Hundred Schools of Thought
For many years in ancient China, nobles, commoners and slaves were the three major classes in ancient societies. The rulers appointed officials mainly on the basis of their births. There were the so-called hereditary minister and emolument systems in the political and social structure of Zhou Dynasty 周 朝, by which the nobles could enjoy the privilege of becoming officials for generations without making any contribution or having any ability. By contrast, the humble minor nobles and commoners had little chance of pursuing a political career, while the slaves could not even enjoy freedom. In the late Spring and Autumn Period (770 BC to 476 BC), the situation in which social status was determined by birth began to change. Along with the practice of appointing people according to their birth, there evolved an increasingly common practice in which people were appointed according to their ability. Some average or minor nobles, even some commoners, through talent and ability, won favor with the monarch and were trusted with important posts. The so-called intelligentsia class 士 gradually became the pillar of society.
During the Spring and Autumn Period, private schools prospered, and lecture tours became popular. By the time of the Warring States Period 戰 國 時 代 (476 BC to 221 BC), the intelligentsia class grew bigger. The monarchs appealed for talented people and the practice of patronizing intellectuals prevailed. Social reforms further stimulated various philosophies and several schools of thought emerged. The major ones were the Schools of Confucianism 儒 家, Mohism 墨 家, Taoism 道 家, Legalism 法 家, Sophists 名 家, Military Treatises 兵 家, Yin and Yang 陰 陽 家, Divine Farmer 農 家, Coalition Persuaders 縱 橫 家 and Selecticism 雜 家. There emerged a golden age in the Chinese history of thought — the “Contention of One Hundred Schools of Thought.”