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.
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"; or commonly 孔子; Kǒngzǐ; c. 551 – c. 479 BCE) was a Chinese philosopher and politician of the Spring and Autumn period who is traditionally considered the paragon of Chinese sages. Confucius's teachings and philosophy underpin East Asian culture and society, remaining influential across China and East Asia to this day.Confucius considered himself a transmitter for the values of earlier periods which he claimed had been abandoned in his time. His philosophical teachings, called Confucianism, emphasized personal and governmental morality, correctness of social relationships, justice, kindness, and sincerity. His followers competed 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 as New Confucianism. Confucianism was part of the Chinese social fabric and way of life; to Confucians, everyday life was the arena of religion.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.
With an HPI of 86.03, Laozi is the 2nd most famous Chinese Philosopher. His biography has been translated into 137 different languages.
Laozi (UK: ; Chinese: 老子, Mandarin: [làu.tsɹ̩]; commonly translated as "Old Master") also rendered as Lao Tzu (), 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, Laozi is usually portrayed as a 6th-century BCE contemporary of Confucius in the Spring and Autumn period. Some modern historians consider him to have lived during the Warring States period of the 4th century BCE. 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 various anti-authoritarian movements, and has had a profound impact on subsequent Chinese philosophers, who have both commended and criticized his work extensively.
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; simplified Chinese: 孙子; traditional 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 (simplified Chinese: 孙武; traditional 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 more popularly known 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.
With an HPI of 80.97, Mencius is the 4th most famous Chinese Philosopher. His biography has been translated into 70 different languages.
Mencius ( MEN-shee-əs); born Mèng Kē (Chinese: 孟軻); or Mèngzǐ (Chinese: 孟子; 372–289 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. One primary principle of his work is that human nature is righteous and humane. The responses of citizens to the policies of rulers embodies this principle, and a state with righteous and humane policies will flourish by nature. The citizens, with freedom from good rule, will then allocate time to caring for their wives, brothers, elders, and children, and be educated with rites and naturally become better citizens.
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.
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), formerly romanized Chu Hsi, was a Chinese Confucian scholar, philosopher, and government official of Song dynasty China, who was influential in the development of Neo-Confucianism. He contributed greatly to Chinese philosophy and fundamentally reshaped the Chinese worldview. His works include 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), his writings on the process of the "investigation of things" (Chinese: 格物; pinyin: géwù), and his development of meditation as a method for self-cultivation. 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.
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 favor 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 Love (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" (兼愛, jiān'ài). 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.
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"), also known as Guru Rinpoche (Precious Guru) and the Lotus from Oḍḍiyāna, was a tantric Buddhist Vajra master from India who may have taught Vajrayana in Tibet (circa 8th - 9th centuries). According to some early Tibetan sources like the Testament of Ba, he came to Tibet in the 8th century and helped construct Samye Monastery, the first Buddhist monastery in Tibet. However, little is known about the actual historical figure other than his ties to Vajrayana and Indian Buddhism.Padmasambhava later came to be viewed as a central figure in the transmission of Buddhism to Tibet. Starting from around the 12th century, hagiographies concerning Padmasambhava were written. These works expanded the profile and activities of Padmasambhava, now seen as taming all the Tibetan spirits and gods, and concealing various secret texts (terma) for future s. Nyangral Nyima Özer (1124–1192) was the author of the Zangling-ma (Jeweled Rosary), the earliest biography of Padmasambhava. He has been called "one of the main architects of the Padmasambhava mythos – who first linked Padmasambhava to the Great Perfection in a high-profile manner."In modern Tibetan Buddhism, Padmasambhava is considered to be a Buddha that was foretold by Buddha Shakyamuni. According to traditional hagiographies, his students include the great female masters Yeshe Tsogyal and Mandarava. The contemporary Nyingma school considers Padmasambhava to be a founding figure. The Nyingma school also traditionally holds that its Dzogchen lineage has its origins in Garab Dorje through a direct transmission to Padmasambhava.In Tibetan Buddhism, the teachings of Padmasambhava are said to include an oral lineage (kama), and a lineage of the hidden treasure texts (termas). Tibetan Buddhism holds that Padmasambhava's termas are discovered by fortunate beings and tertöns (treasure finders) when conditions are ripe for their reception. Padmasambhava is said to appear to tertöns in visionary encounters, and his form is visualized during guru yoga practice, particularly in the Nyingma school. Padmasambhava is widely venerated by Buddhists in Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan, the Himalayan states of India, and in countries around the world.
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" (Fajia) 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 those of Niccolò Machiavelli, author of The Prince. It is said that Shu Han's chancellor Zhuge Liang demanded emperor Liu Shan read Han Feizi to learn about governance.Sima Qian recounts that Qin Shi Huang even went to war with the neighboring state of Han to obtain an audience with Han Fei, but was ultimately convinced to imprison him, whereupon he commits suicide. After the early demise of the Qin dynasty, the "Legalist" school 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 "Legalist" school continued to heavily influence every dynasty thereafter, and the Confucian ideal of a rule without laws was never to be realised.Han Fei 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).
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; c. 310 – c. after 238 BCE), better known as Xunzi (Chinese: 荀子; lit. 'Master Xun'), was a Chinese philosopher of Confucianism who lived during the Warring States period. After his predecessors Confucius and Mencius, Xunzi is often ranked as the third great Confucian philosopher of antiquity. By his time, Confucianism had suffered considerable criticism from Daoist and Mohist thinkers, and Xunzi is traditionally regarded as a synthesizer of these traditions with earlier Confucian thought. The result was a thorough and cohesive revision of Confucianism, which was crucial to the philosophy's ability to flourish in the Han dynasty and throughout the later history of East Asia. His works were compiled in the eponymous Xunzi, and survive in excellent condition. Unlike other ancient compilations, his authorship of these texts is generally secure, though it is likely that Western Han Dynasty historian Liu Xiang organized them into their present form centuries after Xunzi's death.Born in the State of Zhao, Xunzi studied at the prestigious Jixia Academy, where he learned about every major philosophical tradition of his time. After his graduation, Xunzi traveled to Chu where he mastered poetry, and then returned to Qi as a highly-regarded teacher at the academy. His students Han Fei and Li Si each had an important political and academic careers, though some of their Legalist sentiments were at odds with his philosophy. Other students such as Fouqui Bo, Zhang Cang and Mao Heng authored important editions and commentaries on the Confucian classics. Later in his life worked in the court of Lord Chunshen, whose death he died sometime after. The constant warefare of his time informed his work profoundly, as did his interactions with leaders and witnessing the downfall of various states. Xunzi's writings respond to dozens of other thinkers, whom he often directly names and criticizes. His well-known notion that "Human nature is evil" has led many commentators to place him opposite then Mencius, who believed human nature was intrinsically good. Though like Mencius, Xunzi believed that education and ritual were the key to self-cultivation and thus the method to circumvent one's naturally foul nature. His definition of both concepts was loose, and he encouraged lifelong education and applied ritual to every aspect of life. Other important topics include the promotion of music and the careful application of names. Though he still cited the ancient sages, he differed from other Confucian philosophers by his insistence on emulating recent rulers rather than those of long ago. Repeated oversimplifications and misunderstandings on Xunzi's teachings, particularly his view on human nature, led to gradual dismissal and condemnation of his thought from the Tang dynasty onwards. By the rise of Neo-Confucianism in the 10th-century, Mencius gradually upended Xunzi, particularly by the choice to include the Mencius in the Four Books. Since the 20th-century, a reevaluation of Xunzi's doctrine has taken place in East Asia, leading to recognition of his profound impact and relevance to both his times and present day.
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.
551 BC - 479 BC
604 BC - 600 BC
543 BC - 495 BC
372 BC - 289 BC
369 BC - 286 BC
1130 - 1200
470 BC - 391 BC
717 - 762
280 BC - 232 BC
313 BC - 238 BC
1052 - 1135
1031 - 1095
Which Philosophers were alive at the same time? This visualization shows the lifespans of the 4 most globally memorable Philosophers since 1700.