Confucius (K'ung Fu-tzu or Kong Fuzi, 551–479 BC ) is generally regarded as the most important historical figure, as well as the greatest scholar, of ancient China. His philosophy and social ideas include observance of filial piety, the sanctity of the family, and social responsibility. Other early philosophers were Lao-tzu (Laozi; Li Erh, 604?–531 BC ), the traditional founder of Taoism; Mencius (Meng-tzu or Mengzi, 385–289 BC ), who stressed the essential goodness of human nature and the right of subjects to revolt against unjust rulers; and Mo Ti (Di, 465?–390? BC ), who stressed the theme of universal love. Among the principal early poets was Chu (Chü) Yuan, (340–278 BC ), whose Li Sao, a melancholy rhapsody, is among the world's great poems. Sima Qian (Ssu-ma Ch'ien, 145–87 BC ) produced the monumental Shiji (Shih-chi; Historical Records), the first general history of China. Ban Gu (Pan Ku, AD 32–92) wrote Qian Hanshu (Ch'ien-Han shu; History of the Former Han Dynasty), a continuation of Sima Qian's work. Zhang (Chang) Heng (78–139), an astronomer, is credited with having invented the first seismograph. Zhang Zhongjing (Chang Chung-ching, 152–219) was a celebrated physician, and Zu Zhongzhi (Tsu Chung-chih, 429–500) calculated the figure 3.14159265 as the exact value for p. Three brilliant poets of the Tang dynasty were Li Bo (Po, 701–62), Du (Tu) Fu (712–70), and Bo Juyi (Po Chü-yi, 772–846). Li Shizhen (Shi-chen, 1518–93), an outstanding pharmacologist, wrote a monumental Materia Medica. Great authors of the Qing dynasty were Wu Jingzi (Ching-tzu, 1701–54), who wrote Rulin Waishi (Ju-lin wai-shih; Unofficial History of the Scholars), a superb satire on the civil service system, and Cao Xuequin (Ts'ao Hsüehch'in, 1715?–63), who produced a remarkable novel, Honglou meng (Hung-lou meng; The Dream of the Red Chamber). Lu Xun or Lu Hsun (Zhou Shuren or Chou Shu-jen, 1881–1936) is generally regarded as China's greatest writer of the modern period. Mao Dun (Shen Yanbing, 1896–1981) and Ba Jin (Li Feigan, b.1904) are leading novelists. Lin Yutang (Yu-t'ang, 1895–1976) popularized Chinese culture in the West.
Sun Yat-sen (Zhongshan or Chung-shan, 1866–1925) planned the revolution against the Manchus and became the first president (1911–12) of the republic. Mao Zedong (Tse-tung, 1893–1976), the foremost figure of postrevolutionary China, served as chairman of the Central Committee of the CCP from 1956 to 1976. Other prominent Chinese Communist leaders include Zhu De (Chu Teh, 1886–1976), who became commander in chief of the Red Army in 1931 and chairman of the Standing Committee of the NPC; Zhou Enlai (Chou En-lai, 1898–1976), first premier of China's State Council; Liu Shaoqi (Shao-ch'i, 1898–1969), who became China's head of state in 1959 and was purged during the Cultural Revolution but posthumously rehabilitated in 1985; and Lin Biao (Piao, 1908–71), who became deputy premier and minister of defense in 1959 and who, prior to his death and subsequent political vilification, had been certified as Mao's successor in the constitution drawn up in 1969. Women in the political hierarchy have included Song Qingling (Soong Ch'ing-ling, 1892–1981), Sun Zhongshan's wife, and Jiang Qing (Chiang Ch'ing, 1913–1991), Mao's fourth wife, who emerged as a radical leader during the Cultural Revolution. Jiang, with other prominent radicals, was purged in the wake of the ascension of Hua Guofeng (b.1920) as CCP chairman in 1976. Deng Xiaoping (1904–97), twice disgraced (1966–73 and 1976) by radical administrations, reemerged in 1977 to become China's most powerful political figure, albeit without major office, and a major figure in its modernization drive; he officially retired in 1987. A protégé, Hu Yaobang (1915–1989), was party secretary until his ouster in 1987. Another protégé, who emerged in 1987 as the likely preeminent Chinese leader of the future, although still currently in the political shadow of Deng, was Zhao Ziyang (b.1919), who became general secretary of the CCP in 1987; Li Peng (b.1928) was named premier in the same year.