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The Schools of Rule

Ancient Chinese Philosophies of Government

This lesson plan was written by Cynthia Carbone Ward, teacher at Vista de Las Cruces School in Gaviota (CA), and former Teachers Network web mentor.

This sixth grade lesson demonstrates how different perspectives or points of view affect the way a problem is perceived and resolved. At the same time, it helps students to understand the basics of four different philosophies of the Ancient Chinese: Confucianism, Moism, Legalism, and Daoism.

Students should have already begun their study of Ancient China, including the period of "The Hundred Schools" during the Zhou Dynasty. During this period, many people questioned their society's rules and values.

First, summarize key points of the four schools of thought:

CONFUCIANISM: For a peaceful society of virtuous people, rule by example. A ruler must have virtue himself, like a good father. Family relationships are very important in society. Do not do to others what you would not like done to yourself.

LEGALISM: Rule by strict laws. People are not good by nature and they therefore require a great deal of discipline and regulation. All power should rest in the hands of the ruler.

MAOISM: Rulers must be men of learning. Universal love -- for all people, not just the ruler and his family -- will bring benefits such as peace. Whatever enriches the country, brings order to society, and expresses love, is good.

DAOISM: Human nature is neither bad nor good. People should just live simple lives in harmony with nature. Politics is senseless.

Next, class is divided into groups of four persons each. Each group is given an "issue" to which they must respond from a Confucianist, Legalist, Maoist, and Daoist point of view. Each group member represents one of these perspectives. Examples of "issues":

  1. Your neighbor has a barking dog which keeps you awake all night. You are irritable and angry and think there should be a law against this.
  2. Your school has a new principal. He has many strict rules and regulations, and very severe punishments.
  3. Your government has taken over Tibet. People in Tibet cannot practice their own religion or customs. Some families have sent their children far from home in the hopes of a better life.
  4. Helen and Jane apply for a job. Helen is immediately rejected because she is a member of a different ethnic group.

Lively discussion and debate may ensue. The world looks very different depending upon the glasses through which you view it. Some of these ancient philosophies continue to influence Chinese politics to this day.

The activity ties in well with discussion of "point of view" in language arts classes, as well.


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