The Most Famous

PHILOSOPHERS from China

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This page contains a list of the greatest Chinese Philosophers. The pantheon dataset contains 1,089 Philosophers, 42 of which were born in China. This makes China the birth place of the 9th most number of Philosophers behind Turkey and India.

Top 10

The following people are considered by Pantheon to be the top 10 most legendary Chinese Philosophers of all time. This list of famous Chinese Philosophers is sorted by HPI (Historical Popularity Index), a metric that aggregates information on a biography’s online popularity. Visit the rankings page to view the entire list of Chinese Philosophers.

Photo of Confucius

1. Confucius (-551 - -479)

With an HPI of 93.64, Confucius is the most famous Chinese Philosopher.  His biography has been translated into 214 different languages on wikipedia.

Confucius ( kən-FEW-shəs; Chinese: 孔夫子; pinyin: Kǒng Fūzǐ, "Master Kǒng"; 551–479 BCE) was a Chinese philosopher and politician of the Spring and Autumn period who was traditionally considered the paragon of Chinese sages. Widely considered one of the most important and influential individuals in human history, Confucius's teachings and philosophy formed the basis of East Asian culture and society, and remain influential today.The philosophy of Confucius—Confucianism—emphasized personal and governmental morality, correctness of social relationships, justice, kindness, and sincerity. Confucianism was part of the Chinese social fabric and way of life; to Confucians, everyday life was the arena of religion. His followers competed successfully with many other schools during the Hundred Schools of Thought era only to be suppressed in favor of the Legalists during the Qin dynasty. Following the victory of Han over Chu after the collapse of Qin, Confucius's thoughts received official sanction in the new government. During the Tang and Song dynasties, Confucianism developed into a system known in the West as Neo-Confucianism, and later New Confucianism. Confucius is traditionally credited with having authored or edited many of the Chinese classic texts, including all of the Five Classics, but modern scholars are cautious of attributing specific assertions to Confucius himself. Aphorisms concerning his teachings were compiled in the Analects, but only many years after his death. Confucius's principles have commonality with Chinese tradition and belief. With filial piety, he championed strong family loyalty, ancestor veneration, and respect of elders by their children and of husbands by their wives, recommending family as a basis for ideal government. He espoused the well-known principle "Do not do unto others what you do not want done to yourself", the Golden Rule. He is also a traditional deity in Daoism.

Photo of Laozi

2. Laozi (-604 - -600)

With an HPI of 86.03, Laozi is the 2nd most famous Chinese Philosopher.  His biography has been translated into 137 different languages.

Lao Tzu ( or ), also rendered as Laozi (UK: ; US: ; Chinese: 老子, Mandarin: [làu̯.tsɹ̩]; commonly translated as "Old Master") and Lao-Tze (), was an ancient Chinese philosopher and writer. He is the reputed author of the Tao Te Ching, the founder of philosophical Taoism, and a deity in religious Taoism and traditional Chinese religions. A semi-legendary figure, Lao Tzu was usually portrayed as a 6th-century BC contemporary of Confucius, but some modern historians consider him to have lived during the Warring States period of the 4th century BC. A central figure in Chinese culture, Laozi is claimed by both the emperors of the Tang dynasty and modern people of the Li surname as a founder of their lineage. Laozi's work has been embraced by both various anti-authoritarian movements and Chinese Legalism.

Photo of Sun Tzu

3. Sun Tzu (-543 - -495)

With an HPI of 85.45, Sun Tzu is the 3rd most famous Chinese Philosopher.  His biography has been translated into 101 different languages.

Sun Tzu ( soon DZOO, soon SOO; Chinese: 孫子; pinyin: Sūnzǐ) was a Chinese general, military strategist, writer, and philosopher who lived in the Eastern Zhou period of ancient China. Sun Tzu is traditionally credited as the author of The Art of War, an influential work of military strategy that has affected both Western and East Asian philosophy and military thinking. His works focus much more on alternatives to battle, such as stratagem, delay, the use of spies and alternatives to war itself, the making and keeping of alliances, the uses of deceit, and a willingness to submit, at least temporarily, to more powerful foes. Sun Tzu is revered in Chinese and East Asian culture as a legendary historical and military figure. His birth name was Sun Wu (Chinese: 孫武) and he was known outside of his family by his courtesy name Changqing (Chinese: 長卿). The name Sun Tzu by which he is best known in the Western World is an honorific which means "Master Sun". Sun Tzu's historicity is uncertain. The Han dynasty historian Sima Qian and other traditional Chinese historians placed him as a minister to King Helü of Wu and dated his lifetime to 544–496 BC. Modern scholars accepting his historicity place the extant text of The Art of War in the later Warring States period based on its style of composition and its descriptions of warfare. Traditional accounts state that the general's descendant Sun Bin wrote a treatise on military tactics, also titled The Art of War. Since Sun Wu and Sun Bin were referred to as Sun Tzu in classical Chinese texts, some historians believed them identical, prior to the rediscovery of Sun Bin's treatise in 1972. Sun Tzu's work has been praised and employed in East Asian warfare since its composition. During the twentieth century, The Art of War grew in popularity and saw practical use in Western society as well. It continues to influence many competitive endeavors in the world, including culture, politics, business and sports, as well as modern warfare.

Photo of Mencius

4. Mencius (-372 - -289)

With an HPI of 80.97, Mencius is the 4th most famous Chinese Philosopher.  His biography has been translated into 70 different languages.

Mencius (Chinese: 孟子); born Mèng Kē (Chinese: 孟軻); ( MEN-shee-əs) or Mengzi (372–289 BC or 385–303 or 302 BC) was a Chinese Confucian philosopher who has often been described as the "second Sage", that is, after only Confucius himself. He is part of Confucius' fourth generation of disciples. Mencius inherited Confucius' ideology and developed it further. Living during the Warring States period, he is said to have spent much of his life travelling around the states offering counsel to different rulers. Conversations with these rulers form the basis of the Mencius, which would later be canonised as a Confucian classic. A key belief of his was that humans are innately good, but that this quality requires cultivation and the right environment to flourish. He also taught that rulers must justify their position of power by acting benevolently towards their subjects, and in this sense they are subordinate to the masses.

Photo of Zhuang Zhou

5. Zhuang Zhou (-369 - -286)

With an HPI of 80.13, Zhuang Zhou is the 5th most famous Chinese Philosopher.  His biography has been translated into 65 different languages.

Zhuang Zhou (), commonly known as Zhuangzi (; Chinese: 莊子; literally "Master Zhuang"; also rendered as Chuang Tzu), was an influential Chinese philosopher who lived around the 4th century BC during the Warring States period, a period corresponding to the summit of Chinese philosophy, the Hundred Schools of Thought. He is credited with writing—in part or in whole—a work known by his name, the Zhuangzi, which is one of the foundational texts of Taoism.

Photo of Zhu Xi

6. Zhu Xi (1130 - 1200)

With an HPI of 79.19, Zhu Xi is the 6th most famous Chinese Philosopher.  His biography has been translated into 97 different languages.

Zhu Xi ([ʈʂú ɕí]; Chinese: 朱熹; October 18, 1130 – April 23, 1200), also known by his courtesy name Yuanhui (or Zhonghui), and self-titled Hui'an, was a Chinese calligrapher, historian, philosopher, politician, and writer of the Song dynasty. He was a Confucian scholar and influential Neo-Confucian in China. His contributions to Chinese philosophy including his editing of and commentaries to the Four Books, which later formed the curriculum of the civil service exam in Imperial China from 1313 to 1905; and his emphasis on the process of the "investigation of things" (Chinese: 格物; pinyin: géwù) as well as his meditation as a method for self cultivation, fundamentally shaped the Chinese as well as the worldview for posterity. He was a scholar with a wide learning in the classics, commentaries, histories and other writings of his predecessors. In his lifetime he was able to serve multiple times as an government official, although he avoided public office for most of his adult life. He also wrote, compiled and edited almost a hundred books and corresponded with dozens of other scholars. He acted as a teacher to groups of students, many of whom chose to study under him for years. He built upon the teachings of the Cheng brothers and others; and further developed their metaphysical theories in regards to principle (lǐ 理) and vital force (qì 氣). His followers recorded thousands of his conversations in writing.

Photo of Mozi

7. Mozi (-470 - -391)

With an HPI of 79.10, Mozi is the 7th most famous Chinese Philosopher.  His biography has been translated into 53 different languages.

Mozi (; Chinese: 墨子; pinyin: Mòzǐ; Wade–Giles: Mo Tzu ; Latinized as Micius ; c. 470 – c. 391 BC), original name Mo Di (墨翟), was a Chinese philosopher who founded the school of Mohism during the Hundred Schools of Thought period (early portion of the Warring States period of c.475–221 BC). The ancient text Mozi contains material ascribed to him and his followers. Mozi taught that everyone is equal in the eyes of heaven. He believed that those in power should be based on meritocracy, or those who are worthy of power should receive power. Mozi invokes heaven and calls on the Sage Kings to support his precedents. Born in what is now Tengzhou, Shandong Province, he founded the school of Mohism that argued strongly against Confucianism and Taoism. His philosophy emphasized universal love, social order, the will of heaven, sharing, and honoring the worthy. During the Warring States period, Mohism was actively developed and practiced in many states but fell out of favour when the legalist Qin dynasty came to power in 221 BC. During that period, many Mohist classics are thought to have been ruined when the emperor Qin Shi Huang supposedly carried out the burning of books and burying of scholars. The importance of Mohism further declined when Confucianism became the dominant school of thought during the Han Dynasty, until mostly disappearing by the middle of the Western Han dynasty.Mozi is referenced in the Thousand Character Classic, which records that he was saddened when he saw dyeing of pure white silk, which embodied his conception of austerity (simplicity, chastity). The concept of Ai (愛) was developed by the Chinese philosopher Mozi in the 4th century BC in reaction to Confucianism's benevolent love. Mozi tried to replace what he considered to be the long-entrenched Chinese over-attachment to family and clan structures with the concept of "universal love" (jiān'ài, 兼愛). In this, he argued directly against Confucians who believed that it was natural and correct for people to care about different people in different degrees. Mozi, by contrast, believed people in principle should care for all people equally. Mohism stressed that rather than adopting different attitudes towards different people, love should be unconditional and offered to everyone without regard to reciprocation, not just to friends, family and other Confucian relations. Later in Chinese Buddhism, the term Ai (愛) was adopted to refer to a passionate caring love and was considered a fundamental desire. In Buddhism, Ai was seen as capable of being either selfish or selfless, the latter being a key element towards enlightenment.

Photo of Padmasambhava

8. Padmasambhava (717 - 762)

With an HPI of 76.80, Padmasambhava is the 8th most famous Chinese Philosopher.  His biography has been translated into 49 different languages.

Padmasambhava ("Born from a Lotus"; Sanskrit: पद्मसम्भव, IAST: Padmasambhava ; Tibetan: པདྨ་འབྱུང་གནས།, Wylie: pad+ma 'byung gnas (EWTS); Mongolian ловон Бадмажунай, lovon Badmajunai ; Chinese: 莲花生大士; simplified Chinese: 莲花生大士; traditional Chinese: 蓮花生大士; pinyin: Liánhuāshēngdàshì), also known as Guru Rinpoche (गुरु रिनपोचे), incarnated as a fully enlightened being, as foretold by Buddha Shakyamuni. Padmasambhava is considered the Second Buddha by the Nyingma school, the oldest Buddhist school in Tibet known as "the ancient ones". Around 767 he came to Tibet and helped construct Samye Monastery, the first Buddhist and Nyingma monastery in Tibet. Padmasambhava then revealed the Vajrayana of Tibetan Buddhism, with scholars, translators, and masters. His students in Tibet include the great master Yeshe Tsogyal and the "Twenty-Five King and Subjects". A number of biographies describe Padmasambhava's life and deeds. The Nyingma scholar Khenchen Palden Sherab Rinpoche explains of his birth: There are many stories explaining how Guru Padmasambhava was born. Some say that he instantly appeared on the peak of Meteorite Mountain, in Sri Lanka. Others teach that he came through his mother's womb, but most accounts refer to a miraculous birth, explaining that he spontaneously appeared in the center of a lotus. These stories are not contradictory because highly realized beings abide in the expanse of great equanimity with perfect understanding and can do anything. Everything is flexible, anything is possible. Enlightened beings can appear in any way they want or need to. In addition to the Nyingma school, Padmasambhava is also widely venerated as a second Buddha by Buddhists in Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan, the Himalayan states of India, and in countries around the world. Buddha Shakyamuni predicted Padmasambhava's coming and activities in 19 Sutras and Tantras, stating he would be an emanation of Amitaba and Avaloketishvara. Other accounts maintain Padmasambhava is a direct reincarnation of Buddha Shakyamuni. For the most part, Buddha Shakyamuni taught Hinayana and Sutra Mahayana, and only taught Vajrayana to select students privately. As a reincarnation, Khenchen Palden Sherab Rinpoche states that Padmasambhava "revealed the Vajrayana teachings in their entirety." The Vajrayana is also known as Tantra, and is based on the Mahayana. In Tibetan Buddhism, the Vajrayana revealed by Padmasambhava has an oral Kama lineage, and a hidden treasure Terma lineage that was founded by Padmasambhava and Yeshe Tsogyal. The Terma are discovered by fortunate beings and Tertöns when conditions are ripe for reception. The Nyingma Dzogchen lineage has its origins in Garab Dorje through a direct transmission to Padmasambhava.Padmasambhava appears to Tertöns in visionary encounters, and his form is visualized during guru yoga practice, particularly in the Nyingma school. The Nyingma school considers Padmasambhava to be a founder of their tradition. Padmasambhava established Vajrayana Buddhism and the highest forms of Dzogchen (Mengagde) in Tibet and transformed the entire nation.

Photo of Han Fei

9. Han Fei (-280 - -232)

With an HPI of 76.35, Han Fei is the 9th most famous Chinese Philosopher.  His biography has been translated into 49 different languages.

Han Fei (; traditional Chinese: 韓非; simplified Chinese: 韩非; pinyin: Hán Fēi; c. 280 – 233 BC), also known as Han Fei Zi, was a Chinese philosopher or statesman of the Legalist school during the Warring States period, and a prince of the state of Han.Han Fei is often considered to be the greatest representative of "Chinese Legalism" for his eponymous work the Han Feizi, synthesizing the methods of his predecessors. Han Fei's ideas are sometimes compared with Niccolò Machiavelli and his book is considered by some to be superior to the "Il Principe" of Niccolò Machiavelli both in content and in writing style. It is said that Shu Han's chancellor Zhuge Liang demanded emperor Liu Shan read the Han Feizi for learning the way of ruling.Sima Qian recounts the First Emperor as being presented with Han Fei's works, going so far as to go to war with Han to obtain an audience with Han Fei, but is ultimately convinced to imprison him, whereupon he commits suicide. After the early demise of the Qin dynasty, the philosophy of Legalism became officially vilified by the following Han dynasty. Despite its outcast status throughout the history of imperial China, Han Fei's political theory and the concept of Legalism as a whole continued to heavily influence every dynasty thereafter, and the Confucian ideal of a rule without laws was never to be realised.Han borrowed Shang Yang's emphasis on laws, Shen Buhai's emphasis on administrative technique, and Shen Dao's ideas on authority and prophecy, emphasizing that the autocrat will be able to achieve firm control over the state with the mastering of his predecessors' methodologies: his position of power (勢; Shì), technique (術; Shù), and law (法; Fǎ). He stressed the importance of the concept of Xing-Ming (holding actual outcome accountable to speech), coupled with the system of the "Two Handles" (punishment and reward), as well as Wu wei (non-exertion).

Photo of Xun Kuang

10. Xun Kuang (-313 - -238)

With an HPI of 76.11, Xun Kuang is the 10th most famous Chinese Philosopher.  His biography has been translated into 52 different languages.

Xun Kuang (Chinese: 荀況; pinyin: Xún Kuàng [ɕy̌n kʰwâŋ]; c. 310 – c. 235 BCE, alt. c. 314 – c. 217 BCE), also widely known as Xunzi (Chinese: 荀子; pinyin: Xúnzǐ; Wade–Giles: Hsün-tzu, "Master Xun"), was a Chinese Confucian philosopher and writer who lived during the Warring States period and contributed to the Hundred Schools of Thought. A book known as the Xunzi is traditionally attributed to him. His works survive in an excellent condition, and were a major influence in forming the official state doctrines of the Han dynasty, but his influence waned during the Tang dynasty relative to that of Mencius.Xunzi discusses figures ranging from Confucius, Mencius, and Zhuangzi, to Linguists Mozi, Hui Shi and Gongsun Long and "Legalists" Shen Buhai and Shen Dao. He mentions Laozi as a figure for the first time in early Chinese history, and makes use of Taoist terminology, though rejecting their doctrine.

Pantheon has 42 people classified as philosophers born between 720 BC and 1942. Of these 42, none of them are still alive today. The most famous deceased philosophers include Confucius, Laozi, and Sun Tzu.

Deceased Philosophers

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Which Philosophers were alive at the same time? This visualization shows the lifespans of the 4 most globally memorable Philosophers since 1700.