The preceding two chapters discussed the political development and social conditions of the Han Empire. The 400 years of the Han Empire constituted a period of paramount importance in the cultural and intellectual history of China. In general, despite the great military glory of the Han Empire, Han society as a whole respected men of letters and the Han court had a deep interest in establishing the empire not only on military strength, but also on the basis of a carefully chosen ideology. The government itself was open for educated men to enter the service of state, and scholars had high standing in the Han bureaucracy. The great philosophers of the Warring States period deeply cultivated the world of thought in China; building on this early heritage, almost every aspect of Chinese culture was again profoundly modified and further developed under Han. A bold outline of the intellectual trend over the course of the Han dynasty can go as follows: in the early years of the Western Han Empire, Naturalism, or more precisely the Huang-Lao school of thought, was favored by the Han court as its guiding philosophy. Incorporating both Daoist and Confucian ideas, the Syncretism of Dong Zhongshu (175–105 BC) became dominant towards the end of the second century BC. The study of classics was revived under Emperor Wu, and Confucianism monopolized the intellectual sphere of the Han Empire, providing the empire with a new ideology. Near the end of the Eastern Han, Daoism was revived as a popular religion and Buddhism was introduced to China from India.
Huang-Lao Thought as State Ideology
Naturalism was a broad intellectual stream developed in the middle to late Warring States period, considered by some scholars as the fountainhead of the Chinese sciences and scientific thought. Although this intellectual stream brought into its current both more theoretically oriented thinkers like Zou Yan (305–240 BC) and other variously oriented practitioners of natural or supernatural magic or occult arts, there was a common thread that was shared by all scholars and masters associated with the tradition. That is, they were all thoroughly interested in or truthfully play on the relationship between the human world and the world around, or broadly the relationship between culture and nature.