An introduction to Confucianism
Evolution and transformation – a historical
Confucianism has been in a continuous state of development, from the
past to the present and onward into the future. To introduce Confucianism as a tradition we need a historic perspective. In this perspective,
Confucianism consists of several main ‘stages’, which together forge the
links of a long chain; each link of the chain shares common features with,
yet diCers from, others, which enables us to appreciate the continuous
evolution and development of the whole tradition.
confucianism and three options
The Spring and Autumn period and the Warring States period were times
when the old order was breaking up and the new one was not yet established. Many thinkers ‘pondered’ about just how to save the world from
collapse and about how to lead a meaningful life in such a chaotic environment. Various proposals and opinions were thus put forward. These
proposals and theories can be conveniently classified into three central
groups, each pointing in a diCerent direction.
The first group proposed that all social conventions and institutions must be abolished in order to have a peaceful and harmonious life:
‘Abandon sageliness and discard wisdom; then the people will benefit a
hundredfold. Abandon humaneness (ren) and discard righteousness (yi),
then the people will return to filial piety (xiao) and fraternal love (ti)’
(Dao De Jing, 19). Authors of some passages in the Dao De Jing, a
collection of Daoist aphorisms attributed to Laozi (?–?), may be deemed
as the chief representatives of this group, and by calling for the return to
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Evolution and transformation – a historical perspective
the primitive life of the ancient times they advocated a quasi-anarchism.
The second group consists of the pessimists who had given up all hope of
saving the world from chaos and destruction. They advocated either
complete withdrawal from the world or a kind of apathy that was
contrary to any positive intervention. The representatives of this group
are those mentioned in the Analects, namely, the Keeper of the Stone
Gate (14: 38), the Mad Carriage Driver of Chu (18: 5), and the Farmers
at the Ford (18: 6). The third group consisted of those who intended to
change the world. The diCerences in the approach of the last group led
to the development of three major schools, namely, Confucianism, Moism
and Legalism. Each school had its own understanding of the steps necessary for ‘straightening the crooked system’ and proposed positive ways
to bring this about.
Confucius championed a humanistic outlook. He argued against those
who determined to abandon the world by saying that ‘One cannot consort with birds and beasts. If I do not associate with humankind, with
whom shall I associate? If the Way prevailed in the world, there would
be no need for me to change it’ (Lunyu, 18: 6). Confucius believed that
the prevalent problems of his time could be ‘sorted out’ if the traditional
values were revived. His investigation into the cause of the chaos and his
solution to the resulting disorder opened the way for the development of
the tradition that was to change political courses in East Asia.
The second option was proposed by Mo Di or Mozi (Master Mo, 479?–
381? bce). This developed into the Moist School. In a sense, the Moist
proposal directly opposed that of the Confucians, although Mozi was
once a student within the Confucian tradition. Confucianism presented
a humanistic system that defined and redefined the moral–political–
religious code by way of a ‘virtue ethic’. Moism opted for a utilitarian
way to improve people’s material welfare, to install the social order of
justice and to reform political structure. The Moists maintained that a
good government was one that could bring benefits to the people, order
to the society and an increase in population to the state. Confucians treasured ritual/propriety (li) and music for their value in cultivating virtues,
while the Moists dismissed ritual and music as useless. Instead, Moism
proposed a shamanistic belief in spirits and sought a solution for social
and spiritual problems by making oCerings to Heaven (tian) and faithfully
carrying out the Mandate or Will of Heaven (tianming). As regard to how
to attain peace and harmony, the major diCerences between Confucianism
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An introduction to Confucianism
and Moism were manifest when the Moists emphasised utilitarian love
and universal equality, while Confucianism stressed the supreme importance of personal character and the extension of family aCection.
The third option was propagated by a group of people who claimed
that the only way to save the world was to govern it by laws and restrain
it with a clearly defined criminal code. Thus, they were labelled the School
of Law or Legalism (fa jia). This is a very special school and quite diCerent from all other schools that appeared in this period:
The men who composed the School of Law were not united by loyalty
to a master, nor by organisation, nor because they were contemporaries,
nor did they have the relation of pupils to teacher in the clear-cut way
of the Confucians. The list of men included in the group varies, and the
classification itself was not made until their epoch had closed.
(Shryock, 1966: 16)
There are many fundamental diCerences between Confucianism and
Legalism but by far the most important are their views concerning how
to govern the state. Within the application of Legalism, universal laws
punish anyone who violates them to maintain social order; for Confucianism, universal virtues lead anyone who learns and practises them to
goodness. Legalists attacked Confucian education and learning as a path
to vulnerability and weaknesses, as pointed out by a later leading Legalist,
Shang Yang (390?–338 bce): ‘Eminent men all change their occupations,
to apply themselves to the study of the Book of Poetry and the Book of
History, and to follow improper standards . . . When the people are given
to such teachings, it is certain that such a country will be dismembered’
(Shangjun Shu, 1959: 5).
The Legalist policies proved to be an eAcient way for the government
to accumulate wealth and increase the power of the state. Legalism
reached its peak at the end of the Warring States period and overwhelmed
all other schools by helping the First Emperor of the Qin Dynasty (221–
206 bce) to unify the whole of China.
From the struggle against these unfavourable circumstances emerged
a number of Confucian masters whose contributions are recognised
as the most important constituent elements in the formation of Confucianism. Four of them gained preeminence, and later were revered as the
Four Associates (sipei) of Confucius. Yan Hui (Yan Yuan, 511–480 bce)
was a favourite disciple of Confucius. The Master’s praises of Yan Hui’s
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Evolution and transformation – a historical perspective
virtues and talents are found in many chapters of the Analects. He was
the first among the disciples to receive sacrifices alongside the Master.
Zengzi (Zeng Shen, 505–435 bce) was famous not only as a disciple of
Confucius and for his filial piety towards his cruel and violent father, but
also for being credited as the transmitter of the Great Learning and the
author of the Book of Filial Piety, two of the most popular Confucian classics in late imperial China (Watters, 1879: 5–6). Zisi (Kong Ji, d. 402 bce),
the grandson of Confucius and a pupil of Zengzi, was considered
the compiler of the Doctrine of the Mean and the pioneer of the school
that bears his name. A recent excavation of a tomb dated to the Warring
States period reveals some of the Confucian writings characteristic of
the Zisi School. The Confucian treatises inscribed on bamboo strips in
the tomb fill up the gap of our knowledge of the Confucian tradition between Confucius and Mengzi, because these writings are now recognised
as the predecessor proper of Mengzi’s theory on human heart/mind
and human nature (People’s Daily, 16 June 1998). Mengzi (Meng Ke,
372–289 bce), a follower of Zisi, developed the Confucian tradition
further in the direction of moral humanism. Recognising the great contribution Mengzi made to the transmission of Confucian teaching, the
Confucian scholars of the Song Dynasty included the work attributed to
him in the Four Books.
Alongside these four, we must include Xunzi (Xun Qing, 313?–
238 bce) who represents a line of the Confucian tradition that points
in a diCerent direction. Xunzi developed the naturalistic dimension of
Confucianism that regarded human nature as evil and Heaven as an
impersonal power or natural principle. He emphasised law (fa) and
ritual/propriety (li) rather than humaneness (ren) and righteousness (yi).
Two of his disciples, Han Fei (d. 233 bce) and Li Si (d. 208 bce), became
the most celebrated representatives of Legalism and were instrumental
in having Confucianism suppressed during the Qin Dynasty. Mainly
because of these two reasons, Xunzi was no longer considered a legitimate transmitter of Confucianism after the Tang Dynasty (618–960).
mengzi and his development of idealistic
Among all the prominent Confucian scholars before the Qin Dynasty,
idealistic Mengzi and rationalistic Xunzi stood out as the two greatest.
Mengzi believed in the religious, ethical, and political vision contained
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An introduction to Confucianism
in the Confucian classics, and developed the Confucian doctrine in a
religio-ethical direction, whilst Xunzi was inclined towards the naturalistic and ritualistic vision and cultivated it in the spirit of humanistic rationalism. They both honoured Confucius but they diCered dramatically
in their views on human nature. Xunzi exerted a great influence on Han
Confucianism, and Mengzi gained preeminence during and after the Song
Dynasty when he came to be regarded as the only orthodox transmitter
of the ancient culture after Confucius himself, and was revered as the
Second Sage (yasheng).
Very little is known about the life of Mengzi. He was born in the small
State of Zou which is close to the State of Lu, the birthplace of Confucius. His father is believed to have died when Mengzi was very young
and he was brought up single-handedly by his mother. Mengzi took
Confucius as his ideal and believed that his mission was to glorify the
doctrines of the great Sage. The social and political conditions were even
worse in the time of the Warring States than in the time of Confucius.
Yet like Confucius, Mengzi attempted to teach his ethical ideal as a way
to alter the political situation and to alleviate social problems. He visited
many states and made painstaking eCorts to persuade the ruling Dukes
and Princes to adopt his ideal and to implement his political philosophy
of the humane government (renzheng). According to Mengzi, a humane
government abandons war and governs not by power or force, nor by
cruel rules or punitive laws but by the moral power and good character
of the ruler, which is presented as a good example for the people to follow.
As a moralistic pacifist, Mengzi strongly opposed war, conquest and killing, and sincerely believed that ‘If only everyone loved his parents and
treated his elders with deference, the Empire would be at peace’ (Mengzi,
4a: 11). Obviously, his political and moral arguments appealed to few
rulers in that war-ravaged period. The state of Qin in the west adopted
the advice of the Legalist, Shang Yang, as the way to enrich the state and
empower the military force; the state of Chu in the south made use of the
military strategies of Wu Qi (?–381 bce) to subdue its adversaries, and
the state of Qi in the east followed the policies of Sun Bin (?–? bce) and
overwhelmed all other neighbouring states. In this atmosphere, the moral
teachings of Mengzi appeared to be of little value for any state. Realising that he could not succeed, Mengzi retired from the courts and
devoted himself to interpreting the Confucian classics and transmitting
the doctrines of Confucius.
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Evolution and transformation – a historical perspective
Mengzi admired Confucius and proclaimed him the greatest sage
(2a: 2; 3b: 9; 7b: 38). He followed Zisi and continued to develop the
religio-ethical discourse of the Confucian classics. He believed that Confucianism was a tradition that originated in the works and lives of the
ancient sage–kings and that this tradition was exemplified in the teachings of Confucius and thereby transmitted to future generations. He
lamented that ‘From Confucius to the present it is over a hundred years.
In time we are so near to the age of the sage while in place we are so close
to his home, yet if there is no one who had anything of the sage, well
then, there is no one who has anything to transmit of the sage’ (7b: 38).
Throughout his life, Mengzi engaged in a struggle on two fronts; on
the one side against the misuse of political power by dukes and princes
(zhuhou fangzi), on the other against ‘the pervasive doctrines’ of nonConfucian scholars (chushi hengyi). Mengzi travelled for over forty years,
oCering advice to dukes and princes on the way of ‘Kingly Government’
(wang dao) and in opposition to the ‘way of a despot’ (ba dao). He took
the ‘way of a despot’ to be the rule by force, with harsh punishment and
killings and therefore the way to lose the empire (tianxia, literally meaning ‘under the sky’), because it would lose the hearts of the people and
not gain their support. A kingly government is the way to win and keep
the empire: to win the empire, one has first to win the people; to win the
people, one has first to win their hearts (Mengzi, 4a: 9). As the empire
has its basis in the state, the state in the family, and the family in one’s
own self, then in order to win the people’s hearts, there is no need for the
ruler to use force or power. Being correct in one’s self, a ruler would
bring the whole empire to himself. Peace and harmony are the natural
results of moral cultivation and ethical correction. By practising virtues,
Mengzi promises, one will become a humane person or a person of
humaneness (ren zhe), who is unbeatable because of his moral power
(Mengzi, 2a; 5; 7b: 3). He said that a humane ruler had no match in the
world. If a ruler was not fond of killing, he would easily become the
legitimate king of the empire and the people would turn to him like
water flowing downwards (Mengzi, 1a: 6).
Mengzi tried hard to persuade the ruler to adopt his humane policies on the one hand, and was wholeheartedly engaged in debates with
scholars and in attacking his opponents on the other: ‘Driving away the
doctrines of Yang Zhu and Mo Di and banishing excessive views so that
the advocates of heresies will not be able to rise’ (3b: 9). Mo Di or Mozi
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and Yang Zhu (440?–360? bce) were two of the most influential scholars
of the day and their teachings presented a direct challenge to the followers
of Confucius. According to Mengzi, Yang Zhu advocated a selfish doctrine of ‘everyone for himself’ (wei wo), which Mengzi believed to be a
denial of one’s sovereign, while Mozi advocated ‘mutually equal love’
between the people (jian ai, Graham, 1991: 41; Yao, 1995: 189), which
Mengzi claimed amounted to a denial of the special relationship one had
with one’s father. Mengzi believed that both, in one way or another,
stripped morality from human relationships and made men no better than
beasts. Opposing these doctrines Mengzi taught the Confucian understanding of individuals as members and participants in the wider society
of family and state. He called for all human relations to be based on
family aCections and believed that the world would naturally be at peace
if only everyone respected the old people in their own family as they should
be respected, and extending this respect to the old of other people’s families; and cared for the young people in their own family as they should
be cared for, and extending this care to the young of other people’s families (Mengzi, 1a: 7).
Along with Confucius, Mengzi emphasised the virtue of humaneness
(ren) which he equated with humanity: ‘Humaneness is what a human is
(ren zhe ren ye)’ (7b: 16). Mengzi diCered from Confucius by closely
relating humaneness to righteousness (yi), and was the first Confucian
scholar to raise ‘righteousness’ to the level of a cardinal virtue. Mengzi
took both humaneness and righteousness to be essential ingredients of
true humanity: ‘Humaneness is the heart/mind (xin) of a human and righteousness is his path’; or ‘Humaneness is the peaceful abode of a human,
while righteousness is his right path’ (4a: 10). Dwelling in the abode and
following the path is to fulfil one’s nature. As an idealist, Mengzi indicated that the root of humaneness is within the human heart, a heart that
makes one unable to bear seeing the suCerings of others. This he believes
is the beginning of all virtues, and by extending this heart one will become humane and righteous (7b: 31). With such a heart the government
will find it as easy to make peace in the Empire as rolling it in the palm of
one’s hand (2a: 6).
Mengzi’s view of humaneness and righteousness comes from his
profound understanding of human nature. Confucius believed that
humans were similar by nature but separated by practice, while Mengzi
aArmed that human nature was originally good, that people were born
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Evolution and transformation – a historical perspective
with good potential, and that if this potential was cultivated like a shoot
then they would grow up to be a beautiful blossoming tree, full of expressed virtues. Mengzi developed this thesis in his arguments against
Gaozi. Gaozi (?–?) was supposed to have proclaimed that human nature
was initially neutral. Firstly, he claimed that human nature was like a
willow tree, while goodness, like humaneness and righteousness, was like
a wooden bowl. A bowl is made from the tree, but is not the same as the
tree. Mengzi totally rejected this view as simply inappropriate. ‘In making a bowl out of a tree, we have to cut it down and deprive the tree of its
natural life’ (6a: 1), while in cultivating goodness we simply developed
what we already had. Secondly, Gaozi argued that human nature was
like running water that could flow either to the east or to the west and
that human nature did not make a distinction between good and evil just
as the water made no distinction between the east and the west. To
rebuke this, Mengzi argued: ‘Water will indeed flow indiCerently to the
east or the west, but will it flow indiCerently up or down? Human nature
is disposed to goodness just as water tends to flow downward. There is
no water but that which flows downward, and no man but he who shows
tendency to be good’ (6a: 2). Thirdly, some people argued that human
nature might be good or bad, as demonstrated by the fact that under the
rule of a virtuous king, the people loved what was good, whereas under
the rule of a cruel king, the people loved what was cruel. For Mengzi,
however, the reverse is the case. Under good government, the goodness of human nature is protected and developed and the people are
given to goodness, while under bad government the goodness of human
nature is destroyed and corrupted so that the people are given to cruelty
(6a: 6).
Mengzi’s claim that human nature is good does not imply that humans
are always entirely good. His teaching maintains that humans have within
them the inclination to the good and the innate capacities for goodness.
At the psycho-ethical level, all humans have a heart/mind that cannot bear
to see the suCerings of others, and this shows that humans are born with
innate feelings of goodness. Mengzi argued that the virtues of humaneness (ren), righteousness (yi), propriety (li) and wisdom (zhi) were not
drilled into us from without; we already had their beginnings (duan)
as soon as we were born. Virtues are the result of developing what we
already have in the heart, the sense of compassion, of shame, of respect,
and of right and wrong. In developing and cultivating these innate senses,
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An introduction to Confucianism
we will be able to express the virtues in the following manner: compassion becoming the virtue of humaneness, the feeling of shame becoming
the virtue of righteousness, respect becoming the virtue of propriety, and
the sense of right and wrong becoming the virtue of wisdom (6a: 6).
From psycho-ethical arguments concerning human nature, Mengzi
developed three metaphysical–religious theses, which would prove to have
a profound eCect on Confucian spirituality. Firstly, his view of human
nature confirms that Heaven (tian), which instilled such good nature to
human beings, must itself be good or the source of goodness. As the source
of goodness, Heaven is the supreme judge and sanction of human behaviour. Secondly, he sees the way of learning as a process of self-cultivation
which extends one’s moral senses and accumulates righteousness. Selfcultivation not only preserves one’s innate good nature, but is also the
way to serve Heaven. According to Mengzi, having given full realisation
to one’s heart, one is able to understand one’s own nature; having understood one’s own nature one is able to know Heaven; and by retaining
one’s heart and nurturing one’s nature, one is serving Heaven (7a: 1).
Thirdly, if one develops one’s heart to its utmost, then one will be able to
fulfil one’s own destiny and become a Great Man (da zhangfu). A Great
Man dwells in the wide house, stands in the correct station and walks in
the great path of the world. He practises virtues along with the people if
successful, and practises the Way alone if not. His heart would not be
dissipated by wealth and honours, his integrity would not be disrupted
by poverty and humble situation, and his will would not be altered by
force and might (3b: 2). With self-cultivation, one achieves the greatness
and complete transformation which would allow one to be called a sage.
In this way, Mengzi expresses his optimistic view of human destiny by
saying that everyone has potential sagehood within his nature, and that
‘sages like Yao and Shun are the same as everyone else’ (4b: 32).
xunzi: a great confucian synthesiser
Xunzi, whose personal name is Kuang, is also known as Xun Qing, Minister Xun after the oAce he once held. A native of the State of Zhao,
Xunzi went to the State of Qi to pursue his studies, where he was three
times the leader of the Jixia Academy, the intellectual centre of the period.
At the invitation of a number of princes or kings, Xunzi went to oCer his
advice on politics, military aCairs, education, and ritual/rites. He wrote
a large number of treatises, which were compiled and edited by a Han
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scholar named Liu Xiang (77–6 bce), the work being known as The Book
of Xunzi.
Towards the end of the Warring States period, there existed an academically free environment which enabled the many schools to be fully
developed. The pre-eminent schools of the time were Confucianism,
Daoism, Legalism, Moism, the School of Logicians (mingjia), and the
School of Yin and Yang. Within Confucianism many sub-schools
developed, the influence of Zisi and Mengzi being most prominent. Xunzi
was deeply dissatisfied with these teachings and critically examined
all their doctrines and social eCects; this led him to attempt to correct
what he perceived to be derivations from the true tenets of Confucius
himself. He attacked the prevailing Confucian doctrines as ‘following the
model of the ancient kings in a fragmentary way’, because ‘being mysterious and enigmatic, they lack a satisfactory theoretical basis’; and he criticised these scholars as ‘stupid and delusive Confucians (goumao ru)’ or as
‘base and mean Confucians (jian ru)’ (Xunzi Jijie 1959: 59, 66; Knoblock,
1988: 224, 229). Taking the extensive critiques as his basis Xunzi synthesised all previous teachings of the Confucian schools and established
a comprehensive Confucian system that represented the highest development of the rational doctrine in the pre-Qin age (before 221 bce). Xunzi’s
comprehensive and inclusive system contains elements from many other
sources. For example, his discussion of Heaven as Nature shows a clear
understanding of Daoist metaphysics, and his interest in logic shows
familiarity with the School of Logicians, while his views on education
indicate an aAnity with The Great Learning which is supposed to have
been composed by Zengzi. Xunzi placed his greatest emphasis on ritual/
propriety (li) rather than humaneness (ren, Confucius) or righteousness
(yi, Mengzi), and this naturally prompted him to give more attention
to penal laws rather than moral models, which made him akin to the
ideas of Legalism.
It is not without reason that when writing his great book on history,
Sima Qian put Mengzi and Xunzi in the same chapter. Both Mengzi and
Xunzi regarded themselves as true followers of Confucius, and both were
indeed the same as far as their underlying commitment was concerned.
But they diCered greatly in their interpretation of their spiritual master.
Xunzi presents the other side of Mengzi’s doctrine and on occasion is
wholly contradictory or simply complementary. Unlike Mengzi’s idealism
and moralism, for example, Xunzi is characterised by his naturalism and
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rationalism, as is evident in his deliberation on Heaven (tian), human
nature (xing), morality, knowledge, education and ritual. As a naturalistic
philosopher, Xunzi is fundamentally humanistic, and his concern is with
human aCairs rather than with metaphysical queries. His naturalism,
realism, emphasis on logic, belief in progress, appreciation of law and
his sound criticisms of various philosophical schools make him
unmatchable both in Chinese intellectual history and in the Confucian
tradition. He played an important part in the formation of Confucianism.
These essential contributions established his dominant position during
the Qin–Han Dynasties. Indeed three sections of the Book of Rites, a
Han compilation, are identical to passages from the Book of Xunzi. His
realistic political vision set him apart from earlier idealist Confucians
and marked a significant step towards the adoption of authoritarianism
in Chinese politics. His emphasis on education as the means for correcting the inherent evil nature of humans inspired the development of the
Confucian Academies established by the Han Emperors (Shryock, 1966:
14). Despite his great influence in the Qin–Han times and despite his
many innovations, he was eventually eclipsed by Mengzi who gradually
became the accepted transmitter of the true Confucian tradition.
To understand the reasons for this change, we have to look at Xunzi’s
theories, especially those on Heaven (tian, or Nature), human nature,
propriety/ritual, education and learning.
Two fundamental beliefs are central to Zisi-Mengzi’s understanding
of Heaven. Firstly, Heaven provides humans with principles and with
supreme moral sanctions which in turn demand respect and service.
Secondly, Heaven and human beings establish a responsive relationship,
namely, that circumstances in Heaven correspondingly aCect how
humans lead their lives, and what takes place in human society also elicits
responses from Heaven. In the Book of Xunzi, ‘Heaven’ is used in an
entirely diCerent sense. Although Xunzi emphasised the ultimate significance of harmony between Heaven and humans, he does not present
Heaven as a religious and moral reality. For him, Heaven is none other
than Nature, Natural Law or the principle of the cosmic evolution. He
therefore denies a responsive relationship between Heaven and human
behaviour, between cosmic movement and political change, and between
the natural and the moral. Whatever humans do will not have any eCect
on the laws of Nature, because Nature (Heaven) does not change its course
in response to human action. Regardless of whether the government is
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good or bad, Nature remains the same and does not get better or worse:
‘The course of Heaven is constant: it does not exist for Sage Yao; nor
does it perish because of Evil Jie’ (17: 1; Knoblock, 1994: 14). Consequently, humans should not be frightened by natural changes, nor
should they look for good or evil omens in Nature. Nature functions in
a diCerent way from human action. Fortune or misfortune and order or
disorder are the results of human actions which Nature cannot change.
Born of naturalistic Heaven, Xunzi argues, humans are innatelyinclined
to satisfaction of physical desires and thereby to competition, which in
turn cause disorder and chaos, if not restrained and guided properly. He
regards this as evidence that human nature is innately evil rather than
good. Despite his view of human nature as evil, Xunzi does not hold an
unduly pessimistic view of human destiny. Rather, he insists that human
nature can be transformed and that peace, harmony and goodness can
prevail in the world. Xunzi puts forward two arguments to support his
view. Firstly, he argues that as propriety/ritual and righteousness have
been created by the sages as the guidelines for human behaviour, then
education is of primary importance for ordering the state and transforming human nature. Education means a wide range of social learning and
moral training, enforced by law and guided by moral codes. Central
to this programme is the concept of ritual/propriety, which in Xunzi
prescribes correct behaviour in all situations. He argues that the sages
instituted ritual/propriety to bring order to society. Natural desires lead
humans to seek satisfaction without measure and to compete for gains
without limits, which is the way to disorder and poverty. ‘The Ancient
Kings abhorred such disorder, so they established the principles of propriety and righteousness to apportion things, to nurture human desires,
and to supply the means for their satisfaction’ (Knoblock, 1994: 55).
These principles are not merely man-made rules; they originated in
Heaven and Earth, are formulated in the hands of ancestors, and practised by sovereigns and teachers. In their highest perfection they are that
by which ‘Heaven and Earth are conjoined, the sun and moon shine
brightly, the four seasons observe their natural precedence, the stars and
planets move in ranks, the rivers and streams flow; and the myriad things
prosper’ (ibid.: 60).
Secondly, Xunzi argues that although humans are born without moral
virtues, they do have the ability to learn how to be virtuous. Learning is
thereby a necessity and of supreme importance if humans are to become
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good. Humans are all born with the same nature and it is learning that
sets them apart. ‘Those who undertake learning become men; those who
neglect it become as wild beasts’ (Knoblock, 1988: 139). For Xunzi, learning should begin with reciting the Classics and conclude with reading the
Book of Rites, the purpose being first to create a scholar and in the end
a sage. To become a sage, one must constantly accumulate wisdom and
virtues ‘to make whole one’s inner power’, ‘to acquire a divine clarity of
intelligence’ and ‘to fully realise a sagelike mind’. Xunzi’s learning does
not solely consist of reading and memorising as he teaches the importance of cultivating one’s character (xiu shen): when seeing the good one
must preserve it within oneself; when seeing what is not good, one must
search one’s inner self to see if it has already existed there (Xunzi, 2: 1;
Knoblock, 1988: 151). He considers self-cultivation a multidimensional
process which includes controlling the vital breath (zhiqi), nourishing
life (yangsheng), cultivating one’s character and strengthening one’s self
(xiushen ziqiang), etc. (Knoblock, 1988: 152). If one engages properly in
these activities one is able to establish a reputation equal to the ancient
sage–kings. Xunzi emphasises that self-cultivation must be guided by the
principles of ritual/propriety and faithfulness (xin). If one follows the
requirements of ritual/propriety and measures one’s behaviour by faithfulness, then ‘good order penetrates every aspect of one’s activity’. If not,
‘then one’s actions become unreasonable and disorderly, dilatory and
negligent’. Xunzi’s discourse on learning and self-cultivation emphasises
his view of the importance of ritual/propriety: ‘a man without ritual will
not live; an undertaking lacking ritual will not be completed; and a nation
without ritual will not be tranquil’ (Knoblock, 1988: 153).
Through learning and self-cultivation one can understand the teaching of sages, and become capable of restraining selfish desires and transforming one’s nature. One’s natural desires can be satisfied according to
principles, while one’s activities, when regulated by ritual/propriety, can
fulfil one’s life. At this point, according to Xunzi, one is not much diCerent
from a sage: ‘A man in the street can become a Yu (sage–king)’, because
what makes Yu a sage is his ‘use of humaneness, righteousness, the model
of law and rectitude’ (Knoblock, 1994: 158). Since all people can know
the four principles and all are capable of putting them into practice, it
naturally follows that everyone is able to become as great and virtuous
as a sage.
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the victory of confucianism and its syncretism
Confucianism suCered greatly during the short-lived Qin Dynasty. With
the advent of the Han Dynasty, Confucianism found itself at a turning
point facing new opportunities, challenges and problems. Classical Confucianism needed to adapt to this new environment and to change in
order to satisfy cultural, social and spiritual needs. The Han Confucians
took these challenges seriously and Confucianism entered a new era.
Those who could not or did not adapt to the new circumstances were
rebuked as ‘despicable Confucians’ (bi ru), while those who did it successfully gained a high reputation.
The story of how Confucianism adapted itself to the new age is part
of the Confucian victory over all other schools. There were many causes
for this final triumph. One of these was certainly that Confucians preserved and reintroduced religious ritual and court ceremonies, which were
enjoyed and highly valued by the new rulers. The Confucian advance
into politics was seen in 200 bce when Emperor Gao Zu permitted Shusun
Tong to arrange a well-ordered court ceremonial in the manner of
the Zhou Kings. A further reason for the rise of Confucianism was the
scholars’ knowledge of the skills necessary for state administration. The
founder of the Han Dynasty (Gao Zu, r. 206–195 bce) was not greatly
in favour of Confucianism, yet he appears to have been impressed by
some of the advice he received from these scholars. For example, Shusun
Tong (?–? bce) advised him that ‘Confucianism may not be enough in
making progress, but it does suAce in preserving’ (Hanshu, 1997: 2116),
and Lu Jia (240?–170? bce) reminded him that ‘An empire can be
conquered but cannot be administered on horseback’ (Hanshu, 1997:
2113). Encouraged by prominent oAcials, the Emperor issued an edict in
196 bce to regulate the recruitment of able men (xianren) for government
service (Hanshu, 1997: 68). Thus Confucianism, with its knowledge of
ceremonies alongside its understanding of the needs for state administration, proved itself to be a strong candidate to provide the new minders
of the Empire with the skills necessary to manage the state.
The first battle Confucianism had to win was against the Legalists.
The Qin Dynasty adopted Legalism, and under the guidance of Legalist
policies the state of Qin consolidated its power and by 221 bce had subdued all the warring parties, thus unifying China. It ruled this vast land
by imposing harsh penal laws and ruthlessly putting down rebellions.
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This brutality and disregard for the dignity of human life contributed to
the overthrow of the dynasty following the death of the First Emperor
(259–210 bce). Confucians argued that history thus demonstrated that
while Legalism was useful in a time of war, it was unsuitable as the basis
of a permanent government; and that if the Han rulers were not about to
make the same mistake, an alternative to Legalism was imperative.
The second battle the Confucian scholars engaged in was with Daoist
doctrines. The early Han emperors took heed of the failure of the Qin
and initially favoured a ‘naturalistic and liberal’ ideology provided by
the doctrines of Huang (the Yellow Emperor) and Lao (Laozi). Huang–
Lao were believed to have taught something similar to laissez-faire and
proposed little or no governmental interference. As a result, the economy
began to recover and the state was becoming richer. However, there was
a fundamental weakness in the Huang–Lao doctrine which diametrically
opposed Legalistic extremes with de trop individualism. Such a doctrine
could not satisfy the needs of a strong and growing empire, and failed to
provide any coherent administrative policies.
Confucianism was, at that time, the best option, but it needed to adapt
in order to secure its position. Han culture was comprised of an eclectic
variety of elements. Under the Huang–Lao banner Daoism was popular
and shamanistic practitioners (fang shi) flourished. The concepts of
yin–yang and the Five Elements (wuxing, Five Activities, Five Phases or
Five Material Forces) which had been systematised by Zou Yan (305–
240 bce) now penetrated to all levels of society. Moism gained followers
among lower classes. Legalism was entrenched in the practices of the
court and nobility. The most dynamic and inclusive of the doctrines was
Confucianism, which was ready to adapt to the new order. Not only did
it draw on the traditions of the past, but it was also open to the best ideas
from other schools and integrated them into its own doctrines. Many
scholars who became prominent in the Confucian tradition had actually
been adherents of other schools. When they were converted to Confucianism, they carried with them their old beliefs and theories into Confucian learning. A new form of Confucianism took shape in the flow of
eclecticism and inclusiveness. It accepted the cosmic view of the Yin–
Yang School and partly adopted the Daoist view of life. It made some
use of Legalist policies to strengthen the power of the rulers and took
advantage of the Five Elements theory to explain the cyclical nature
of history and the change of dynasties. It integrated some apocryphal
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writings (chenwei) to enhance its appeal in a more or less superstitious
society. What emerged was an eclectic Confucianism which appealed
to all levels of Han society and which met with approval from its
rulers. Confucian scholars became more and more confident in the
power of their doctrines to satisfy all the needs of the empire. It was against
this background that Dong Zhongshu (179?–104 bce) made it clear in
his memorial to the Emperor that ‘All not within the field of the six
disciplines/arts of Confucius should be cut short and not be allowed to
progress further’ (Hanshu, 1997: 2523). Thus the Confucians of the Han
on the one hand were open and flexible, syncretic and inclusive, and on
the other hand they retained power from unifying the thought by controlling and containing other doctrines. Together these two dimensions
contributed to the success of Confucianism. Emperor Wu (r. 140–87 bce)
took the final step and established the Confucian classics as the state
orthodoxy and the worship of Confucius as the state cult.
dong zhongshu and the establishment of
han confucianism
In adapting Confucianism to the new culture of the Han and in the
transition of Confucianism from a moralistic system to ‘a universalistic
and holistic view providing inescapable sanctions for the deeds of men
and the ordering of society, and a place in the cosmos for the imperial
system’ (Twichett & Loewe, 1986: 754), Dong Zhongshu took a leading
role and developed a comprehensive Confucian doctrine based on the
conception of mutual responsiveness between Heaven and humans.
When young Emperor Wu took control of the state, he consulted
oAcials and academicians to hear their advice on good government and
their remedies to cure the ills besetting the nation. Dong submitted three
memorials in response to the Emperor’s inquiries proposing new ways
to reform the government and to unify governmental rules and regulations. He recommended the establishment of a Grand Academy (taixue)
to train scholars for oAcial administrative positions and he urged that
these oAcials be selected on the basis of their talents and virtues. Dong
encouraged the Emperor himself to practise the ideas contained in the
Confucian classics as he claimed that the classics demonstrated the constant principles of Heaven and Earth, and manifested the guidelines both
for the ancient times and for the present (Hanshu, 1997: 2523). These
recommendations deeply impressed the young Emperor, and proved
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instrumental in the establishment of Confucianism as the state orthodoxy. Dong became the most famous scholar of the period and his writings dominated Confucian Learning throughout the Former Han Dynasty.
Apart from these memorials, Dong wrote numerous treatises, most of
which are preserved in the book entitled Luxuriant Gems of the Spring
and Autumn Annals (Chunqiu Fanlu) (Queen, 1996: 5). In these writings
Dong continued the tradition of Confucius–Mengzi–Xunzi which emphasised virtues, education, humane government, etc. on the one hand,
while attaching more importance to the sanction of a supernatural Heaven
on the other. His preference marked a return to an earlier tradition recorded in the Book of History and the Book of Poetry, and as such Dong
sought to ‘subject the people to the ruler and the ruler to Heaven’ and to
provide a ‘theological’ foundation for the imperial government.
Dong believed that all the Confucian classics had profound meanings
and implications, but he favoured the Spring and Autumn Annals as he
believed that in the Annals the heavenly norms governing the universe
were successfully applied to the process of human history. He believed
that Confucius had examined Heaven above and humans below, the past
and the present, in order to compose the Spring and Autumn Annals.
There exists a mutually responsive communication between Heaven and
humans and this is the principle of human life and the guideline for human
behaviour. What is condemned in the Annals must be heeded, as failure
to do this would bring about nothing but misfortune, calamities and
abnormalities (Hanshu, 1997: 2515). There were three major commentaries on the Annals available in the Han time, but the one by Gongyang
Gao (Chunqiu Gongyang Zhuan) was said to be the most suited to the
new age, as it contained the ideal of Great Unity (da yi tong, in Hanshu,
1997: 2523) and illustrated the matters that were profoundly significant.
Drawing on ideas in Gongyang’s commentary, Dong developed a comprehensive system to cover metaphysical, theological, social, moral and
psychological dimensions of Confucianism.
This system starts with a cosmology in which the unity of heaven, earth
and humans forms the foundation of peace and harmony, while the interaction between yin and yang is the motive force, and the right orders
among the Five Elements represent the laws of change. For the first time
in an unequivocal language, Dong developed a systematic Confucian
‘theology’, discussing the mutual responsiveness of Heaven and humans,
in which Heaven is the transcendental reality and the source of human
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life, and humans must faithfully follow the principles of Heaven and fulfil
Heaven’s mandate. In this relation, Heaven is the spiritual power and
the great grandfather (zeng zufu) of humans, and Heaven alone can
reward the good and punish the bad. Not only are humans considered to
be physically shaped by Heaven but their moral and political ways are
similarly determined. Human qualities are endowed and animated by
Heaven. Insofar as Heaven loves people they should be humane (ren);
Heaven acts regularly in the progression of the four seasons and day and
night, so people should observe the principles of propriety (li); Heaven
has authority over Earth so the Sovereign has authority over his subjects,
a father over his son and a husband over his wife. Human behaviour
must model the operating forces of Heaven, yang and yin. Yang signifies
virtue and is associated with spring thus symbolising the giving of life
and education; yin completes yang and is thus associated with autumn,
the season of destruction, and symbolises death and punishment. To carry
out the will of Heaven, a ruler must rely on education and the propagation of virtue, and not on punishments and killing. Violation of these
principles would bring about disturbances in both the natural and the
spiritual world. For example, if the ruler and the people do not agree, the
harmony of yin and yang will be disrupted, thereby leading to evil, famine
and chaos which are warnings and punishments from Heaven. If the ruler
and the people are in accord and upright, evil will not appear, yin and
yang will be in harmony, the wind and rain will come at the right seasons,
life will be peaceful, the harvest plentiful, the grass and trees flourish,
and the whole world will be nourished. These are blessings and rewards
from Heaven and the Spirits (Shryock, 1966: 50–1).
In accordance with the principles of Confucius, Dong oCered his
advice to the ruler on how to reform the old mechanism of government
and how to restore the ways of the ancient kings who sincerely practised
the five virtues of humaneness, righteousness, ritual/propriety, wisdom
and faithfulness. However, his advice constitutes not only moral admonitions, for it contains theological understanding, educational strategy and
legal policies. Dong says that a good ruler must first carry out the will of
Heaven and follow Heaven’s decree, which includes issuing a new calendar and changing the colour of clothes and banners in accordance with
the order of the Five Elements (Hanshu, 1997: 2510). Dong argued for a
kind of authoritarianism in his ideas concerning state administration. In
his attempt to strengthen the power of the ruler, however, Dong did not
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give the ruler free reign to do as the ruler pleased. He emphasised that
the ruler must submit himself to the principles of Heaven and manifest
this in his practice of Confucian virtues. Education is foremost on Dong’s
agenda and he sees the first duty of the king as ensuring the proper education of the people. It is education that makes the people upright and
virtuous, and only when education is well established will the state
prosper. Dong is concerned with the method as well as the content of
education. The study of the classics, accumulating good merits and
practising virtues are the essential content of education. The method of
delivering that education as proposed by Dong consisted of a system of
colleges and schools. Dong was anxious to have the Grand Academy
established because ‘Among the important ways to nurture scholars none
is greater then the Grand Academy. . . The Grand Academy. . . is the
root and source of educational transformation’ (Hanshu, 1997: 2512).
As the third measure, Dong urges the emperor to uphold the law to
maintain the distinctions of the social order and to prevent the resultant
excesses of human desires. Dong does not see human nature as either
good or bad. He insists that as Heaven has its dual manifestations of yin
and yang so humans likewise have the dual qualities of covetousness and
humaneness. Both qualities are born within humans and humaneness is
the outward expression of human nature (xing) while covetousness is
the outward expression of human feelings (Chan, 1963a: 275). Humans
harbour the good within their nature, but it is only through education
that this goodness can be manifested: ‘nature needs to be trained before
becoming good’ (ibid.: 276). Humans also possess feelings that can prevent human nature from being wholly good and it is these feelings that
can lead to wickedness. This is why social order must be maintained
through law and regulations.
Dong sees these three measures as being equally important and thus
advises that ‘A real ruler sincerely listens to Heaven and follows its
decree. He educates the people to complete their nature and upholds the
law to maintain the social order and check the desires . . . Having
carried out these three measures, the ruler will have a solid foundation
for his empire’ (Hanshu, 1997: 2515–16; Shryock, 1966: 57).
classical learning: controversies and debates
The institution of Confucianism as the state orthodoxy during the reign
of Emperor Wu made Confucian Learning the only legitimate content of
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state education (guan xue). A new education system was established to
explore and propagate Confucian principles. The oAcial curriculum was
restricted to the Five Classics, and on each of them a number of academic posts were created and highly respected scholars representing the
approved traditions of interpretation were appointed as chairs. A system
of examination and recommendation was then formally institutionalised,
and oAcials were appointed for their achievement either in Confucian
Learning or in the practices of Confucian virtues. An intense interest in
the Confucian texts and commentaries arose and these texts and commentaries attracted talented scholars who produced further interpretations and annotations. During this time, the dogmatism of Confucian
Learning greatly increased; annotation and interpretation followed strict
transmission from master to disciple; and Classical Learning was confined to a very narrow area in which attention was given exclusively to
the minute interpretation of words, sentences and paragraphs (zhang ju).
Classical Learning created an immense number of intense commentaries.
For example, commentaries and interpretations on a five-word text could
be as long as 30,000 words (Hanshu, 1997: 1723). This academic method
was criticised by many independent scholars as the act of petty-minded
scholars (xiaoru), which could only result in the destruction of the great
Way of Confucianism (ibid.: 3159).
Another problem facing Han Confucians was how to read the classics.
A majority of them firmly believed that the Confucian classics could provide the standards that enabled humans to arrange their lives and the
ruler to govern the empire. They maintained that in reading these works
one must first be able to understand the profound significance of the terse
texts (weiyan dayi), so that the meaning acquired provided a clue to
understanding the secrecy of the cosmos, society and human psychology. Secondly, they insisted that scholars must be able to relate the
signs of the times to the words of the classics and be able to interpret
various kinds of derivations from the norms of nature, thus determining
a connection between natural phenomena and human actions. These
two methods of learning contributed to the rise of a type of literature
known as chenwei, which used a mystical language to ‘reveal’ the socalled oracular predictions of the classics. Pieces of chenwei writings were
deliberately attached and aAliated to individual classics, some of which
were even deemed to be the work of Confucius himself and as such were
to be treated with the same reverence as the classics. Being of such an
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oracular nature, they could be used for many diCerent purposes, guiding the ruler to predict rebellion and dynastic change (Weishu Jicheng,
1994: 1290). At the same time, various stories about the divinity of
Confucius became popular. Prophetic messages are common in these
stories, and literature and stories of this kind were deliberately used in
political struggles for the establishment of the Later Han Dynasty (25–
220 ce). However, its superstition, mysticism and superficial understanding of the relationship between Heaven and humanity eroded the spirit
of Confucianism. Chenwei literature also led Confucian Learning
further into scholasticism, and corrupted the transmission of the Confucian tradition. It was no surprise therefore that independent-minded
thinkers like Yang Xiong (53 bce–18 ce), Huan Tan (23 bce–50 ce),
and Wang Chong (27–100? ce) as well as orthodox scholars aimed their
attack at this pseudo-Confucianism. It was gradually recognised that
chenwei literature was harmful to the state and therefore had to be phased
out. Chenwei was forbidden in the fifth century and by the beginning of
the seventh century most of its texts had been destroyed.
DiCerent versions of the Confucian classics, especially those of the
Spring and Autumn Annals and their commentaries, led to diCerent
understandings, diCerent methodologies, and ultimately to diCerent
schools. Of these schools the most well known are the New Text and
the Old Text Schools. The New Text School was pioneered by Dong
Zhongshu. Consequently, the New Text School became the orthodoxy,
and its scholars were appointed as state academicians and their transmissions were deemed the oAcial learning for most of the Former Han
Dynasty. Liu Xin (?–23 ce) and Yang Xiong (53 bce–18 ce) strove to
establish the authenticity of the texts written in the old script. Central to
the debate between these two schools is how to interpret the classics.
The New Text School explores the philosophic and metaphysical meaning and implications contained in the subtle and brief texts, while the
Old Text School reads the classics from a historical perspective. The New
Text School in general, favours the apocryphal and prognostic approach
to the ancient writings, and is thus rebuked as superstitious by the leading Old Text scholars. These two schools present diCerent pictures
of Confucius. The New Text followers presented him as the ‘Saviour’ of
the world, without whom humanity would have remained in darkness
and the world in chaos. To these scholars Confucius was not only a sage,
but also an ‘Uncrowned King’ (su wang, in Hanshu, 1997: 2509).
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As opposed to the above view, the followers of the Old Text School
took Confucius as essentially an ancient teacher who transmitted the
wisdom of the past.
In 51 bce and 79 ce two conferences sponsored by the imperial court
were convened to examine the true meaning of the classics and to
moderate the diCerences between these two schools. The record of the
second conference, the Comprehensive Discussion of the White Tiger
Hall (Baihu Tong), summarises the diCerent interpretations put forward
by the members of diCerent schools and sects, and stands as a monument to Han Confucianism. Towards the end of the Later Han Dynasty,
both schools indulged in minute and detailed study of the classics, and
turned the dynamic and realistic Confucian thought into nothing more
than pedantic scholasticism. The controversies of the two schools
were brought to a temporary resolution only by a number of prominent
scholars, Ma Rong (79–166) and Zheng Xuan (127–200), who strove to
harmonise the various schools of interpretation in their own commentaries. The commentaries of Zheng Xuan in particular incorporated the
achievements of the two schools and clarified various interpretations and
annotations of the classics, which thus stood as the more or less standard versions for a long period (Makeham, 1997).
the confucian dimension of ‘mysterious
Classical Learning in the main had become so scholastic by the end of
the Later Han Dynasty that it no longer reflected reality; consequently
the influence of Confucianism over the state and society diminished
dramatically. Young, creative thinkers were increasingly impatient with
the established scholarship, and Confucian scholars had to find a way
out of their diAculties by adapting Confucian doctrines to the psychological and spiritual needs of the people. Gradually their interests turned
to Daoist writings or the books with a strong Daoist tendency. This led
them to focus their attention on the Book of Changes. The naturalistic
world-view of Han scholars like Yang Xiong and Wang Chong was
reflected in their writings and in eCect pioneered a new form of Confucianism. In this way, scholars of the Wei–Jing Dynasties (220–420)
reinterpreted the Confucian classics in Daoist language and carried the
Daoist spirit into the heart of Confucian Learning. Brilliant scholars such
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as Wang Bi (226–49), He Yan (d. 249), Xiang Xiu (223?–300), Guo
Xiang (d. 312) and Pei Wei (267–300) led Confucian Learning towards
a new philosophic direction. The move was carried forward in the
manner of ‘pure conversation’ (qing tan) led by the Seven Worthies of
the Bamboo Grove (zulin qixian), amongst whom the best known were
Ruan Ji (210–63) and Ji Kang (223–62). It became fashionable in
intellectual circles to mock, be indiCerent to, or abandon totally, the
scholastic ways of Classical Learning. A new series of commentaries
and annotations on the Confucian classics were produced, declaring the
end of Han scholasticism and leading Confucianism to a new stage:
Mysterious Learning (xuan xue).
Many people in the West see only the Daoist character of Mysterious
Learning and therefore translate it as Neo-Daoism. It is true that the
character, xuan, has its origin in Daoism, and that the fundamental principles of the learning are characteristic to Daoist philosophy. The central
issues and boundaries of this learning are also defined by Daoist terminology. However, Mysterious Learning has a Confucian dimension.
It does not negate Confucian Learning; rather it expands and develops
Confucianism in new ways by reinterpreting the social and moral understanding of Confucianism in terms of Daoist philosophy. As a result
Mysterious Learning is an essential link in the chain of Confucian evolution and transformation.
Mysterious Learning is the first serious attempt to synthesise Confucian and Daoist philosophies. It infuses Daoism into Confucianism and
adapts Confucianism to Daoist metaphysics. Thus even such brilliant
scholars as Wang Bi, He Yan, Guo Xiang etc. are very unlikely to be
ranked along with the Confucian masters before or after them. This may
explain why there is so little material available to western readers which
would reveal the Confucian character of Mysterious Learning. Fung Yulan’s A History of Chinese Philosophy and Wing-tsit Chan’s A Source
Book in Chinese Philosophy, two of the most widely used source books
on Chinese philosophy, make little mention of the Confucian dimension
of Mysterious Learning. Instead, they focus their attention almost exclusively on how Mysterious Learning transformed the ‘old’ Daoism into a
new form (Neo-Daoism). When discussing the Confucian tradition from
the Classical Learning of the Han to the advent of Neo-Confucianism
in the Song, Jacques Gernet comments that although there were a few
famous commentators during this period, they were isolated scholars
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who simply ‘carried on the Han traditions and did not radically change
either methods of textual interpretation or the philosophy implicit in
them’ (Gernet, 1996: 204). What Gernet does not take into account are
the contributions made by the scholars of the Wei–Jing Dynasties to the
transformation of Han Confucianism. Contrary to this opinion, Paul
Demieville notices that although Confucianism suCered from philosophic
and religious sterility in this period, ‘it had one last period of philosophical brilliance, owing to its association with Taoism’, not least because
their commentaries on the classics are ‘permeated throughout with the
spirit of compromise between Taoism and Confucianism, the stress
being carefully placed on Confucianism’ (Twitchett & Loewe, 1986:
828, 834).
Mysterious Learning is indeed an important stage in the development
of Confucianism and this is appreciated within the Confucian tradition
and is evidenced by the fact that although it has clear Daoist tendencies,
many of its commentaries on the Confucian classics, in particular the
Analects of Confucius and the Book of Changes, were considered standard commentaries as early as the Tang Dynasty (618–907). Mysterious
Learning exerted a great influence on the mutual transformations between
Confucianism, Buddhism and Daoism in the following centuries. To a
great extent, its debates, terminology and principles underlay all subsequent intellectual works and it provided the Neo-Confucians of the
Song–Ming Dynasties with the philosophic tools and the metaphysical
mind to establish their new system. This system was constructed on the
discussions of such relations as those between substance (ti) and function (yong), one (yi) and many (duo), nature (xing) and emotion (qing),
metaphysic principle (li) and material force (qi), most of which had been
either explicitly or implicitly discussed in Mysterious Learning.
Although most scholars from the Wei–Jing period were deeply dissatisfied with Han Confucianism, they still acknowledged Confucius to
be superior, deeming him to be the sage par excellence. In this sense they
were carrying on the Han tradition in which Confucianism was regarded
as the state orthodoxy and Confucius as the supreme ideal of virtue
and wisdom. What makes them distinct is that they incorporated Daoist
qualities into the Confucian notion of virtue and wisdom, and thereby
made the conception of sagehood a semi-Daoist ideal. Wang Bi and
He Yan believed that Confucius demonstrated the highest truth within
human society, and was thus a sage unparallelled in the world. Confucius
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An introduction to Confucianism
transmitted wisdom without writing anything (shuer buzuo, Lunyu, 7: 1)
and devoted his life to ‘remembering silently (moer shizhi, Lunyu, 7: 2),
a feat which is far beyond the reach of Laozi, the so-called founder of
Daoism. Although emphasising that the sage educated [the people] without words, Laozi nevertheless wrote down his wisdom in a work of 5,000
words, the famous Dao De Jing. Wang Bi contrasted Confucius with
Laozi and Zhuangzi: ‘The Sage [Confucius] embodied Non-Actuality
(wuwei). Furthermore, Non-Actuality may not be the subject of instruction. Therefore of necessity his words applied to Actuality (yu). Lao-tzu
and Chuang-tzu, not yet free of Actuality, were continually giving instruction about that in which they felt a deficiency’ (Mather, 1976: 96).
A similar argument was also made by Guo Xiang, who compared Confucius to the Daoist Spiritual Man (shenren) and praised the Confucian
sages for ‘their staying in the midst of government but their mind was
transcendent’. For Guo, a sage is one who has perfectly harmonised the
secular and the sacred, roamed ‘in the transcendental world in order
to enlarge the mundane world’, in contrast to Laozi and Zhuangzi who
travelled over ‘the transcendent world to the utmost and yet were not
silently in harmony with the mundane world’ (Chan, 1963a: 327, 333).
A question directly related to and constantly debated about sagehood
is whether the sage should or should not be influenced by his emotions.
For He Yan, the sage is a sage because he ‘lacks either joy, or anger,
sorrow or pleasure’ (Fung, 1953: 188). In this sense, the sage is like
a perfect Daoist who has neither desire nor contention. Wang Bi puts
forward the antithesis that ‘where the sage is vitally superior to other
men is in his spirit-like intelligence, but where he is like other men is in
having the five emotions’ (Fung, 1953: 188). In this way, Wang argued
for Confucius, as when Confucius felt joyful in seeing a good man and
grief at the death of his disciples, he fully expressed his emotions and
reacted naturally. The sage has emotions but does not allow himself to
be ‘ensnared’ by such emotions. This opened up a long discourse in which
Buddhism, Daoism and Confucianism explored human destiny, and was
illuminating for the Neo-Confucians of the Song Dynasty when they
considered the problems concerning human nature and emotions.
Han scholasticism had made Confucianism irrelevant to social and
political life, and created tension between Confucianism as oAcial learning and the real needs of society. Hypocritical politicians made immoral
use of Confucian virtues and used the Confucian code of ethics simply to
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restrict individual freedom and creativity. Mysterious Learning set out
to overcome the problems created by the scholastic learning of the Han
and to do away with the false and hypocritical applications of Confucian ethics. They sought to establish a new system of learning in which
the true spirit of Classical Confucianism could be revived. For the
scholars of the Wei–Jin Dynasties this could not happen unless Daoist
principles were introduced into Confucianism, thus ridding Confucianism of trivial exegetical analyses in order to reveal its philosophic meaning and rationalistic value. This is what makes Mysterious Learning a
distinct stage in the history of Confucian philosophical evolution and
The scholars of Mysterious Learning sought urgently to solve the
problems created by the perceived tension between moral codes/social
institutions (mingjiao) and the natural tendencies of human beings (ziran).
In general, Confucianism is believed to emphasise the former and Daoism
the latter. Central to the debates was whether these two sides should be
separated or be related, and how to interpret their similarities and differences. Three theses were put forward and each implied a diCerent
attitude towards Confucian Learning and Confucian virtues. Paul
Demieville sees Mysterious Learning as the ‘halfway between Confucianism and Taoism’ (Twitchett & Loewe, 1986: 829), but he stops short
of pointing out the variety of positions adopted by diCerent individuals
and groups, with some being closer to Confucianism and others to
Daoism. An examination of these three theses concerning the relationship between the moral and the natural will enable us to see where the
diCerent groups stood.
The first thesis is that ‘Moral codes come from nature (mingjiao chuyu
ziran).’ In this thesis, scholars like He Yan, Wang Bi and Guo Xiang
maintained that there was a fundamental consistency between institutionalised morality and nature. The logic of this thesis leads to the conclusion that being derived from nature, moral codes and ethical rites must
not contradict the law of spontaneity. In order to illustrate how this
worked, they examined the more metaphysical issue of ‘being (you)’ and
‘non-being (wu)’, with moral codes being identified with ‘being’ and
nature with ‘non-being’. Some insisted that ‘being’ was nameable, diverse
and subject to change while ‘non-being’ as the source of ‘being’ was
unnameable, unchanging and unified. In order to understand the moral
thoroughly, one must first understand the natural. Others argued the
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opposite, saying that being and non-being, moral codes and nature could
not be separated, that the natural was manifest in moral codes, and that
things existed and transformed themselves spontaneously. Whatever
arguments they employed, these scholars attempted to establish that
nature was the source or root of social institutions and that any moral
codes that did not fit [human] nature must be abandoned.
The second thesis developed from the first. Scholars such as Ruan Ji
and Ji Kang went one step further and argued that since moral codes
come from nature, then it is natural and moral for us to go beyond these
codes to follow our own nature (yue mingjiao er ren ziran). Classical
Confucianism contends that morality is one of the most important paths
leading to the fulfilment of one’s nature. Indeed, the institutionalisation
of Confucianism in the Han as the oAcial learning made the moral
dimension of Confucianism an academic subject. Scholars looked closely
at the system of moral codes as it related to the needs of the state and
government. Moral virtues and rituals became the means by which the
state constrained ‘humanity’ rather than the method by which one
developed one’s own nature. Defiant scholars such as Ruan Ji and Ji Kang
opposed this misuse of Confucian ethics and argued that we should follow our nature, especially physical desires, rather than being constrained
by moral codes that opposed nature. Ruan and Ji directed their attack at
the application of Confucian doctrines, but not at Confucian Learning
itself. Their thesis is individualist in essence and, to some extent, hedonistic in practice. Their behaviour can be explained, of course, by their
social circumstance – that military dictatorship emerged from social chaos
and it in turn pushed the chaos to the extreme, which not only ‘killed’
academic freedom traditionally enjoyed by intellectuals but also caused
life to be nothing but miserable and insecure. But the implications of
their challenges to social and moral codes brought about an unintended
crisis in Confucianism. The notion that moral requirements could be
brushed aside as mere dogma and forms of social constraint, clearly
appalled many scholars and was held responsible for the degenerated
moral situation typical of the times. It was indeed that Ruan Ji, Ji Kang
and their followers went to the extreme of ignoring all social conventions and moral principles, and lived a totally ‘natural life’: ‘Juan Chi
[Ruan Ji] in his fondness for wine let himself go completely. . . After him
his disciples who valued “free wandering” . . . all carried on the
tradition . . . claiming that they had attained the root of the Great Way.
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So they doCed kerchief and cap, stripped oC their clothes and exposed
their foul ugliness like so many birds or beasts’ (Mather, 1976: 12).
The third thesis argued against the first two, stating that ‘Moral codes
and social institutions are themselves natural (mingjiao ji ziran).’ Confucianism was in a real crisis. Prominent scholars saw a danger of bringing
down the entire social structure in the midst of much ‘empty talk’ (kong
tan) and absurdity stemming from the hippie lifestyle. The weakness and
corruption of Confucian Learning must be overcome, and the rationality of Confucian doctrines must be re-established too. It was believed
that the former could not be done unless Daoist philosophy was used to
supplement Confucian Learning, and that the latter could not be carried
out unless the tendency to Daoist non-being (wu) was checked. Xiang
Xiu and Guo Xiang thus made a third attempt to synthesise the moral
and the natural by insisting that Confucianism and Daoism were one
(ru dao wei yi, quoted by Xie Lingyun (385–433), Zhong, 1985: 58). As
the conception of non-being (wu) underlay the empty talk and unconventional ways of life proposed by scholars like Ruan Ji, a new theory that
prioritised being (you) was proposed. Pei Wei (267–300) wrote a treatise entitled ‘Justification of Being’ (chong you lun), attacking those who
extolled non-being and thereby corrupted Confucian Learning. Pei
argues that Nature (ziran) is what is so (ran) by itself (zi), and that
Nature is in ‘being’ rather than ‘non-being’, because ‘non-being’ cannot
create by itself. The logic of the argument for ‘being’ demonstrates that
what is natural is not the mysterious ‘non-being’ that Wang Bi and
He Yan propagated, neither was it the physical desires as proposed by
Ruan Ji and Ji Kang. By denying that ‘non-being’ is the foundation and
beginning of all things, Pei’s argument aims at destroying the root of
‘mysterious philosophy’, getting rid of ‘empty-talking’, and restoring the
nobility of Confucian ethics. Insisting that ‘humaneness and righteousness
are the principles of human nature’, Pei Wei, Xiang Xiu and Guo Xiang
guarded Confucian Learning from going further in the direction of
Daoism. For them, the dogmatism, prejudice and hypocrisy that had
arisen in the Confucian tradition had to be opposed, but its moral codes
and applications had to be protected.
In summary, Confucian Learning of the Wei–Jing Dynasties acquired
a mystical character in general, as a result of Daoist learning’s domination of culture and scholarship. The dominance of Daoism in the circles
of scholars did not overwhelm Confucianism. Rather, it led to a new type
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of learning by which Confucianism developed through incorporation
of Daoist understanding and methodology. On the surface, Mysterious
Learning is a form of Neo-Daoism, but in its essence and to a great
extent in its form, it is a Confucian endeavour to adapt its philosophy
and thus rescue Confucianism from sheer scholasticism of the Later Han
Dynasty. Mysterious Learning revitalised Confucian Learning by introducing Daoist philosophy into Confucian scholarship. This one-way flow
from Daoism to Confucianism would soon be compensated when Daoist
religion came to appreciate and borrow the codes of Confucian ethics,
thereby giving it a useful social and moral tool to enhance its religious
appeal and to pave the way for its adoption as the state religion.
the emergence of neo-confucianism
Despite the eCorts of some brilliant scholars in the Wei–Jin period they
were unsuccessful in reviving Confucianism as a philosophy guiding personal and social life. Confucian Learning lost its supremacy under the
rapid spread of Daoism and the new doctrines of Buddhism. Confucianism could only maintain superficial values in the state administration and
had to fight to preserve its position against the religious currents of
spiritualistic Daoism and Buddhism. Confucianism gradually regained
some of its power and position of dominance when China was once again
unified during the Sui and Tang Dynasties (581–907). Buddhism and
Daoism were still popular, both with ordinary people and in the courts.
Nonetheless, executive responsibilities for government and administration were firmly back in the hands of the Confucian scholars. Confucians of the Tang consolidated their position and prepared the way for
the dawn of yet another new age. They increased their influence by means
of the education system and civil service examinations. ECorts were
made to restore the Confucian teachings of humane government and selfcultivation, with an emphasis on the regulation of the family and social
responsibility. Among Tang scholars, Han Yu (768–824) was the most
famous. A forerunner of Neo-Confucianism, Han took human nature as
his starting point and attempted to establish the orthodox transmission
of the Confucian tradition. He argued that there had been a fine tradition in China, transmitted from the ancient sage–kings, Yao, Shun, Yu,
Tang, King Wen, King Wu and the Duke of Zhou to Confucius and
Mengzi. But after Mengzi, the transmission of the Way stopped, because Xunzi and Yang Xiong were not regarded as links in the orthodox
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transmission. Han believed that if we had succeeded in the transmission,
people would have enjoyed peace and harmony, and the state flourished.
With indignation over the cult of the Buddha’s relic, he presented a
memorial in 819 and petitioned the Emperor to forbid the superstitious
practice. To stand against the tide, Han argued that Buddhism was
the source and cause of social disruption and called for a burning of
the Buddhist sutras and for monks and nuns to return to their homes
(Han, 1987: 18, 616).
The new interpretation explored by Tang Confucians was expanded
and deepened by the scholars of the Song–Ming Dynasties, leading to a
full renaissance of humanistic and rationalistic Confucianism which
diCered from the Han understanding of Confucian doctrines. This was a
monumental period in the history of Confucianism. Great scholars such
as Zhang Zai (1020–1077), Zhu Xi (1130–1200), Lu Jiuyuan (1139–
1193) and Wang Shouren (1472–1529) were stimulated by Buddhist
teachings and by arguments with each other, and they sought to systematically answer the questions raised by Buddhism and Daoism. They
successfully traced the sources of their answers to the ancient classics,
and found an ideal and a vision in the Four Books and in the metaphysical views explored in the Book of Changes. The real value of NeoConfucianism is not only in its ‘return’ to classical Confucianism, but in
its fundamental transformation of Confucian doctrines which thereby
enabled Neo-Confucians to construct a comprehensive and complicated
doctrinal system containing an evolutionary cosmology, a humanistic
ethics and a rationalistic epistemology. This system is built upon the
influence of Buddhism: ‘Without the introduction of Buddhism into China
there would have been no Neo-Confucianism’ (Chang, 1958: 43). Indeed
most of the Neo-Confucian masters spent either an extended or somewhat shorter period studying Buddhism and Daoism. Yet their system is
by nature anti-Buddhist and its underlying theme is to present a powerful argument against Buddhism. Confucianism is portrayed as righteous
and public-spirited, in contrast to the selfish and ‘desiring profit’ nature
of Buddhism (Chan, 1963a: 576). Neo-Confucianism vigorously supports
the understanding of life in this world in opposition to the Buddhist doctrines of impermanence, anataman and other-worldliness; stressing the
value of family and community and rebuking the life in Buddhist and
Daoist monasteries as corrupt and disordered. Neo-Confucianism opts
for the Confucian rites of passage in which tradition, human relations,
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social responsibilities and personal commitment replace ‘superstitious’
(Pure Land) Buddhist worship of their ‘messiah’ the Buddha, Bodhisattvas
and gods. As a fully developed humanistic and rational doctrine, NeoConfucianism greatly contributed to the absolute dominance of Confucianism in the politics, ethics, literature and culture of China for the
next eight hundred years. By reshaping and redefining Confucian Learning, it also encouraged the adoption of Confucianism by other East Asian
five masters of early neo-confucianism
The establishment of the Song Dynasty ended the disunity that followed
the collapse of the Tang Dynasty and created a favourable environment for Confucian Learning. A critical spirit was cultivated among the
scholars, in which the entire development of the tradition since the Han
Dynasty was re-examined. The focus moved from exegetical studies
typical of the Han Learning to the study of the classical themes of
body–mind and nature–destiny (shenxin xingming), and thus gave Confucianism a new direction.
This move was pioneered by the early Neo-Confucian masters, especially Zhou Dunyi (1017–73), Shao Yong (1011–77), Zhang Zai (1020–
77), Cheng Hao (1032–85) and Cheng Yi (1033–1107), who are together
alternatively called the Five Masters of the early Song period.
Zhou Dunyi is known as the first of the Neo-Confucian philosophers
and is considered by some historians to be the founder of the Song Learning (song xue). There were a number of thinkers before him who had
contemplated the new themes of Confucian Learning; yet it was Zhou
who completed the change of focus to the study of the heart/mind (xin),
human nature (xing) and philosophic principles (li). Like many of his
contemporaries, Zhou was a low-rank oAcial but a prominent scholar.
As an oAcial, he practised the Confucian virtue of being just in making
a decision, and thus became known as a man who would criticise higher
oAcials at the expense of his own career. As a scholar, he taught
students and wrote moral theses, in which he successfully established a
new Confucian world-view. In his two major writings, a short essay of
little more than 250 characters, An Explanation of the Diagram of the
Supreme Ultimate (taijitu shuo), and a longer essay entitled Tong Shu
(A Comprehensive Understanding of the Book of Change), Zhou explored
the origin, movement, and principles of the universe and attempted to
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establish a universal view that all things and human beings were one body.
He used the Book of Changes as the foundation for his cosmological,
religious and ethical system, and adopted the Daoist diagram of the
supreme ultimate and transformed it into the Neo-Confucian world-view.
Zhou argues that the origin of the universe (wuji, the Ultimate of NonExistence) manifests itself as the origin of the existence (taiji, the Supreme
Ultimate), and that the activity and tranquillity of the Supreme Ultimate
generate yang and yin, two forms of the cosmic power from which the
Five Elements arise. With the integration of the Supreme Ultimate, yin–
yang and the Five Elements, the Way of Heaven and the Way of Earth,
feminine and masculine forces come into being and the interaction between these two forces engenders the myriad things. The myriad things
produce and reproduce, resulting in an unending transformation (Chan,
1963a: 463).
This is a holistic world-view covering all dimensions of existence and
non-existence, and incorporating cosmic principles into human life and
destiny. It confirms the Confucian belief that humans are the highest creature in the universe with intelligence and consciousness to comprehend
the universal principles. There are problems in the human world, and
the sages resolved these problem by setting up the principles of the Mean
(zhong), sincerity (cheng), humaneness (ren) and righteousness (yi). ‘The
sage is the one who is in the state of sincerity, spirit, and subtle incipient
activation’ and ‘establishes himself as the ultimate standard for man’
(ibid.: 467). In this sense, the sage represents the perfection of the world
and hope for the future, as illustrated in the Book of Changes where the
character of the sage is ‘identical with that of Heaven and Earth; his brilliancy is identical with that of the sun and moon; his order is identical
with that of the four seasons; and his good and evil fortunes are identical
with those of spiritual beings’ (ibid.: 463–4).
This world-view presents an idealistic cosmological-ethical system and
sees human moral qualities as responsible for the order and harmony of
the universe. The focus is on tranquillity rather than activity, taking the
extinction of desires as necessary for the attainment of tranquillity. The
absence of desires induces tranquillity in the heart/mind and sincerity
(cheng) is thus manifest. A mind of sincerity leads to enlightenment, comprehension, impartiality and universality. It is both the mind of the sage
and the mind of the universe. In the Doctrine of the Mean sincerity is the
necessary quality for sagehood. Zhou greatly enhances the conception
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of sincerity so that sincerity is considered not only an inner principle, but
also the substance of the universe. As the substance of the universe,
sincerity is regarded as the essence of sagehood, the source of all virtues
and the origin of all beings, and above all as the power that unifies
humanity and the universe.
Shao Yong was a controversial character among the Neo-Confucians.
He was regarded as a hermit, fond of Daoism and Buddhism, a fact which
is frequently taken by orthodox scholars as an excuse to exclude him
from the mainstream of Confucian scholarship. He did not explicitly
engage in the discussion of humaneness and righteousness, which in turn
is used to disqualify him as a prominent master of Neo-Confucianism.
Thus the History of the Song Dynasty lists him after Zhang Zai, even
though he was nine years senior to Zhang (Songshi, 1997: 12710).
Shao was content with a simple life naming himself anle xianshen
‘Mr Happiness’ and his house anle wo ‘Happy Nest’ (Songyuan Xuean,
1996, vol. 3: 564). His teaching and thinking were famous but he declined
the oCers of oAcial posts. He was welcome everywhere he went, but
he perceived himself to be a ‘Mr Nameless’, because for him the source
of everything – the Supreme Ultimate (taiji) – meant none other than
the ‘Nameless’ (Chang, 1962, vol. 1: 161–3). Among his essays, the one
of lasting influence both in Confucianism and in Daoism is a short
essay entitled the Cosmic Chronology of the Great Ultimate (Huangji
Along with Zhou Dunyi, Shao insisted that all things in the cosmos
came from a single origin, the Supreme Ultimate. Yet Shao diCered from
Zhou and his contemporaries by identifying the Supreme Ultimate with
the heart/mind. He concluded that all things originated in the heart/mind
and that the laws/principles of the universe were also the laws/principles
of the heart/mind. As all existences came from the same source, the same
principles must be embedded in all creatures. Shao believed that we would
thoroughly comprehend the world if these principles were revealed. To
understand these cosmic laws, he studied the Book of Changes, in which
he found a numeral pattern that illustrated the process of cosmic evolution. This is a number sequence in which one divides to make two, two
four, four eight, eight sixteen, sixteen thirty-two, and thirty-two sixtyfour, which is the number of hexagrams in the Book of Changes. The
Supreme Ultimate, being one and unmoving, is the inner nature or
essence of all things. It manifests itself in two modes, movement and
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quiescence or activity and tranquillity, which being supra-mundane and
not concrete, are known as ‘spirit’ (Fung, 1953: 458). Yin ( ) and yang
( ) together form the four emblems ( , , , ), which give
the basic pattern for all phenomena in the cosmos. There are four heavenly bodies: the Sun (Greater Yang), the Moon (Greater Yin), the stars
(Lesser Yang) and zodiac space (Lesser Yin). There are also four earthly
substances: water, fire, soil and stone. Humans have four sense organs:
eye, ear, nose and mouth. Human history has gone through four major
periods: the spring (The period of the Three Sovereigns, sanhuang, who
founded the cultural institutions), the summer (that of the Five Emperors,
wudi, which was a period of growth), the autumn (the Three Dynasties,
sandai, Xia, Shang and Zhou, the period of maturity) and the winter
(that of Five Despots, wuba, the period of decline). From Four Emblems
come Eight Trigrams, which represent eight phenomena fundamental
to the universe: heaven, earth, mountain, lake, fire, water, wind and
thunder. And from these eight come the sixty-four hexagrams, which
cover all things and phenomena as well as events in the universe and
human history.
Shao argued that since the universe has a numerical structure and its
evolution follows a numerical sequence, then by mathematical calculation, the nature of things, their changes and their future can be predicted
and known. However, to understand and predict the changes in the universe, one needs to gain objective knowledge, and the ability to view things
from the viewpoint of things:
By viewing things is not meant viewing them with one’s physical eyes
but with one’s mind. Nay, not with one’s mind but with the principle,
nature, and destiny. . . [Things] can be known onlywhen principle has
been investigated to the utmost, when nature is completely developed,
and when destiny is fulfilled. The knowledge of these three is true
knowledge. (Chan, 1963a: 487)
Shao maintains that due to his ability to observe objectively, the sage
is able to use the eyes, ears, mouth and mind of the entire world as his
own eyes, ears, mouth and mind. Thus, for the sage, there is nothing that
is not observed, nothing that is not heard, nothing that is not spoken,
and nothing that is not deliberated upon (Fung, 1953: 466–7).
Zhang Zai is normally considered the founding father of NeoConfucianism. Inspired by the study of the Book of Changes, Zhang
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constructed a doctrinal system based on the concept of qi (originally
meaning air, vapour, breath and then the vital force of life, translated
variously as material force, primary energy, ether or matter), li (principle
or reason), xin (the heart/mind) and xing (nature or human nature). Many
of his writings are regarded as great masterpieces of the Neo-Confucian
tradition. In the Western Inscription (Xi Ming), and the Correcting Youthful
Ignorance (Zheng Meng) he presents a new picture of the Confucian ideal
and constructs a new system of the Confucian world-view. His ideas and
illustrations greatly inspired later Confucian scholars.
Zhang maintains that the universe originates in qi, and qi is both the
Supreme Ultimate – the source of the universe – and the driving force of
endless changes. In the beginning, qi exists without form and is called
the Great Void. This void qi then begins to contract and consolidate
with the light part rising to become Heaven (yang) and the heavy part
descending to become Earth (yin). The interaction between the qi of
Heaven and the qi of Earth creates diCerent forms and things. Consolidated qi has various shapes and is visible, while on the other hand
unconsolidated or dissolved qi has no shape and is invisible. All things,
creatures and humans are made of consolidated qi and return to dissolved
qi. Thus all things have their own individual characteristics diCering from
each other, but in essence they are all equally of one substance and at
one with the principles of the universe. From this cosmological unity,
Zhang proposes a universal ethics with Heaven and Earth, human beings
and the myriad things being members of the same cosmological family.
He declares thereafter that
Heaven is my father and Earth is my mother, and even such a small
creature as I finds an intimate place in their midst. That which fills the
universe I regard as my body and that which directs the universe I
consider as my nature. All people are my brothers and sisters, and all
things are my companions. (Chan, 1963a: 497)
Zhang uses his theory of qi to explain human nature and destiny. The
nature of qi is the nature of humans. Qi has two forms, the void and the
solid, and human nature has two aspects, the good and the bad. Good
nature comes from the Great Void which is the same as the nature of
Heaven and Earth and exists before one’s physical body is formed. An
individual possesses his physical nature that is composed of the contracted
(solid) qi. The nature of Heaven and Earth (tiandi zhi xing) as the source
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of goodness is composed of universal principles, while physical nature
(qizhi zhi xing) varies from one person to another according to the
composition of qi, be it either light or heavy, pure or mixed. The composition of one’s individual qi is given as the reason why some people
incline towards goodness while others do not. The dual nature of
humanity forms the basis of Zhang’s thesis on moral cultivation and
sagehood. Human nature can be manifest in two ways, good or bad.
Physical nature relates to bodily desires, and therefore the reduction of
these desires will purify our heart/mind and enable us to return to our
original and essential nature (benran zhi xing). Our behaviour can thus
be in accordance with propriety and in avoidance of extremes, and our
action is naturally in agreement with the Middle Way. This is the way to
gradually change our physical nature and develop our nature of Heaven
and Earth.
Like all other great Confucian masters, Zhang believes that life is the
process of manifesting the supreme principles of Heaven and Earth. Unlike
the Daoists who value and seek physical immortality, Zhang proposes
that a good Confucian will seek neither to destroy nor to prolong existence; rather, he will cede himself to the will of Heaven, model himself on
Heaven and Earth, and do nothing to violate virtue or humaneness. For
Zhang, a Confucian scholar should make untiring eCorts to nourish his
heart/mind and nature, and regard wealth, honour, blessing and benefits
as the enrichment of his life, while poverty, humble station and sorrow
as a means to help him fulfil his destiny. Zhang sees it as his mission and
the mission of all Confucians ‘to set up a universal mind for Heaven and
Earth, to give new life to humans, to continue the learning of the former
sages which has been interrupted, and to give peace to future generations for 100,000 years’ (Chang, 1958: 170). A good Confucian follows
and serves Heaven and Earth during his life, and is thus fulfilled so that
when death comes he is at peace.
Zhang Zai’s nephews, Cheng Hao and Cheng Yi, spent one year studying with Zhou Dunyi. In the orthodox transmission of Song Learning,
the Cheng brothers are listed after Zhou but before Zhang (Songshi, 1997:
12713), for they were the ones who completed the separation of Confucianism from Daoism and Buddhism and who presented Confucianism
as a totally ‘new’ system. Cheng Hao held a number of oAcial positions
and was devoted to studying and teaching the Confucian classics.
Cheng Yi took the Four Books as his guide and delved into the classics,
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composing commentaries on the Book of Changes and the Spring and
Autumn Annals. They mutually developed their doctrines around a number of common themes, namely human nature, Heavenly Principle, heart/
mind and self-cultivation. They attempted to solve all social and moral
problems by way of overcoming the tension between heavenly principle
(tian li, Natural Law) and human desires (ren yu). They saw life and learning as pursuing the same goal, i.e., to preserve heavenly principle and to
reduce and even extinguish human desires so that every action and feeling would manifest moral virtues. They believed that to achieve this, one
must cultivate one’s heart/mind in the mood of sincerity (cheng) and
earnestness/seriousness (jing) and in the process, accumulate good deeds.
They proposed three ways in which one could successfully cultivate one’s
heart/mind: studying principle exhaustively, developing one’s nature
completely, and attending to the decree of Heaven (Fung, 1953: 527).
The teachings of the two Chengs have formed a single school, Luo Xue.
However, the two Chengs have discernable diCerences in their deliberations on Confucian doctrines, each establishing a diCerent school. Cheng
Hao made the concept of humaneness the centre of his teaching and
believed that learning was not merely a matter of knowledge. For him
the universal principle exists in the human heart/mind and by extending
one’s heart/mind one comes to know Heaven, and a person of humaneness
forms a unity with the myriad things – one body of the universe. Cheng
Yi paid more attention to principle (li), which he understood as the logic
and reason for the pattern in all things and all events. He believed that
each individual thing had its own principle, a principle of all things, for
the simple reason that there was only one principle in the universe.
According to Cheng Yi, principle exists eternally and is unchanging
through time and space; thus, understanding principle is the first step in
one’s spiritual cultivation, something which can be done only through
investigating things thoroughly and extending one’s knowledge to its
utmost. The diCerent emphases of the Cheng brothers foretold the two
streams in the later development of Neo-Confucianism. Cheng Hao
exerted an influence on the Learning of the Heart/Mind (xin xue, subjective idealism or idealistic learning) which was fully developed by Lu Jiuyuan
and Wang Yangming, while Cheng Yi led the way for the Learning of
Principle (li xue, objective idealism or rationalistic learning) which was
systematised by Zhu Xi, henceforth known as the School of Cheng–Zhu.
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zhu xi and his systematic confucianism
Zhu Xi’s thought represents the culmination of Neo-Confucianism.
He made a great eCort to propagate the teachings of the earlier NeoConfucian masters, editing and publishing the writings and conversations of the Cheng brothers, and writing insightful commentaries on the
works of Zhang Zai and Zhou Dunyi. He established the orthodox line
of transmission from Confucius and Mengzi to Zhou Dunyi, Zhang Zai
and the Cheng brothers. Zhu learned from all his predecessors but was
especially fond of Cheng Yi, and contributed to the final formation of
the Learning of Principle (li xue) by creating a systematic doctrine around
the concepts of the Supreme Ultimate (taiji), principle (li), material force
(qi), [human] nature (xing), the investigation of things (gewu), and
humaneness (ren). Zhu summarised and synthesised the achievements of
Song scholarship in Classical Learning, and inaugurated new tendencies
in textual criticisms. He edited, and commented on, most of the Confucian classics especially the Book of Changes, the Spring and Autumn
Annals and the Four Books. In this sense, Zhu completed the transformation of the Classical Learning of the Han Dynasty to the Learning of
Principle, and established a syncretic system of Neo-Confucianism based
on the teachings of the Book of Mengzi, the Great Learning and the
Doctrine of the Mean. He also incorporated into his system the ideas
from the Book of Xunzi, the Book of Changes, the School of Yin–Yang
and Five Elements, Buddhism and Daoism.
In his career as a civil servant Zhu demonstrated scholarly integrity
and determination to carry out the Confucian ideal in everyday life. He
did not gain honours during his life and his works were even labelled as
heretical (wei xue, ‘false learning’, Songshi, 1997: 12768), yet after his
death, he was ennobled as a duke. In 1313 during the Mongolian Yuan
Dynasty (1279–1368), Zhu’s version of the classics and commentaries
were adopted as the oAcial textbooks for civil service examinations. His
orthodox credentials were established and his tablet was placed alongside eleven of the close disciples and followers of Confucius in Confucian Temples. His edition and commentary on the Four Books became
the official version of the Confucian classics and mainly due to his eCorts,
the Four Books were for the first time put ahead of the Five Classics (wu
jing). Zhu Xi dominated Confucian scholarship over the next eight hundred years, and this dominance in the orthodox tradition gained him the
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honour of being addressed as Zhu Fuzi, Master Zhu. Only two before
him (Confucius and Mengzi), and none after, were given this title.
In Zhu’s systematic doctrine, li (Principle, ) occupies a central position. Originally meaning the lines on a piece of stone or wood, li
becomes a concept that refers to something similar to the principle of
existence, the constitution of all things, or Natural Law. Zhu identifies
Principle with Heaven (tian), with the Way (Dao) and with the Supreme
Ultimate (taiji), thus aArming that Principle is the origin of the world, the
final sanction of life, the inner nature of all things, and the power and
source of evolution. In other words Principle is that by which the world
comes into being and that by which the world runs its course. Principle
exists before the myriad things, and without Principle nothing could come
into being and neither movement nor tranquillity would be possible.
As the source and the pattern of the world, Principle is both universal
and particular. Although everything has its own principle, this is only a
reflection of the universal Principle. The principle of an individual thing
is not diCerent from the principle of other things, as all things come from,
or partake in, the same universal Principle. If we say that the Principle is
the Supreme Ultimate, then everything has the Supreme Ultimate within;
and yet the Principle or the Supreme Ultimate is not divided, because
everything has been endowed with it in its entirety. Zhu takes the moon
as his example and says that there is only one moon in the sky but moonlight is scattered upon rivers and lakes and can be seen everywhere. It
seems that each river or mountain has its own moon and has its special
moonlight, but in the final analysis all moonlight comes from the same
and single moon (Chan, 1963a: 638). Principle is the pattern of existence and the law by which everything comes and goes, so we need to
know nothing but Principle. The highest knowledge is the knowledge of
the oneness of Principle, and the realisation that there is only one Principle in the universe is the finest achievement of learning. Zhu also
maintains that in order to understand this universality, we must begin
by studying particular principles, and that without a thorough study of
the many, it is impossible to understand the one.
The world is not composed only of principle, for material force (qi) is
also necessary. In dealing with the relationship between principle and
material force, Zhu synthesises what has been argued by his predecessors,
in particular the views of Zhou Dunyi, Zhang Zai and the Cheng brothers.
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Firstly he establishes a monistic theory of principle by arguing that
although material force produces a variety of things, this is only so
because there is principle already, and that the ability of material force
to produce comes entirely from the inherent principle. In this sense he
takes principle to exist prior to material force. Secondly, he argues that
principle and material force are complementary and interdependent, with
material force being the carrier of principle and that by which principle
is materialised, substantialised, diCerentiated and individualised. Principle has no form, while material force operates in forms, nourishes and
develops forms. Therefore, there is no principle without material force,
and no material force without principle. Material force is like the seed of
a plant, while principle is its potential for growth and development.
A seed without principle is like a dead seed and growth of a plant must
start with a seed. Thirdly, Zhu argues that principle and material force
are not only interdependent, but also have mutual eCects on each other.
Material force can fully manifest principle and it can also limit or distort
principle by way of its own existence in purity or turbidity or in fineness
or coarseness. Principle is like a pearl, and material force like water.
Whereas in pure and clear water the pearl shines, in muddy water it is
The discussion of principle and material force paves the way for
Zhu Xi to deal with human nature and moral cultivation. ‘The [human]
nature is the same as principle . . . In relation to the mind, it is called the
nature. In relation to events, it is called principle’ (Chan, 1963a: 614).
As principle, human nature is endowed with filial piety, loyalty, humaneness, righteousness, propriety and wisdom, which is the heart/mind of
the Way (dao xin). Humans are also born of material force, endowing
their physical nature and the ‘human heart/mind’ (ren xin) with feelings
and desires. Zhu quoted a passage from the Book of History to the eCect
that ‘The heart/mind of humans is full of danger. The heart/mind of the
Way is subtle and delicate. In proficiency and unity keep to the proper
Mean’ (Sishu Zhangju Jizhu, 1983: 14). The diCerence between the heart/
mind of humans and the heart/mind of the Way is the diCerence between
particular material force and universal Principle. Principle, with which
all things are endowed, is fundamentally complete; but due to the imperfection and impediments of the material force, principle is unable to
manifest its completeness, appearing incomplete. The same follows with
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humans. Human endowment is diCerent according to the opaqueness or
clarity, purity or turbidity of the material force received. If one receives
material force in its purity one may become a sage or a virtuous person
(xianren), but if one receives it in impurity one may become ignorant
and wicked (Fung, 1953: 553–4).
Zhu is not pessimistic with regard to human destiny, since human
nature has within it virtues, principle and the Supreme Ultimate. What
we have to do is to remove those things that obscure our nature. A sage
is one who has achieved this and ordinary people are those who have not
yet succeeded in manifesting their virtuous nature. To manifest the brightness of human nature and bring Heavenly Principle (tian li) within to
light, we have to cleanse it of dirty water, that is, to get rid of selfish
desires and feelings and let the good nature shine. This is what Zhu called
‘moral cultivation’.
Moral cultivation must start with the investigation of things as taught
in the Great Learning. All things embody principle and to gain knowledge of principle one must investigate things to extend one’s knowledge.
By extending one’s knowledge of things one extends the knowledge of
one’s nature. Without an exhaustive investigation of things, there is no
possibility of our being able to grasp the Supreme Ultimate, to attain
enlightenment or to manifest the heart/mind of the Way. If we continue
our eCorts in investigating things and realise that the principle of things
is also the principle of our nature, then ‘there will be thorough comprehension of all the multitude of things, external or internal, fine or coarse,
and every exercise of the mind will be marked by complete enlightenment’ (Fung, 1953: 562).
Despite his systematic and comprehensive deliberation of Confucian
doctrines, Zhu was attacked on two fronts. Firstly, he was criticised by
the Practical Learning led by Chen Liang (1143–94) and Ye Shi (1150–
1223) who maintained that scholarship must be of use to the state and
to the people; they thus attacked Zhu’s doctrine of human nature and
principle as promoting the useless and ‘empty’ talk. Secondly, Zhu’s
theory was opposed by the idealistic school led by Lu Jiuyuan and later
by Wang Shouren who were dissatisfied with Zhu’s devotion to isolated
details of principle and his advocacy of exegetical studies. The Idealistic
School insisted that the Confucian way to sagehood must be easy and
simple, and thus labelled Zhu’s doctrine of moral cultivation as being
aimless, drifting and diAcult.
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the idealistic school: lu jiuyuan and
wang shouren
The doctrines of the Idealistic School (xin xue, the Learning of the Heart/
Mind) supplemented as well as opposed those of the Rationalistic School
(li xue, the Learning of Principle). The latter takes Principle as the
Supreme Ultimate which contains and underlies all things and beings,
while the former holds that the heart/mind is the Supreme Ultimate and
contains the whole universe and all principles as well as all virtues. The
Idealistic view is best expressed by Lu Jiuyuan when he says that ‘The
universe is my mind, and my mind is the universe’ (Chan, 1963a: 579).
In opposition to the Rationalist proposition that (human) nature is principle (xing ji li), the Idealistic School argues for a diCerent thesis that the
heart/mind is principle (xin ji li) and that the heart/mind is ‘what Heaven
has endowed in us. All men have this mind, and all minds are endowed
with this principle’ (ibid.: 579). It criticises the Rationalistic School for
its failure to recognise the wholeness of principle and failure to locate
principle in the very heart/mind. Because there is no principle outside
the heart/mind and because the heart/mind has already had within it all
the sources and resources of principle and virtue, the heart/mind is itself
complete and holistic. In addition, it is also active and practical, containing the innate ability to know what is good, to learn how to be good and
to do what is virtuous. It is in this sense that the Idealistic School argues
for the unity between knowledge and action.
The fundamentals of the Idealistic School may be traced to the Book
of Mengzi and the Doctrine of the Mean. Within Neo-Confucianism the
chief architect of the school was Lu Jiuyuan (1139–93). Lu’s deliberations on the heart/mind were developed and consummated by the greatest
exponent of this school, Wang Shouren (1472–1528) of the Ming
Dynasty; and hence this school is also known as the School of Lu–Wang.
Lu Jiuyuan, better known by his honorary title, Xiangshan, was the
chief rival of Zhu Xi’s interpretation of Neo-Confucianism, and he particularly opposed Zhu’s proposition that the investigation of things and
the exegetical study of the classics were the path to sagehood. In order
to moderate their diCerences, a mutual friend, Lü Zuqian (1137–81)
arranged a meeting at the Goose Lake Temple in 1175. This meeting
did not accomplish the task, as the open debate revealed a huge gap
between their basic understanding and concepts. Zhu sees principle as
the One that manifests itself in the myriad things and as Natural Law
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that exists both in and outside the heart/mind. Lu sees this as dissipating
the unity of principle. Lu considers principle to be nothing other than the
heart/mind from which all things and aCairs in the universe originate.
This diCerent understanding of principle led to their diCerent methodologies. Zhu takes the ‘exhaustive study of principle’ (qiong li) as the
path to enlightenment in spiritual cultivation and the increase of knowledge as the way to progress in moral improvement. Lu disagrees with
this by stressing that as there is no principle outside the heart/mind, learning is nothing more than ‘enlightening the heart/mind’ (ming xin), which
requires knowledge of the fundamentals, with the classics as simply ‘footnotes’ for one’s own heart/mind (Chan, 1963a: 580). Unlike Zhu, Lu
does not believe that Confucian Learning consists in exegetical studies
of the classics, but in what Mengzi calls ‘preserving the heart/mind’ (cun
xin) and ‘going after the lost heart/mind’ (qiu fangxin). Lu termed this
the easy, direct and simple way of learning, in direct contrast to Zhu
whose teaching he took to be diAcult, complicated and ineCective.
For Zhu, material force is the source of existence and as such is
responsible for the diCerences between individuals. He further identifies
principle with human nature, and material force with human desires, by
which he concludes that in order to manifest the principle of Heaven
in human nature, one needs to improve one’s ‘physical qualities’ (qizhi).
Lu sees this as a dualistic doctrine, as he believes that there is no Way
(dao) outside things and that principle and material force cannot be separated. For Zhu, the heart/mind is the function of human nature, which
appears in two forms, the human and the moral. The human heart/mind
owes its origin to material force and is prone to mistakes, while the moral
heart/mind comes from the principle of Heaven and takes the Way as its
standard. Lu argues against this distinction and states that the heart/mind
and [human] nature are unified in an individual or in the entire universe,
and ‘the mind and principle can never been separated into two’ (ibid.:
574). Moral virtues are inherent in the human heart/mind and endowed
by Heaven, which means that humaneness and righteousness form the
original heart/mind of humans. The original heart/mind is indissoluble,
shared both by sages and by common people, which was so in the past
and will be so for centuries to come. Heaven and humans are originally
one and there is no reason to attribute goodness to Heaven and badness
to humans nor is it necessary to hold the physical nature responsible for
human destiny. It is, nevertheless, important to improve the quality of
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material force in one’s character but the easy and simple way to enlightenment is not through study or investigation but through ‘building up
the nobler part of one’s nature’ (Mengzi, 6a: 15). This requires a careful
exploration of one’s heart/mind so that the heart/mind can be rid of all
selfishness, partiality and ‘material desires’, as Lu believes that
Those who are beclouded by material desires so as to pervert principles
and violate righteousness, do so because they do not think . . . If they
can truly examine themselves and things, their sense of right and wrong
and their choice between right and wrong will have the qualities of quiet
alertness, clear-cut intelligence, and firm conviction.
(Chan, 1963a: 580)
Zhu’s ‘following the path of inquiry and study’ (dao wenxue) and Lu’s
‘honouring the moral nature’ (zun dexing) are the two sides of one process expressed in The Doctrine of the Mean (chapter 27), and should be
complementary to each other. Zhu seemed to recognise the defects of
this separation and attempted to combine the two methods (Sishu
Zhangju Jizhu, 1983: 35–6), whereas Lu insisted that ‘honouring the
moral nature’ must come first, as it was only by so doing that study and
inquiry could commence. Their diCerences mark the final separation
between the two leading schools of Neo-Confucianism in the Song and
Ming Dynasties.
From the end of the Song Dynasty until the advent of Wang Shouren,
the orthodox status of the Cheng–Zhu School was not seriously challenged. The majority of leading Confucian scholars in the Yuan Dynasty,
Yao Shu (1203–80), Xu Heng (1209–81), Zhao Fu (1215?–1306) and
Jin Lüxiang (1232–1303), to name but a few, and those in the first half
of the Ming Dynasty, such as Song Lian (1310–81), Cao Duan (1376–
1434) and Xue Xuan (1389–1464), were all the followers and exponents
of Zhu Xi. The influence of the Cheng–Zhu School was so overwhelming that it was said that some scholars dared to challenge the views
of Confucius and Mengzi, but none dared to challenge the interpretations by Cheng Yi and Zhu Xi. An eCort was also made throughout the
Confucian schools to explain away the diCerences between Zhu Xi and
Lu Xiangshan, and to harmonise the two schools. Xu Heng (1209–81),
Wu Cheng (1249–1333) and Zheng Yu (1298–1358) of the Yuan
Dynasty openly propagated ‘harmonization of Zhu’s teaching and Lu’s
doctrine (hehui Zhu-Lu)’. Wu Cheng believed that Zhu and Lu were
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originally comparable in their teaching; and that it was their inferior disciples who attacked the other side (Songyuan Xuean, 1992, vol. 6: 583).
When commenting on the Yuan Confucian schools, Qian Mu noticed
that ‘He [Wu Cheng] had already completely harmonised Chu and Lu,
therefore, during his lifetime, his followers did not dare to pit one school
against the other by necessarily rejecting Lu in order to put forth Chu’
(Chan & de Bary, 1982: 288). One of his students, Yu Ji (1272–1384),
proposed that Zhu and Lu diCered in their early writings but were alike
in the later works. For example, he picked out the passages in Zhu’s
writings to demonstrate that Zhu had realised the deficiency of investigating things and agreed with Lu in reflection on one’s self (fanshen er
qiu). Zheng Yu (1298?–1357) insisted that although diCerent in their
methods and approaches with respect to learning, Zhu and Lu were the
same in the tenets and purpose of their teaching. There were both positive and negative aspects in their doctrines, and thus Zheng proposed
that each school should learn the good from the other to amend one’s
own deficiencies.
The dominance of Zhu Xi and the intellectual tendency of the Yuan
and the Ming Dynasty to conflate the diCerence between Zhu and Lu
provided in turn the background for the burgeoning of yet another prominent Confucian scholar, Wang Shouren, better known by his literary
name, Yangming. Like most of his contemporaries, Wang was educated
in the Cheng–Zhu tradition and was taught to accumulate his knowledge through the investigation of things. But Wang failed to gain
enlightenment by this method and this prompted him to turn to the
teaching of Lu Xianshan. He systematised and finalised the learning of
the heart/mind, and thereby put the Lu–Wang School on the map of the
Confucian tradition. This school challenged the teachings of the Cheng–
Zhu School, and became of parallel importance in the development of
Neo-Confucianism. Wang believes that all humans possess an original
heart/mind which has the unifying quality of humaneness, and that the
innate heart/mind possesses an intuitive knowledge which manifests innate wisdom and vitalises actual operations. In this sense, Wang believes
that everyone has sagehood within and reflection on the innate heart/
mind is the only way to enlightenment.
Like Lu Jiuyuan, Wang criticises Zhu Xi’s doctrines that principle must
be sought in things and aCairs, that to acquire wisdom one must extend
one’s knowledge through investigating things to their utmost and that
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such an investigation of one thing today and another tomorrow will
eventually lead to one’s enlightenment. Wang uses his own experience
and observations to challenge these views. Firstly, he maintains that the
things of the world are so numerous and a person’s life-span so limited,
that none of us can possibly investigate them all. Secondly, to investigate
things one by one is to divide ‘principle’ (truth) into unrelated pieces,
a method which cannot possibly abide by the nature of principle. Thirdly,
he objects to Cheng–Zhu’s sequential ordering in which the investigation of things is meant to be followed by the extension of knowledge,
then by making one’s intention sincere, and by rectifying the heart–mind
. . . Wang observes that this sequence isolates learning from morality,
knowledge from action, the external from the internal, and the beginning from the end, and thus reduces learning to a purely quantitative
accumulation of experiences which alone is unable to bring about the
qualitative breakthrough to sagehood. Fourthly, Wang believes that by
beginning with the external investigation of things, the Cheng–Zhu School
sees only the leaves and branches of the tree and ignores the trunk and
the root. ‘Chu Hsi reversed the proper order of learning, so that the
beginner has no place to start’ (Chan, 1963b: 12–14; 95–7). This renders
the way of the Cheng–Zhu School unproductive and a hindrance to the
progress of learning.
Neo-Confucian Learning is a path to sagehood. Since everybody can
learn, then it follows that everybody can become a sage. According to
Wang, not all doctrines help a person to learn to be a sage. He sees the
complicated methods proposed by the Cheng–Zhu School as limiting
the possibility of becoming a sage to a very small circle of people, since it
is impossible for ordinary people to investigate all things and to study
the classics exhaustively, even supposing they were inclined to do so.
To counter this, Wang insists that the purpose of learning is to acquire
wisdom within, not to accumulate knowledge of external things. He
admits that although all people are the same in their nature, they have
diCerent natural endowments, and thus the eCorts required to attain to
wisdom also diCer. But Wang further stresses that all people have the
capacity to transcend their individual circumstances and develop their
original nature to the utmost. Thus, ‘the learning of the sages’ becomes
essentially self-transcendence, and takes the human heart/mind as the
starting point and basis. The heart/mind is not completely free of
all imperfections such as selfishness, but it does possess the power of
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self-control and self-correction and is able to lead itself to perfection. In
this sense Wang emphasises the unity between knowledge and action:
‘Knowledge is the direction for action and action the eCort of knowledge’, or ‘knowledge is the beginning of action and action the completion of knowledge’ (Chan, 1963b: 11). Through unifying knowledge and
action, Wang gives priority to practice rather than book-reading, to how
to realise the principle in life rather than how to memorise the words and
sentences of the classics.
The dynamic and idealistic Neo-Confucianism of Wang Yangming
exerted a huge influence on later intellectual and political development
in China and to some extent, in Japan. Mainly due to the simplicity and
directness of its spiritual cultivation elaborated by Wang, the Idealistic
School enjoyed a large number of followers. As a rival to the prevailing
orthodoxy of the Rationalistic School, and as an opponent of Cheng–
Zhu’s rigid way of learning, the Idealistic School frequently became
the weapon and inspiration for those who rebelled against authority
or authorised ideology. After Wang Yangming, the Lu–Wang School
developed in diCerent directions; firstly at the hands of Wang’s disciples
such as Wang Ji (1498–1583), Qian Dehong (1496–1574), Wang Gen
(1483–1540), and then by those adherents of the schools generally called
‘The Later Learning of Wang Yangming (wangmen houxue)’. It was also
the cradle of independent thinkers such as He Xinyin (1517–79), Li Zhi
(1527–1602), Huang Zongxi (1610–95) and Wang Fuzhi (1619–92),
who explored and demonstrated the independent and innovative spirit
of Confucianism. Li Zhi, for example, challenged the old tradition and
pointed out ‘What people consider right and wrong can never serve as a
standard for me. Never from the start have I taken as right and wrong
for myself what the world thinks right and wrong’ (de Bary, 1970: 199).
In the following centuries, Confucian Learning in China was largely
characterised by debates between those who were for Wang Yangming
and those who were against him. Within the idealistic tradition some
propagated an extreme form of the learning of the heart/mind, while
others attempted to moderate it. Concerning the relationship between
Lu–Wang’s idealism and Cheng–Zhu’s rationalism, some adopted an
inclusive attitude towards each other, while others appeared to be more
exclusive. On the negative side, there are some undesirable elements in
the teachings of the Idealistic School, which partly explain its misfortune
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in the hands of orthodox Confucian scholars. For example, its understanding of transcendence bore the hallmark of Chan Buddhism and its
emphasis on the intuitiveness of the heart/mind led to something ‘socially
unconformative and intellectually undisciplined’, so much so that later
critics blamed it for the downfall of the dynastic system in China (Chan,
1963a: 658). On the positive side, the Idealistic School contributed
to reform within Confucian Learning. Its followers challenged the then
orthodox learning, rejected the external restrictions placed on individuals, and projected an idealistic vision of a world populated by sages.
These imply a number of important ideas including intellectual freedom,
moral equality and political progress, being of great instrumental value
for encouraging independent thinking and developing the spiritual
dimension of Confucian scholarship, which would soon bear fruits in
the development of reform movements in both China and Japan.
korea: the second home for confucianism
In spreading to other countries, Confucianism was transformed and was
then presented in many diCerent and yet related ways. Of these presentations, two resulted from the eCorts made by Korean and Japanese
masters in the inculturalisation of Confucian doctrines and practices,
where the Chinese tradition was transformed into a culture socially and
spiritually indigenous. Apart from China, Korea was perhaps the first
country in which Confucianism exerted a sweeping influence. This influence was not only present in the past but is also still visible today, as
aArmed by a contemporary Korean scholar that
Korean Confucianism clearly contributed to the formation of a sense
of national selfhood and sovereignty and became an important force
in the unfolding of Korean history. It has provided a universal cultural
consciousness that has given rise to a value system directly related to
a highly developed view of ethics and politics and has helped stimulate
a unique national consciousness directly related to the existence and
future prosperity of the Korean people. (Yun, 1996: 113)
Outside China, Korean Confucianism also has the longest and richest
history. It is recorded in the Samkuk Saki (Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms) that a national academy (taehak) where the sons of the nobility
studied the Confucian classics was established in 372 ce – the second
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year of the reign of King Sosurim of the Koguryo Dynasty (37 bce–
668 ce). During the same period, a national academy and a doctorate
system of studying the Confucian classics were also set up in the Kingdom
of Paekche (20 bce–660 ce) and Paekche functioned as a bridge between
China and Japan via which Confucian Learning was ‘transported’ to the
‘land where the sun rises’. Before he acceded to the throne, King Muyol
of the Kingdom of Silla (365–935) went to Tang China in the year 648
to inspect the Chinese national university. When he became the King he
sent a large number of Silla students to the Tang capital to study Confucian doctrines (Bak, 1983b: 256). A quasi-religious and military system,
hwa-rang do (the Way of the Flower Youth) was established, based on
Confucian and Buddhist teachings – members practised the Confucian
way of learning and self-cultivation, and were instrumental to the unification of the Korean Peninsula in 669 (Chung, 1995: 1). Confucianism
took firm root and became the centre of learning. The following inscription discovered in 1934 demonstrates how two Korean students in 732
‘swore before heaven to conduct themselves with perfect loyalty for a
space of three years from that date, and further, they swore to master the
Books of Poetry, and Rites, and the Tso Chuan in the like period of three
years’ (Yang & Henderson: 1958–9: 83). The penetration of Confucianism into Korean culture enabled a great Confucian scholar of the Silla
period, Choi Chi-won (858–951), to say that Korean native religion was
a composite of Confucianism, Buddhism and Daoism (Bae, 1982: 37).
Taking its lead from Tang China, the Koryo Dynasty (918–1392) established the Kwako (Civil Service Examination System), and the Kukjakam
(in Chinese guozi jian, the National University). During the reign of King
Munjong (1047–82) private Confucian schools (sowon, in Chinese
shuyuan) flourished, and one of their founders, Choi Chung (974–1068),
was named ‘the Confucius of the East’ for his contribution to Korean
education and learning.
Even though Confucian scholars had been active in government, education and academic learning since the beginning of the Koryo Dynasty, Confucianism was not yet the dominant force in Korean culture. Buddhism
rather than Confucianism was considered to be the state religion. Buddhist
monks were allowed to take civil service examinations and could thus
engage in the making of state policy. The deep involvement of Buddhism
in secular business led to widespread corruption and social discontent.
Towards the end of the Koryo era, Confucian scholars made it their
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priority to revive Confucianism and to reject and criticise Buddhism.
Among these scholars, An Hyang (1243–1306), Chung Mong-ju (1320–
92), Yi Saek (1328–95) and Kil Chae (1353–1418) contributed greatly
to a systematic introduction of the Cheng–Zhu School to Korea. They
argued powerfully for Neo-Confucian cosmology, morality, religion and
philosophy, and their scholarship presented a viable alternative to
Buddhist theories and practices. The replacement of the Koryo Dynasty
by the Yi Dynasty (1392–1910) marked the end of Buddhist dominance
in Korean politics and saw the beginning of Neo-Confucianism as the
foundation of Korean culture and society.
Neo-Confucianism in China turned Confucian Learning from the
pedantic exegetical study of the classics (jing xue) prominent in the Han
and Tang Dynasties to the study of principle and philosophy (yili xue).
Korean Confucian scholarship also focused on sôngnihak, the study
of [human] nature and principle, or tohak (the learning of the Way).
The Neo-Confucian concepts of li (principle), qi (material force), xin
(heart/mind) and taiji (Great Ultimate) with their practical applications
in meditative discipline and self-cultivation gained the heart of Korean
scholars and became the centre of academic study and debates. One of the
first great Confucian scholars of the sixteenth century, So Kyong-dok
(1489–1546), elaborated a monistic theory based on the conception of
qi (material force), which can be said to be a Korean version of Zhang
Zai’s theory of material force and primordial harmony (taihe) and of
Zhou Dunyi’s cosmological deliberations. So Kyong-dok argued that the
universe was composed of nothing but material force and that material
force alone was the source of all things. For him, principle could not
reside outside material force and principle was the commanding power
of material force. Therefore, principle never precedes material force
because it must function in material force. So’s monism represented
the first Korean attempt to systematise the imported ideas of NeoConfucianism and to place Confucian ethical teachings on a firm base of
metaphysics and cosmology.
Korean Neo-Confucian Learning reached a peak in the hands of great
scholars Yi Hwang (better known by his pen name, T’oegye, 1501–70)
and Yi I (Yulgok, 1536–84), ‘two of the most famous names in Korean
history’, and ‘national symbols, figures that inspire pride and confidence’
(Kalton, 1994: xv). Having accepted Cheng–Zhu’s interpretations
of Confucian teachings, these scholars found some disparities and
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problems in Zhu Xi’s theories, especially with regard to the relation
between principle and material force. Thus, diCerent understandings led
to intensive debates, which in turn led to further modifications, compromises and syntheses. One of the debates focused on the metaphysical
and psychological complexity of human nature and emotions, in the form
of the relationship between the Four Beginnings (‘the four sprouts of
virtues’ or ‘the four innate good dispositions’, Mengzi, 2a: 6) and the
Seven Emotions (joy, anger, grief, fear, love, hate and desire, Liji Jijie,
1989: 606). This so-called ‘Four–Seven Debate’, unique to Korean NeoConfucianism, was first engaged in by T’oegye and one of his disciples,
Ki Taesung (Kobong, 1527–72), which attempted to define the proper
relation between the ‘original nature’ and the ‘physical nature’. The
debate was carried on then by Yulgok and Song Hon (Ugye, 1535–98),
who re-examined the interdependence of the ‘heart/mind of the Way’
and the ‘heart/mind of humans’. In diCerent forms the Four–Seven
Debate remained at the centre of Korean academic scholarship and characterises Korean Neo-Confucianism throughout its history.
T’oegye, the greatest Neo-Confucian scholar in Korea, is the most creative scholar on Jujahak (The Studies of Zhu Xi). He is known as ‘Zhu Xi
of the East’ for his contribution to Korean Confucian scholarship. His
reinterpretations of Neo-Confucian doctrines ‘had permanently fixed the
nature and character of Korean Confucianism’; ‘His personal traits and
scholarly manners became synonymous with the characteristics and
methodology of Korean Confucianism’; and if it had not been for him,
‘Korean Confucianism would not have been as it were’ (Hwang, 1979:
518). T’oegye is also respected and revered in Japan, and it is said that
T’oegye’s thought ‘virtually launched Confucian studies in that country.
Kang Hang (1567–1618), a scholar of T’oegye thought taken to Japan
as a prisoner of war, was a mentor to Fujiwara Seika (1561–1619) who
founded modern Japanese Confucianism’ (Lee, 1996: 118). T’oegye compiled Chu Hsi Su Julyo (the Essentials of Zhu Xi’s Works) and Sunghak
Sipto (Ten Diagrams of Neo-Confucianism) to propagate the doctrines
of the Cheng–Zhu School. Central to T’oegye’s philosophical deliberation is how principle and material force are related and diCerentiated
and how this relationship is applied to society and individual life.
As far as human nature is concerned, T’oegye is clearly in line with
Zhang Zai and Zhu Xi, and upholds the view that there are two forms of
human nature, the Nature of Heaven and Earth (tiandi zhi xing), the
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original nature (benran zhi xing), which is the manifestation of principle,
and the nature of physical force (qizhi zhi xing), the derived nature, which
is the manifestation of material force. T’oegye applies the two aspects of
human nature to his understanding of the relationship between [human]
nature and emotion. He believes that the original and Heaven-bestowed
nature manifests itself as the Four Beginnings (humaneness, righteousness, propriety and wisdom) and that being purely good, the original
nature contains no evil elements. He also believes that the sensual nature
reveals material force as seven human emotions and that being indeterminate, the physical nature makes no distinction between good and evil.
He uses this theory to explain that although there is essentially equality
between all people, one can diCerentiate between people by examining
their attitudes and behaviour, and hence there are some good people while
others are bad.
Zhu Xi put forward two propositions concerning principle and material force (1) that principle and material force were two diCerent things
and (2) that they could not be separated. Between these two seemingly
contradictory propositions, T’oegye was inclined more to the first. He
insisted that principle and material force must be diCerentiated and that
human nature must be related to principle, and human emotions to
material force. He made it clear that ‘The issuance of the Four Beginnings is purely a matter of principle and therefore involves nothing but
good; the issuance of the Seven Emotions includes material force and
therefore involves both good and evil’ (Kalton, 1994: 1). This dualistic
theory aroused strong reactions, especially from one of T’oegye’s disciples,
Kobong, who argued against the dualism of principle and material force.
In standing up to his master, Kobong showed an independent and creative spirit. Kobong believed that the Four Beginnings and the Seven
Emotions could not be regarded as two distinct entities and could not be
independent of each other, because the Four Beginnings were merely the
best part of the world of the Seven Emotions. The debate between the
master and the pupil lasted nearly eight years, during which both sides
slightly modified their initial views and in the end reached an agreement
which indicated that the Four Beginnings and the Seven Emotions could
be diCerentiated but only in the sense that they were ‘essential but diCerent aspects of the self-cultivation process’ (ibid.: 107–8).
Soon after the deaths of T’oegye and Kobong, their views on the Four–
Seven issue again became the subject of a scholarly debate between Ugye
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and his good friend Yulgok. Both Ugye and Yulgok initially disagreed
with T’oegye’s dualistic treatment of principle and material force. Then
after close study of a passage in Zhu Xi’s writing, Ugye changed his
position – the passage was concerned with the diCerentiation between
the heart/mind of the Way that arises from principle and righteousness,
and the human mind that arises from material force and self-interest
(Sishu Zhangju Jizhu, 1983: 14). This change led to an open debate between him and Yulgok. Yulgok demonstrated his brilliance as a NeoConfucian scholar at the early age of twenty-three, and his paper for
the Civil Service Examination, Chondochaek (‘Treatise on the Way of
Heaven’) established him as an original and independent thinker. Yulgok
maintained his monistic position and was not swayed by the newly found
views of Master Zhu. He explained the diCerentiation between the heart/
mind of the Way and the human heart/mind as merely diCerences
between terms:
The mind is single; using [diverse] terms for it such as ‘the Tao mind
[the mind of the Way]’ and ‘the human mind’ is because of the
distinction between our normative nature and our psychophysical
constitution. The feelings are single; speaking of them in some cases as
‘the Four (Beginnings)’ and in others as ‘the Seven Feelings’ is because
of the diCerence between speaking with exclusive reference to principle
and speaking of it as combined with material force. Thus the human
mind and the Tao mind cannot be combined, but rather are related in
the same fashion as end and beginning. The Four Beginnings are not
able to include the Seven Feelings, but the Seven Feelings include the
Four Beginnings. (Kalton, 1994: 113)
Yulgok’s monistic view of principle and material force was a rational
continuation of Kobong’s argument against dualism, and clearly targeted
T’oegye. Yulgok insisted that there was no separation of principle and
material force, and argued that principle and material force were two in
substance but one in function. For Yulgok, principle is the power that
enables things to move and to cease to move, while material force moves
or ceases to move because of principle. It is important to see that principle issues nothing of its own accord and neither can it emit itself, and
that material force is the vehicle by which principle is manifest. There
are diCerences between principle and material force because principle
is unlimited and omnipresent while material force is limited and onesided. Principle penetrates everything and being unobstructed can assume
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any shape, while material force appears to be either partial or fair, pure
or turbid, docile or resistant. That is what Yulgok implies when he
says that ‘principle communicates and material force is limited’ (Bak,
1980a: 68).
The debate divided the whole of Korean Confucian scholarship roughly
into two camps, the School of Principle (Yongnam School), and the School
of Material Force (Kiho School). On the one hand, this debate consumed
the energy of Korean Confucianism and confined its scholarship to purely
academic games; on the other, it led Korean scholars to explore many
dimensions of Neo-Confucianism, consequently enriching and extending Confucian Learning. Although devoted to scholarly debates, T’oegye
and Yulgok did not enclose themselves in ‘ivory towers’. They were
active in applying Confucian doctrines to everyday life. T’oegye, for example, developed Confucian meditation or quiet sitting to a high degree,
as the way to gain true knowledge. He described in a poem how this
could be done:
Burning incense is not to imitate the Chan Buddhists.
Sitting with a pure heart without any worldly attachments, the
thought is concentrated.
Sending oC all the mental activities of the heart/mind, it is
completely purified.
Following this state let the heart/mind stay as clear as deep water.
(Kim, 1995: 24, with minor changes)
Like T’oegye, Yulgok also took self-cultivation to be the foundation
of a peaceful and harmonious society. In his Kakkyo Mobum (Manuals
for School), he prescribed concrete tenets, for example, setting the intention to be a sage; disciplining one’s body by right behaviour; reading and
reflecting on the classics, and sitting quietly to preserve one’s heart/mind
(ibid., 30–1).
Traditionally, Korea prided itself on being a more (orthodox) Confucian nation than the homeland of Confucianism, China. Only the
Rationalistic School (the Cheng–Zhu School) was taken as the correct
transmitter of Confucian Learning, and the Idealistic School (the Learning of the Heart/Mind) was labelled heretical and strictly prohibited
shortly after its introduction to Korea. The intensively cultivated orthodox sense of Confucianism gave rise to some of the unique features of
Korean scholarship. Neo-Confucianism in China matured by absorbing
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elements from Buddhism and Daoism, and therefore its relation with other
religious traditions was inclusive, not only in terms of doctrines but also
in areas of practical living. Neo-Confucianism in Japan was from the
very beginning allied with Chan (Zen) Buddhism, and the communication and interaction between Confucianism and Buddhism formed an
important dimension in the development of Japanese Confucianism. In
Korea, however, Confucian attitudes towards Buddhism were much more
exclusive and harsh. The strictly orthodox understanding of the Cheng–
Zhu teachings was responsible for debates and arguments typical of
Korean Neo-Confucian scholarship, which on the one hand clarified
the meanings of Confucian terms, but on the other hand turned the
energetic search for truth into trivial quarrels.
The desires for an extreme orthodoxy inevitably suCocated Confucian Learning and allowed it to degenerate into purely scholastic study
irrelevant to daily life or into something which was pursued merely for
the sake of the Civil Service Examinations. Such study had little or no
value for improving people’s lives. Dissatisfied with their situation and
stimulated by new developments in Confucian Learning pursued in China
during the Qing Dynasty (1664–1911), a number of independent Confucian scholars opened up a new trend called Silhak (the Practical Learning), in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The Korean Practical
Learning can be traced to Chung Mong-ju: ‘The Way (Tao) of Confucianism lies in the ordinary aCairs of daily life. Even in sexual relations
and in eating and drinking there is a meaningful principle. The Tao of
Yao and Shun is nothing other than this principle’ (quoted in Hwang,
1979: 470). However, as a systematic theory and practice, the Practical
Learning was advocated in the seventeenth century. Yu Hyang-won
(1622–72) and Yi Ik (1682–1764), for example, discarded abstract and
‘empty learning’, condemned absolute monarchism, denounced the ill
eCects of the Civil Service Examinations and turned their attention to
social reform and public welfare. The scholars of the Practical Learning
enthusiastically studied anything that was seen as good for improving governmental institutions and improving living conditions. They
attempted to reform land ownership, taxation, and the civil service examinations. They attacked the scholastic debates in Confucian Learning
as trivial and irrelevant to the needs of the people, and insisted that the
major cause of the country’s problems was the separation of morality
from industry, and that of Confucian Learning from the people’s needs.
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For these scholars, ‘to honour morality alone and ignore industry is equal
to being a widower and to stress industry and neglect morality is equivalent to a widow’ (Bak, 1980b: 273). They argued for the unity of the two
and believed that the state, the people and Confucian Learning would
benefit greatly from this unification. It was Chong Yak-yong (better
known as Dasan, 1762–1836), the greatest Confucian scholar after
T’oegye and Yulgok, who combined the practical spirit and Confucian
Learning, and reoriented Confucian scholarship towards social and
political realities. Dasan identified the deficiencies in Zhu Xi’s interpretations and called for a return to original Confucian classics. He especially emphasised the importance of the Analects of Confucius, because
he believed that this book did not contain abstract debates about principle and human nature that were typical of Song Learning, neither was
it concentrated on a responsive relationship between Heaven and humans
that is characteristic of Han Confucianism. He not only dismissed the
Confucian scholarship in the Han and Song Dynasties, but also discarded
Mengzi. Instead of searching for the truth in these interpretations,
he would rather go directly to the teachings of Confucius himself. The
intention of such an interpretation was, by way of Confucius, to bring
new life to Confucianism and make it relevant to everyday life because,
Dasan argued, Confucianism was by nature a practical doctrine concerned
with how to cultivate filial piety and humaneness in one’s self, how to
apply one’s virtues to others, and consequently how to induce a humane
government. According to this understanding, Confucian Learning must
be a kind of learning which centred on human relationships rather than
on the relationship between principle and material force and Confucian
scholarship must be an eCective and eAcient tool of state-craft to remove chaos and achieve social order. Unfortunately, Dasan’s thought
did not appeal to the then Confucian leadership, nor was it tolerated by
the authorities. He was exiled for nearly nineteen years and endured a
life of great hardship.
Practical Learning did not make a breakthrough and a new academic
trend known as Tonghak (the Eastern Learning) developed. Tonghak
bears a clear hallmark of Confucianism. It propagates ‘Oriental Thought’
in direct opposition to ‘Western Learning’, especially that of the Christian teachings of God, salvation and original sin. The initiator of the Eastern Learning movement was Choi Je-wu (1824–64), who was first to use
the term Tonghak in his work Tongkyong Daejon (the Comprehensive
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Book of Eastern Learning) where he articulated the oriental doctrine of
the Way of Heaven. Following the Confucian belief that ‘The Way is not
far from humans. When one pursues the Way and yet remains away from
humans, one’s course cannot be considered the Way’ (Chan, 1963a: 100),
Choi argues that the Way of Heaven is not outside but rather within
humans and that the heart/mind of Heaven and the heart/mind of
humans are identical. To grasp the Way of Heaven one needs to improve
one’s own innate nature rather than seeking salvation from an external
source. The second leader of the Eastern Learning Movement, Choi
Si-hyong (1829–98), developed these ideas further and proposed that if
one wanted to ‘grasp’ the truth and to serve Heaven one must first know
oneself. He argued that since ‘everyone is Heaven’, then to mistreat
others was to mistreat Heaven, and to treat others properly was to serve
Heaven. He also argues for a universalistic equality that as everything
in the universe is a copy of Heaven, then Heaven, humans and things
are essentially the same. In the hands of the third Tonghak leader,
Sohn Byong-hi (1861–1919), the movement developed into a religion,
Chondo-kyo (The Religion of Heaven’s Way). Chondo-kyo rejects
salvation and eternal life after death, while aiming to realise a paradise
on earth by way of peace, moral virtue and propriety. It endeavours
to enhance and purify Korean national spirit by reforming the corrupt
feudal system and overcoming old customs. Chondo-kyo actively engaged
in the enlightenment movement, and organised various kinds of demonstrations and uprisings.
Despite the reforming eCort made by many Korean Confucians, the
insular nature of orthodox Confucian Learning became a major obstacle
for Korea which was a nation making an attempt at modernisation at
the end of the Yi Dynasty. ‘The degree of the stagnancy of Korean Confucianism was evidenced by the simple historical fact that the two philosophical themes of Chong Mong-Chu [Chung Mong-ju] of the late
fourteenth century were faithfully preserved as the fundamental issues
of Kwak Man-Woo (1846–1919) of the twentieth century’ (Hwang, 1979:
469). As a result, Korean Confucianism was the price that had to be paid
for the transition from a country ‘stifled intellectually by orthodox Confucianism, stagnant economically, and politically bound to the decaying
Chinese empire’ (Deuchler, 1977: 1) to a more open and thus more
vulnerable land. The demise of the Yi Dynasty heralded the collapse of
Confucianism: Confucianism was no longer a major player in education
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and social life. Korean Confucianism was under fierce attack from
liberal-minded intellectuals who saw it as a conservative and backward
institution. With the advent of a ‘new age’, Korean Confucianism, like
its counterpart in China, had to redefine its own position with regard to
its social and moral functions.
japanese confucianism: transfiguration and
There are a number of similarities between Korean and Japanese
Confucianism. Like Korea, Japan had adopted the Buddhist tradition
before the arrival of Neo-Confucianism and only after a long and painful
reflection on their Buddhist experience did the Japanese intellectuals
come to embrace Neo-Confucian Learning. The realisation of a natural
aAnity between Confucian cosmology and the native Shintô tradition
facilitated this change of attitude. Like Korean scholars, the majority
of Japanese Confucians worked within the Rationalistic School of NeoConfucianism, and transmitted and transformed the Cheng–Zhu tradition to the needs of Japanese society. There are also many diCerences
between Japanese and Korean Confucianism. Unlike the case of Korea
where leading Confucian scholars such as Yi Hwang and Yi I indulged
in metaphysical and philosophical debates, Japanese Confucians had
much less enthusiasm for cosmologicalism, traditionalism and philosophical universalism. Their primary interest was in how to apply Confucian values, ideas and precepts to social and political life. Therefore,
the history of Confucianism in Japan is marked by a series of transformations and syncretism which deliberately ignored some aspects of
Neo-Confucianism while highlighting and developing others. The combination of Confucian ethics and the Shintô religion enabled Confucianism to become finally part of Japanese indigenous culture and to permeate
the national consciousness. Confucian ethics became a cultural tool for
national morale and provided practical rules for social behaviour. Japanese Confucians did not succeed in establishing, or perhaps never really
tried to establish, a civil examination system as did their counterparts in
China and Korea. Consequently the link between Japanese Confucian
scholars and governmental bureaucrats was loose, and Japanese literati
were seldom given supreme power over the state and were never allowed
to hold a self-contained position independent of the government. Confucian Learning and practices were used to shape and reshape the conscience
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of the bushidô (the way of warriors) but Japanese Confucians themselves
were always considered the ‘servants’ of the bakufu (the government)
and the emperors. The Japanese pragmatic attitude toward Confucian
Learning greatly aCects the way in which the Confucian tradition develops and explains the unique image and functions that Confucianism
has had in modern Japan. For most of the twentieth century the majority
of the Chinese and Koreans see Confucianism as politically conservative
and culturally backward, while in Japan, Confucianism is largely considered to have played an important part in the Meiji Reformation and
aided the acceleration of Japanese industrialisation and modernisation.
Two early Japanese chronicles, Nihon Shoki, the Chronicles of Japan
and Kojiki, the Records of Ancient Matters record that the Analects of
Confucius and Qianzi Wen, the Book of Ten Thousand Characters were
brought to Japan by a Korean scholar, Wani (Wang In), in the second
month of the sixteenth year of Emperor Ôjin. This corresponds to 285 ce.
It is now believed that this event occurred actually at the beginning of
the fifth century, probably in 405 ce. According to the Chinese records,
Hou Hanshu (the Book of the Later Han Dynasty), Wei Lue (the History of the Kingdom of Wei) and Song Shu (the History of the Liu Song
Dynasty), diplomatic and business intercourse between Japan and China
existed in the Later Han Dynasty and were further promoted via Korea
during the Wei–Jin and the Southern–Northern Dynasties (Tsunoda,
1951: 1–16). In the memorial that Japanese envoys presented to the
Chinese emperor and in the three bronze/iron inscriptions excavated
in Japan and dated at the beginning of the fifth century, the Confucian
influence on Japanese politics, morality and social life is clear (Wang,
1990: 5). From the historical facts it is possible to conjecture that Confucian ideas or possibly texts were introduced into Japan via Japanese
envoys and Chinese immigrants, and that the introduction was not a
single event but a long and slow process. From the historical record
that at the beginning of the sixth century Korean academicians (boshi)
of the Kingdom of Paekche were received at the Japanese court, we can
further speculate that Korea functioned as the bridge between China and
Japan, and that Koreans as intermediaries brought into Japan not only
Chinese and Korean culture but also Confucian classical learning.
Along with Confucianism came Mahayana Buddhism. Ironically,
Buddhism rather than Confucianism was quickly absorbed into Japanese
society and widely spread among ordinary people. Confucian Learning
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and scholarship gradually gained prestige among the elite, influencing
politics and education. The first Japanese constitution, Junanô Kenpô
(the Constitution of Seventeen Articles), decreed by Prince Shôtoku (573–
621) in 604 ce, was obviously composed under the influence of the
Confucian moral–idealist vision of politics, and was written in the light
of the Confucian historical–political design. Its primary objective was
to define the relations between the sovereign and the state, between
the emperor and the subjects (Moore, 1967b: 4–9). The concept of the
‘Mandate of Heaven’ was introduced to justify the rule of the Emperor.
Emperor Tenchi (r. 662–71) established a system of education composed
of national and provincial universities (daigaku), local academies and
private schools, in which the textbooks were mainly taken from the Confucian classics. This dominance of Confucian Learning in the education
system did not last long, and was soon minimised when the Japanese
writing system superseded Chinese and writers in the Japanese language
became popular, and especially when the system of civil service examinations collapsed. The early centuries of the second millennium saw a
rise in Buddhist popularity eclipsing that of Confucian scholarship. Confucian Learning came to be seen as an aspect of Buddhism. It is said that
until the end of the thirteenth century Confucian influence on Japanese
culture was slight, and that Japanese Confucian scholars of this period
simply copied and followed the Chinese and Korean interpretations,
and failed to incorporate the innovations that occurred in these countries. Confucian Learning in Japan did not vary much from the exegetical
studies that had prevailed in Han–Tang China.
The rise of Neo-Confucianism in China and its spread to Korea did
little to change the character of Confucian Learning in Japan during the
medieval period (1192–1573). The developments of Zen (in Chinese
Chan) Buddhism, however, brought Neo-Confucian philosophy to the
attention of Buddhist scholars. A resemblance between Zen Buddhism
and Neo-Confucian Learning, especially the teaching of Zhu Xi, was
recognised and well received in Zen monasteries. It was a Zen monk,
Keian (1427–1508), who first translated Zhu Xi’s Collective Commentaries on the Great Learning into Japanese. This aAnity explains another
character of Japanese Confucianism: while in China and Korea, NeoConfucianism responded to the challenges of Buddhism and Daoism by
incorporating some of their metaphysical views while criticising their
religio-moral system; in Japan, however, Neo-Confucianism was seen
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from the very beginning as part of Buddhism, and to a great extent has
been in harmony with Buddhism and Shintô.
Since Neo-Confucianism was believed to be an aid to understanding the Buddhist Way, both the royal house and Buddhist monasteries
promoted its learning. Emperor Godaigo (r. 1318–39), for example,
‘summoned scholars to lecture on Confucian topics’ and several thousand
students, though many of them Zen monks, ‘studied a Neo-Confucian
curriculum’ in Ashikaga gakko (the Ashikaga Academy) (Nosco, 1984: 7).
Whatever motives might be behind this, the spread of Zhu Xi’s teaching
paved the way for a new era of Japanese Confucianism in the Tokugawa
age (1603–1867), during which Chinese and Korean Confucian Learning were thoroughly studied and transformed. For most part of this period
Neo-Confucianism, especially the teaching of the Cheng–Zhu School,
was recognised as the foundation of Japanese politics, culture and education, and as the underlying ideas for social and intellectual life.
Under the influence of Korean Zhu Xi Studies and inspired by an intensive search for truth in Confucian classics, Fujiwara Seika (1561–1619)
deserted Zen Buddhism and turned to Confucianism. He consequently
became the first of the Tokugawa Confucian masters, and proved that
Confucian Learning could eCectively support the Japanese establishment
and provide a moral basis for the bakufu system. Seika taught Tokugawa
Ieyasu (1542–1616), the founder of the bakufu system, Confucian historical and political programmes. In return, Tokugawa Ieyasu became
the patron of Confucian Learning and adopted Confucian political programmes as the way of ruling Japan (Tsunoda et al., 1958: 336–7). Seika
was the first eminent Japanese Neo-Confucian scholar to annotate the
Four Books and the Five Classics in the light of the Rationalistic NeoConfucian teachings. He believed that all truth lay in human relationships and thereby criticised Buddhism for its attitude of renouncing the
world. Being dissatisfied with Han–Tang exegetical studies of the Confucian classics, he turned to the learning of the Song, which he took to be
more in keeping with the ‘learning of the sages’ and a true transmission
of Confucianism. Seika favoured the teaching of Zhu Xi but he did not
reject other Neo-Confucian masters for he inclined towards an eclecticism
rather than extreme exclusiveness. He identified the common principles
shared by Neo-Confucian philosophers, and combined them into a single
system. He believed that ‘the emphasis on quietness’ of Zhou Dunyi,
‘holding fast to seriousness’ emphasised by Cheng Yi, ‘investigating
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principle exhaustively’ propagated by Zhu Xi, ‘the simple and easy way’
of Lu Jiuyuan, ‘quiet sitting’ proposed by Chen Xianzhang (1428–1500)
and ‘the innately good knowledge’ of Wang Shouren, ‘are all from the
same source but appear to be diCerent in words’ (Wang, 1990: 81). Seika
opened up a new aspect of Neo-Confucian discourse and took Confucianism into a new era. His interpretation exerted a great influence on
Japanese scholarship, and his followers became leading figures in Confucian Learning who further strengthened the link between Confucianism and the Tokugawa Shogunate.
Following Seika, Hayashi Razan (1583–1657) played a decisive role
in promoting Confucianism to be the dominant ideology in Tokugawa
Japan: ‘It was through eCorts of Razan and his descendants that NeoConfucianism became the oAcial philosophy and code of the Shogunate,
in both external and internal aCairs’ (Tsunoda et al., 1958: 347). Like
his master, Seika, Razan turned away from Zen Buddhism and embraced
Zhu Xi’s learning, attacking Buddhist doctrines and practices as destroying human relationships and Buddhist monasteries as a waste of manpower and material resources. Unlike his master who compromised
between Zhu Xi and Wang Shouren by emphasising the sameness in
fundamental principles between them, however, Razan held strictly to the
Learning of Zhu Xi and insisted that only Zhu Xi represented the orthodox transmission of Confucian teachings. Razan also developed the practical dimension of Confucian Learning by exploring the ‘usefulness’ of
Neo-Confucian teachings for the bakufu and giving pre-eminence to the
virtue of ‘loyalty’ rather than ‘filial piety’. He believed that the state held
undisputed priority over the family and thus successfully turned Confucianism into a useful tool in the unification of Japan and also for justifying and maintaining the system of bakufu. Razan undertook the task of
harmonising Confucianism and Japanese indigenous culture and pointed
out that ‘The spiritual tradition of Japan is the Way of Kingliness, which
is exactly the same as the Way of Confucianism. Therefore, there is no
diCerence between them’ (Wang, 1990: 86–7).
After Hayashi Razan, Shushigaku (the Studies of Zhu Xi’s Learning)
developed in a number of directions. Yamazaki Ansai (1618–82) took
Zhu Xi as the first master after Confucius. To express his reverence
to Master Zhu, Ansai always wore dark red clothes and used dark red
handkerchiefs (‘Zhu’ in Chinese means ‘dark red’). Ansai believed that
all Neo-Confucian commentators in China and Japan including Fujiwara
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Seika and Hayashi Razan had distorted Zhu Xi’s teaching, and therefore
took upon himself the task of faithfully transmitting the inner and practical dimensions of Zhu’s teaching. He argued that to transmit Zhu’s
teachings was not simply a case of transplanting them from China to
Japan, but more importantly, a case of re-experiencing Zhu’s teaching
on humaneness and self-cultivation in one’s own life and in a Japanese
context. With regard to the relationship between Confucianism and
Shintô, Ansai took the same line as his predecessors and attempted to
fashion a new Shintô theology ‘using a Neo-Confucian structure’, thereby
making these two traditions allies as well as opening a possibility of
‘Neo-Confucianism’s penetration into the “ground bass” of Tokugawa
thought’ (Nosco, 1984: 11). Whereas Razan insisted on the sameness
of Shintô and Confucianism, Ansai agreed that there was an aAnity
between Confucianism and Shintô, but he nevertheless stressed the
nationalistic aspects of Confucianism and presented Shintô as the Way
unique to Japan. To his own question about what the Japanese students
of Confucius and Mengzi should do if China sent an army headed by
Confucius and Mengzi to attack Japan, Ansai replied that he would take
up weapons ‘to fight and capture them alive in the service of my country.
That is what Confucius and Mencius teach us to do’ (Tsunoda et al.,
1958: 369–70).
Ansai uncovered and explored a new dimension of Japanese Confucian Learning. For Razan, Confucian Learning served the bakufu externally and guided the direction of the bakufu by its moral codes and
ritual-laws, while Ansai believed that Confucian Learning was part of
one’s life and had to be cultivated through inner meditation and fulfilled
in social justice. The diCerences between Razan and Seika not only produced two major schools within Japanese Neo-Confucianism, but also
engendered two diCerent political attitudes. The followers of Razan would
support the status quo, while those of Ansai would be most likely to
engage in emotionally patriotic movements, and would support the ‘restoring the Emperor’s authority’ against the bakufu’s monopoly of power,
participate in sonno-joi (revering the emperor to expel the barbarian),
and engage in the Meiji Restoration.
Kaibara Ekken (1630–1714) developed the spiritual quality and the
practical application of Neo-Confucianism in Tokugawa Japan. Comparing Ekken with leading Chinese and Korean Confucian masters, Tucker
outlines Ekken’s contribution to Japanese Confucianism as follows:
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As Hsü Heng sought to demonstrate the relevance of Neo-Confucian
teachings for the Mongols under Khubilai in thirteenth century China,
and as Yi T’oegye adapted the Neo-Confucianism of Chu Hsi for the
Koreans in the sixteenth century, Ekken was similarly involved in the
transformation of the Way of the sages across cultural and national
boundaries. Recognizing the universal elements of Neo-Confucianism,
and aware of their particular application for Tokugawa society, Ekken
embraced the Way with remarkable dedication. In the teachings of the
Sung Neo-Confucian Chu Hsi (1130–1200), he saw a system of
personal cultivation, intellectual investigation, political organization,
and cosmological orientation that provided a broad context for
thought and a functional basis for action which he perceived as
essential for his time. (Tucker, 1989: 3)
Ekken transformed Neo-Confucianism from a rigid moral code of
restrictions to a system that was more suited to the ‘common sense’ of
society and politics, thereby completing the process of Japanising Confucian ethics. He was a firm believer in Zhu Xi’s teachings, yet under the
influence of the general mood in Ming China and Yi Korea, Ekken
attempted to revise rationalistic philosophy in the light of his own insights
and construct a vitalistic and vibrant doctrine internally rooted in a personal spiritual experience and externally based on a thorough observation of nature. This inevitably led him to challenge part of the orthodox
teachings. In his Taigi-roku (‘Grave Doubts’), Ekken seriously criticised
some of Zhu’s formulations and sincerely attempted to remodel them
into something meaningful and useful to the ordinary Japanese. ‘More
than anyone else he brought Confucian ethics into the homes of ordinary Japanese in language they could understand’ (Tsunoda et al., 1958:
374). He could not tolerate the dualism of principle (li) and material force
(qi), and of heavenly principle and human desires. He articulated the
dynamic relationship between the cosmological and human orders and
proposed a monistic understanding of material force. In this spirit of
realism Ekken emphasised the practical value of Confucian doctrines
in everyday life, and believed that the true Way of Confucianism was
found in the practical application of its teachings rather than in the old
and out-dated codes. Despite his criticism of some aspects of Zhu Xi’s
interpretations, Ekken was nonetheless emotionally attached to his
‘intellectual mentor’ and held fast to the teaching of Master Zhu. In this
sense Ekken can be said to have reformed Zhu Xi’s learning from within
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as ‘Doubt for Ekken was a means of genuine scholarly inquiry, not a sign
of a break with the Confucian tradition’ (Tucker, 1989: 65, 75).
The prevalence of Shushigaku eclipsed the Yômeigaku (the Study of
Wang Yangming’s Learning) in Japan. The Idealistic School in Japan did
not enjoy the privileges it had enjoyed in China during the later half of
the Ming Dynasty, but neither did it come to be extinguished, as it was
in Korea. The Shushigaku quickly gained recognition from the bakufu
and became its oAcial learning and eventually the State Orthodox Ideology (1790), while the scholars who studied and propagated the doctrine
of the heart/mind remained in the shadows, and were frequently considered ‘heterodox’ and even persecuted by the authorities. Nevertheless, a certain degree of tolerance was extended to Yômeigaku, so that it
was able to develop its teachings and distinctive schools. Scholars like
Nakae Tôju (1608–48) and Kumazawa Banzan (1619–91) pioneered
the Yômeigaku and emphasised the substance and function of the heart/
mind. Confronted with the oAcial doctrines, these scholars demonstrated
an independent spirit in developing the Japanese idealistic form of NeoConfucianism.
Neo-Confucianism had been adapted to Japanese needs and this meant
that the practical dimensions of Confucianism were emphasised at the
expense of its more philosophical deliberations. To enable Confucian
doctrines to serve Japanese society eAciently and eCectively, Ansai and
Ekken deliberately ignored the highly philosophical doctrines of Zhu Xi,
and gave their attention to the practical and realistic aspects of his teachings. Yet being bound to Zhu’s rationalistic principles, Ansai and Ekken
could not make the final breakthrough. In parting with Zhu Xi’s dogmas
and taking the subjective heart/mind of Wang Yangming as the foundation of Confucianism, Tôju took Japanese Confucianism forward into a
new arena, one in which inner experience and personal happiness took
precedence over external investigation and universal principles. Tôju
called the innate moral senses ‘the inner light’ or the ‘Divine Light of
Heaven’, and believed that it was only this light, not anything else, that
guided one’s life. What Tôju did not succeed in was the unification of the
notions of subjective experiences and social reforms so that personal
happiness could have been guaranteed by institutional structure. This
task was accomplished by one of his disciples, Kumazawa Banzan (1619–
91). Banzan turned to Mengzi’s theory of humane government (ren zheng)
for inspiration, where he found the resources for how to project one’s
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virtues to the world. He completed the theoretical process of combining
the inner and the external, personal experience and social convention,
and the individual’s happiness and public welfare, and established the
tenets that ‘Benevolent rule cannot be extended throughout the land
without first developing our material wealth . . . If the lord of a province
had wealth according to the Great Principle, the entire province would
be happy, and if the shogun had such wealth, the whole country would
be happy’ (Tsunoda et al., 1958: 388–9).
Banzan appeared to follow the same path as Razan in his politicisation
of Confucianism. However, while Razan transformed Shushigaku into a
tool to maintain the bakufu regime, Banzan made Yômeigaku a servant
of political administration in order to reform the social infrastructure.
The early Yômeigaku gained new momentum in the hands of prominent eighteenth–nineteenth-century scholars, such as Satô Issai (1772–
1859) and Oshio Chusai (1798–1837). These scholars ‘emphasised both
the importance of understanding based on personal experience, and the
study of the mind and human nature’ (Okada, 1984: 216). They and
their predecessors are characterised by a number of distinct features.
Firstly, like the exponents of later Idealistic Learning in China, few of
the Japanese scholars of Yômeigaku held exclusively to the learning of
the heart/mind. They combined Wang Yangming’s teaching of innate
good knowledge with Zhu Xi’s teaching of the investigation of things,
which necessitated compromise in these two traditions. For example,
Banzan insisted that both were needed and Hayashi Ryosai (1807–49)
declared, ‘In my humble opinion the special character of Ch’eng-Chu
and Lu-Wang is that they all go back to the same thing, they are all teachings of sages’ (Okada, 1984: 223). Secondly, although they insisted that
the heart/mind was the only reality and the ultimate source of all things,
they put greater emphasis on filial piety. When he was twenty-seven years
old, Tôju had to make a choice between his service to his feudal lord and
the care of his aged mother. He chose to care for his mother and thereby
placed filial piety above his social responsibilities. Later he made filial
piety the supreme virtue and the main constituent in his interpretation
of Confucian Learning, stating clearly that ‘Filial piety is the summit of
virtue and the essence of the Way in the three realms of heaven, earth,
and man. What brings life to heaven, life to earth, life to man, and life to
all things is filial piety. Therefore those who pursue learning need study
only this’ (Tsunoda et al., 1958: 384). Thirdly, the independent spirit
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and the search for the unity of knowledge and action promoted in
Yômeigaku cultivated the character of social innovation and practical
application in the Japanese scholars. The early masters of Yômeigaku
devoted themselves to improving practical utility, frequently in defiance
of the authority of learning. The later scholars directly challenged what
they considered the irrational and immoral institutions of Japan, which
was exemplified in the actions of Chusai who led a rebellion in 1837 in
order to relieve the starving people, and by Yoshida Shôin (1830–59)
and his disciples, many of whom enthusiastically prepared for and were
actively involved in the Meiji Restoration.
Alongside these two mainstream Neo-Confucian schools, a third school
developed throughout the Tokugawa period and was known as Kogaku,
the School of the Ancient Studies. Kogaku scholars discarded the teachings of Zhu Xi and Wang Yangming and believed that these schools had
been formed under a Daoist and Buddhist influence. They went back to
the Duke of Zhou, Confucius and Mengzi to discover the real teaching
of the sages. They argued that, although the scriptures of the sages ‘are
self-evident to all the world’, they had been led to confusion by later
commentators and annotators (Tsunoda et al., 1958: 401). Therefore,
the only way to grasp the truth of the sages was to discard the confounding writings and go back to the Sages themselves. Yamaga Sokô (1622–
85) described how he went on this course:
In the 1660s, I learned that my misunderstandings were due to reading
works by scholars from the Han, T’ang, Sung and Ming dynasties. I
went directly to the works of the Duke of Chou and Confucius, and
taking them as my model, I was able to straighten my own line of
thought. From then on, I stopped using the writings of later ages, and
by diligently studying works of the sage day and night, I finally clarified
and understood the message of the sages. (Nosco, 1984: 14)
Sokô searched the teachings of the sages to find the truth that would
provide answers to practical questions, not intellectual diversions. He
took the most important one to be how to guide the life of a samurai
(warrior, or more vividly, ‘military scholar’). Sokô applied Confucian
ethics to the warrior’s creed (bukyo) and for the first time he gave a systematic exposition of what later came to be known as the Way of the
Warrior (bushidô):
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The business of the samurai consists in reflecting on his own station in
life, in discharging loyal service to his master if he has one, in deepening
his fidelity in associations with friends, and, with due consideration
of his own position, in devoting himself to duty above all . . . It would
not do for the samurai to know the martial and civil virtues without
manifesting them. Since this is the case, outwardly he stands in physical
readiness for any call to service and inwardly he strives to fulfil the Way
of the lord and subject, friend and friend, father and son, older and
younger brother, and husband and wife.
(Tsunoda et al., 1958: 399)
Kogaku was further developed and deepened in the hands of Itô Jinsai
(1627–1705) and Ogyû Sorai (1666–1728). Jinsai deplored the current
negligence of the original teachings of Confucius and Mengzi, and insisted that the Analects was ‘the foremost book of all, rising above the
Six Classics’, that it alone ‘can serve as the standard and guide for the
teaching of the Way in all time,’ and that ‘the Book of Mencius is the key
that opens the gate of Confucianism at all times’, ‘is for all of us of later
times a magnet’, and is like ‘a lantern in the dark’ (ibid.: 419–20). Sorai
went even further. By identifying Confucius’ words with the Six Classics, he called for a return to the teaching of the early sage kings:
The Way of Confucius is the Way of the early kings . . . failing to
achieve a position of authority, he devoted himself to editing the Six
Classics so that they might be handed down to posterity. Thus the Six
Classics embodied the way of the early kings, and they are quite wrong
who say today that the way of Confucius is not the same as the way of
the early kings. (Tsunoda et al., 1958: 425)
The scholars of Kogaku took diCerent approaches in their opposition
to the Neo-Confucian tenets of distinguishing heavenly principle from
human desires, and saw the separation between being righteous and seeking benefits, as man-made contradictions. They followed the Way of the
Mean to justify human desires, to sanction properly seeking benefits, and
to prioritise politics over morality.
Seika and Razan liberated Confucianism from Zen monasteries as well
as from the classrooms of exegetical scholars, thus starting the long process of making Confucianism a living tradition that served the needs of
Japanese society. Tôju and Sorai broke through the external restriction
imposed by the objective principles of Zhu Xi, and by way of Yômeigaku
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they took Confucianism to be a useful and eCective tool for inner experience and social reform. On the one hand, this facilitated the penetration
of Confucian moral and political doctrines into Japanese psychology and
social life. On the other hand, it also secularised Confucianism and dried
up the intellectual fountain of Neo-Confucian Learning. Confucianism
was thus deprived of moral idealism and metaphysical deliberation, and
became merely the ‘art of government’. Therefore, it was unavoidable
that after Sorai, Japanese Confucian Learning went into decline, despite
the active involvement of many scholars in political life. Most of
the schools and movements, such as Setsu Aika (eclecticism) and Kosho
(exegetical studies of the classics), lacked a critical and original spirit.
The rapid introduction of western learning made Confucian scholarship
more or less an ‘empty learning’ and a ‘useless discipline’. The scholars
of enlightenment such as Fukuzawa Yûkichi (1834–1901) and Nishi
Amane (1829–97) targeted Confucianism as the chief cause of a backward society. Japan was advancing to become a capitalist and militarist
state, in which science and technology constantly had the upper hand
over Confucian Learning. Yet Confucianism still had a practical value
for Japan and Japanese modernisation did not completely expel Confucian ethics. Unlike its counterparts in China and Korea, Japanese Confucianism did not, or was not intended to, hold back Japan from becoming
a member of the modern world. Without losing most part of its own
culture heritage, Confucianism was successfully transformed into a
motivating power and moral assistance for modernisation and industrialisation. The Meiji Restoration (1868) formally established Shintô
as the state orthodoxy, and at the same time it allowed room for other
traditions to function. Moderation and tolerance brought together all
sorts of diCerent traditions and forces. The earlier eclectic maxims such
as Shinju-gôchi (‘Shinto and Confucianism can be combined to one’),
Bumbu-funi (‘Literary and military [training] are not incompatible’) and
Chuko-ippon (‘Loyalty to sovereign and loyalty to parents are one in
essence’) (Tsunoda et al., 1958: 592) continued in a new environment.
Thus Confucianism was patronised by the government, partly due to
its intimate relationship with Shintô and partly due to its moral power
counterbalancing the influence of western culture. It was taken as a
symbol of eastern morality in the lasting slogan Toyo no dotoku, Seiyo
no gakugei (‘eastern ethics and western science’), proposed by Sakuma
Shôzan (1811–64, Tsunoda et al., 1958: 607). As opposed to China and
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Korea, Japan gave Confucianism a chance to be part of the modernisation process: while its learning was criticised and its institutions such as
schools and academies dismantled, Confucianism did not cease to be
functional. A multidimensional transformation of Confucianism was
shortly forthcoming as the New Constitution was established. Traditionally minded scholars such as Motoda Eifu (1818–91) and Nishimura
Shigeki (1828–1902) transformed Confucian teachings to suit a rapidly
changing Japan, and made it easier for Confucian ethics to be incorporated into the education curriculum. The Imperial Prescript on Education
(Kyôiku chokugo) issued by the Emperor in 1890 ‘reflected a powerful
reaction to the Westernization tendencies of the early Meiji Period’, and
was a full-scale reinforcement of Confucian moral education (ibid.: 647).
Business-minded pioneers of capitalism such as Shibusawa Eiichi (1840–
1931) promoted the unity between morality and economics, transforming Confucian teachings into a motivating power for capitalism. In his
famous thesis The Analects and Abacus, for example, Eiichi proclaimed
that there was no contradiction between Confucian morality and market
economy. At the same time militarists also strengthened the Confucian
moral elements of bushidô to cultivate loyalty and militant virtues of the
nation, and to justify their military action in East Asia. Through these
two channels, elements of Japanese Confucianism were transmitted to
the modern era, one in which Confucianism was further altered to suit
the social, political and economic needs of a rapidly changing Japan and
Japanese society.
The end of the Second World War also terminated the deliberate use
of Confucianism by the government. This disruption did not last long,
however. After the Japanese economy took oC in the 1960s, Confucianism appears again in the nation’s agenda, which may be seen from the
proposal by former prime minister Yasuhiro Nakasone to reincorporate
Confucian ethics into the school curriculum, echoing similar actions taken
by Singapore (Küng & Ching, 1989: 85).
Questions for discussion
1. What are the diCerences and similarities between Mengzi and Xunzi?
2. How did Confucianism win a victory over other schools to become the
state religion during the Former Han Dynasty?
3. Is Mysterious Learning (Xuan xue) merely a development of Daoism?
What is the Confucian dimension of Mysterious Learning?
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4. What is the Rationalistic School of Neo-Confucianism? What is the
Idealistic School? How should we understand their opposition?
5. Why is it said that Korea is the second homeland of Confucianism?
6. In what way did Japanese Confucianism help to accelerate the modernisation of Japan while Chinese and Korean Confucianism was believed
to obstruct the process?
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We have highlighted some of the most popular subjects we handle above. Those are just a tip of the iceberg. We deal in all academic disciplines since our writers are as diverse. They have been drawn from across all disciplines, and orders are assigned to those writers believed to be the best in the field. In a nutshell, there is no task we cannot handle; all you need to do is place your order with us. As long as your instructions are clear, just trust we shall deliver irrespective of the discipline.

Are your writers competent enough to handle my paper?

Our essay writers are graduates with bachelor's, masters, Ph.D., and doctorate degrees in various subjects. The minimum requirement to be an essay writer with our essay writing service is to have a college degree. All our academic writers have a minimum of two years of academic writing. We have a stringent recruitment process to ensure that we get only the most competent essay writers in the industry. We also ensure that the writers are handsomely compensated for their value. The majority of our writers are native English speakers. As such, the fluency of language and grammar is impeccable.

What if I don’t like the paper?

There is a very low likelihood that you won’t like the paper.

Reasons being:

  • When assigning your order, we match the paper’s discipline with the writer’s field/specialization. Since all our writers are graduates, we match the paper’s subject with the field the writer studied. For instance, if it’s a nursing paper, only a nursing graduate and writer will handle it. Furthermore, all our writers have academic writing experience and top-notch research skills.
  • We have a quality assurance that reviews the paper before it gets to you. As such, we ensure that you get a paper that meets the required standard and will most definitely make the grade.

In the event that you don’t like your paper:

  • The writer will revise the paper up to your pleasing. You have unlimited revisions. You simply need to highlight what specifically you don’t like about the paper, and the writer will make the amendments. The paper will be revised until you are satisfied. Revisions are free of charge
  • We will have a different writer write the paper from scratch.
  • Last resort, if the above does not work, we will refund your money.

Will the professor find out I didn’t write the paper myself?

Not at all. All papers are written from scratch. There is no way your tutor or instructor will realize that you did not write the paper yourself. In fact, we recommend using our assignment help services for consistent results.

What if the paper is plagiarized?

We check all papers for plagiarism before we submit them. We use powerful plagiarism checking software such as SafeAssign, LopesWrite, and Turnitin. We also upload the plagiarism report so that you can review it. We understand that plagiarism is academic suicide. We would not take the risk of submitting plagiarized work and jeopardize your academic journey. Furthermore, we do not sell or use prewritten papers, and each paper is written from scratch.

When will I get my paper?

You determine when you get the paper by setting the deadline when placing the order. All papers are delivered within the deadline. We are well aware that we operate in a time-sensitive industry. As such, we have laid out strategies to ensure that the client receives the paper on time and they never miss the deadline. We understand that papers that are submitted late have some points deducted. We do not want you to miss any points due to late submission. We work on beating deadlines by huge margins in order to ensure that you have ample time to review the paper before you submit it.

Will anyone find out that I used your services?

We have a privacy and confidentiality policy that guides our work. We NEVER share any customer information with third parties. Noone will ever know that you used our assignment help services. It’s only between you and us. We are bound by our policies to protect the customer’s identity and information. All your information, such as your names, phone number, email, order information, and so on, are protected. We have robust security systems that ensure that your data is protected. Hacking our systems is close to impossible, and it has never happened.

How our Assignment Help Service Works

1. Place an order

You fill all the paper instructions in the order form. Make sure you include all the helpful materials so that our academic writers can deliver the perfect paper. It will also help to eliminate unnecessary revisions.

2. Pay for the order

Proceed to pay for the paper so that it can be assigned to one of our expert academic writers. The paper subject is matched with the writer’s area of specialization.

3. Track the progress

You communicate with the writer and know about the progress of the paper. The client can ask the writer for drafts of the paper. The client can upload extra material and include additional instructions from the lecturer. Receive a paper.

4. Download the paper

The paper is sent to your email and uploaded to your personal account. You also get a plagiarism report attached to your paper.

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