Political & Cultural Issues in Confucius' Time

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  • 0:02 Fall of the Zhou
  • 1:15 Political Problems
  • 2:15 Cultural Problems
  • 3:14 Confucius & His Solutions
  • 4:12 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

Despite the best efforts of the Zhou, China soon had too many unemployed people for its own good and society became chaotic. Learn how Confucius helped pull China out of 400 years of strife in this lesson.

Fall of the Zhou

Unfortunately for the Zhou dynasty, its ability to organize and innovate had been its undoing. As the Zhou had created greater stability throughout China, people were able to grow more food, meaning that less people were actually needed on the farms. This influx of people away from the countryside and to the cities destabilized society because the people were poor and had little way to make a living. As the Zhou were unable to deal with the issue, different provinces of the Zhou rebelled, in effect fixing the problem of stability among peasants, while destroying any sort of stability between the local rulers.

For a while, the Zhou were able to have at least nominal power during a period known as the Spring and Autumn period. However, soon even that nominal power would evaporate. This period of chaos and warfare between warlords in China following the Zhou dynasty is called the Warring States period, and no leader of China was able to claim the Mandate of Heaven, or moral high ground that was supposed to guarantee a ruler's blessing from Heaven to rule. It was during this time that one of the greatest philosophers in history, Confucius, was born.

Political Problems

Political instability may be a bit of an understatement in explaining what was going on in China during the Warring States period. The once mighty Zhou dynasty had split into many smaller states, with the larger states themselves threatened with division. Each of these small states had armies that threatened to conquer their neighbors, and each state had a more secretive army of spies that threatened assassination at every turn.

Needless to say, this kept the state of affairs in China in a constant state of flux. It was impossible for any real diplomatic solutions to be reached because spies could quickly kill anyone who seemed open to a diplomatic solution. Additionally, no economic solutions could emerge because China was increasingly poor during this period. China has always depended on its agricultural produce as a form of wealth, and with so many armies marching through and burning everything, it was impossible for anyone to gain any wealth.

Cultural Problems

Meanwhile, the cultural binds that normally held China together had all but disintegrated. With no ruler able to claim the Mandate of Heaven, there was no real reason for people to show loyalty to their rulers. This meant that people, from peasants to local rulers, were disobeying the instructions of those who ruled them. Further, with a lack of food after marauding armies had marched through, individuals had no reason to show respect to their landlords by paying them, which in turn meant that landlords saw little reason to allow peasants to remain on their land.

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