Chinese philosophy has a history of several thousand years; its origins are often traced back to the Yi Jing (the Book of Changes), an ancient compendium of divination, which introduced some of the most fundamental terms of Chinese philosophy. Its age can only be estimated (its first flowering is generally considered to have been in about the 6th century BC. Antony Flew & Stephen Priest, A Dictionary of Philosophy. Pan Macmillan, 2002. ISBN 0-330-48730-2., but it draws on an oracular tradition that goes back to neolithic times.
The Tao Te Ching (Dào dé jīng, in pinyin romanisation) of Lao Tzu (Lǎo zǐ) Lao Tze (Laozi) Stephen Hodge, Tao Te Ching ISBN 0-7641-2168-5 and the Analects of Confucius Kǒng fū zǐ; sometimes called Master Kong"Confucius", Kung Fu Tz, D. C. Lau The AnalectsPenguin Classics ISBN 0-14-044348-7 both appeared around 600 BCE, about the time that the Greek pre-Socratics were writing.
Confucianism represents the collected teachings of the Chinese sage Confucius, who lived from 551 to 479 BCE. His philosophy focused in the fields of ethics and politics, emphasizing personal and governmental morality, correctness of social relationships, justice, traditionalism, and sincerity. Confucianism, along with Legalism, is responsible for creating the world’s first meritocracy, which holds that one's status should be determined by ability instead of ancestry, wealth, or friendships. "Confucius" Confucianism was and continue to be a major influence in Chinese culture, the state of China and the surrounding areas of Southeast Asia.
Throughout history, Chinese philosophy has been molded to fit the prevailing schools of thought and circumstances in China. The Chinese schools of philosophy, except during the Qin Dynasty, can be both critical and yet relatively tolerant of one another. Even when one particular school of thought is officially adopted by the ruling bureaucracy, as in the Han Dynasty, there may be no move to ban or censor other schools of thought. Despite and because of the debates and competition, they generally have cooperated and shared ideas, which they would usually incorporate with their own. For example, Neo-Confucianism was a revived version of old Confucian principles that appeared around the Song Dynasty, with Buddhist, Taoist, and Legalist features in the religion.
During the Industrial and Modern Ages, Chinese philosophy had also began to integrate concepts of Western philosophy, as steps toward modernization. By the time of the Xinhai Revolution in 1911, there were many calls to completely abolish the old imperial institutions and practices of China. There have been attempts to incorporate democracy, republicanism, and industrialism into Chinese philosophy, notably by Sun Yat-Sen (Sūn yì xiān, in one Mandarin form of the name) at the beginning of the 20th century. Mao Tse-Tung added Marxism and other communist thought. The government of the People's Republic of China encourage Socialism with Chinese characteristics. Although, officially, it does not encourage some of the philosophical practices of Imperial China, the influences of past are still deeply ingrained in the Chinese culture. As in Japan, philosophy in China has become a melting pot of ideas. It accepts new concepts, while attempting also to accord old beliefs their due.
Chinese philosophy has spread around the world in forms such as the New Confucianism and New Age ideas such as Chinese traditional medicine. Many in the academic community of the West remain skeptical, and only a few assimilate Chinese philosophy into their own research, whether scientific or philosophical. However, it still carries profound influence amongst the people of East Asia, and Southeast Asia.