius, Han Fei, or Lao Tzu) you chose. (Download Graphic Organizer (Word Version))

Quote #1: "Punishments should not be anything but severe and definite. This will make people fear them."

Quote #2: "A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves. "

Quote #3: "A superior man is modest in his speech, but exceeds in his actions. "

What Did the Philosophers Mean? - Choose one quote from each of the three philosophers below and complete the What Did the Philosophers Mean Graphic Organizer (Word Version), explaining what they mean in your own words.

Confucius (Confucianism) Quotes

Han Fei (Legalism) Quotes

Lao Tzu (Taoism) Quotes