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I know there a lot more differences then similarities between Daoism and Confucianism. All I can find is that both have one goal and focus of self-improvement from being "individuals" by becoming a greater whole to contribute to society. Are there any more similarities?

  • Confucianism is a secular philosophy, it is neutral when it comes to religious philosophies. Confucianism is in harmony with both Daoism and Buddhism. – Swami Vishwananda Jul 8 '15 at 4:40
  • There's potentially quite a few similarities between the two ... where are you getting the claim "I know there are a lot more differences then [sic] similarities between Daoism and Confucianism"? Also, how are you defining Daoism and Confucianism? – virmaior Jul 8 '15 at 4:48
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    I found out at the era of Zhu Xi link, whose neo-Confucianism even became the only official doctrine of Joseon dyasty in Korea at that time link, the neo-Confucianims seemed to have merged to some extent with Daoism. As you can see in the Wiki, Supreme Ultimate (taiji 太極) is the Daoism origin in my sense. I would like to investigate to elaborate furthermore. – Kentaro Jul 8 '15 at 23:49
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    @KentaroTomono interesting timing. I was drafting an answer including Zhu Xi at the same time. – virmaior Jul 9 '15 at 0:31
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    O.K then I am going to draft mine too. Thank you for your comment. – Kentaro Jul 9 '15 at 6:40
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Confucianism and Daoism are a classic pair of opposites in Chinese philosophy. They are also both terms that are notoriously different to pin down.

The Problem of Definitions

I know of at least three definitions of Confucianism: (a) the works attributed to Confucius and Mencius, (b) the works in (a) plus 24 centuries or so of commentaries on them, and (c) the political implementation of something vaguely related to (a) or (b) often in China but also in Joseon Korea and Tokugawa Japan. Also, there are different streams of interpretation in (b) with the most prominent being the neo-Confucians, such as Zhu Xi and the Chang brothers, and the New Confucians in the 20th Century including such thinkers as Kwongloi Shun, Chengyang Li, and Tu Weiming. (For a treatment of just the different forms this takes in China, see Xinzhong YAO, An introduction to Confucianism "Confucianism, Confucius, and Confucian Classics" Cambridge University Press, 2000).

For Daoism, there are also multiple definitions which I'm less competent to comment on, but we can see Zhuangzi and Laozi as two separate traditions and then we can also look at Sun Tzu's Art of War as a Taoist text (at least Roger Ames does). We can ask what its relationship is to itself and what its relationship is to Buddhism (some forms of Taoism copied Buddhist practices). We can also see it as either the philosophy of protest against the "Confucian" state or an esoteric religion about finding immortality potions. Philosophical Taoism has been having a recent resurgence with prominent defenders.

The History of Dissimilarity

As rival views, the two are often presented as opposites when teaching Chinese philosophy. But this is a useful teaching device rather than proof that we should see the two as truly opposite. There are surely differences.

The Claim of Similarity

Many of the prominent defenders of Taoism in contemporary philosophy see Confucianism as having much in common with Taoism. I have heard Karyn Lai say things to that effect as well as Roger Ames.

Why do they make this claim?

First, Confucianism and Taoism as philosophical positions both are about Dao (道). Second, even though they are rival views about what Dao is, they share some of the same ideas as they are rivals in context. Comparing Descartes and Confucius is harder than comparing Confucius and Lao Tzu. Most of the other similarities build on the second one. But a third similarity is that as the Confucian commentaries advanced, they had to adapt to beliefs that their target audience found plausible. Thus, Zhu Xi spends a lot of time talking about li (not 禮 but 理) which means order because they had to develop a cosmology to respond to the Buddhist missionaries.

Fourth, a key reason why the West likes Confucianism but not Taoism has to do with a controversial set of translations. The Jesuit translations rendered many of the ideas of Confucianism into familiar Western terms:

  1. "Rightenousness" for 義 yi / now sometimes rendered "appropriateness"
  2. "Heaven" for 天 tian / now sometimes left untranslated
  3. "Virtue" for 徳 de / now sometimes rendered "power"
  4. "Benevolence" for ren 仁 / now sometimes rendered "humanity"

(I could expand the list if necessary). But a recent challenge is how accurate these renderings really are to the Chinese context. This is an open area of debate, but part of why it matters is that the Jesuits saw the potential for a synthesis between Christianity and Confucianism but not Christianity and Taoism.

Moreover, the definition of all of these terms is something where Taoists make interesting claims. For instance, they deny that ren should be understood in pedestrian terms. Similarly, they see de as referring to the power to influence. Interestingly, you can reread Confucian texts with these definitions and they still make sense.


To give a parallel, Descartes and Locke take opposite views in epistemology, but it does not mean they have nothing in common. Both write as Christians. Both try to solve problems of perception. Both reject certain features of the classic medieval philosophies while implicitly accepting others.

  • 'The Jesuits saw the potential for a synthesis between Chritianity and Confucianism' - was this driven in part by political considerations; ie was Confucianism at the time the state philosophy? – Mozibur Ullah Jul 10 '15 at 9:52
  • @MoziburUllah yes, a form "Confucianism" was the official political philosophy of the state and continued to be so until the end of the Ming dynasty. I don't know enough to comment on how much that mattered to the jesuits. – virmaior Jul 10 '15 at 10:01
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In my opinion

  • Confucianism, a philosophical treatment, focus on ethics, notably the relation between the government, the ministers and the people, while

  • Daoism, an esoteric speculation, focus on the relation between the individual and his natural environment.

Hence I do not see many similarities.

Added 10.7.2015: According to the definitions stated in the answer of virmaior my answer refers to the works attributed to Confucius and to an English translation of the Daodejing.

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The question at hand isn't is there or isn't there. The question is what are they. Some of which I can think of first hand are

  1. they are both teachings that influenced many other Chinese philosophers and
  2. they both had concerns about their country's crumbling social order.

    as well "Both Confucianism and Taoism have a one goal and focuses on self-improvement from being individuals by welcoming greater whole to contribute to society. They were both invented to offer solutions to the chaos that erupted a result of the fall of Zhou Dynasty. Both Confucianism and Taoism teach about family and one’s rightful place in society. Confucius stressed that elders were superior whereas Lao suggested Both of these two religions exhibited respect for what they taught.

  • I made some edits which you may roll back or further edit. You may see the versions by clicking on the "edited" link above. If you have references that the reader could go to for more information that would strengthen your answer. Welcome to this SE! – Frank Hubeny Oct 17 '18 at 16:25
  • as well "Both Confucianism and Taoism have a one goal and focuses on self-improvement from being individuals by welcoming greater whole to contribute to society. They were both invented to offer solutions to the chaos that erupted a result of the fall of Zhou Dynasty. Both Confucianism and Taoism teach about family and one’s rightful place in society. Confucius stressed that elders were superior whereas Lao suggested Both of these two religions exhibited respect for what they taught. – Ashley B Oct 17 '18 at 16:26
  • You might add those to your answer through an edit. It would also help to provide some references to justify the claims and give the reader a place to go for more information. – Frank Hubeny Oct 17 '18 at 16:29
  • do you know any more similaritys – Ashley B Oct 18 '18 at 16:24
  • I'm not familiar with the topic. It is just a general suggestion to add references especially for people like me who might like more information. Best wishes and again welcome. – Frank Hubeny Oct 18 '18 at 17:17
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Note : Let me apologize to Mr. jeroenk here the "author" surely mentions one of the Zen schools was influenced by Taoism as I ignorantly criticized him here.

For your information, I happened to have found a site whose owner ( = author ) intends to summarize the book he read which tries to explain the relationship between Confucianism and Taoism and the import and its influence of Buddhism on them

The book is written by a Japanese professor Nobuyuki Kaji of Osaka university and his major is the history of Chinese philosophical history. The book is called 『What is Confucianism?』 ( Hereunder let me call the author mainly "he or him".)

Now his first line.

儒教自身の宗教性は、各家族における祖先崇拝となり個別化したため、教団といったものができなかった。だから儀礼が慣習化され、キリスト教教会や仏教寺院が与えるような宗教性を意識しなかったのは、やむをえなかった。その結果、宗教を求める人々の意識は、仏教や道教に向かった。そして、後漢から隋唐時代までの間、儒教、仏教、道教は相争い、やがて融和していく。

Translated :

Confucianism could not become a religious organization due to its unique teachings despite its religiousness. The reason is it puts great values on worship of families' ancestors and the practice became to depend on each individual family. These ritual became more customary as the time descends so that it was not able to form a religious group such as Christianity and Buddhism. Inevitably, ordinary folks then chose Buddhism and Taoism for their pursuit of saving after their death. From the time of Han dynasty to Tang dynasty, these 3 competed with each other but gradually they became to converge.

He explains the difference of these 3.

(人間社会を中心とする)儒教は政治理論においては仏教、道教より優位にあったが、宇宙論・形而上学では劣勢だった。死生観では、仏教は輪廻転生、儒教は招魂再生、道教は不老長生を説いた。儒教では、人間は死ぬと魂は天上に、魄は地下に行く。死者の子孫が、祖先を祭祀すれば、現世に再生できるとする。しかし死については運命を受け入れ、無抵抗である。一方、道教は死に対して敢然と挑戦する。気功や太極拳で体を鍛え、キノコなどを材料に薬を作った。その努力の到達点は永遠の生命を持つ仙人になることだ。また道教の神々を拝めば現世利益にもつながる。つまり、 儒教―子孫の祭祀による現世への<再生> 道教―自己の努力による不老<長生> 仏教―因果や運命に基づく輪廻<転生> となる。

Translated :

Confucianism had a supremacy at the sphere of politics than others, but they had less impact on the teachings such as how Cosmos was created, or about Metaphysics itself. On the account of human beings' life and death, Buddhism preached the reincarnation, Confucianism the invitation and the consequent healing of the souls of those dead, Taoism the eternal life. According to Confucianists, the Qi of the soul of the dead go to Tian after human beings die, while the Qi of the body go to so-called "underground". Their religiousness is based on the thought that if descendants worship the deads, then the deads would resurrect back. However, that doesn't mean the death is escapable. Considering Taoism on that matter, they challenge to the death itself on the contrary. They taught people to "shape" their bodies by such as the special breathing method or Taijiquan to gain the eternal life, even creating medicines from such as mushrooms for that purpose. Their ultimate goal is so for everyone who practice Taoism to gain the eternal life. Also preached was if people worship Gods of Taoism, the people will gain the materialistic benefits while their lifetime. I would like to summarize as below the difference of thoughts about death and its resurrection by the 3.

Confucianism : Worship of their ancestors so that they would ressurect.

Taoism : Emphasis on efforts by self to gain the eternal life.

Buddhism : Reincarnation basing on the fate and the causal connection to gain the next life.

Also, he poses a question why the then ordinary Chinese people took Buddhism as their religion while according to him they had strong "thirst" for the material benefits before their death. According to him the reason was based on "their great misunderstandings" by then Chinese. The misunderstanding is as below.

中国人にとっての仏教は、仏教本来の「生きていることが苦」との前提が抜け落ち、死んでも肉体を持って楽しい世界に生まれることができる教えと考えられた。こういう壮大な誤解によって魏晋六朝から隋唐時代に民衆において仏教が大流行した。

Translated :

Chinese considered the Buddhism as a thought that could benefit them to acquire how to "live a next enjoyable life", disregarding completely the original belief of Buddhism that "Human beings' life itself is an anguish." This greatest misunderstanding, discounting the essential Buddhists' core thought led to the widespread of Buddhism from the eras of Wei, Jin to Sui, Tang.

The then Chinese intellectuals' denunciation on it.

最大の問題は、仏教では霊魂が死なずに転生するところにあったため、儒家は仏教批判のために、なんと霊魂の存在を否定する立場に至る。これは儒教からいえば誤りだが、当時の儒教知識人が霊魂の存在を認める自分たちの宗教性を忘れ、礼教性でこりかたまっていたため、霊魂の否定という逆の立場になってしまった。

Translated :

The problem of the then intellectuals, Confucianists, for the sake of the denunciation of such a widespread idea, took the idea to deny the very existence of the soul of human beings. This was perfectly contrary to the Buddhists' belief, that souls do not die and reincarnate. This denunciation itself was totally against their original belief in the existence of the soul of human beings. However, being bound with the doctrine of Li in their political world, Confucianists became to forget their original idea.

Now, the blogger's analysis.

ここは、儒教の宗教性を考える上で重要なポイントだ。 加地は一貫して儒教の宗教性を強調している。しかし、一方で儒教は「いまだ生を知らず、いずくんぞ死を知らんや」(「論語」先進篇)として「社会倫理=道」を説く現世的な教えでもある。加地の主張も理解はできるが、当方としては、儒教の非宗教性は、一神教的世界観を脱する契機を持っており、「多様性と平和の共存」という現代世界の最重要課題にとって「使える要素」ではないかと思う。浄土思想への言及も面白い。

Translated :

The above proposal by the author is relevant if we would like to consider the religiousness of Confucianism. The author consistently emphasizes Confucianism had the characteristic of the religiousness. Now let us refer to Xian Jin 11, 12 Confucius says

Ji Lu added, "I venture to ask about death?" He was answered, "While you do not know life, how can you know about death?"

As I ( = the blogger ) quote, this is an example that thought of Confucius is as secular and materialistic as well and it leads to the world order = Tao ( 道 ). I can agree the author's proposal as well, but from my viewpoint the Confucianism's characteristic of the non-religiousness could be the point of departure from the monotheistic viewpoint of the world. Such an ( Confucianism's non-religious characteristic ) idea could be a leverage to promote the "coexistence of the diversity and peace.

The blogger also presents his analysis in Jodo-Shu ( Buddhism )

死後も楽しいこの世に再び生まれ変わることができるとの誤解が広がった結果、それはつきつめた形として浄土思想が大流行となる。これは日本も同様だった。死後に長い輪廻の苦しみが待っているとしないで、阿弥陀如来の本願にすがって浄土に行けるとするのは、中国人や日本人、楽天的な東北アジア人にぴったりであった。ちなみに中国では、仏教におけるいろいろな考え方のうち、結局、自力の禅と他力の浄土思想との二つが残った。自力の禅は、老荘思想の超世間、自然重視と結びついていく。仏教側にも、大きな変質があった。儒教の強烈な祖霊信仰・祖先崇拝を背景に葬式は儒教式が普通だった。そこで仏教は中国人に浸透するために、輪廻転生とは真っ向からぶつかるはずの祖霊信仰をとりこんでいった。その手段として、「盂蘭盆経」や「父母恩重経」などインドに原典のない偽経まで作り上げた。日本での奈良・平安期の仏教の普及ははやかった。これは中国に比べ儒教の民衆への浸透が低かったことや、すでに中国で祖先崇拝や喪礼を導入した仏教が日本に伝わったことが原因にあげられる。

Translated :

As I ( = the author of the book ) mentioned before, the great misunderstanding by Chinese, that is again to say, they can seek the happy next life disregarding the original Buddhism core idea, ( = Human beings' lifetime is an agony ), consequently in the ultimate form invited the widespread of Jodo Shu. This happened in the same manner in Japan. The Buddhism's basic idea, that while in reincarnation they suffer many torments, was completely forgotten by Chinese and Japanese then, but the thought which is, by only chanting Amitābha they are able to seek the heavenly reward quite fitted with optimistic ideas of the then North Eastern Asians, namely Chinese and Japanese. It is peculiarly interesting to observe that in China the Zen Buddhism split into 2 schools, one is the school that seeks the heavenly help by his / her own effort, the other that preaches that seeks it by Buddha's power. And the former, the school of Zen which seeks the happiness after their death by his / her own effort, merged with the idea of Taoism, which puts great value on the transcendency, "the blending" of human beings with Nature. At that same time, there occurred a change in Buddhism too. People before the change took naturally the powerful influence by Confucianists' method of ritual for those dead, by the worship of the souls of their ancestors. Buddhists, in order to spread their ideas to Chinese, "absorbed" the Confucianism idea, worship of the souls of their ancestors, which in its Buddhism idea contradicts the idea of Reincarnation. They even made pseudo sutras such as 盂蘭盆経 or 父母恩重経 ( no English sorry ), which do not have their original texts in India. In Japan, Buddhism spread at high speed in Nara and Heian era. This could be due to the reason that in Japan back then the influence of Confucianism was not so wide, and furthermore already back then the "convergent Buddhism", which blended the idea of Confunianists' idea mentioned before, had already been imported before the import of Confucianism.

Conclusion

Now having read this blog, I have come to form the different idea than the other people.

Difference and Similarities

In older times, 3 groups are as mentioned above seem to have had different idea such as as I ( he ) wrote,

Confucianism : Worship of their ancestors so that they would ressurect.

Taoism : Emphasis on efforts by self to gain the eternal life.

Buddhism : Reincarnation basing on the fate and the causal connection to gain the next life.

However, in such a vast land whose population was already around 50 millions around AD100 - AD200, I think it was difficult to "entangle" the complicated threads, the different group of thoughts effecting others and others in long period of its history.

But at least I think I could say Confucianism has been taken the most popular thought, a bit aloof, especially in politics, also considering up until 1905 Chinese dynasties after dynasties took Imperial examination in order to select candidates for the state bureaucracy.

As for Taoism, I personally guess they might have survived as kind of a practice like a folklore.

Thank you.

  • I think the questioner can find an another good answer, I would like to recommend personally the questioner to read every answer carefully with thank you in advance. – Kentaro Jul 9 '15 at 14:24
  • One big problem is that it's not clear that the English word Confucianism is equivalent to 儒教 – virmaior Jul 9 '15 at 15:53
  • Let us discuss later kindly. Thank you. When I am translating, the Heaven told me to go to sleep. No offense. But thank you for your comment. – Kentaro Jul 9 '15 at 16:15
  • The English word "Confucianism" can refer to 儒家 , 儒教,  論語と孟子だけ,  論語と孟子 . 論語などパラス朱熹 , 中国また朝鮮また徳川の儒教的政治. It's not at all clear which until the OP clarifies. – virmaior Jul 9 '15 at 16:16
  • @virmaior ahm, first off, this is my personal opinion as a non native speaker. Then granted, if your statement is really correct and the meaning of Confucianism covers so wide, then I would like to say it is too bold. If I were you, I would say respectively, 儒家 as Confucianists, 儒教 as Confucianism, then I am not sure by your saying 「だけ」, if I take your words literally, then I would translate 論語と孟子だけ probably as (Confucius') Analytic and Mencius only ( = だけ ), 論語と孟子 as (Confucius') Analytic and Mencius, and I am sorry I have no idea about the meaning of the word パラス – Kentaro Jul 9 '15 at 19:20
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Philosophical Taoism is the study of truth, knowledge and consciousness and as such has a sound metaphysical basis. Confucianism is a social doctrine based on axioms and assumptions. There is an overlap in that the latter adopts axioms related to Taoism but they are chalk and cheese as methods and doctrines.

Hence the (no doubt apocryphal) stories of Confucius meeting Lao Tsu and coming away chastened by the latter's deeper knowledge and understanding. While philosophical or original Taoism comes under the heading 'perennial philosophy' Confucianism would not qualify.

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