10 Famous People in Ancient China Other Than Emperors

Ancient China was home to many famous people who made significant contributions to the arts, literature, politics, and other aspects of Chinese culture. Many of these impacts still influence the world today.

There were also people other than emperors who had a large influence on Chinese culture. The foundations of their thoughts, deeds and important documents are still greatly embedded within modern Chinese culture as well as world culture today. 

Below is a list of 10 of the most famous people in ancient China who were not emperors.  

1. Confucius 

Confucius was a philosopher and teacher who had a great influence on Chinese culture. His ideas about government, education, and morality are still studied and respected today.

Confucius was born in 551 BCE in the state of Lu. He came from a poor family, but he was able to study at a prestigious school. After finishing his studies, he became a teacher. He also worked as an official in the government.

Confucius spent the majority of his life teaching his ideas to students. He had a great impact on Chinese culture and thought. His ideas were later developed into the philosophy known as Confucianism.

Confucianism would eventually lead to the civil service exams being instituted under the Han dynasty. 

The civil service exams allowed for upward social mobility based on merit. Oftentimes, royal families would rule great nations for many years. The civil service exams were used to open up government official positions for individuals who didn’t come from wealth or power but rather showed intellectual promise.  

The impact of Confucius and the thoughts behind Confucianism had a large impact on not just ancient China but much of the modern world as well. 

2. Mencius

Mencius was a Chinese philosopher who lived in the 4th century BC. He was a student of Confucius and is considered one of the most important Confucian thinkers after only Confucius himself. 

Through his role as a student, Mencius was able to pass on his interpretations of Confucius to the Chinese people. Mencius believed that human nature is good and that people have the ability to improve themselves. 

He also believed in the importance of education and government. Mencius’s ideas had a great impact on Chinese thought and culture. 

Mencius advocated for those with lower socioeconomic status and furthered causes like light taxes, wealth-sharing, and the value of natural resources. 

He believed that those who focused on the power of their mind were closer to Heaven.

3. Mozi

Mozi was born in the state of Lu in the year 468 BC. Mozi believed that people should live in harmony with each other and that war was a bad thing. He wrote a book called The Mohist Canons, which outlined his beliefs. Ultimately, he would find the school of Mohism. 

The Mohist Canons’ beliefs followed the theme of right versus wrong. The Mohist Canon highlighted the value of compassionate behavior as opposed to compassionate thinking. It also argued that war was a major cause of suffering and that there were many tacts to avoid it. 

Mohism eventually faded from Chinese society during the Waring States period. 

Mozi was a very influential figure in ancient Chinese society. His ideas about harmony and peace were very popular. Many people admired him for his intelligence and his inventive spirit.

4. Laozi

Laozi was an ancient Chinese philosopher who is best known for his work, the Tao Te Ching. This book is a philosophical and religious text that has had a great influence on Chinese thought and culture. Laozi was born in China around 604 BCE. Laozi, also known as Lao Tsu, founded Taoism. 

Not much is known about his early life. He is said to have worked as a librarian or archivist in the imperial court. Laozi became famous for his wisdom and his ability to explain complex concepts in a simple way. He was revered by many as a sage or wise man. 

The Tao Te Ching is a collection of 81 short chapters, each of which contains a single verse. The verses are written in a poetic style and are full of metaphors and images. Taoism deals with topics such as the nature of the Tao, how to live in harmony with the Tao, and how to achieve success and happiness.

Taoism teaches that humans and nature should remain in balance with the universe. It teaches that ch’i is the energy that moves and shapes the universe. While Taoism believes in the power of ch’i, it’s not a deity. 

The Tao philosophy made the concept of ying-yang popular. Taoism believes that actions have equal reactions and that all parts of the universe work in relation to each other. 

The Tao Te Ching has been very influential in Chinese thought and culture. It has been translated into many languages and has been studied by philosophers, religious leaders, and ordinary people all over the world.

5. Sun Tzu

Sun Tzu was a famous Chinese military general, strategist, and philosopher who lived in the 6th century BC. He is best known for his work The Art of War, an influential treatise on military strategy. Sun Tzu is recognized as one of the best military strategists in ancient China, if not the world. 

Sun Tzu’s life is shrouded in legend. It is said that he was born into a noble family and that he served as a general in the army of King Helü of Wu. Sun Tzu’s The Art of War is based on his own experiences as a military commander.

The Art of War has been extremely influential both in China and beyond. It has been used as a manual for military strategy by generals and commanders throughout history. The book is still studied by military officers and strategists today.

Sun Tzu’s ideas are also relevant to business and politics. The principles of The Art of War can be applied to many different situations in life, not just military conflict.

6. Zu Chongzhi

Zu Chongzhi was a mathematician and astronomer who lived during the 5th century AD. He is most notably known for his calculations of the value of pi to a degree that would not be surpassed for many centuries. 

Zu Chongzhi made many additional contributions to mathematics and astronomy. He accurately calculated the circumference of the earth, and he also developed a method for finding prime numbers. In addition, he made important discoveries about the stars and planets. 

As a great thinker and philosopher, Chongzhi wrote many essays on topics such as ethics, government, and education. He was also an accomplished poet and music theorist. 

Zu Chongzhi was one of the most famous and accomplished people of his time. His contributions to mathematics, astronomy, and philosophy helped to shape Chinese civilization.

7. Han Fei Tzu

Han Fei Tzu was one of the most famous philosophers in ancient China. He was a member of the School of Law, and his philosophy focused on Legalism. While the concepts of Legalism preceded him, Han Fei Tzu worked diligently to canonize the school of thought. 

Han Fei Tzu believed that laws should be strictly enforced and that people should be punished for breaking them. He also believed that the ruler should have absolute power and that the government should be run like a machine. Han Fei Tzu’s ideas had a great influence on Chinese politics and law.

Legalism, brought to its height by the Qin dynasty in 221 BCE, expressed a need for strict governing laws, even if punishments weren’t proportionate to the scale of the crime. Legalism didn’t care for debates on morality or ethical dilemmas but instead sought to unite China with extreme rules. 

Confucianism focused on how people can be expected to act appropriately, while Legalism highlighted how people are generally bad. Legalism was created as a means to strengthen the infrastructure of a nation, while Taoism and Confucianism were meant to promote harmony and value in the human spirit.

8. Zhuangzi

Zhuangzi was a Chinese Daoist philosopher born in the state of Zou in the 4th century BC. His birth name was Zhuang Zhou. 

Not much is known about his early life. He began his career as a bureaucrat in the state of Chu. However, he later resigned from his position and became a hermit. He is best known for his work, the Zhuangzi, which is one of the most important works of Chinese philosophy.

The Zhuangzi is a collection of anecdotes and stories that illustrate Zhuangzi’s philosophical ideas. The book has had a profound influence on Chinese thought, and it is still studied by philosophers today. He had a similar point of view to Confucius while also including elements of Taoism and Buddhism in his work.

Zhuangzi was an important figure in ancient China, and his work continues to be influential even today. 

9. Wang Yangming

Wang Yangming was a famous Chinese philosopher who lived during the Ming Dynasty. He is best known for his teaching that “the mind is the root of all things.” This means that everything starts with our thoughts and that we have the power to create our own reality.

 He is also recognized for his belief of “the unity of knowing and acting.” Taking from the teaching of Mencius, Wang believed in Liangzhi. Liangzhi is representative of all things Wang thought people automatically understand. It’s his interpretation of a sense of conscience. 

Wang Yangming was also a highly respected official in the Ming government. He served as an adviser to the emperor and was responsible for cultural and educational affairs. He was a strong advocate for Confucianism and helped to revive interest in this philosophy during his lifetime.

Today, Wang Yangming is still revered as one of the most influential thinkers in Chinese history. His teachings continue to inspire people all over the world.

10. Shang Yang

Shang Yang was a famous Chinese statesman who lived during the Warring States period. He is best known for his reforms of the state of Qin that allowed the Qin Dynasty to unify China.

Shang Yang believed that the key to a strong state was a strong military. He reformed the Qin army, making it larger and better trained. He also instituted strict discipline, which helped to improve morale. 

Shang Yang was credited with the idea of giving titles and power to strong soldiers while taking away these same powers from nobles who weren’t performing well on behalf of their country. 

Shang Yang’s reforms helped to make Qin one of the most powerful states in China. The Qin army was able to conquer its enemies and unify China under the Qin dynasty. Shang Yang’s legacy continues to this day as one of the most influential figures in ancient China. 

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