This type of classification began in the third millennium B.C.E. and resulted in texts such as the I Ching (Book of Changes). This sense of holism is characterized by the view that there is no Creator God behind the universe. Chinese thought is less concerned with theories of origin or with concepts of a personal God than with the perception of an ongoing reality of a self-generating, interconnected universe described by Tu Weiming as a "continuity of being."

"Dynamic vitalism" refers to the basis of the underlying unity of reality, which is constituted of ch'i, the material force of the universe. This is the unifying element of the cosmos and creates the basis for a profound reciprocity between humans and the natural world. Material force (ch'i) as the substance of life is the basis for the continuing process of change and transformation in the universe. The term sheng-sheng, namely, "production and reproduction" is repeatedly used in Confucian texts to illustrate the creativity of nature.

This recognition of the ceaseless movement of the cosmos arises from a profound meditation on the fecundity of nature in continually giving birth to new life. Furthermore, it constitutes a sophisticated awareness that change is the basis of the interaction and continuation of the web of life systems -- mineral, vegetable, animal, and human. Finally, it celebrates transformation as the clearest expression of the creative processes of life with which humans should harmonize their own actions. In essence, human beings are urged to "model themselves on the ceaseless vitality of the cosmic process."

Comprehensive Ethics. Confucian ethics in its most comprehensive form relies on a cosmological context of the entire triad of heaven, earth, and humans. Human actions complete this triad and are undertaken in relation to the natural world and its seasonal patterns and cosmic changes.

In this context humans are biological-historical-ethical beings who live in a universe of complex correspondences and relationships. Cultivation of the land and of oneself are seen as analogous processes requiring attention, care, and constant vigilance. Virtues are described as seeds that sprout through moral practice and flower over time.

The ethical vitality of the individual is situated against the backdrop of the dynamic pattern of ch'i in nature. The Chinese martial arts and medical practices reflect this attempt to balance and cultivate one's ch'i as part of maintaining one's physical and moral health.

For many Confucians this meant not only reciprocity with the patterns of nature but also responsibility for the health of nature as well. It was thus critical for the government to support agriculture through irrigation systems as creating the basis for a sustainable society. Human livelihood and culture was seen as continuous with nature, as the following passage by a leading Han Confucian, Tung Ch'ung-shu (c. 179-c.104 B.C.E.), indicates: "Heaven, earth, and humans are the basis of all creatures. Heaven gives them birth, earth nourishes them, and humans bring them to completion. Heaven provides them at birth with a sense of filial and brotherly love, earth nourishes them with clothing and food, and humans complete them with rites and music. The three act together as hands and feet join to complete the body and none can be dispensed with."