“Neo-Confucianism” is the most common English term used to specify a
philosophical and religious revival of Confucianism, beginning in China
during the ninth century CE, as a means of restoring the tradition
associated with Kongzi or Confucius and as a response to the various challenges of Daoism
and Buddhism. The term “Neo-Confucian” was coined in 1903 by a Japanese
scholar (preceded by an earlier French usage in the 1770s) in order to
define the unique characteristics of this Confucian renaissance, which
spread new trends in Confucian thought, ritual, social ethics,
self-cultivation, education, critical scholarship, study of the natural
world and political theory from China to Korea, Japan and Vietnam.
Although the arrival of Western-inspired modernization marked the end
of the Neo-Confucian epoch in East Asia, today’s so-called “New
Confucianism” sees itself both as a continuation of Neo-Confucian
culture and philosophy and also as a major new departure from the
philosophies of the past. |
Table of Contents (Clicking on the links below will take you to those parts of this article)
1. Defining the Confucian Way
Before we explore the revival of Confucian learning throughout East
Asia, we need to reflect on just what was being revived. Prior to the
emergence of the “Neo-Confucian” thinkers, the Confucian tradition
already had a long and distinguished tradition of commentary on the
teachings of the famous teachers from the legendary past into the
historical world of the Warring States and later.
The English labels “Confucianism” and “Neo-Confucianism” imply a close connection to the life and thought of Master Kong
or Kongzi (Confucius), whose traditional dates are 551-479 BCE. If the
term “Neo-Confucianism” is considered problematic because of its modern
origin, its ancestor, “Confucianism,” is likewise imprecise and without
a clear reference in traditional East Asian philosophical usage.
Critical scholars have pointed out that there is no single Chinese,
Korean, Japanese or Vietnamese traditional term that matches
“Confucianism.” The closest term would be the hallowed Chinese
designation of ru or scholar. Some have suggested that
Confucianism should be renamed, they have suggested Ruism or the Ruist
tradition; they point out that this would match more closely what
Master Kong thought he was doing in teaching about the glories of Zhou
culture. The problem is that ru originally meant a scholar of
ritual tradition and not just followers of Master Kong. While it is
true that, by the Song dynasty, ru did indeed come to mean a
“Confucian” as opposed to Daoist or Buddhist scholars, this was not the
case in the classical period. Therefore, it is true that all
“Confucians” were ru, although not all ru scholars were followers of Master.
As we shall see, the use of the term “Neo-Confucian” is confusing and
needs some careful revision. By Song times, there are some perfectly
good Chinese terms that can be used to define the work of these later
Confucian masters. There are a number of terms in use after the Song
such as ru or classical scholar, daoxue or learning of the way, lixue or the teaching of principle, xingxue or teaching of the mind-heart, or hanxue or
Han learning just to name a few. All of these schools fit into the
Western definition of Confucianism, but the use of a single name for
all of them obscures the critical differences that East Asian scholars
believe are stipulated by the diverse Chinese nomenclature. While
Confucians did almost always recognize each other across sectarian
divides, they were passionately concerned to differentiate between good
and bad versions of the Confucian Way.
Is it possible to provide a perfect and succinct definition of
the Confucian Way? Modern critical scholars are extremely wary of any
hegemonic set of essential criteria to define something as vast and
diverse as the Confucian Way in all its diverse East Asian forms. For
instance, is the Confucian tradition to be defined as an East Asian
philosophical discourse or is it better understood as one of China’s
indigenous religious wisdom teachings? Or is the Confucian Way
something entirely different from what would be included or excluded by
the criteria of the Western concepts of philosophy or religion?
Notwithstanding such proper scholarly reticence, two
contemporary Confucian philosophers, Xu Fuguan and Mou Zongsan, have
offered a suggestion about at least one sustaining and comprehensive
motif that suffuses Confucian thought from the classical age to its
modern revivals. First, Xu and Mou argue that Confucianism has always
generated and sustained a profound social and ethical dimension to its
philosophical and social praxis. This kind of commitment has lead many
western scholars to define Confucianism as an axiological philosophical
sensibility, a worldview ranging from social ethics to an inspired
aesthetics. Second, accepting for a moment the axiological nature of
much Confucian discourse, Xu and Mou give such philosophic reflections
a particular name and call this informing motif of the Confucian Way
“concern consciousness.” First, concern consciousness speaks of the
perennial Confucian “concern” for proper social relations and hence the
tradition’s abiding interest in ethical reflection and ethically
edifying ritual praxis. Secondly, concern consciousness is always set
within a social context. For instance, Confucian teachers have often
taught that the folk etymology of ren
or humaneness makes the point of social nature of all proper Confucian
action: humaneness is at least two people treating each other as they
ought to in order to sustain human flourishing. Therefore Xu and Mou
argue that all Confucian thinkers will eventually return to an
explication of some form of “concern consciousness” when they are
giving a robust and detailed explanation of the rich teachings of the
Confucian Way. An unconcerned Confucian is an oxymoron. The content and
context of their concern for the world and the Dao will vary
dramatically, yet the sense of concern, of having a care as the Quakers
taught on the other side of Eurasia, remains a hallmark of Confucian
2. Historical Background
historical development of the Confucian Way or movement has been
variously analyzed in terms of distinct periods. The simplest version
is that there was a great classical tradition that arose in the Xia,
Shang and Zhou kingdoms that was perfected in the works and records of
the legendary sage kings and ministers and was then continued and
refined by their later followers such as Kongzi, Mengzi (Mencius) and Xunzi.
The death of Kongzi in 481 BCE marked the end of the Spring and Autumn
periods of the Eastern Zhou kingdom and the beginning of the era called
the Warring States period. On the one hand, although later Chinese
thinkers decried the ceaseless interstate warfare that characterized
the era, on the other hand the Warring States period is remembered as
the most creative philosophical epoch in Chinese history. All of the
great indigenous schools of Chinese philosophy find their origin in
this period from 480 to 221 BCE when the Qin state finally unified the
empire under the rule of the First Emperor of the Qin. After the
incredible cultural efflorescence of the Warring States intellectuals,
all future philosophical achievements were deemed to be commentary on
the depositions of the classical masters.
Later scholars have suggested that this binary division of Chinese
philosophical history is too simple and that there are three or more
clear divisions for the Confucian movement because it has demonstrated
a longevity and continuity of maturation for more than two thousand
five hundred years. For instance, some modern scholars suggest that,
based on creativity and transformation of the tradition, there was a
three-fold division of the classical period, the Neo-Confucian
movements of the Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties and most recently
the era defined by the impact of the modern West on the East Asian
philosophical and religious Confucian worlds. The most complex
periodization differentiates the achievement of Confucian thinkers over
the centuries more subtly than either the binary or triadic divisions
allow. A strong case can be made for defining six discrete eras in the
historical development of the Confucian tradition in East Asia:
- The classical period beginning in the Xia, Shang and Zhou kingdoms:
includes the justly famous Warring States philosophers (c. 1700-221
- The rise of the great commentarial traditions on early classical texts during the Han dynasty (206 BCE—200 CE)
- The renewal of the Daoist tradition and the arrival of Buddhism (220-907 CE)
- The renaissance of the Song [“Neo-Confucianism”], the
flowering in the Yuan and Ming dynasties, and the spread of
Neo-Confucianism into Korea and Japan (960-1644 CE)
- The “Han Studies” or “Evidential Research” movements of the
Qing dynasty and the continued growth of the movement in Korea and
Japan (1644-1911 CE)
- The impact of the West, the rise of modernity, and the
decline and reformation of the Confucian Way as “New Confucianism”
(1912 CE to the present)
In order to give a capsule outline of the development of Confucianism
down to the rise of the great Neo-Confucian thinkers in the Song, what
follows is a very short set of outlines of the first three of these six
periods, which preceded the rise of Neo-Confucian movements. It is
important to remember that although Confucianism began as a Chinese
tradition it became an international movement throughout East Asia. A
full understanding of Neo-Confucianism requires that attention be paid
to its advancement in Korea, Japan and Vietnam along with the
continuing unfolding of the tradition in China.
a. The Classical Period
Master Kong, there was a long and distinguished tradition of sage
wisdom that stretched back even before the Xia and Shang dynasties.
Master Kong sought to collect, edit and transmit these precious texts
to his students in the hope that such an education project would lead
to the renewed flourishing of the culture of humaneness based on the
teachings of the sage kings and their ministers. Master Kong was
followed by a stellar set of Confucian masters, the most important
being Mengzi and Xunzi. These great Confucian masters not only argued
among themselves about the nature of the Confucian way, they confronted
the attacks of the other great schools and thinkers of the Warring
States period. The texts attached to the names of these great scholars
have served, along with the other early canonical material, to define
the contours of the Confucian Way ever since the Warring States period.
While Master Kong would have rejected the notion that he founded or created a new tradition, it is to his Analects
that countless generations of Confucians return to discover wisdom and
insight into the nature of Confucian culture. Further, great teachers
such as Master Meng and Master Xun continue to defend and refine the
teachings of Master Kong in robust debate with the other schools of the
Warring States period. Although there has always been skepticism about
the claim for such authorship, traditional Confucian scholars held that
Master Kong himself had an editorial role in the compilation of many of
the canonical texts that became ultimately the Thirteen Confucian
b. The Han Dynasty
The Han dynasty
contribution to the growth of the Confucian Way is often overshadowed
by the grand achievements of the classical period. Yet the Han scholars
edited almost all of the texts that survived and began to add their own
critical commentaries and interpretations to the canonical texts. In
many cases these Han commentaries are now recognized as classics in
their own right. One of the features of the Confucian tradition is the
use of various forms of commentaries as a vital philosophical genre. It
is a period that reveres historical traditions and hence the commentary
is viewed as a proper way to transmit the traditional learning.
c. The Daoist Revival and the Arrival of Buddhism
the fall of the Han dynasty, there was a marked revival of various
facets of the earlier Daoist traditions. The movement was called xuanxue or arcane or abstruse (profound) learning. Xuanxue thinkers were highly eclectic; sometimes they praised and used the great Warring States Daoist texts such as the Daodejing or the Zhuangzi
to frame their complicated philosophical and religious visions, and
sometimes they reframed materials drawn from the Confucian tradition as
well. It is universally recognized that the great xuanxue
scholars brought a new level of philosophical sophistication to their
analysis of the classical and Han texts. Moreover, this was also the
epoch of the emergence of the great Daoist religious traditions that
mark the Chinese and East Asian landscape from this era down to the
present day. The Daoist religious founders and reformers also claimed
the early texts such as the Daodejing, Zhuangzi and the Yijing [The Book of Changes] as their patrimony.
revival was ultimately eclipsed by the arrival of Buddhism in China.
The era stretching roughly from 200 to 850 marks the height of the
influence of Buddhism on Chinese culture. Along with the translation of
the immense Buddhist canon into Chinese, the scholar monks of this era
also created the unique Chinese Buddhist schools that went on to
dominate the religious life of East Asia. The Buddhists also introduced
novel social institutions such as monastic communities for both men and
women. Great Chinese schools of Buddhist philosophy and practice were
founded, such as the Tiantai, Huayan, Pure Land and Chan traditions. In
short, the impact on Chinese society and intellectual life was immense
and shaped the future of Confucian philosophy.
It is very important to remember that Confucianism continued to play a
vital and even creative role in the history of Chinese philosophy while
Buddhism was ascendant. Confucianism never “disappeared” from sight and
in fact continued to dominate elite family life and governmental
service. Confucianism remained the preferred approach to political and
social thought and much personal and communal ethical reflection was
concurrent with the powerful contributions of Daoist and Buddhist
3. The Emergence of Neo-Confucianism
traditional and modern historians of China mark the year 755 CE as the
great divide within the Tang dynasty. This was the year of the
catastrophic An Lushan rebellion and although the Tang dynasty formally
lasted until its final demise in 906, it never recovered its full
glory. And glorious the Tang was; it is the dynasty always remembered
as one of the high points of Chinese imperial history in terms of
political, military, artistic, philosophical and religious creativity.
For instance, it was the flourishing and cosmopolitan culture of the
Tang world—with everything from metaphysics to painting, calligraphy,
poetry, food and clothes—that spread throughout East Asia into the
emerging societies of Korea and Japan. Moreover, while the Tang is
noted as the golden age of Buddhist philosophical originality in terms
of the formation of important Chinese schools such as the Tiantai,
Huayan, Pure Land and Chan [Zen in Japanese pronunciation], a number of
important Confucian thinkers began to challenge the intellectual and
philosophical supremacy of Buddhism.
Three great Confucian scholars stand out as the earliest
“Neo-Confucians”: Han Yu (768-824), Li Ao (ca. 772-836) and Liu
Zongyuan (773-819). All three scholars launched a double-pronged attack
on Buddhism and a concomitant appeal for the restoration and revival of
the Confucian Way. Just after the deaths of this trio of Confucian
scholars, a late Tang emperor began a major persecution of Buddhism.
Although not a bloody event as persecutions of religions go, many major
schools failed to revive fully after 845 and this date, along with the
earlier rebellion of An Lushan, marks dramatic changes in the
philosophical landscape of China.
Along with his friends Han Yu and Li Ao, Liu Zongyuan was regarded as
one of the most famous scholars of his time. Liu is perhaps more of a
bridging figure between the early and later Tang intellectual worlds,
but he still expressed a number of highly consistent Neo-Confucian
themes and did so with a style that links him forward to the Song
masters. For instance, Liu, unlike many earlier Tang Confucians, was
interested in finding what he thought to be the principles expounded in
the classic texts rather than a convoluted, arcane if compendious
commentarial exegesis. He searched for the true meaning of the sages in
the texts and not merely to study the philological subtlety of
traditional commentarial lore. Further, Liu passionately believed that
the authentic Dao was to be found in antiquity, by which he meant the
true ideals of the Confucian teachings of the early sages. Along with
this commitment to finding the confirmed teachings of the sages in the
historical records, Liu was committed to political engagement based on
these sage teachings. Like all the later Neo-Confucians, Liu asserted
the need to apply Confucian ethical norms and insights to political and
Han Yu is considered to be the most important and innovative of the
Tang Confucian reformers. He was a true renaissance man; he was an
important political figure, brilliant essayist, Confucian philosopher
and anti-Buddhist polemicist. What gives his work such power is that he
carried out his various roles with a unified vision in mind: the
defense and restoration of the Confucian Way.
In order to restore the Confucian Way, Han Yu developed a program of
reform and renewal manifested in a literary movement called guwen
or the ancient prose movement. But Han was doing much more than simply
calling for a return to a more elegant prose style. He was urging this
reform in order to clarify the presentation of the ideas of the
Confucian tradition that was needlessly obscured by the arcane writing
styles of the current age. He wanted to write clearly in order to
express the plain truth of the Confucian Way. Moreover, Han stressed a
profound self-cultivation of the Dao. In order to do so, Han
accentuated the image of the sage as the proper role model for humane
self-cultivation. And last, but certainly not least, Han and his
colleagues proposed a Confucian canon-within-the-canon of a select set
of texts that especially facilitate such a quest, namely such works as The Doctrine of the Mean, The Great Learning, the Analects and the Mengzi .
Along with his reform of the style and canon of the teaching of the
Confucian Way, Han also explained his philosophical program in terms of
the vocabulary and sensibility of the later Song Neo-Confucian revival.
As Han put it, the sage seeks “to develop one’s nature to perfection
through the penetration of principle” or qiongli jinxing. Han himself wrote in an exegesis of a passage in the Analects in the examinations of 794:
Answer: The sage embraces integrity (cheng) and enlightenment (ming) as his true nature (zhengxing); he takes as his base the perfect virtue; this is equilibrium and harmony (zhongyong). He generates (fa)
these inside and gives them form outside; they do not proceed from
thought, yet all is in order. This mind [-heart] set on evil has no way
to develop in him, and preferable behavior cannot be applied to him; so
only the Sage commits no errors (Hartman 1986: 201).
Han Yu’s friend Li Ao shared similar views and wrote a highly
influential essay on human nature that sounded more of the philosophic
themes that would dominate the Song Neo-Confucian revival. While Li’s
vision of the self might be a bit too quiescent for the tastes of the
more activist Song literati, it still captured the tone of the
Therefore it is sincerity that the sage takes as his nature, absolutely
still and without movement, vast and great, clear and bright, shining
on Heaven and Earth. When stimulated he can then penetrate all things
in the world. In act or in rest, in speech or silence, he always
remains in the ultimate. It is returning to his true nature that the
worthy man follows without ceasing. If he follows it without ceasing he
is enabled to get back to the source (Barrett 1992: 102).
In many ways it was this attempt to “get back to the source” in the
classical Confucian texts that characterizes the philosophical
endeavors of the Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing masters. There is a
continuous debate about what this nature is, whether it is in constant
movement or is still; what “the ultimate” ultimately is or what the
nature of the source of all of this is.
4. Traits, Themes and Motifs
of the most common assumptions about the philosophical achievements of
the Neo-Confucian literati is that it was stimulated into life by
interaction with Daoist and Buddhist thinkers. While there is a genuine
element of truth in this stimulus theory of the origins of
Neo-Confucianism, it is also true that, once prompted by the best of
Daoist and Buddhist thought, the Neo-Confucians constructed their
philosophies out of materials indigenous to the historical development
of the Confucian Way. For instance, I have chosen to call this
historical background the Confucian Way (rudao)
because this was the concept used by the great Song masters. They
argued that they were not inventing something new but were rather
reviving “this culture of ours” as the true Dao of the sage kings of
antiquity as transmitted by Master Kong and Master Meng. Yet the
materials, the traits, concepts, themes and motifs the Song masters
used in reconstructing the Confucian Way were drawn almost exclusively
from the classical repertoire. These concepts, traits, themes and terms
- Ren as the paramount virtue and marker for all the other virtues such as justice/yi, ritual action/li, wisdom or discernment/zi and faithfulness/xin;
these five constant virtues provide the axiological sensibility to the
whole Neo-Confucian enterprise; these are linked to filial piety/xiao as an expression of primordial familial relationships.
- Li as ritual action; the social glue that holds society together and in fact helps to constitute the humane person.
- Tian or heaven and tianming or the Mandate of Heaven; di or earth; whether we should use a capital “H” for tian is an important question for the Neo-Confucian philosophy of religion; Tian, di and ren or heaven, earth and human beings form an important cosmological triad for the Neo-Confucians.
- Li as principle, pattern or order to the whole of the
cosmos; a key Song philosophic term as a little used early Confucian
- Xin or the mind-heart; the living center of the human
person; needs to be cultivated by proper ritual in order to realize
- Xing or human tendencies, dispositions or nature; this is the principle/li given to each emerging person by tian as the mandate for what the person ought to be.
- Qi or vital force or material force that functions as
the dynamic force or matrix out of which all object or events emerge
and into which they all return when their career is completed.
- Qing as emotion, desire and passion; intimately related to qi/vital force as the dynamic side of the cosmos.
- Dao wenxue & zun dexing or serious study and
reflection or honoring the moral tendencies or dispositions as
designations of two different ways of cultivating the xin/mind-heart and as contrasting modes of moral epistemology.
- gewu or the investigation of things was a key [and
highly contested] epistemological methodology for the examination of
the concrete objects and events of the world.
- Cheng or sincerity, genuineness and the
self-actualization of the moral virtues such that one achieves a
morally harmonious life via various forms of xiushen or self-cultivation by means of such praxis as jing mindfulness or attentiveness; this praxis is the “how” of the moral self-cultivation of the five constant virtues.
- Nei/wai as the inner and outer dimensions of any
process; often also used for the “king without, sage within”; often
also discussed in terms of the opposition of si/selfishness and pian/partiality or one-sidedness and gong of public spirit.
- tiyong or substance and function and ganying or
stimulus and response as typical analytic dyads used to describe the
reactive movement, generations, productions and emergence of the
objects and events of the cosmos.
- liyi fenshu or the teaching that principle is one or
unified while its manifestations are many or diverse; often seen as the
characteristic holistic organic sensibility and yet realistic pluralism
of Neo-Confucian thought.
- daotong or the Transmission of the Way or Succession,
or Genealogy of the Way; Zhu Xi’s masterful account of the revival of
the Confucian Way by a set of Northern Song philosophical masters.
- siwen or “this culture of ours” as the expression of
refined self-cultivation and the manifestation of principle from the
family to the cosmos.
- He or harmony and zhong or centrality as
designations of the goals or outcomes of the successful cultivation of
all the virtues necessary for humane flourishing.
- zhishan or the highest good as the realization of harmony and centrality; the ideal would be to become a sheng or sage (theoretically possible but in practice extremely difficult) or a junzi, a worthy or noble person.
- Taiji or the Supreme Polarity or Supreme Ultimate as
the highest formal trait of the principle of the whole cosmos and for
each particular thing; often discussed in terms of benti or the origin-substance or substance and source of all objects and events.
- Dao or the perfect good of all that is, will or can be; the totality of the cosmos as the shengsheng buxi or generation without cessation; also usually implies a moral “more” to the myriad things of the cosmos.
5. Song and Ming Paradigms: daoxue or “Teaching of the Way”
Zhu Xi’s (1130-1200) version of and description of the revival of
Confucian thought formed the paradigm for the main philosophical
developments that give rise to the Western notion of Neo-Confucianism
and the variety of East Asian designations of the various Song
movements such as daoxue.
Other thinkers would adopt, modify, challenge, transform and sometimes
abandon Zhu’s philosophy and his narrative of the development of the
tradition; nonetheless, it is Zhu’s version of the Confucian Way that
became the paradigm for all future Neo-Confucian discourse for either
positive affirmation or negative evaluation. It is Master Zhu who also
provides the philosophical interpretation of the rise of
Neo-Confucianism that defines the historical accounts of the tradition
from the Southern Song on. In short, Zhu’s theory of the daotong
or the transmission or succession (genealogy) of the Way not only
provides the content for the tradition but also the historical context
for its further analysis by partisans and critics in the Yuan, Ming and
Zhu Xi inherited the rich complexity of the revival of Confucian
thought from a variety of Northern Song masters. In organizing this
heritage into an enduring synthesis, Zhu was highly selective in his
choices about who he placed in the daotong
or the succession of the way or the true teachings drawn from the
legendary sages; historical paladins such as the Kings Wen, Wu and the
Duke of Zhou, and then Master Kong and Master Meng as the consummate
philosophers of the classical age. It is always important to remember
that the Song cultural achievement is much broader then Zhu’s favored
short list of Northern Song masters. Anyone interested in the history
of Song Confucian thought will need to pay careful attention to
thinkers as diverse as the Northern Song scholars and activists such as
Fan Zhongyan (989-1052), Ouyang Xiu (1007-1072), Wang Anshi
(1021-1086), Sima Guang (1019-1086), Su Shi (10-37-1101) and Southern
Song colleagues and critics of Zhu such as Lu Xiangshan (1139-1193) and
Chen Liang (1143-1194)—just to give a short list of major Song
philosophers, scholars, politicians, historians, social critics and
Zhu Xi’s own list included Zhou Tunyi (1017-1073), Zhang Zai
(1020-1077), Cheng Hao (1032-1085) and Cheng Yi (1033-1107) [and though
not canonized by Zhu, any such list would be incomplete without
recognition of Shao Yong (1011-1077)]. Each one of these thinkers,
according to Zhu, contributed important material for the recovery of
“this culture of ours” and to the formation of daoxue as the
appropriate Confucian teaching of the Song cultural renaissance. Zhu’s
unique contribution to the process was to give philosophical order to
the disparate contributions of the Northern Song masters.
a. Zhu Xi’s Synthesis
What Zhu Xi did
was to give a distinctive ordering to the kinds of terms listed above;
he gave them a pattern that became the philosophical foundation of daoxue.
For those who disagreed, such as Lu Xiangshan and the later Ming
thinker Wang Yangming (1472-1529), Zhu provided the template of Song
thought that must be modified, transformed or even rejected, but never
The most famous innovation Zhu provided, based on the original insights of the two Cheng brothers and Zhang Zai was to frame daoxue philosophy via the complicated cosmological interaction of principle/li and vital force/qi.
To understand Zhu’s argument, we must consider how the question of the
relationship of principle and vital force presented itself to Zhu Xi as
a philosophical problem in need of a solution. Zhu understood his
analysis of principle and vital force to be the answer to the question
of interpreting the relationship of the human mind-heart, human natural
tendencies and the emotions. Trying to resolve how all of this fit
together, Zhu borrowed a critical teaching of Zhang Zai to the effect
that the mind-heart unifies the human tendencies and the emotions. Zhu
then went on to claim that analytically understood this meant that the
principle qua human tendencies or dispositions gave a particular order
or pattern to the emerging person and that the dyad of principle and
vital force coordinated and unified the actions of the mind-heart. In
other words, Zhu discerned a tripartite patterning or principle of the
emergence of the person, and by extension, all the other objects or
events of the world in terms of form or principle, dynamics or vital
force and their unification via the mind-heart: the mature schematic is
form, dynamics and unification. Moreover, once this unification of the
principle and vital force was achieved and perfected, the outcome, at
least for the human person, was a state of harmony or balance.
Zhu’s ingenious synthesis, to which he gave the name daoxue
or teaching of the way, accomplished two different ends. First, its
breadth of vision provided Confucians with a response to the great
philosophical achievements of the Chinese Buddhist schools such as the
Tiantai or Huayan. Second, and more important, it outlined a Confucian
cosmological axiology based upon the classical Confucian texts of the
pre-Han era as well as an explanation for and analysis of the coming to
be of the actual objects or events of the world. Zhu achieved this feat
by showing how all the various concepts of the inherited Confucian
philosophical vocabulary could be construed in three different
modalities based on the pattern of form, dynamics and unification.
For instance, the analysis of the human person was very important for
Zhu Xi. Each person was an allotment of vital force generated by union
of the parents. Along with this allotment of qi
or vital force, each person inherited a set of natural tendencies or
what has often been called human nature. The subtlest portion of the
vital force becomes the mind-heart for each person. The mind-heart has
both cognitive and affective abilities; when properly cultivated, the
mind-heart, for instance, can recognize the various principles inherent
in its own nature and the nature of other objects and events. And when
subject to proper education and self-cultivation, the mind-heart can
even learn to correctly discern the various is/ought contrasts found in
the world in order to sustain human flourishing via ethical action. In
short, the mind-heart, as the experiential unity of concern
consciousness becomes the human agent for creative and humane reason.
The most pressing human is/ought contrast is that between the nature of
principle as the ethical tendencies of human nature and the dynamic
flux of human emotions that are governed, without proper
self-cultivation, by selfishness and one-sidedness. There is nothing
evil in an Augustinian sense of the human emotions save for the fact
that they are much too prone to excess without the guidance of
When asked to give an analytic account of this portrait of the human
person, Zhu Xi then noted that this was to be explained by recourse to
the concepts of the particular principle for each object or event,
vital force of each such object or event and the normative or “heavenly
mandate” of each object or event, which Zhu Xi called the Supreme
Ultimate or Polarity. The whole system was predicated on the daoxue
conviction of the ultimate moral tendency of the Dao to regulate the
creative structure of the ceaseless production of the objects and
events of the world. The world was thus to be seen as endlessly
creative and relentlessly realistic in the sense that this cosmic
creativity of the Dao eventuated in the concrete objects and events of
The experiential world of the human mind-heart and the analytic schema
of the unification of principle and vital force could also be described
by the use of classical Confucian selective or mediating concepts such
as cheng or self-actualization of jen or ultimate humanization as the paramount human ethical norm. Cheng and jen
provide the modes of self-actualization and the methods of
self-cultivation of the various emotional dispositions that give moral
direction to the person when the person is grasped by a proper
recognition of the various is/ought contrasts that inevitably arise in
the conduct of human life. Hence the concern-consciousness of the
person is the basis of individual creativity and manifests the
particular principle of the mandate of heaven in a specific time and
place for each person. Cosmic creativity or the ceaseless production of
the objects and events of the cosmos replicates itself in the life of
the person, and when properly actualized or integrated, can cause the
person to find the harmony and balance of a worthy or even a sage. Thus
even Zhu Xi’s explanation of the role of formal analysis, the arising
of the existential manifestation of human nature and human emotion via
the various mediating or selective concepts appropriate to the various
levels of abstract or concrete determination itself takes on a
carefully crafted triadic structure that manifests the proper
discernment of the various dyadic conceptual pairs so evident in
classical Confucian discourse. Both the tensions of the contrasting
pairs such as nature and emotion are preserved and yet re-inscribed in
the various allotments of the qi of each of the objects or
events of the cosmos with a vision of their harmonious and balanced
creative interaction. Zhu’s world is truly one of liyi fenshu or principle is one [unitary], whereas the manifestations are many.
Zhu Xi was equally famous for this theory of the praxis of the
self-cultivation of the ultimately moral axiology of his multi-level
system of philosophical analysis. His preferred method was that of gewu
or the investigation of things. Zhu Xi believed that all the objects
and events of the world had their own distinctive principle and that it
was important for the student to study and comprehend as many of these
principles as possible. It was a method of intellectual cultivation of
the mind-heart that included both introspection and respect for
external empirical research. In many respects, gewu was an attempt toward finding an objective and inter-subjective method to overcome pian
or the perennial human disinclination to be one-sided, partial or
blinkered in any form of thought, action and passion. In Zhu’s daoxue
a great deal of emphasis was placed on reading and discerning the true
meaning the Confucian classics, but there was also room in the praxis
for a form of meditation known as quiet-sitting as well as empirical
research into the concrete facts of the external world. The debates
about the proper way to pursue self-cultivation and the examination of
things proved to be one of the most highly debated sets of interrelated
philosophical concerns throughout the Neo-Confucian world.
b. Song and Ming Rebuttals of daoxue
In terms of philosophical debate about the worthiness of daoxue,
there was a great deal of disagreement about a variety of issues in the
Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties. The Qing scholars were the most
radical in their critique and merit a separate section; however, there
were immediate Song dynasty rejoinders to Zhu Xi who argued against
part of the synthesis on philosophical grounds. The first major
rebuttal came from Zhu’s friend and critic Chen Liang (1143-1194), one
of the great utilitarian philosophers of the Confucian tradition. What
worried Chen about Zhu’s daoxue was that it was too idealistic
and hence not suited to the actual geopolitical demands of the Southern
Song reality. While it is clear that Zhu was passionately involved in
the politics of his day, Chen contended that the world was a more
empirically complex place than Zhu’s system implied. “I simply don’t
agree with [your] joining together principles and [complex] affairs [as
neatly and artificially] as if they were barrel hoops” (Tillman 1994:
The nub of the debate revolved around the proper understanding of the notion of “public” or gong, gongli,
public benefit. Here Chen broke with Zhu and suggested that good laws
were needed just as good Neo-Confucian philosophers trained in a
metaphysical praxis such as daoxue. “The human mind-heart (xin) is mostly self-regarding, but laws and regulations (fa) can be used to make it public-minded (gong)….Law and regulations comprise the collective or commonweal principle (gongli)” (Tillman 1994:16).
Such arguments for pragmatic political theory and even an appeal to the
beneficial outcomes of carefully constructed legal regimes were never
well received in the Neo-Confucian period, even if they did point to
some genuinely diverse views within the Song Confucian revivals.
The most influential critique of Zhu Xi’s daoxue
also came from another good friend, Lu Xiangshan (1139-1193). The crux
of the philosophical disagreement resides in Lu’s different
interpretation of the role of the mind-heart in terms of the common
Neo-Confucian task of finding the right method for evaluating the moral
epistemology of interpreting the world correctly. In a dialogue with a
student, Lu pinpointed his argument with Zhu:
Bomin asked: How is one to investigate things (gewu)?
The Teacher (Lu Xiangshan) said: Investigate the principle of things.
Bomin said: The ten thousand things under Heaven are extremely
multitudinous; how, then, can we investigate all of them exhaustively?
The teacher replied: The ten thousand things are already complete in
us. It is only necessary to apprehend their principle (Huang 1977: 31).
There are two important things to notice about
Lu’s critical response to the question of the examination of things.
First, in many ways Lu does not disagree with the basic cosmological
outline provided by Zhu Xi. Second, the philosophic sensibility,
however, becomes even more focused on the internal self-cultivation of
the person. Many scholars have remarked upon the fact that we find a
turn inward in so much Song and Ming philosophy, and none more so than
in Lu’s intense desire to find principle within the person. Of course,
this is not to be understood as a purely subjective idealism. Rather,
Lu would argue that only by finding principle in the mind-heart could
the person then effectively comprehend the rest of the world. The point
is not a solipsistic retreat into subjective and relativistic reveries
of isolated individuality but rather a heightened ability to interpret
and engage the world as it really is. The critical question is to find
the proper place to start the investigation of things. If we start with
the things of the world, we fall prey to the problems of self-delusion
and partiality that infect the uncultivated person. But if we can find
the correct place and method to investigate things and comprehend their
principles, then we will understand the actual, concrete unity of
c. Wang Yangming
Centuries later in the
mid-Ming dynasty, Wang Yangming (1472-1529) sharpened what he took to
be Lu’s critique of Zhu Xi. Wang’s philosophy was inextricably
intertwined with of his eventful life. Wang also had the richest life
of any of the major Neo-Confucian philosophers: he was a philosopher of
major import, a poet, a statesman and an accomplished general. Wang
began as a young student by attempting to follow Zhu’s advice about how
or investigate things. With a group of naïve young friends they went
into a garden to sit in front of some bamboos in order to discern the
true principle of bamboo. The band of young scholars obviously thought
that this would be an easy task. One by one they fell away, unable to
make any progress in their quest to understand bamboo principle. Wang
was the last to give up and only did so after having exhausted himself
in the futile effort. Wang recounts that he simply believed that he
lacked the moral and intellectual insight to carry out the task at
hand; at this time he did not question Zhu’s master narrative about how
to engage the world as a Confucian philosopher.
Later during a painful political exile in the far south of China, Wang
Yangming had a flash of insight into the problem of finding the true
location of principle. As Tu Weiming writes, “For the first time
Yangming came to the realization that “My own nature is, of course,
sufficient for me to attain sagehood. And I have been mistaken in
searching for the li [principle] in external things and affairs [shiwu]”
(Tu 1976: 120). Wang clearly understood this enlightenment experience
as a confirmation that Lu Xiangshan was correct when Lu had declared
that principle was to be found complete within the mind-heart of the
person. In much greater detail than Lu, Wang then set out to develop
the philosophical implications of the primordial insight into the
proper way to carry out Confucian moral epistemology and
self-cultivation. And after having straightened out the epistemology,
Wang then went on to explain how the Confucian worthy should act in the
world. This strong emphasis on the cultivation of the mind-heart led to
the categorization of Wang’s teaching as a xinxue or teaching of the mind-heart as opposed to Zhu’s lixue or teaching of principle, and, in fact, this is the way later scholars often labeled the teachings of Zhu and Wang.
The way Wang taught about the task of realizing what he called the
innate goodness of human nature was his famous doctrine of the unity of
knowledge and action. As Wang said, “Knowledge is the direction for
action and action is the effort for knowledge” and “Knowledge is the
beginning of action and action is the completion of knowledge” (Ching
1976: 68). The problem that Wang was addressing was the deep concern
that Zhu’s method for examining things in order to cultivate the
essential goodness of the mind-heart was too fragmented and that such
epistemological fragmentation would eventuate in moral failure and
cognitive incompetence. Real praxis and theory could not be separated,
and even if Wang acknowledged that Zhu was a sincere seeker after the
Dao, Wang believed that Zhu’s methods were hopelessly flawed and
actually dangerous to the cultivation of the Confucian worthy.
d. The Role of Emotion
There was yet
another philosophical realignment within Ming thought that is harder to
identify with the specific teachings of any one master, namely the
debate over the role of qing
or emotion within the Neo-Confucian world of discourse [representative
scholars would be Li Zhi (1527-1602) and Ho Xingyin (1517-1579)]. The
nature of the emotions or human feelings was always a topic of
reflection within the broad sweep of the historical development of
Confucianism because of the persistent Confucian fascination with moral
anthropology and ethics. Zhu Xi had a very important place for the
emotions in his teachings of the way, though many later thinkers felt
that Zhu was too negative about the function of the emotions. While it
was perfectly clear that Zhu never taught that the emotions per se were
evil or entirely negative, he did teach that the emotions needed to be
properly and carefully cultivated in terms of the conformity of the
emotional life to the life of principle. Zhu thematized this as the
contrast between the daoxin or the Mind of Dao and the renxin
or the Mind of Humanity (the mind of the psychophysical person).
Moreover, it was also perfectly clear that Zhu taught that the truly
ethical person needed to realize the Mind of Dao in order to actualize
the human tendencies as mandated by heaven for each person. If not
hostile to the emotions, Zhu was wary of them as the prime location for
human self-centered and partial behavior.
By the late Ming dynasty many of the followers of Wang Yangming harshly
questioned what they took to be the negative Song teachings about the
emotional life. In fact, many of these thinkers made the bold claim
that the emotions were just as important and valuable philosophical
resources for authentic Confucian teachings as reflections on the
themes of principle or vital force. In fact, they contended that it was
a proper and positive interpretation of human emotions and even
passions that distinguishes Confucianism from Daoism and Buddhism.
Whether or not these thinkers were correct in their interpretations of
Daoist and Buddhist thought need not detain us here. What is more
important is that these thinkers developed a more positive
interpretation of qing
than had been the case in earlier Song and Ming thought. It might be
argued that such a concern for the emotions was just another marker of
the Neo-Confucian turn toward the subject, a flight to contemplation of
an inner subjective world as opposed to the much more activist style of
the Han and Tang scholarly traditions. However, this speculation about
emotion, even romantic love, had the unintended effect of allowing
educated Chinese women to enter into the debate. Debarred, as they
noted, from active lives outside the literati family compounds, the
women observed that although living circumscribed lives compared to
their fathers, brothers, husbands and sons, they did know something
about the emotions—and that they had something positive to add to the
Dorothy Ko’s important study of the role of educated women tells the
wonderful and poignant story of three young women, Chan Tong (ca.
1650-1665), Tan Ze (ca. 1655-1675) and Qian Yi (fl. 1694). All three
were eventually the wives of Wu Ren, with Chan and Tan dying very early
in life and leaving what would be called the Three Wives Commentary on the famous Ming drama The Peony Pavilion
to be completed and published in 1694 by the third wife, Madame Qian.
The three women demonstrated just as great scholarly exegetical and
hermeneutic skills as their husband, and he always acknowledged their
authorship and their collective and individual genius against those who
thought women unable to achieve this level of cultural, artistic and
philosophical sophistication. In short, the three women defended and
explicated the theory about human emotions, also held by the radical
Taizhou school followers of Wang Yangming, that even the entangled
emotions of romantic love could become “a noble sentiment that gives
meaning of human life” (Ko 1994:84). Although not widely accepted in
late Ming and Qing society, these Confucian women defended the notion
of companionate marriage based, in part, on a Confucian analysis of the
emotional needs of women and men.
e. Evidential Research
conquest of all of China by the Manchu in 1644, there was a tremendous
cultural backlash against the radical thinkers of the late Ming
dynasty. Rather than seeking validation of the emotions and human
passions, many Qing scholars took a completely different approach to
rediscover the true teachings of the classical Confucian sages. The
point of departure for all of these thinkers was to reject the
philosophical foundations of both Song scholars such as Zhu Xi and Ming
teachers such as Wang Yangming. The charge the radical Qing scholars
made against both Zhu and Wang Yangming was that both lixue and xinxue
were completely infused with so much extraneous Daoist and Buddhist
accretions that the true Confucian vision was subverted into something
strange to the teachings of the classical Confucian masters. Therefore,
the task of the Qing scholars was to strip Neo-Confucianism of its
Daoist and Buddhist subversive inclusions.
The method that the Qing scholars chose has been called hanxue or Han Teaching or kaozhengxue,
Evidential Research Learning. The chief tactic was to argue that the
best way to return to true Confucian teachings in the face of Song
Neo-Confucian distortions was to return to the work of the earliest
stratum of texts, namely the work of the famous Han exegetes. The
theory was that these Han scholars were closer to the classical texts
and were also without the taint of undue Daoist or Buddhist influence.
The other way to describe the movement is to note that these scholars
promoted a various rigorous historical-critical and philological
approach to the philosophical texts based on what they called an
evidential research program. The grand axiom or rubric of the kaozhengxue
scholars was to find the truth in the facts. They abjured what they
believed to be the overly metaphysical flights of fancy of the Song and
Ming thinkers and went back to the careful study of philology and
textual and social history in order to return to a true Confucian
scholarly culture. The better philosophers of this group, with Ku Yanwu
(1613-1682) and Dai Zhen (1724-1777) as the bookends of the tradition,
recognized that such an appeal to research methodology as opposed to
Song metaphysics was also a philosophical appeal in its own right. Yet
all these Evidential Research scholars were united in trying to find
the earliest core of true Confucian texts by a meticulous examination
of the whole history of Confucian thought. Along with major
contributions to Confucian classical studies, these Evidential Research
philosophers also made major additions to the promotion of local
historical studies and even advanced practical studies in agriculture
and water management. They really did try to find the truth in the
facts. Yet the world of the Qing Evidential Research scholars was as
ruthlessly destroyed as the metaphysical speculations of Song-style
philosophers with the arrival of the all-powerful Western imperial
powers in the middle of the 19th century.
6. Korean and Japanese Contributions
is extremely important to remember that Neo-Confucianism was an
international and cross-cultural tradition in East Asia, with different
manifestations in China, Korea, Japan and Vietnam. For instance, a
strong case can be made for the strong philosophical creativity of
Korean Neo-Confucians in the 15th and 16th centuries and in Japan after
the inception of Tokugawa rule in 1600. Two examples will have to
suffice to demonstrate that in some eras the most stimulating and
innovative Confucian philosophical work was being done in Korea and
Japan. As mentioned above, little study has been devoted to the
Vietnamese reception and appropriation of Neo-Confucian philosophy at
that time, and thus it is still impossible to speak with as much
confidence about it as we can about the creativity of the Korean and
Japanese Neo-Confucian philosophers.
a. Yi T’oegye and Yi Yulgok
Neo-Confucians who practiced the official ideology of the Choson
kingdom after its founding in 1392 were devoted followers of Zhu Xi’s daoxue.
But just because they were profound students of Master Zhu’s Southern
Song Neo-Confucian synthesis does not mean that they did not realize
that there were still a number of outstanding philosophical issues that
needed to be debated in terms of how Zhu Xi depicted the daoxue
project as a coherent philosophical vision. The most famous case of
this Korean perspicacity is found in the justly famous Four-Seven
Debate, a profound dialogue among scholars about the role of emotions
within Zhu’s Neo-Confucian cosmology; the two most famous philosophers
were Yi T’oegye (1501-1570) and Yi Yulgok (1536-1583).
The debate was framed as a technical discussion of two different lists
of emotions (one list of four and another of seven different emotions,
and hence the name for the Four-Seven Debate) inherited from the
classical Confucian texts. But the most interesting underlying
philosophical issues that emerged had to do with the analysis of the
nature of and relationship between principle and vital force. In short,
the Korean scholars realized that as elegant as it might be, there were
problems with Zhu’s account of the nature of principle. The problem was
put this way in a famous metaphor: how could a dead rider (principle as
a purely formal pattern) guide the living horse of vital force? In
other words, the Korean scholars understood clearly that the whole
sensibility of the daoxue
project was suffused with an emphasis on cosmic process. Hence, if
process was so essential to the working of Zhu’s system, how could
principle, as a critical philosophical trait, itself be without the
living creativity of process? In the words of the Yijing or Book of Changes, if the very spirit of the Dao is shengsheng buxi
or the generation [of the myriad things] without cessation, then how
does this notion of genuine cosmological creativity inform the proper
interpretation of principle as the key trait of the formal side of
Zhu’s master narrative?
Yi Yulgok, the younger of the two giants of Korean Neo-Confucianism,
gave the most creative response to this question. Yulgok is often
portrayed as a proponent of a qi-monism wherein Yulgok defends the primacy of process sensibilities in daoxue
by augmenting the role of vital force at the expense of principle.
While Yulgok does indeed have all kinds of illuminating insights into
the role of vital force, he never abandons a deep concern for the role
of principle. Yulgok forthrightly links the notion of principle
creatively with the equally important concept of cheng or the
self-actualization of the mind-heart. In making this strong linkage,
Yulgok is able to defend the thesis that principle itself is a vital
manifestation of the living creativity of the Dao as the ceaseless
generation of the myriad things. It was a philosophical tour-de-force
and is probably the most imaginative reinterpretation of Zhu’s daoxue to be found in traditional East Asia.
b. Kaibara Ekken
In 17th century Tokugawa Japan Kaibara Ekken (1630-1714) provides an
exemplar of the Japanese contribution to the refinement of
Neo-Confucian discourse. Ekken, like so many other great Confucian
scholars, was something of a renaissance figure. This social concern
manifested itself in some very traditional ventures such as the
publication of his famous Precepts for Daily Life in Japan,
wherein he tried to give advice about how Confucian principles could be
applied to the conduct of concrete daily life. Moreover, this passion
for the concrete details of daily life also led to a fervent naturalist
concern for the world of plants, animals, fish and even shellfish.
Ekken not only wrote about these humble creatures but, like many early
Western naturalists, provided illustrations of these plants and
Ekken’s concern for the dynamic processes of the quotidian world also led him to reread Zhu Xi’s daoxue
in a dramatic way. For instance, Ekken argued that the Supreme
Ultimate/Polarity was not some kind of abstract pattern but actually
the correct name for the primordial qi before it began to
divide into the yin and yang forces. Ekken did not abandon Zhu’s
category of principle but rather read the cosmos via a stronger
emphasis on the dynamic role of vital force. “The ‘Way of the sage’ is
the principle of life and growth of heaven and earth; the original qi
harmonizing the yin and yang in ceaseless fecundity” (Tucker 1989: 81).
Ekken made a further deduction from his re-evaluation of the role of
vital force, namely that there is no ontological or cosmological ground
for holding to a distinction between the ideal nature, mandated by tian,
and the physical nature or endowment of the particular creature or
person. It is for this reason that Ekken is often held to be a champion
of the primacy of a qi-monism, but this kind of reduction does
not do justice to Ekken’s subtle re-inscription of the various roles of
concepts such as principle, vital force and the Supreme
Ultimate/Polarity within daoxue. Just as with his Korean
colleagues, Ekken’s naturalistic vision of the Confucian Dao was such
that he believed the nature of the Dao “flows through the seasons and
never stops. It is the root of all transformations and it is the place
from which all things emerge; it is the origin of all that is received
from heaven” (Tucker 1989: 81).
The fate of Korean and Japanese Neo-Confucianism was subject to the
same immense impact of the arrival of the Western imperial powers. As
Korea and Japan struggled to find their ways in the modern world,
Neo-Confucianism seemed a historical part of their traditional cultures
and hardly something of great value for the transformations of culture
in the contemporary world dominated by the Western powers. In this
sense, the arrival of Western-inspired modernization marked the end of
the Neo-Confucian epoch in East Asia.
7. The Legacy of Neo-Confucianism
arrival of the imperial Western powers in East Asia during the
nineteenth century caused an unprecedented challenge to the Confucian
traditions of the region. Never before had the countries of East Asia
faced a combination of military conquest, cultural attack and
infiltration by a powerful new civilization. Opium, guns and ideas were
pouring into Asia during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, with
catastrophic results for the sphere of Confucian East Asia. The
intellectual assault was as powerful – and perhaps even more
significant in the long term – as the material impositions of colonial
and semi-colonial regimes. No Asian tradition suffered more than the
Yet even in the darkest hours after 1911, a significant renewal
movement arose in East Asia in defense of the good to be recovered from
traditions such as Confucianism. Along with the revivals of Daoism and
Buddhism, there was a new movement in East Asia called in English ‘New
Confucianism’ in order to distinguish it from the previous avatars of
the Confucian Way. Although New Confucianism has its obvious roots in
the great achievements of the Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing periods, it is
also the child of intercultural dialogue with Western philosophical
movements and ideas. While it is too soon to chart the course of New
Confucianism, it is clear that some form of the Confucian Way will not
only survive into the 21st century but will flourish anew in East Asia
and farther abroad wherever the East Asian Diaspora carries people for
whom the Confucian Way functions as part of their cultural background.
Hitherto, it is impossible to chart the changes wrought by either
contemporary philosophers who are dedicated to the revival and
reformation of the Confucian Way or by other scholars who are
interested in Confucian discourse as merely one important traditional
element for modern East Asian philosophers to utilize in terms of their
own constructive work. It is clear, however, that Neo-Confucianism has
now passed over into a completely new era, that of New Confucian
ecumenical dialogue and conversation with philosophers from around the
global city of a vastly expanded new republic of letters.
8. References and Further Reading
Barrett, T. H. Li Ao: Buddhist, Taoist, or Neo-Confucian? Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992.
Berthrong, John H. Transformations of the Confucian Way. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1998.
Berthrong, John H. and Berthrong, Evelyn Nagai. Confucianism: A Short Introduction. Oxford: Oneworld Publications, 2000.
Black, Alison Harley. Man and Nature in the Philosophical Thought of Wang Fu-chih. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1989.
Bol, Peter K. "This Culture of Ours": Intellectual Transition in T'ang and Sung China. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1992.
Bresciani, Umberto. Reinventing Confucianism: The New Confucian Movement. Taipei, Taiwan: The Taipei Ricci Institute for Chinese Studies, 2001.
Chang, Carsun. The Development of Neo-Confucian Thought. 2 Vols. New York: Bookman Associates, 1957-1962.
Chen, Chun. Neo-Confucian Terms Explained: The Pei-hsi tzu-I by Ch’en Ch’un (1159-1223). Trans. and ed. Wing-tsit Chan. New York: Columbia University Press, 1986.
Cheng, Chung-ying. New Dimensions of Confucian and Neo-Confucian Philosophy. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1991.
Cheng, Chung-ying and Nicholad Bunnin, eds. Contemporary Chinese Philosophy. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 2002.
Ching, Julia. To Acquire Wisdom: The Way of Wang Yang-ming. New York: Columbia University Press, 1976.
Ching, Julia. The Religious Thought of Chu Hsi. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.
Chu, Hsi and Lü Tsu-ch'ien. Reflections on Things at Hand: The Neo-Confucian Anthology. Trans. Wing-tsit Chan. New York: Columbia University Press, 1967.
Chung, Edward Y. J. The
Korean Neo-Confucianism of Yi T'oegye and Yi Yulgok: A Reappraisal of
the "Four-Seven Thesis" and Its Practical Implications for
Self-Cultivation. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1995.
Elman, Benjamin A. From Philosophy to Philosophy: Intellectual and Social Aspects of Change in Late Imperial China. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1984.
Fung, Yu-lan. A History of Chinese Philosophy. 2 vols. Trans. Derk Bodde. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1952-53.
Graham, A. C. Two Chinese Philosophers: The Metaphysics of the Brothers Ch'eng. La Salle, IL: Open Court, 1992.
Hartman, Charles. Han Yü and the T'ang Search for Unity. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986.
Henderson, John B. The Development and Decline of Chinese Cosmology. New York: Columbia University Press, 1984.
Huang- Siu-chi. Lu Hsiang-shan: A Twelfth Century Chinese Idealist Philosophy. Westport, CT: Hyperion Press, 1977.
Huang Tsung-hsi. The Records of Ming Scholars. Eds. Julia Ching with Chaoying Fang. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1987.
Ivanhoe, Philip J. Confucian Moral Self Cultivation. Second Edition. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 2000.
Jensen, Lionel M. Manufacturing Confucianism: Chinese Traditions and Universal Civilization. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1997.
Kalton, Michael C., et al. The Four Seven Debate: An Annotated Translation of the Most Famous Controversy in Korean Neo-Confucian Thought. Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press, 1994.
Kasoff, Ira E. The Thought of Chang Tsai. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984.
Kim, Yung Sik. The Natural Philosophy of Chu Hsi, 1130-1200. Philadelphia, PA: Memoirs of the American Philosophic Society, 2000.
Ko, Dorothy. Teachers of the Inner Chambers: Women and Culture in Seventeenth-Century China. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1994.
Liu, James T. C. Reform in Sung China: Wang An-shih (1021-1086) and His New Policies. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1959.
Liu, James T. C. Ou-yang Hsiu: An Eleventh-Century Neo-Confucianist. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 1967.
Liu, Shu-hsien. Understanding Confucian Philosophy: Classical and Sung-Ming. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1998.
Liu, Shu-hsien. Essentials of Contemporary Neo-Confucian Philosophy. Westport, CT and London: Praeger, 2003.
Makeham, John, ed. New Confucianism: A Critical Examination. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003.
Maruyama, Masao. Studies in the Intellectual History of Tokugawa Japan. Trans. Mikiso Hane. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1974.
Metzger, Thomas A. Escape from Predicament: Neo-Confucianism and China's Evolving Political Culture. New York: Columbia University Press, 1977.
Munro, Donald J. Images of Human Nature: A Sung Portrait. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988.
Neville, Robert C. Boston Confucianism: Portable Tradition in the Late-Modern World. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2000.
Nosco, Peter, ed. Confucianism and Tokugawa Culture. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984.
Ro, Young-chan. The Korean Neo-Confucianism of Yi Yulgok. Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press, 1989.
Tillman, Hoyt Cleveland. Ch'en Liang on Public Interest and the Law. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1994.
Tillman, Hoyt Cleveland. Confucian Discourse and Chu Hsi's Ascendancy. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1992.
T’oegye, Yi. To Become a Sage: The Ten Diagrams on Sage Learning by Yi T'oegye. Trans. Michael C. Kalton. New York: Columbia University Press, 1988.
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