China History Podcast

The History of Chinese Philosophy3 min read

The first in a new podcast series from Laszlo Montgomery


“Study the past if you would define the future,” said Confucius, the best known but certainly not the only – and arguably not even the most important – ancient Chinese philosopher. We take those words to heart, and to that end are delighted to bring you a new episode of the China History Podcast, exclusive to the China Channel for this week, kicking off a nine-part series on the history of Chinese philosophy. Hosted by Laszlo Montgomery, the series will take us from pre-Confucian times right through to the Ming dynasty. Read our Q&A with Laszlo below for more details, and keep scrolling down for Laszlo’s infographic poster, compressing the essentials of Chinese philosophy into one image.

In this first episode, Laszlo lays the groundwork, introducing the topic and talking about the origins of Chinese philosophy in the Eastern Zhou dynasty:

Alec: I’ve been listening to the China History Podcast for years, and can’t recommend it highly enough to anyone looking to lift the lid on this country’s history in all its complexity. What prompted you to start the podcast?

Laszlo: I started listening to podcasts around 2009 and particularly enjoyed the history-related shows. All were produced by amateurs except for maybe Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History. What prompted me to launch the CHP was that no one had yet taken on the Chinese history space. After listening to what was out there already, I humbly believed I could do this.

Alec: The last CHP episode I heard was number 183 on the Nanjing Massacre, back in May. Why the long disappearance?

Laszlo: I dropped out of sight and began working on this history of Chinese philosophy series. I read so many books and took so many notes. From April to October I put it together and at last … it’s finally ready.

Alec: How much of this series will be history and how much philosophy?

Laszlo: That was the most agonizing question for me. Let’s face it, philosophy isn’t a very easy subject. In the end, this isn’t a podcast series about Chinese philosophy, it’s about the history of Chinese philosophy.

Alec: How did you strike a balance between the two?  

Laszlo: I found early on that if I started injecting specific information about the philosophy of the people I introduce, it was like a loose string in your sweater: you pull it and before you know it, the string is a meter long. I tried my best to present the main idea without getting too deep into the ideology. Anyone who wants to go back and take a closer look at any particular aspect can do so at their leisure. Frankly speaking, for this history of Chinese philosophy at least, the ratio of people who are looking for a grab n’go meal versus a twenty-course seafood banquet has gotta be ten to one.

Alec: This is going to be a difficult one to keep straight: all those names and texts.

Laszlo:  Well, it’s running a little behind schedule right now but I’m going to come out with a nice A3 sized infographic that will list all the names of the philosophers, all the classics, the diagrams, trigrams, hexagrams – most of the stuff mentioned over all nine episodes.

Alec: What was your main takeaway from researching and making the series?

Laszlo: From the time of Confucius, all these ideas concerning humanity saw the light of day for the first time. The Eastern Zhou philosophers were calling for human decency, treating everyone as they themselves would like to be treated, living modestly, not making war on your neighbors, and leaders who ruled through benevolence and righteousness and set a positive example for everyone to follow. The idea that a ruler’s ultimate objective should be to provide a good life for his people. It made sense back then, and wouldn’t it be great if we could have that in our day.

Alec: Thanks Laszlo for giving the China Channel the exclusive on it.

Laszlo: It’s my pleasure Alec, and I hope you enjoy the series. ∎

Click the infographic to view and download the full size version: