Confucianism and Taoism are both ancient Chinese styles of living. Confucianism believes in setting good examples for others to follow, primarily in 5 key relationships: ruler and subject, wife and husband, older and younger sibling, friend and friend, and father and son. Taoism (a.k.a., Daoism) focuses on living harmoniously; this is where the concept of yin and yang originates.

Comparison chart

Confucianism versus Taoism comparison chart
Edit this comparison chartConfucianismTaoism
Use of statues and pictures Permitted. They can be used as meditation objects, but they are not that common.
Life after death Ancestors and heritage is important, but not worshiped. If immortality isn't attained during life, the Tao will continue to evolve and manifest in different forms, in accordance with the entity's general conduct during a state of existence. This applies to all sentient and insentient beings.
Place of origin China China
Founder Kong Qiu (Confucius) Lao Tzu
Scriptures Analects of Confucius and Mencius; I Ching; Doctrine of Mean, etc. Daozang, a collection of 1400 texts organized in 3 sections which includes the Tao Te Ching, Zhuang Zi, I Ching, and some others.
Literal Meaning Disciple of Confucius. To follow the Tao.
Practices Visit to temples to pay homage to Ti'en (while it can refer to God or Heaven, it traditionally refers to social power), Confucius, and ancestors; To practice ('Jing zuo, ') or 'Quiet Sitting', a neo-Confucian seeking of self-cultivation. Philosophical maturity, virtuous conduct, internal alchemy, and some sexual practices.
Holy days/Official Holidays Chinese New Year, Teacher Day, Ancestor Day. Chinese New Year, 3 Day Festival of the Dead, Ancestor Day.
Human Nature Humans should respect those who are superior to them. If humans are in tune with the Tao, their sufferings will cease. Taoism teaches that humans are capable of experiencing immortality.
Belief of God Depending on the religion held, usually Buddhist. Confucianism is not strictly a religion but rather advises a schema of social order. Tao literally means the Way, which indicates the movement of a dynamic existence that is composed of opposing forces. Taoists do not believe in a personal God.
View of the Buddha Buddha is followed by many Confucians. Some Taoists argue that the Buddha was a student of Lao Tzu, although there is no concrete evidence for it. Most Taoists respect and follow the Buddha's teachings.
Clergy Bureaucrats. Taoist clergies are led by the daoshis, masters of the Tao, and followed by daojiaotus, followers of Taoism who also support the clergy, although it is not common.
Original Language(s) Mandarin or Cantonese Old Chinese
Goal of Philosophy Social Harmony. To gain balance in life.
Geographical distribution and predominance Asia. China, Korea, to lesser extent Vietnam and Japan.
Followers Confucianists Taoists
View of other Dharmic religions Confucianists usually follow Buddhism, which is a Dharmic religion. Taoism has many similarities with Buddhism. Taoists are neutral against other Dharmic religions.
Status of women Socially inferior to men. No distinctions between men and women, as both are seen as manifestations of the Tao.
Concept of Deity Most believe in One God, but this is not necessary since Confucianism is not a religion but a belief system about social ordering. Being manifestations of the Tao, Gods are seen as higher life forms.
Principle Confucianism is all about the brotherhood of humanity. The Tao is the only principle. The rest are its manifestations.
Time of origin Approx. 550 B.C.E.(Before Common Era) Approx. 550 B.C.E (Before Common Era)
Can atheists partake in this religion's practices? Yes. Yes.
Views on Other Religions Confucianists see no contradiction in following more than one religion. Taoism teaches that all religions are as anything else; manifestations of the impersonal Tao.
Original Languages Mandarin or Cantonese Mandarin or Cantonese
View of other Oriental religions Usually follows other Oriental religions, especially Taoism. Usually follows other Oriental religions.
Offshoot religions Cao Dai. Confucianism.
Use of statues, images Permitted. Permitted.
Place of worship/ veneration Originally sites of the administration of imperial examination, not religious places of worship. Confucian temples today are for the veneration of Confucius. Confucian temples are not really religious sites and have no priests and spiritual beings. Shrines.
Concept of God One God. Numerous deities.
View of Oriental religions Confucianists usually follow other Oriental religions too. Taoists usually follow other Oriental religions too.
Place of worship Temples. Taoist monasteries, temples, shrines.
Goal of religion To have a structured society. To be one with the Tao.
Authority of Dalai Lama N/A. Taoists respect the general Buddhist traditions, but the Dalai Lamas have no special significance to Taoists.

Video Explaining the Differences

Core Philosophy

The Vinegar Tasters, a traditional Chinese painting that represents the core philosophies of Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism
The Vinegar Tasters, a traditional Chinese painting that represents the core philosophies of Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism

The core philosophy of Confucianism is that rules and rituals are needed to correct the degeneration of people. The core belief of Taoism is that there is a natural harmony between heaven and earth, which can be discovered by anyone.

Vinegar Tasters is a common subject in traditional Chinese religious painting. It shows the Buddha, Confucius and Lao-Tse (aka Laozi, the author of Tao Te Ching) around a vat of vinegar. All three men have tasted the vinegar but react differently to it. Confucius finds it sour, Buddha finds it bitter and Lao-tse finds it sweet.

The painting is an allegory, describing the differences in the core philosophy of the three great teachers. Benjamin Hoff writes in The Tao of Pooh:

To K'ung Fu-tse (kung FOOdsuh) [Confucius], life seemed rather sour. He believed that the present was out of step with the past, and that the government of man on earth was out of harmony with the Way of Heaven, the government of the universe. Therefore, he emphasized reverence for the Ancestors, as well as for the ancient rituals and ceremonies in which the emperor, as the Son of Heaven, acted as intermediary between limitless heaven and limited earth. Under Confucianism, the use of precisely measured court music, prescribed steps, actions, and phrases all added up to an extremely complex system of rituals, each used for a particular purpose at a particular time. A saying was recorded about K'ung Fu-tse: "If the mat was not straight, the Master would not sit." This ought to give an indication of the extent to which things were carried out under Confucianism.
To Lao-tse (LAOdsuh), the harmony that naturally existed between heaven and earth from the very beginning could be found by anyone at any time. ... As he stated in his Tao Te Ching (DAO DEH JEENG), the "Tao Virtue Book," earth was in essence a reflection of heaven, run by the same laws—not by the laws of men. These laws affected not only the spinning of distant planets, but the activities of the birds in the forest and the fish in the sea. According to Lao-tse, the more man interfered with the natural balance produced and governed by the universal laws, the further away the harmony retreated into the distance. The more forcing, the more trouble. Whether heavy or light, wet or dry, fast or slow, everything had its own nature already within it, which could not be violated without causing difficulties. When abstract and arbitrary rules were imposed from the outside, struggle was inevitable. Only then did life become sour.


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