Confucius was a Chinese philosopher whose philosophy came to be known as Confucianism. Confucianism is often credited with shaping Chinese communities and East Asian societies. Confucius is considered one of the most influential individuals in the history of mankind as his teachings have had a great impact on people around the world. His philosophy continues to remain influential.
Liu Xiaobo was a Chinese activist, literary critic, and philosopher. He is best remembered for organizing campaigns that aimed at ending the one-party rule in China. He was honored with the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize for his struggle for human rights in China. Liu is the first Chinese citizen to be honored with a Nobel Prize while residing in China.
Legendary 10th-century Chinese monk Budai, is better known as The Laughing Buddha and The Fat Buddha. Named after the “budai” or cloth sack that he carried with him, he was considered an avatar of Maitreya, or the future Buddha. His figures adorn many homes, as a symbol of prosperity and contentment.
Mencius was a Chinese philosopher who idolized Confucius’ philosophy. Often referred to as the second Sage, after Confucius himself, Mencius is credited with further developing Confucius' ideology. Mencius is also credited with teaching many students, some of whom went on to become influential philosophers in their own right. Mencius is regarded as one of the most influential persons in history.
Fifth-century BC Chinese philosopher Mozi was the founder of the Mohism school of philosophy. He propagated universal and undifferentiated love, or jianai. Though originally a believer of Confucianism, he later drifted away from it owing to its ritualistic and elitist nature, and formed his own movement, which was more people-oriented.
Su Shi was a Chinese writer, calligrapher, poet, painter, gastronome, pharmacologist, and politician who lived during the Song dynasty. He played a major role in the political affairs of the Song dynasty. He is credited with producing some of the best-known poems, prose, and essays and is considered one of the most decorated personalities in classical Chinese literature.
Known as the author of the Zhuangzi, one of the seminal texts of Daoism, or Taoism, Zhuang Zhou, or Master Zhuang, was a 4th-century BC Chinese philosopher. He was said to be eccentric and unkempt, though his works inspired Chinese Buddhism and Chinese art to a great extent.
Known as Shehuangdi, or The Usurper Emperor, 1st-century Chinese monarch Wang Mang was initially a Han dynasty official. He seized the Chinese throne from the Liu family of the Han dynasty, to form his own short-lived reign, also known as the Xin dynasty. He was later overthrown.
Third-century BC Chinese philosopher and statesman Li Si propagated the philosophy of Legalism. While serving as a minister under Shihuangdi of the Qin dynasty, the first sovereign ruler of China, he pushed for standardized writing and coinage systems. He was, however, criticized for burning books of Confucian history.
Fourth-century BC Chinese Legalist philosopher Shang Yang was largely responsible for the unification of the Chinese empire under the Qin dynasty. His policies as a statesman included compulsory military service and centralization of governors. He also encouraged people to spy on each other. He was brutally executed by Duke Xiao’s successor.
A co-founder and major leader of the Chinese Communist Party, Chen Duxiu is remembered for his association with the May Fourth Movement. Known as China’s Lenin among his followers, he also contributed to the revolution to overthrow the Qing government and promoted vernacular Chinese through the periodical New Youth.
Song dynasty Chinese philosopher and historian Zhu Xi propagated a revival of Confucianism against the popular trends of Buddhism and Taoism. He had cleared the civil services at 18 and had started his career as a registrar. He is remembered for editing the civil service texts The Four Books.
Legendary Chinese Zen Buddhism patriarch Huineng is regarded as the founder of the Southern School, which believes in sudden enlightenment, as opposed to the gradual enlightenment of the Northern School. Initially a firewood peddler, he later became a monk. His teachings are collected in the Platform Sutra.
Chinese philosopher Han Fei is remembered for his iconic work Han Feizi, which is an ancient text containing Fei’s essays that reflect the Legalist tradition. It is believed he suffered from a speech defect, which encouraged him to write. King Zheng of Qin later adopted most of Fei’s philosophies.
Qing dynasty reformer Kang Youwei was associated with the Reform Movement of 1898. Though he initially admired Western civilization, opened schools, and even attempted to abolish foot-binding of women, he later became a staunch supporter of Confucianism and opposed blind westernization. He fled to Japan after the reform movement failed.
Better known as the founder of the Chinese martial art Taiji Quan, or Tai Chi, Zhang Sanfeng is part of Chinese folklore. He has been portrayed widely in Chinese art and media, including wuxia novels and series. The Chinese believe the legendary Taoist was immortal and had supernatural powers.
Ban Zhao was a Chinese historian, politician, and philosopher. Remembered for her immense contribution to the Book of Han, Ban Zhao was the first known female historian in the history of China. Widely regarded as China's most popular female scholar, Ban Zhao also had an interest in mathematics and astronomy. She also gained political influence by teaching Empress Deng Sui.
Wang Anshi was a Chinese author and political reformer who implemented the New Laws. After clearing his civil services examination, he worked as an administrator for 2 decades. He later served as the Chancellor of Song Dynasty and initiated reforms against nepotism and private monopolies in the country.
Cai Yuanpei was a Chinese politician and philosopher. He was also an influential educationalist and played a crucial role in China's modern education. Among his several contributions to education reform in China is his work in the Peking University, where he served as the president. He is also credited with founding Academia Sinica, the national academy of Taiwan.
Song dynasty scholar Fan Zhongyan rose up to be the kingdom’s chancellor and fought against corruption. He is known for his iconic saying “Be the first to care for the nation’s fate and the last to enjoy its comforts.” Though he owned a profitable farm, he spent a lot on charity.
Educated in Japan, Hu Hanmin had initially been part of the United League and later became Sun Yat-sen’s secretary. Hu later chaired the Nationalist Party and also became the president of the Legislative Yüan. He believed individual rights depended on a person’s participation in the national interest.
Neo-Confucian philosopher Liang Shuming is remembered for his association with peasant organization and was a major figure behind the formation of the China Democratic League. He was also the first professor of Buddhism to be employed by a Chinese university and a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.
Chinese Buddhist monk Taixu was also a modern thinker and an activist. Inspired by Sun Yat-sen and by the 1911 revolution, he set out to introduce reforms in the education of monks and in social welfare. He intended to fuse Buddhism with science and modern philosophy.