The doctrine of Legalism that guided the Qin dynasty, the first unified dynasty after the Warring States period, emphasized strict adherence to a legal code and the absolute power of the emperor. This philosophy, while effective for expanding the empire in a military fashion, proved unworkable for governing it in peacetime. The Qin Emperor presided over the brutal silencing of political opposition, including the event known as the burning of books and the burying of scholars.
The Han dynasty followed after only 12 years, and was the first dynasty to embrace the philosophy of Confucianism, which became the ideological underpinning of all regimes until the end of imperial China. Under the Han Dynasty, China made great advances in many areas of the arts and sciences. Emperor Wu consolidated and extended the Chinese empire by pushing back the Xiongnu, enabling the first opening of trading connections between China and the West, along the Silk Road.
The Daoist thought developed in response to the turbulence of the late Zhou dynasty and the Period of the Warring States, just like Confucianism. Unlike Confucianism, the Daoists considered it pointless to waste time and energy on problems that defied solution. Instead of Confucian social activism, the Daoists devoted their energies to reflection and introspection, hoping to understand the natural principles that governed the world in order to live in harmony with them.
Confucianism was most effective at leading China to success and therefore should be considered the most effective in ruling such a large complex society like China. Legalism is only effective during wartime, which a large society should hope to avoid in order to thrive. Daoism