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NEO-CONFUCIANISM AND WESTERN INFLUENCE:
IMPLICATIONS FOR MODERN CHINESE EDUCATION
A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL OF
THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE
DEGREE OF DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
In memory of my father,
Mr. Chi-kuang Chen (1901-1980), a poet, and
My greatest gratitude goes to Dr. Robert R. Sherman, chairperson
of my supervisory committee. It is Dr. Sherman who first attracted me
to the department, and he has carefully and diligently guided me during
my five years of study. I have learned from him, not only knowledge
and methods of acquiring knowledge, but attitude, manner, and ways of
dealing with problems and affairs, as well as conducting oneself. Without
him, I really would have achieved nothing, and in him, I have seen a
model of a great teacher.
Next, I would like to thank other faculty of the committee: Dr.
Marilyn Holly, Dr. Arthur Newman, and Dr. Rodman Webb, for their
enthusiasm, patience, and friendship in carefully reading my drafts
and offering prompt and insightful comments and valuable suggestions.
I also would like to thank Dr. Samuel Andrews for reading my dissertation
and for taking part in my oral examination.
I would like to thank Peggy and Frank Friedmann who recommended me
to the University and have given me unfading spiritual support; former
President Betty Sun and President Jung-hwa Chen of Taipei Municipal
Teachers' College for approving my leave of absence and my fellowships
for studying abroad; and the National Bureau of Personnel and the
National Science Council which granted me these fellowships. Also I
would like to thank many other friends and colleagues who have had
concern for my family and me; they know who they are.
Finally, I would like to thank my mother, wife, son, daughter,
brothers, sisters, and father-in-law. I love them all.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS. . . ..... iii
LIST OF FIGURES. . ... . vii
ABSTRACT . .... . . viii
ONE THE PRESENT SITUATION AND FUNDAMENTAL PROBLEMS .. 1
Introduction . . .. 1
The Present Study. ... . .. 10
Assumptions . .... . 10
Purpose . .. 11
Methodology and Organization of the Study. ... 12
Terms. . ... ....... 14
Translations ... .. ......... 16
A Breakthrough In Educational Development. ... 18
Fundamental Problems .... .. 21
Notes. . ... . 28
TWO THE ORIGINS, DEVELOPMENT, AND PHILOSOPHIES
OF NEO-CONFUCIANISM. . . ... 31
The Origins of Neo-Confucianism in
Ancient Confucianism .... .. 32
The Analects of Confucius. ..... . 33
The Great Learning . .. 36
The Doctrine of the Mean. . .... 37
The Mencius. . ... ....... 38
The Development of Neo-Confucianism. ...... 40
The Philosophies of Sung and Ming
Neo-Confucianists.... . . 44
Chou Tun-i (1017-1073 A.D.). . 44
Shao Yung (1011-1077 A.D.) and
Chang Tsai (1020-1077 A.D.). . ... 46
Ch'eng Hao (1032-1085 A.D.) and
Ch'eng I (1033-1107 A.D.)
Chu Hsi (1130-1200 A.D.) . 53
Lu Hsiang-shan (1139-1193 A.D.). ........... 57
Wang Yang-ming (1472-1529 A.D.) . 59
Summary. . . ... ...... 65
The Principle of Nature. . ... 66
Material Force . . .. 67
Human Nature . . ... 67
Humanity . . . 70
Notes. . . ... ....... 72
THREE THE EDUCATIONAL THOUGHT OF NEO-CONFUCIANISM. .. 79
Sagehood: The Ultimate Goal of Education ... 79
Knowledge and Action . . ... 84
Intellectual Learning. . . 88
Moral Cultivation. . . 91
Elementary Education . . ... 99
Summary . . .. 102
Notes. . . . 105
FOUR THE WESTERN INFLUENCE. . . ... 110
The Introduction of Western Culture into China .. .112
John Dewey's Philosophy and Its Influence. ... 124
Hu Shih and the New Culture Movement ... .124
John Dewey's Philosophy and Neo-Confucianism .. 129
John Dewey's Philosophy and Sun Yat-senism 131
Educational Reforms Under John Dewey's
Influence. . . 135
The Method of Thinking . .. 140
Educational Aims . .. . 144
The Child and Learning . . 149
Summary. . . ... ...... 156
Notes. . . ... ....... 160
FIVE A SYNTHESIS: SUGGESTIONS FOR BUILDING A PHILOSOPHY OF
EDUCATION IN MODERN CHINA ON TAIWAN. . ... 170
Educational Implications of Neo-Confucianism .. 171
Educational Aims . .... .171
Educational Content. . .. .179
Educational Methods . ....... .183
Educational Implications of John Dewey's Philosophy
of Education . . ... .188
Educational Aims . . 188
The Method of Thinking . ... 189
The Child and Learning . .... 190
Moral Education. . ... 192
The Democratic Ideal in Education. . ... 196
Analytic Philosophy and Education. . .. 201
A Synthesis--Suggestions for Building A Modern
Chinese Philosophy of Education. .. 214
Notes .......................... 219
BIBLIOGRAPHY ................... ........ 225
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH ....................... 235
LIST OF FIGURES
I Chinese Dynasties ................ .... 17
II Diagram of the Supreme Ultimate. ...... .. 45
III A Synthesis of Ideas and Concepts of
Neo-Confucianism . . .. 92
Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
NEO-CONFUCIANISM AND WESTERN INFLUENCE:
IMPLICATIONS FOR MODERN CHINESE EDUCATION
Chairperson: Dr. Robert R. Sherman
Major Department: Foundations of Education
The study points out that Chinese philosophy of education and
other aspects of culture presently are undergoing a transformation,
trying to integrate the merits of Western and Chinese cultures, thus
constructing a new mind. The similarities and even the differences
between John Dewey's philosophy and Neo-Confucianism can contribute to
the integration. As shown by the recent development of Sun Yat-senism
on Taiwan, the integration has begun, though it is not yet complete.
Educational progress on Taiwan in the past thirty-five years has been
great, but educators still confront some fundamental problems. They
must formulate a modern conception of education before they can work to
solve problems; what they need today is a new general educational
The method of Western philosophy is used in the study: descriptive--
analytic, critical--evaluative, and speculative. The study discusses
the educational problems Taiwan faces today; explicates the character-
istics of Neo-Confucianism and their implications for modern Chinese
education; traces the characteristics of Western culture and its impact
on China with a focus on John Dewey's pragmatic influence and the
potential use of analytic method in clarifying modern Chinese
educational theory for modern China.
Some suggestions are given in the study. The new philosophy of
education for modern China in Taiwan must be progressive and democratic.
Education must aim to create "perfect" members--modern sages--or at
least qualified members-modern gentlepersons--of democracy. The modern
sage is one who can communicate with others empathetically, control
desires, has enthusiasm for public service, has courage to do what needs
to be done, is creative and flexible in problem-solving, has independent
and intelligent judgment and wisdom, is able to work cooperatively with
others, and is calm in chaotic circumstances so that wisdom and
intelligence can operate. The characteristics of the "modern sage"
will change if human and societal situations change. Educational
content and methods to foster this aim should be adopted; otherwise
they must be reconstructed or discarded.
THE PRESENT SITUATION AND
The cultural crisis of modern China arose from the impact of
Western civilization, which resulted in the breakdown of values and
loss of faith in their cultural heritage among the Chinese people,
particularly among intellectuals. The Western impact began with the
war between China and Britain in 1840, which ended when China was
defeated in the Treaty of Nanking in 1842. By the treaty, China agreed
to open five ports to trade, to cede Hong Kong to Britain, and to pay
the English an indemnity of 21,000,000 Chinese dollars.1
In addition, China was forced to pay a uniform 5 percent ad valorem
tariff on exports and imports and granted Britain extra-territorial
jurisdiction in criminal cases. And, most important of all, China was
forced to abolish its traditional system of international relations.
For many centuries, China had been the most powerful country in Asia
and received tribute from neighboring nations. Although colonialism
was alien to China, and China seldom interfered with their internal
affairs, these small countries were regarded as subject satellites.
This traditional system of international relations was contrary to the
international law of the West, such as the principles of the equality
of states and the freedom of foreign trade. The Treaty of Nanking broke
this traditional system and injured the feeling of superiority and
dignity of the Chinese people.
But these events were just the beginning of a sequence of change
and frustration the old empire encountered in the following decades.
More unequal treaties were concluded, territory was ceded, and indemnity
was paid again and again to victorious invaders from the West. In
October 1856, the joint navy of Britain and France attacked China and
defeated her again. As a result, China opened more ports and permitted
foreign ships to trade on the Yangtze River. These two wars served to
convince China's influential intellectuals and political leaders of the
military superiority of the West. Lin Tse-hsu (1785-1850), Wei Yuan
(1794-1857), Tseng Kuo-feng (1811-1872), Lee Hong-chang (1823-1901),
and others so admired the strength of Western weapons and warships that
they strongly urged the government to purchase and even to manufacture
them. In 1860s, China's Self-Strengthening Movement was started. Its
purpose was to learn and imitate the Western technology for producing
weapons and warships and the West's methods of training troops.
If China was to emulate the West, its citizens would have to
learn Western languages. Thus the first institute of foreign languages,
Tung Wen Kuang, was established in Peking in 1862. This laid (a new
basis for the development of modern Chinese education,) and many new
institutions of education and schools were established in the following
In order to improve diplomatic relations, the Manchu government
worked to conclude more equal treaties with foreign countries and to
station diplomats abroad. But during the fifty-five years between the
Opium War between China and Britain in 1840 and the Sino-Japanese War
in 1894, China's understanding of the West was still superficial. In
the minds of the Chinese intellectuals, what the Western powers offered
was no more than excellent weapons and well-trained troops. The Chinese
knew nothing about the strength of Western philosophy and politics.)
Intellectuals believed that if China could have the same weapons, ships,
and troops as the Western powers did, she too would again be a powerful
nation. Therefore, in some forty years the Manchu government practiced
a policy of learning from Western technology and military training,
called the Self-Strengthening Movement. But successive defeats in the
Sino-Japanese War of 1894 and the Boxer Rebellion in 1900 revealed the
failure of the Self-Strengthening Movement and the belief that
militarism and technology alone could make a nation strong.
Hostilities between China and Japan broke out in July 1894 when
Japan launched a surprise attack on Chinese warships and transports
near Korea. Chinese forces were quickly defeated both on land and at
sea. The war was brought to an end by the Treaty of Shimonoseki in
1895. Under this treaty, China was obliged to pay a heavy indemnity
and cede Formosa (Taiwan) and the Pescadores to Japan. While Japan
emerged from the war as a great power, China's prestige reached its
nadir. Four years later, the Boxer Rebellion flared in North China.
This was a reaction against imperialism. The Boxers were originally an
outlawed secret society and were harshly suppressed by Ch'ing government
in the nineteenth century. In 1898 they became active and claimed that
religious magic made them invulnerable to Western bullets. They soon
took on an anti-foreign flavor. At first local governments made serious
attempts to suppress the Boxers. But later the society was considered
to be patriotic and was supported by the Manchu court. The Boxers grew
bolder, killing foreigners and destroying their residences.
This finally resulted in an attack by troops from eight nations
maintaining legations in Peking. The war between China and the allied
force lasted for only two months, and was brought to an end by the
Peace Protocol of 1901. By the Protocol, China agreed to punish pro-
Boxer ministers, to pay an indemnity of 450 million Chinese dollars,
and place the legation quarter in Peking under the exclusive control
of the eight foreign powers. Also, twelve places between Peking and
the sea were occupied by foreign troops.
The shock the Chinese intellectuals and political leaders received
from these defeats was even greater than before, for they demonstrated
that what had been done during the forty years of the Self-Strengthening
Movement were just efforts in vain. The intellectuals and political
leaders now were forced to think more deeply about the problems they
faced and to get more thorough knowledge about the West. K'ang Yu-wei
(1858-1927), one of modern China's most eminent scholars and statesmen,
urged that China improve its educational system by building schools in
each town and county. His own studies suggested that the riches and
strength of the West originated not from excellent machines and weapons
but from (universal schooling 2 K'ang also suggested that China should
seek to form a Congress and a Constitution) for these were shared by
all powerful nations of the West.3
Liang Ch'i-ch'ao (1873-1929), another major advocate of political
reform and a famous scholar, wrote that earlier reforms had not been
efficient. Like Yu-wei, Liang argued that China needed to change its
political and educational institutions, and that lesser reforms would
be useless.4 Liang's conclusion was that "the basis of reform rests on
human resources, the human resources come from school education, the
establishment of school education system is connected to the improvement
of official examination, and the achievement of all these rests on the
change of political system."5
K'ang Yu-wei had convinced the Kuang Hsu Emperor of the necessity
for reforms, and over a period of three months the Emperor issued a
series of edicts embodying K'ang and Liang's ideas of political and
educational change. These changes came to be called the Reform of Wu
Hsu Year (1898). But conservatives in Ch'ing court, led by Empress
Dowager Tzu Hsi, strongly opposed the reforms, and their opposition
resulted in the Coup of Wu Hsu in the same year. Emperor Kuang Hsu's
power was curtailed, and he was put under house arrest. K'ang's six
followers were killed, but both K'ang and Liang escaped into exile.
Radical political reform based on constitutional monarchy thus was
sentenced to death. The intellectuals and the populace who acknowledged
the importance of radical reform for the survival of the nation were so
disappointed that some supported or participated in the national
revolution led by Dr. Sun Yat-sen. Others went abroad to continue the
reform work in milder ways, such as writing articles about reform for
overseas Chinese newspapers. A revolution succeeded in overthrowing
the Manchu regime in 1911, and the first republic in Asia was thus
founded in 1912.
The 1898 year of Wu Hsu Reform and Wu Hsu Coup is usually thought
to be a watershed in the history of China's intellectual break with
traditional values. It began "as a response to military defeat by Japan
in 19 but ended in the abandonment of the traditional Sinocentric
world-view and a large-scale effort to assimilate the 'new learning' of
the West."6 The Boxer Rebellion in 1900 had enhanced this tendency.
The American philosopher, John Dewey, said in "Transforming the Mind of
China learned in 1900 that she had to adjust herself to the
requirements imposed by the activities of Western peoples. Every
year since then she has been learning that this adjustment can be
effected only by a readjustment of her own age-long customs, that
she has to change her historic mind and not merely a few of her
The point is that the Chinese people had preserved their own values
and beliefs for centuries. They believed that the whole system was
working well and was superior to any others in the world until disaster
struck in the second half of the nineteenth century. But now they were
forced to examine their traditional values and beliefs--mainly those
taken from Confucianism--with suspicion. Some people's doubts about
traditional values reached an apex between 1910 and 1920 when they
considered science and democracy as the most admired aspects of Western
civilization and started a violent campaign against Confucianism. One of
the leaders of this campaign was Chen Tu-hsiu, who claimed that "evolution
goes from feudalism to republicanism and from republicanism to communism"
and was convinced that the creation of a proletarian state is the most
urgent revolution in China.8 Chen founded the Chinese Communist Party
in 1921 and directed it until 1927.
On the other hand, neither K'ang Yu-wei nor Liang Ch'i-ch'ao or
other so-called neo-traditionalists tried to abandon the traditional
values and beliefs totally. Instead, they struggled to construct
strategies for adapting Confucianism and the classical heritage to modern
conditions. Many neo-traditionalists were influenced by Western thought
and worked to synthesize the divergent cultures, although a few, Liang
Sou-ming (1893-1962) for example, excluded the alien ingredients from
The more recent introduction of Western thought actually began in
1896 when Yen Fu (1853-1921) translated Thomas Henry Huxley's Evolution
and Ethics, which became "the bedside book of the students,"9 and was
adopted as a manual in certain schools. Yen also translated Herbert
Spencer's The Study of Sociology, as well as the works of John Stuart
Mill, Adam Smith, and Montesquieu, and became the most influential
translator of Western ideas in modern China. He opened a new vista and
provided an access for an in-depth understanding of Western culture.
A few years later, in the first decades of this century, Darwin's The
Origins of Species and The Descent of Man were translated by Ma Chun-wu,
the anarchism of Kropotkin was introduced by Li Shih-tseng, and Schopenhauer
and Nietzsche were introduced by Wang Kuo-wei.
Between 1910 and 1920, the introduction of Western thought entered a
new phase in the intellectual Renaissance led by Hu Shih (1891-1962). The
visit of the American philosopher John Dewey from early 1919 until July,
1921 had played an important role in inspiring Chinese intellectuals to
establish a society of freedom and democracy. In the following decades
the works of Plato and Henri Bergson were translated by Chang Tung-sun
(1886-1962), and the writings of Descartes, David Hume, Kant, William
James, and Hegel also became available in Chinese. In the meanwhile,
Fung Yu-lan (1895-) attempted to reconstruct rationalistiNeo-
Confucianism, and Hsiung Shih-li (1883-1968) attempted to reconstruct
idealist Neo-Confucianism. But of all these foreign influences and
efforts aiming at the revival of traditional philosophies, only Marxism
gained a strong enough foothold to become a mass movement. Chen Tu-hsiu
was its founder, Ai Ssu-ch'i its spokesman, and Mao Tse-tung (1893-1976)
its supreme authority. All other systems of thought gathered only a
small circle of followers. In 1949, the communist regime was established
on the Chinese mainland, and the nationalist government led by Chiang
Kai-shek moved to Taiwan. These two governments have developed different
systems and practices of education as well as politics, during the past
thirty-five years. The political and intellectual division between
these two powers has further confused the values and beliefs of the
Chinese people and thus has deepened the nation's cultural crisis.
The responses of Chinese intellectuals to a century of cultural
crises have been of three kinds. One response was by those who stuck
to conventional ways and resisted any change in the direction of Western
culture. They contended that if change was necessary for the survival
and advance of Chinese culture, it should be done from within the
nation's own traditional culture. Liang Sou-ming may be the best
representative of this position. Some earlier extremely conservative
officials of the Ch'ing court, e.g., Wo Jen, Wang Jen-chun, Yu Yueh, and
Fang Chun-yi, not only rejected the Western influence but also objected
to any political reform or change in social institutions.
The second, equally extreme, position was that no part of
traditional Chinese culture had enduring value and that if China was to
survive and prosper, she would have to Westernize. People of this
persuasion contended that Chinese culture already was dead; the only
way to go now was assume completely the power and ideas of the West.
Chen Tu-hsiu, Wu Chih-hui, and even Hu Shih are representatives of
A third kind of thinking was that neither of these positions is
sufficient for Chinese culture to survive and advance. The former
rejects any influence and energy for good from the West, while the
latter tries to dig out the root of the mother culture and transplant
wholly an alien seed. Some educated people in China during the past
century, rather, have tried to work out an educational philosophy that
combines the best of Chinese and Occidental cultures. Chang Chi-tung
(1837-1907) and Tsai Yuan-pei (1867-1940) were among them. Generally
speaking, this is a sound idea. The difficulty is that intellectuals
have not formulated the combination well enough, so that education in
China has swayed between two extremes--the traditional and the Western
style--and looks like neither. This is a dangerous situation.
Bertrand Russell pointed out in 1922 that China needs to achieve
an organic growth produced by combining the merits of its own culture
and the West. Russell said that there are two opposite dangers to be
avoided: the first is that China may become completely Westernized,
retaining nothing of what has hitherto distinguished her, and, second,
that she may be driven into an intense anti-foreign conservatism.10
John Dewey, in "Transforming the Mind of China," also argued that in
the remaking of culture, China should bring about a thoroughgoing
transformation of her institutions through contact with Western
civilization. In this remaking she will "attempt to penetrate to the
principles, the ideas, the intelligence, from which Western progress
has emanated, and to work out her own salvation through the use of her
own renewed and quickened national mind."'1
The Present Study
The assumption in this study is that Chinese philosophy of
education and other aspects of culture presently are undergoing a
transformation, trying to construct a new national mind by combining
the merits of Western and Chinese cultures. Such a transformation is
not new to China. It is similar to that which transpired between the
third and the tenth centuries when Confucianism was transformed into
Neo-Confucianism. In that period, Confucianism as the mainstream of
Chinese culture absorbed essentials of Taoism from within her own nation
and Buddhism from India and incorporated them into the body of Neo-
Confucianism. This not only insured the survival but also activated
the revival of Chinese culture.
Today, Chinese culture faces another, perhaps greater, crisis.
In order to insure its survival, China needs another cultural
transformation and revival. The major difference between the presently-
needed transformation and the earlier one is that the influence today
is not Buddhism from India, which was like China in many respects, but from
Western culture which is supposed to be quite different from Chinese
culture. China must take materials from the West and reconstruct and
reshape her own disposition. The anticipation is that the new Chinese
culture will not be the original Confucianism, or Neo-Confucianism, or
any other kind of traditional form and content, nor will it be any type
of unalloyed Western culture or philosophy--neither John Dewey's
pragmatism nor Marxism. Rather, it must be a new form of Neo-Confucianism
which carries forward the Chinese tradition and values but which
incorporates within them the culture of the West.
The assumption is, further, that there are essentials in Chinese
educational thought which can prove useful and worthwhile even today.
But the Chinese people must not block themselves from the potential
advantages of Western thought which might make up for deficiencies in
Chinese education and culture.
Educational progress and development on Taiwan has been rapid,
great, and surprising, greater and faster than at any other time in
Chinese history. But it is also clear that educators on this small
island today confront a challenge never before experienced by their
Chinese ancestors. (They are nowadays under a heavy pressure from the
burden of history, on the one hand, and impact of the West, on the other
hand. They must study carefully and formulate a modern conception of
education. Because the fundamental problems which will be discussed
later in the present chapter urgently need a solution, the work must be
done without delay. This study will contribute to that end.
Methodology and Organization of the Study
In order to begin this work, the study will first discuss the
fundamental educational problems Taiwan faces today in the later part of
this chapter. In the second and third chapters, the study will explicate
the characteristics--moral, intellectual, cultural, and educational--
of Neo-Confucianism and their implications for modern Chinese education.
In the fourth chapter, the study will trace the characteristics from
Western culture and its impact on China. A focus will be on the impact
of John Dewey's philosophy as it relates to the moral, intellectual,
cultural, and educational life of the Chinese society. In the past
sixty years or so, John Dewey's influence on Chinese education as well
as other aspects of cultural development has been great. His influence
may increase in years to come if Taiwan continues to prosper as a
democratic and progressive society. This prediction is based not only
on some major similarities between Neo-Confucianism and Dewey's philosophy
as well as those between Sun Yat-senism and Dewey's thought, but also on
the differences between them, so that Dewey's democratic and educational
theories will make up for some deficiencies in China's habit of thinking
and conventional ideas.
In the fifth and last chapter, a synthesis of educational
implications derived from Neo-Confucianism, John Dewey's philosophy of
education, and the method of modern analytic philosophy will be done.
This is supposed to offer some suggestions for building a general theory
of education in modern China which unites the best and most compatible
elements of Chinese and Western traditions. This is based on the
assumption that neither tradition is, or can be in the future, sufficient
without the consideration of the other.
The method of Western philosophy will be used throughout the study.
The so-called philosophical method applied in the present study includes
three steps: descriptive-analytic, critical-evaluative, and speculative.12
That is, the educational problems people in Taiwan encounter today will
be analyzed and described; both Neo-Confucianism and Western philosophies
of education, i.e., John Dewey's philosophy and analytic philosophy,
will be described, critically examined, and compared from the standpoint
of their validity and usefulness towards the solution of educational
problems in Taiwan; and, finally, implications from both sources will be
derived with the attempt of building or suggesting new criteria for use
in modern Chinese education--this is the speculative step of the study.
In other words, the whole structure of the study will be written
with the belief that an appropriate philosophy of education will take
two things as its major tasks: theory-evaluation and theory-building.13
The study not merely tries to clarify and analyze the philosophies of
education, past and present, in the West and in China, but seeks to
derive implications from them in order to suggest a normative form or
theory of education.
Although the analytic method of philosophy has been alien to
Chinese philosophers, it is reasonable to believe that the method will
work well for clarifying the confusions of ideas and the ambiguities of
language in Chinese educational philosophy. If the method has been
proved useful and efficient for Western educational thought, there is
no reason that logical, linguistic, and conceptual analysis could not
offer more accurate, clearer, and more explicit ideas for Chinese
educators. If the Chinese acknowledge the fact that many of their
educational problems arise from the confusion of ideas in their
thinking and ambiguity in their language, there is reason to believe
that they should, first of all, concentrate more effort on the work of
clarification. The greatest difficulty is in their habit of thinking:
logical reasoning and analysis has not been adequately encouraged in
schooling, and, in fact, logical thinking has not been a favorite
approach adopted by Chinese philosophers. It seems that teachers in
schools should pay more attention and effort to the practice of logical
On the other hand, it must be pointed out that the philosophy of
education should not exclude from its coverage the work of suggesting
or building educational theories. This work should provide sound
criteria for the direction and evaluation of educational practice. No
discipline other than philosophy of education can do such work. Unless
one admits that the work is unnecessary for educational practice, it is
not proper to say that the task of philosophy as related to education
would be confined merely to that of analyzing and clarifying educational
language and concepts, though that work is indispensable and is the
first step to the solution of educational problems.
The term "West" is used in this study to indicate primarily the
United States, Great Britain, France, and Germany. Russia is excluded
from consideration. This not only accords with the way in which the term
is used by the Chinese people themselves, but shows the gulf between the
cultural ideals represented in the mainland Chinese government
(influenced by Russian Marxism) and the government on Taiwan. That is,
when speaking of the West in this study, the pattern of culture
combining modernization and democracy is strongly implied. Particularly,
the development and the content of American culture during this century
is considered as the representative of the Western culture.
The term "China," which is used in this study repeatedly, refers
to the whole area of the Chinese map, including the island Taiwan and
the Chinese mainland, except when otherwise indicated. The term "modern
China" means the whole of China since the turn of the century to 1950.
For discussions after 1950, whereon the study focuses, the term "modern
China" refers particularly to "Taiwan." In this case, the term "modern
China on Taiwan" is preferred by the writer in order to avoid a confusion
and translation in readers' minds.
The reason why this study focuses on Taiwan--its educational
problems and their solution--is based on the following fact. Since
1950, the Chinese mainland has been governed by the Communist Party and
has been affected little by Western influence until the 1980s, when the
regime opened its doors and established a more intimate relationship with
the United States. This influence is still at the initial stage, so
that no significant results yet can be seen. On the other hand,(during
the past thirty-five years, the Chinese people on Taiwan have worked
hard to combine democracy and modernization with their own tradition.)
The achievements they have obtained in economy, politics, education, and
so on, demonstrate that their efforts have generally benefitted from
Western contact. Their problem is that the work is not yet completed
and some difficulties in the way still need to be removed (these
difficulties will be discussed later in this chapter). It is hoped
that the experience Taiwan has had in cultural transformation and
educational reform can be transferred to mainland China as the latter
becomes more democratic and more open to and influenced by the West.
It is also hoped that the experience of Taiwan can be shared by other
Asian nations which have a similar heritage and culture and confront
similar problems in their process of modernization.
"Dynasty" is a special way of dating used by the Chinese. It
indicates a specific event or a personality in relation to historical
background or traits or characteristics of the time. 'A dynasty, there-
fore, is not only a quantitative reference to time, but an indication
of the qualitative significance of the time. For example, the Sung and
Ming Dynasties refer not only to the years 960 through 1279 A.D. and
1368 through 1644 A.D. respectively, but also indicate the times when
Neo-Confucianism began, developed, and matured as a philosophy. )(See
Figure I for a listing of the Dynasties and their equivalent in Western
All Neo-Confucian classics were written in Chinese. Most of the
commentaries about Neo-Confucianism have been written in Chinese too.
Some of these writings either have inferior translations or no English
translations at all. The writings quoted in this study that have not
already been translated into English have been translated by the present
Spring and Autumn Period...
Warring States Period......
Western Han ....................
Eastern Han .....................
Wei.............. .... .......... ...
Northern and Southern
Sui... ............ .. .............
Republic of China..............
Figure I: Chinese Dynasties
1111- 771 B.C.
770- 256 B.C.
770- 403 B.C.
403- 221 B.C.
221- 206 B.C.
206 B.C.-8 A.D.
writer. This will be indicated in the notes by the phrase, "Trans. by
Naichen Chen." Some of the writings are paraphrased rather than quoted
directly or translated literally. This will be indicated by the phrase
"Written in Chinese." Where a writing has been translated earlier into
English but revised by the present author, that too will be indicated.
A Breakthrough In Educational Development
As mentioned above, the government on Taiwan and that on the
mainland have developed different systems of education and philosophies
since the 1950s. The communist government on the Chinese mainland has
adopted a model of political philosophy and educational methods from the
Marxism of the Soviet Union, while the republican government on Taiwan
has allied itself politically and educationally with the United States.
Both governments have imported alternatives from abroad and have melded
these alternatives with selected Chinese traditions to fashion two very
different education systems. But the Republic of China on Taiwan has
enjoyed greater educational resources and operational efficiency over
the 1950-1980 period than has the communist government on the mainland.15
In describing and commenting on the educational development in
Taiwan during the past three decades, R. Murray Thomas points out that
the factors of the relatively small size of population and territory, a
consistent socioeconomic-development policy, a unified philosophical
commitment to Confucianism, a stable political leadership, and a
continued alliance with a leading nation, the United States, have all
contributed to hasten rapid educational progress in Taiwan.16
It is said that Taiwan is now actually becoming an educational
society.17 The old China, in its long history of education over some
twenty-five hundred years, never had really developed a nationwide
universal education until the 1950s. Almost all the emperors in Chinese
history were satisfied with an education for selected elites: an education
limited to the few. Even in 1934, twenty-two years after the founding
of the Republic of China, only 70 out of every 1000 residents in Shensi
Province had primary schools available, while in Hupei Province only
seven out of 1000 had that opportunity. The government's special
effort to expand primary education in 1935 produced an enrollment
increase from 13 to 21.5 million students over the next two years, but
the outbreak of the war with Japan in 1937 destroyed these gains,
"leaving the inadequate opportunities for primary schooling as one of
the nation's most serious barriers to modernization.",18
In the 1950s the government of the Republic of China on Taiwan
initiated an ambitious program of universal schooling. The success of
the program led to an increase of elementary-school age children
attending school from nearly 75 percent in 1950 to over 99 percent in
1979, and elementary graduates entering junior-high school rose from
nearly 32 percent in 1950 to 96 percent in 1979.19
These figures mark a breakthrough in the long history of Chinese
education. But educators in Taiwan today are not satisfied with just
increasing the number of children attending school. The present nine-
year universal education is no longer considered sufficient for the
younger generation, so plans are now being laid to extend the length of
education for all by furnishing more educational opportunities for
junior-high school graduates. In addition to the quantitative growth
of education, qualitative progress has been marked by the provision of
junior-secondary education for all, the adjustment of vocational
education to technological advances, the improvement of curricula and
educational methods at all levels of schooling, and the success of
Postlethwaite and Thomas indicate that at the opening of the
1980s, virtually 100 percent of the age group completed primary
education, 90 percent junior-high school, and 26 percent senior-high
school. A great variety of vocational-education opportunities have been
introduced; the pre-service preparation for primary teachers will be
raised from the junior-college to the full four-year college level in
1987; and the entrance examination for tertiary education is due for
revision. Postlethwaite and Thomas predict that as long as education
remains a vehicle for a person's rising in the socio-economic system,
it can be expected that the demand for education will continue to be
high and the standards of achievement will continue to rise in this
Nevertheless, in spite of the advances and educational progress
in Taiwan, there still are major educational problems which urgently
need solution. If these problems are not solved soon, more problems
will arise in the near future, and the economic prosperity, social
advancement, cultural progress and revival, and the commonwealth of the
people in Taiwan may not be secure. In the remainder of this chapter,
these problems are the themes for discussion.
The educational problems the Chinese educators on Taiwan face
today arise from reflections concerning the readjustment of educational
practice to the present situation. There is almost a consensus among
educators that a change is required if Taiwan is to be a democratic and
industrial nation. The difficulty is to determine how far the change
will go and how education is to be changed. An answer to these
questions requires that educators develop a general theory that they
can use as criteria for evaluation, judgment, choice, and action.22
These problems cover major domains of educational process, i.e.,
aims, content, and methods. They are basically problems of a
philosophical sort rather than a factual or explanatory kind.23 They
thus can only be solved philosophically rather than scientifically
and technically. At the philosophical level these problems must first
be clarified and analyzed before programs for action in education can
be set up.
The problems are numerous. Upon a closer examination, they fall
into three categories, having to do with educational aims, content, and
methods. It is possible to cite some of the most important problems
from each of the areas as examples for further discussion.
Educational aims. Does modern Chinese education need to form some
educational aims? If so, what should they be? What are the differences
between the existing and the ideal aims? Are the present educational
policies in tune with the ideal aims? What is the kind of society that
the Chinese people wish to promote through education? Are fixed edu-
cational aims, or more flexible aims suitable for a changing society
Educational content. What content should education have in order
to actualize the educational aims? What is the relation of intellectual
education to moral education; are they separate, or related, or unified?
What is the "knowledge" that the modern Chinese should possess? What
is the content of democratic education? What can the Chinese learn
about democracy and science from the West? What is science? What
should be taught in science education? Why are logical thinking,
creative thinking, and cooperative training important for the Chinese?
How can technology and humanism be balanced in curriculum design?
Educational methods. How should we teach modern Chinese children
so that they will become persons portrayed by the educational aims?
How should contradictions between discipline and freedom, interest and
effort, the authoritative and the democratic, the psychological and
the logical be resolved in the teaching process? What kinds of
teaching are desirable for fostering democracy and science?
Educational policy in Taiwan has been formulated under the supreme
direction of Sun Yat-senism (The Three Principles of the People), which
was created by Dr. Sun Yat-sen and elaborated by Chiang Kai-shek. The
educational ideas of Sun Yat-senism were expressed in the brief
statement of official educational aims which was promulgated in 1929 by
the nationalist government in Nanking. It has remained unrevised, and
has been followed by the government in Taiwan to the present. It reads:
The purpose of Chinese education, based on The Three Principles of
the People, is to enrich the individual's life, enhance social
coherence, improve the-people's livelihood, and continue national
life so as to attain the independence of the nation, the spread
of citizens' democratic rights, and the promotion of economic life
with a view to the realization of an ideal world where peace,
harmony, and equality prevail.24
Chiang Kai-shek has pointed out that there are three major focuses
in education for modern China: ethics, democracy, and science.25 These
are educational aims, but they also indicate the major content of
education. They were used by Chiang to interpret Sun Yat-sen's Three
Principles and their relations to education. The Three Principles are
The Principle of People's Livelihood, The Principle of People's Rights,
and The Principle of Nationalism. For Chiang Kai-shek, ethics is
related to The Principle of Nationalism, democracy is related to The
Principle of People's Rights, and science is related to The Principle of
People's Livelihood. If school education achieves these aims, it is
believed, the political ideals of Sun Yat-sen will be realized, and
China will remain a strong and independent country.
The concern with ethics means nothing more than the revival of
Chinese traditional morality in education, and the actualization of this
aim will lead to the independence of the nation accordingly.26 Although
Sun said that his philosophy is an integration of Chinese and Western
cultures, with some of his own creation, he did not intend to meld the
ethics of the West into his theory. What interested him in Western
culture are mainly democracy and science. Chiang Kai-shek also followed
this viewpoint. For both Sun and Chiang, science stands for the essence
of Western culture, ethics stands for the essence of Chinese culture,
and democracy stands for both--though a little more for Western culture.
As Sun Yat-sen and Chiang Kai-shek were statesmen and
revolutionaries, they did not spend much time developing a complete
philosophy of education. The ideas of ethics, democracy, and science
thus have not been elaborated well enough to give educators a complete
and clear picture of what education must do. Chiang Kai-shek wrote some
essays on education,27 which together with ideas implied in Sun Yat-sen's
works have been formed into the educational laws and regulations and
the curriculum standards that were promulgated by the National Ministry
of Education during the past three decades. Additionally, the laws and
regualtions about education, and the standards of curriculum design,
teaching materials, and teaching methods at all levels of schooling in
present-day Taiwan are set in accordance with the needs of economic
growth, cultural reconstruction, personality development, and social
progress. New ideas and skills in designing curricula and in dealing
with teaching materials and methods have been unceasingly introduced
from the United States. These standards are revised from time to
time to ensure a quality of education in a rapidly changing society.
These standards have thus become the guidelines and programs for
educational practice in Taiwan today. They are a sort of combination
of Sun Yat-senism and Western educational thought. In constructing
his political and cultural theories, Sun Yat-sen was inspired by ancient
Confucianism and Neo-Confucianism, especially the philosophy of Wang
Yang-ming, as well as Western political theories. It is proper to say
that these standards of curricula, teaching materials, and teaching
methods are based on some kind of general theory which is the
combination of Confucianism, Neo-Confucianism, and Western educational
But it is easy to observe that the general theory underlying
educational program is not yet elaborated and systematized into a
complete philosophy of education. It has already had a rudimentary form
or structure of educational philosophy, but that is all; it must be
further enriched in content and methodology. One evidence of this is
that the combination of Neo-Confucianism and Western educational thought
is arbitrary and in some sense means no more than a summing-up of
educational ideas from both sources; they are not yet well integrated
into an organized system.
Because Chinese education is based on an immature, not fully
developed general educational theory, it cannot operate as a sound
philosophy of education does: for example, to clarify, evaluate, or
solve the educational problems mentioned above or to help formulate a
sound educational program and guidelines for action. This is exactly
the lurking crisis in education in Taiwan today.
This dangerous vacuum of educational thought--the lack of adequate
directive theory for educational practice--has led some to retreat and
hold fast to a conventional approach and system of education which no
more suits, or becomes a crippled solution to, the present educational
situation and problems. Again some persons have become conservative
and, for example, hold that Chinese traditional ethics are always superior
to that of the West, though they have neither really studied nor
understood the latter. Some others, however, borrowed some educational
techniques from the West, e.g., educational testing and quantitative
measurement, and view these important and useful techniques in some
sense as the whole picture of educational knowledge and skills of the
West, but disregard some other matters, e.g., the thoughtful courage to
experiment on new things in education and the effort to build a democratic
atmosphere in teaching and learning environments. The consequence is
that they have introduced only some isolated and fragmentary knowledge
and skills, but have left out essential educational theory and
experiences of the West.
Amid the vacuum in educational theory, many educators, including
teachers and educational administrators, do not belong to either of the
two groups mentioned. They neither believe in the conventional system,
nor rely on educational technology. They not only have lost their way,
but their head, in the vast confusion called education. They do their
jobs in education without rationale or reflection; they do not know
the significance of what they are doing and why they do it. Sometimes
they follow one position and then another, and before long they turn
away from both.
It is clear that the most fundamental problem Chinese educators
now encounter is that they lack an appropriate philosophy of education.
The result is that educational problems such as those mentioned above
cannot be well dealt with at a philosophical level; education does not
become a subject for thinking and inquiry, and teachers either copy
what others do, or use the methods that always have been used.28
Activities in education thus become, as John Dewey put it, "a recurring
process or a routine rather than a progressive process--a defect that
follows inevitably when active attention is not devoted to educational
As Dewey pointed out, a philosophy of education is of minor
importance in a conservative society. But a philosophy of education is
indispensable if one is to change a conservative educational system into
a progressive one. As change and progress in education are desirable in
a society, a sound and consistent philosophy of education is indis-
pensable when people must "distinguish between that which is primary
and that which is of secondary importance," choose "among the trends
which compete, conflict, and contradict each other," and select trends
they really want to foster, and discourage those which threaten
In other words, a sound philosophy of education will create an
awareness of the reasons why one mode of education is preferred over
another, will guard against the danger of blind subservience to custom
or of slavish imitation, will produce conscious criticism and evaluation
of educational endeavor, will create a desire for improvement, and will
afford criteria by which improvement may be assessed.31
What the Chinese need today is a sound philosophy of education.
This is a problem which can be solved only by building a new general
educational theory. As was said earlier, the new theory will integrate
merits of both Neo-Confucianism and Western educational thought and
will disregard neither. In the forthcoming chapters, the philosophies
and educational thought of Neo-Confucianism will be analyzed, described,
and made explicit. John Dewey's educational thought and the method of
analytic philosophy also will be so treated. Implications will be
derived from both and suggestions for building a new philosophy of
education for the progressive Chinese society will be given.
1 Consult John Meskill, "History of China," in John Meskill (ed.),
An Introduction to Chinese Civilization (New York: Columbia University
Press, 1973), pp. 194-240.
2 K'ang Yu-wei, "A Letter to Ch'ing Emperor" (May 2, 1895), in
The Reform and Reaction of the Ch'ing Dynasty (Taipei: The Edition
Committee of Republic of China Documents, 1965), p. 333. Written in
3 K'ang Yu-wei, "A Memorial Submitted to Entreat for the Formation
of Congress and Constitution," in Ibid., p. 348.
4 Liang Ch'i-ch'ao, "The Disadvantages of the Reform Which Did not
Touch the Basic Issues," in Ibid., p. 365.
5 Ibid., p. 367.
6 John Fairbank (ed.), The Cambridge History of China (Cambridge,
England: Cambridge University Press, 1983), Vol. 12, p. 322.
7 John Dewey, "Transforming the Mind of China," in Characters and
Events (New York: Octagon Books, 1970), Vol. I, p. 285. The essay was
originally published in Asia, November, 1919.
8 Chen Tu-hsiu, Essays of Tu-hsiu, 1920, quoted in 0. Briere, S. J.,
Fifty Years of Chinese Philosophy, 1898-1950, trans. from the French by
Laurence G. Thompson (London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1956), p. 24.
9 Hu Shih, Autobiography at the Age of Forty (Taipei: Far East Book
Co., 1984), p. 56. Written in Chinese.
10 Bertrand Russell, The Problem of China (London: George Allen &
Unwin Ltd., 1966; first published in 1922), pp. 13-14.
11 John Dewey, "Transforming the Mind of China," in Characters and
Events, op. cit., p. 290.
12 These steps are borrowed from a statement by a committee of the
Philosophy of Education Society, "The Distinctive Nature of the
Philosophy of Education," published in 1953 and included in Christopher
J. Lucas (ed.), What Is Philosophy of Education? (New York: The
Macmillan Company, 1970), pp. 111-113.
13 Harry S. Broudy, "How Philosophical Can Philosophy of Education
Be?" in Lucas, What Is Philosophy of Education?, op. cit., pp. 114-122.
Strictly speaking, philosophy and theory are not synonymous. But in a
general or ordinary way, they are considered to be the same. John
Dewey, for example, says in Democracy and Education (New York:
Macmillan Company, 1958 ) that "philosophy may be considered the
general theory of education" (p. 328). And Harry Broudy (supra)
believes that the two tasks of philosophy of education are theory
evaluation and theory building. For such purposes, there is much to
be gained and little to be lost in using the terms synonymously, though
for more technical purposes, a distinction between the terms could and
should be made. Thus, in the present study, the terms "philosophy" and
"theory" are used interchangeably.
14 Concerning this point, more discussion will be had in Chapter
15 R. Murray Thomas and Neville Postlethwaite (eds.), Schooling in
East Asia (Oxford: Pergamon Press, 1983), pp. 99-102.
16 Ibid., pp. 97-102.
17 Ibid., p. 132.
18 Ibid., p. 95.
19 See Educational Statistics of the Republic of China (Taipei:
Ministry of Education, R. 0. C., 1980), pp. 28-31.
20 See Thomas and Postlethwaite, Schooling in East Asia, op. cit.,
21 Ibid., pp. 311-312, 337-338.
22 John Dewey, Democracy and Education (New York: Macmillan Company,
1958 ), pp. 378-387.
23 Harry S. Broudy, Building A Philosophy of Education (New York:
Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1954), pp. 21-25.
24 Ministry of Education, R. 0. C. (ed.), Laws and Regulations of
Education (Taipei: Cheng-chung Book Co., Ltd., 1967), pp. 1-2. The
English translation is quoted from Thomas and Postlethwaite, Schooling
in East Asia, op. cit., p. 111, and revised by Naichen Chen.
25 Chiang Kai-shek, The Collected Works of Chiang Kai-shek (Taipei:
The Chinese Culture University Press, 1974), Vol. II, p. 1842. Written
26 Sun Yat-sen, Memoirs of A Chinese Revolutionary (Taipei: Sino-
American Publishing Co., Ltd., 1953; originally published in 1918 in
Great Britain), pp. 177-190.
27 See Chiang Kai-shek, Selected Essays on Education and Culture
(Taipei: Central Press, 1978).
28 John Dewey, "The Need for A Philosophy of Education," in
Robert W. Clopton and Tsuin-chen Ou (eds. and trans.), John Dewey:
Lectures in China, 1919-1920 (Honolulu: The University Press of Hawaii,
1973), p. 184.
30 Ibid., p. 185.
31 Ibid., p. 184.
THE ORIGINS, DEVELOPMENT, AND PHILOSOPHIES
The term "Neo-Confucianism" is used in this study to indicate
only the mainstream of philosophy in the Sung (960-1279 A.D.), Yuan
(1279-1368 A.D.), and Ming (1368-1644 A.D.) Dynasties. Although the
mainstream of philosophy in the Ch'ing Dynasty (1644-1911 A.D.) is also
a transformation of Confucianism, it is not called Neo-Confucianism,
since Ch'ing Confucianism is closer to the ancient Confucianism of the
Han Dynasty (206-219 A.D.), in spirit and method, and the later
development of it already had begun to receive influences from Western
The age of Spring and Autumn (722-481 B.C.), and the age of Warring
States (480-222 B.C.) are the time of the first radical change of phi-
losophy and educational thought in Chinese history, while the Sung
Dynasty saw the second radical change. It is in the Sung Dynasty that
Neo-Confucianism first appeared on the scene and attained its maturity.
In the following several hundred years, Chinese thought and the Chinese
way of life were greatly influenced by Neo-Confucianism. In order to
understand the Chinese mind and, further, to conceive a new mind for
modern China, it is absolutely necessary to understand Neo-Confucianism.
Three lines of thought can be traced as the main sources of Neo-
Confucianism. The first is, obviously, Confucianism, especially the
philosophies of Confucius (551-479 B.C.) and Mencius (372-289 B.C.).
The second is Buddhism, which was imported from India first in the
Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220 A.D.), grew in the Age of Three-Kingdom
(220-280 A.D.) and the Chin Dynasty (265-420 A.D.), and flowered in the
Tang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.) when it became less Indian and more Chinese.
The third source came from the Taoist philosophies of Lao Tzu (b. 570
B.C.?) and Chuang Tzu (fl. 399 and 295 B.C.) and the Taoist religion
which was formed in the Eastern Han Dynasty. Although Neo-Confucianism
absorbed nutrition from Taoism and Buddhism, it remained basically a
Confucian philosophy, though modified in its philosophical methods and
enriched in its philosophical structure and content.
In the following sections of the chapter, the origins of Neo-
Confucianism in Confucianism, particularly in Confucius and Mencius'
thought, will be first sketched. Then the general tendency of its
development will be briefly described. After that, the philosophies of
major Neo-Confucianists in the Sung and Ming Dynasties will be stated.
Finally there is a summary which explains the common ideas of Neo-
Confucianism in general.
The Origins of Neo-Confucianism
In Ancient Confucianism
The philosophy of Neo-Confucianism originated in ancient
Confucianism, especially in the Four Books: The Analects of Confucius,
The Great Learning, The Doctrine of the Mean, and The Mencius.
The first three books record Confucius' thought, while the fourth
one records Mencius' thought. These four books are the major classics
of Confucianism; they were also the basic textbooks for civil service
examination from 1313 until 1905. All of these books exerted tremendous
influence in China over the last eight hundred years, and their influence
on Neo-Confucianism was great as well. Many basic concepts which
attracted the Neo-Confucianists first appeared in these classics, though
these concepts were elaborated and modified by Neo-Confucianists either
through their creation or under the impact of Taoism and Buddhism.
The Analects of Confucius
Confucius is undoubtedly the most influential philosopher and
educator in Chinese history. His thought has dominated Chinese thinking
and their way of life since the Han Dynasty, for more than two thousand
years. Although Confucius said, "I transmit but do not create [;] I
believe in and love the ancients. ."1, the fact is that Confucius
was a creator as well as a transmitter of Chinese philosophy. He
compiled and edited some writings by authors before him--some of them
were unknown--and elaborated them as the classics of Confucianism.2
On the other hand, he created his own system of philosophy which was
best represented by The Analects, a collection of notes of his discourses,
conversations, and travels, recorded by his disciples. It is the most
reliable source about the life and teachings of Confucius.
The basic concepts in The Analects which most influenced Neo-
Confucianism are "humanity" and "sagehood." The word "humanity" appeared
in The Analects 105 times, and 58 of 499 chapters are devoted to a
discussion of this virtue. It is obviously the most important idea in
Confucius' philosophy. For Confucius, humanity is the concrete
manifestation of a perfect personality. The person who possesses
humanity is a sage. To be a sage is the ideal of being human, and
humanity is the highest state a learner can achieve. The person who has
not yet become a sage but keeps in pursuit of this goal is a superior
person, according to Confucius. Sagehood is not easy to achieve, but
everyone can become a superior person if he keeps the idea in mind.
In responding to students' questions, Confucius defined the term
"humanity" in different ways. It is not easy to synthesize them all.
But generally speaking, humanity means to love people,3 to be respectful
in private life, serious in handling affairs, and loyal in dealing with
others.4 A person of humanity, according to Confucius, is one who is
free from evil;5 who wishes to establish his own character as well as
the character of others; who wishes to be prominent himself and also
helps others to be prominent.6 Furthermore, the person of humanity will
practice earnestness, liberality, truthfulness, diligence, and
generosity.7 He is one who has no worry.8
Confucius' educational thought, which was built on the basic
concepts mentioned above, also influenced Neo-Confucian philosophy of
education. Confucius argued that learning through an adequate
educational process is necessary and important in order to turn an
ordinary person into a superior one and, finally,into a sage. As a
matter of fact, education is the only way of achieving the ideal of
humanity.9 Further, according to Confucius, learning is a joyful thing,
or at least it should be done in a way which brings students joy instead
of pain, for he said, "Is it not a pleasure to learn and repeat or
practice from time to time what has learned."'0
When properly pursued, learning goes hand in hand with thinking.
"He who learns but does not think is lost; he who thinks but does not
learn is in danger."'1 On the other hand, learning must go hand in hand
with practice.12 The practice of humanity was especially emphasized by
Confucius. The most important thing to practice is the golden rule.
The following quotes will demonstrate this:
Confucius said, "Shen [one of Confucius' students], there is one
thread that runs through my doctrine." Tseng Tzu [Shen] said,
"Yes." After Confucius had left, the disciples asked him [Shen],
"What did he mean?" Tseng Tzu replied, "The Way of our Master is
none other than conscientiousness (chung) and altruism (shu)."13
Tzu-kung [Another student of Confucius] asked, "Is there one word
which can serve as the guiding principle for conduct throughout
life?" Confucius said, "It is the word altruism (shu). Do not do
to others what you do not want them to do to you."14
Confucius was not merely a philosopher, but an educator who
practiced what he believed. Both his philosophy and educational
practice influenced his disciples and Neo-Confucianists. One important
principle he applied is to pay attention to individual differences among
students and take that into account in teaching. When the same question
was asked by different students, Confucius always gave different yet
appropriate replies after carefully considering each student's talent,
disposition, and needs. This attitude can be seen throughout the
dialogues collected in The Analects. Additionally, Confucius knew how
to induce and lead young people to learning. Yen Hui, one of Confucius'
favorite students, described his Master as "very good at gently leading
a man along and teaching him. I just could not stop myself."15
Confucius would not teach any one who was not ready to learn or
explain anything to someone who was not trying to make things clear to
himself.16 Confucius knew how to ask questions from both sides (the
positive and the negative) of a problem so that the learner could
clarify what he had in mind and know what he did not know.17
Besides, Confucius was an optimistic and broad-minded person. His
personality affected his disciples and they were infected with it.
According to his students, in The Analects, Confucius was easy in his
manner and cheerful in his expression.18 He was gentle yet firm,
dignified but not harsh, respectful yet at ease.19 When he was pleased
with someone's singing, he would ask to have the song repeated and
would join in himself.20 Confucius stated that he was a person "who
forgets to eat when he is enthusiastic about something, forgets all his
worries in his joyment of it, and is not aware that old age is coming
on."21 For Confucius, riches and honor acquired by unrighteous means
are as ephemeral as drifting clouds. One can still have happiness when
there is only coarse food to eat, plain water to drink, and a bent arm
for pillow.22 All of these beliefs form the influential tradition which
has shaped the Chinese way of life as well as the idea of "good teacher"
The Great Learning
According to Chu Hsi, The Great Learning is the words of Confucius
but handed down by his disciple Tseng Tzu.23 Ch'eng I said that The
Great Learning is a surviving work of the Confucian school and the gate
through which the beginning student enters into virtue.24 The present
edition was rearranged by Ch'eng Hao, Ch'eng I, and Chu Hsi, but the
original text first appeared as one chapter in The Book of Rites, one of
the six Confucian classics. The present edition includes one short
chapter of text and ten chapters of commentary. The short text contains
ideas which became in later days important concepts of Neo-Confucianism.
These are "The Investigation of Things," "The Extension of Knowledge,"
and "The Sincerity of Will." They were borrowed by Neo-Confucian
philosophers of education and became the foundation of moral education.
The meaning of these concepts and the explanation of them by Neo-
Confucianists will be discussed in Chapter Three rather than in this
The Doctrine of the Mean
According to Chu Hsi's remark, The Doctrine of the Mean represented
the doctrine of the Confucian school which had been transmitted from
mind to mind without the use of words. Fearing that in time errors
should arise, Tzu Ssu (Confucius' grandson) wrote down the doctrine of
the mean and transmitted it to Mencius.25
In thirty-three chapters of the text, two major concepts were
particularly important to Neo-Confucian philosophers. They are the
Golden Mean and the concept of sincerity. Confucius' words are quoted
again and again in the text. On the other hand, the psychology of human
nature, which much attracted Neo-Confucian philosophers, was presented
in the text as an introduction. It reads:
Before the feelings of pleasure, anger, sorrow, and joy are aroused
it is called equilibrium. When these feelings are aroused and each
and all attain due measure and degree, it is called harmony.
Equilibrium is the great foundation of the world, and harmony its
universal path. When equilibrium and harmony are realized to the
highest degree, heaven and earth will attain their proper order
and all things will flourish.26
Confucius showed his disciples what the Mean is. He also told them
the importance of following the Mean. He pointed out that the superior
person is the one who acts according to the Mean and maintains the Mean
always.27 The way to act according to the Mean depends upon the
cultivation of one's will to be sincere. Therefore Confucius argued
that sincerity is the Way of Heaven, and to think how to be sincere is
the Way of man. The one who tries to be sincere is one who chooses the
good and holds fast to it.28
Mencius received his education from the disciples of Tzu Ssu, the
grandson of Confucius. When Mencius' learning had become comprehensive,
he travelled about and tried to persuade kings of the states in old
China to put his political ideal in practice. After his failure,
Mencius retired and transmitted the doctrines of Confucius to some of
his disciples. He composed The Mencius in seven books. Like Confucius,
Mencius was a highly successful educator. He devoted most of his later
life to the instruction of youth and was loved by them. Early in his
life, he came to regard Confucius as his greatest inspiration. However,
the two sages were guite different in temperament. Confucius was an
introvert and refined gentleman, cautious and deliberate in speech,
while Mencius was an extrovert and a great oracle of his age, widely
noted for his wit.29
Mencius considered himself to be the only person, in a time of
disorder and intellectual confusion, able to perpetuate Confucius'
teachings. Mencius had tried hard to preach Confucius' philosophy, but
he actually built his own system of thinking. Although he respected
the merits of tradition, he was not a traditionalist in its literal
sense. He was, rather, one who maintained only the "essentials" of
Mencius had a deep and lasting influence on the later development
of Confucianism. The rise of Neo-Confucianism in the tenth century,
especially that of Idealistic Neo-Confucianism, had its rationale in
Mencius' writing. Neo-Confucian philosophers particularly inherited
much from Mencius' theories of human nature and moral cultivation.
For Mencius, the original nature of human beings is always good.
The feeling of commiseration is related to the principle of humanity,
the feeling of shame and dislike is related to the principle of
righteousness, the feeling of modesty and compliance is related to the
principle of propriety, and the feeling of approval and disapproval is
related to the principle of wisdom, according to Mencius.30 The human
being is born with these four feelings or principles. But at birth, the
feelings are weak and feeble and are very easily hindered from develop-
ment. If children are put in harmful environments and given no adequate
education, these good feelings will wither and evil arises. Therefore
education is indispensable for one's growth and development. For Mencius,
whether these principles are fully developed or not signifies the
borderline between being a "human being" and being just a "creature."
At least two important items are included in moral education. First,
one must understand what is good; then the person must attain sincerity
toward the good. Thus the prerequisite for moral behavior is the
understanding of the good, and the prerequisite to this is a constant
self-examination, which will lead to a self-awareness and wide-awakeness.
This is the basic method for the development of the four feelings or
The Development of Neo-Confucianism
The influence of Taoism and Buddhism on Neo-Confucianism is not
as obvious as that of ancient Confucianism. The influence did exist,
but no Neo-Confucian philosophers confessed to that fact.
First, no complete system of cosmology can be found in ancient
Confucian philosophy. That is because Confucianism is primarily a moral
philosophy. It is Chou Tun-i's Neo-Confucian philosophy that a system
of cosmology was first formulated. The interesting thing is that some
ideas in that system were borrowed from Taoism, e.g., the concept of
non-being and the idea of tranquility. This will be discussed in detail
in the next section of this chapter.
Secondly, many Neo-Confucian philosophers, particularly the so-
called Idealistic Neo-Confucianists, stressed the importance of medi-
tation and applied the method to self-cultivation. It is obvious that
the method originated in Buddhism, and also in Taoist religion, and was
a very popular method of self-training in both religions. The method
cannot be found in ancient Confucian classics and was not invented by
Thirdly, Neo-Confucianists generally were extremely interested in
"the Principle," Human Nature, the Mind, and the elimination of selfish
desires all of which lead to regaining one's original nature. These
concepts are not alien to ancient Confucianists, but the early Confucian
philosophers, including Confucius and Mencius, did not pay as much
attention to these issues as Neo-Confucianists did. The concept of
regaining one's original nature is obviously one of the basic concepts
of Buddhism. It is also evident that the Taoist philosophers,
especially those in the period between the third and sixth centuries A.D.,
and the Buddhist philosophers, always devoted themselves to discussion
of these concepts. It is reasonable to assume that the impact on this
point from Taoism and Buddhism on Neo-Confucianism was great.
The rise of Neo-Confucianism is a reaction to Confucianism in the
Han Dynasty (206-220 A.D.), which had its emphasis on scholium--a study
of the explanatory notes in Confucian classics. On the other hand, it
is also a reaction to Confucianism in Tang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.),
which stressed the study of literary writings, e.g., rhetorical study.
Paying too much attention to the study of scholium means that scholars
were in bondage to the thought of those who went before them and did not
allow free thinking in interpreting the classics. On the other hand,
since literary writing was the major subject that was tested in official
governmental examinations in the Tang Dynasty, young students were so
captured by it that they almost studied nothing else. The reaction of
Neo-Confucianism intended to improve a situation which was regarded as
harmful to cultural and educational progress.
More important than this, a major difference between Confucianism
and Neo-Confucianism rests in the fact that the latter built its ethics
and theory of moral education on a broader base of cosmology, and thus
extended the concern for morality and its relation to education to a
wider sphere where such things as the relation of the human being to his
environment, and to the universe and other existent beings was
included. Because of the concern with cosmology in Neo-Confucian
philosophy, the problems about reason, natural law, universal love,
becoming one body with the universe, the unification of knowledge and
action, and the inductive and deductive approaches applied in moral
study thus can be adequately and carefully discussed and answered. It is
clear that because of this foundation and rationale in cosmology, Neo-
Confucianism was more able to focus the problem of ethics and moral
education in almost all aspects, metaphysically, epistemologically, and
As early as in the second half of the Tang Dynasty, some two
hundred years before the opening of Sung Neo-Confucianism in the tenth
century, that Han Yu (768-824 A.D.) and Li Ao (died ca. 844 A.D.) had
already developed a philosophy very similar to Neo-Confucianism. Han Yu
was the one who tried to revive Confucianism in an age dominated by
Taoism and Buddhism.32 Han Yu paid tribute to Mencius, placing him in
the orthodox line of succession from Confucius.33 Though this became
a generally accepted point of view from the Sung Dynasty onward, it had
not been the case in earlier times. It is out of Han Yu's writings that
the supremacy of Mencius came to be generally accepted, and the book
Mencius became a basic text for the Sung and Ming Dynasties. Besides,
Han Yu quoted from The Great Learning. Nobody since the Han Dynasty
seemed to have paid this little treatise any particular attention. It
is due to Han Yu that some basic concepts in the treatise were used by
Neo-Confucianists as some of the main themes in philosophical discussion.
Li Ao was an important contemporary and disciple of Han Yu. In his
Essay on Reverting to the Nature, a general discussion of nature, the
feelings, and the sage, and an examination of the process of self-
cultivation whereby one may become a sage are included. In this
treatise, Li Ao talked about the concepts of sincerity, human mind,
passions, the extension of knowledge, the investigation of things,
enlightenment, and so on. These concepts were conceived under the
strong influence of Buddhism and activated a discussion and interpre-
tation of them among later Neo-Confucianists.
Generally speaking, the development of Neo-Confucianism in the
Sung and Ming Dynasties34 can be classified into two major schools or
directions. One is the Rationalist school, or the school of Principle,
represented by Ch'eng I and Chu Hsi; the other is the Idealistic school,
or the school of Mind, represented by Ch'eng Hao, Lu Hsiang-shan, and
Wang Yang-ming. Chou Tun-i is considered the first Neo-Confucianist in
this great age. He and four other masters--Shao Yung, Chang Tsai,
Ch'eng Hao, and Ch'eng I--laid the foundation of the philosophy.
In the following sections of this chapter, the philosophies of
those most important Neo-Confucianists will be sketched. They are
important because they have provided most, if not all, of the guiding
principles in the thinking, life, and education of the Chinese people
during the period of its formulation until the first decade of this
century. In other words, if ancient Confucianism formed the first
Chinese mind, Neo-Confucianism, represented by the philosophers mentioned
above, formed the second, which is a transformation from the classical
Confucianism. The third phase of the Chinese mind is still in the
process of transformation and will bring together the merits of Neo-
Confucianism and Western culture. The analysis of Neo-Confucian
philosophy and its educational thought (Chapter Three) should make its
merits clear, and thus the implications of their philosophy for building
a modern Chinese philosophy of education will be able to be drawn in
the last chapter of the study.
The Philosophies of Sung
and Ming Neo-Confucianists
Chou Tun-i (1017-1073 A.D.)
It is not until Chou Tun-i that Neo-Confucianism became clear and
complete. Although he was anticipated by some early philosophers of the
Sung Dynasty, Chou is generally considered the progenitor of Neo-
Confucianism,35 the one who really sketched the vista and determined the
direction of Neo-Confucianism. In The History of Sung Dynasty, we read,
After the death of Confucius, Tseng Tzu alone received his learning
and transmitted it to Tzu Ssu and Mencius. Mencius' death then
signifies the interruption of Confucius' learning. Since the Han
Dynasty downward, the discussion of the Great Way or Truth by
Confucian scholars was considered not sufficiently accurate,
refined, detailed, and complete; heresy and perverted views took
advantage of this situation and grew stronger and thus resulted in
a cultural crisis. It is not until the middle period of the
Northern Sung, more one thousand years after Mencius' age, that
some one named Chou Tun-i appeared in Chung Ling, and continued the
interrupted learning of the sage by writing An Explanation of the
Diagram of the Supreme Ultimate and Penetrating the Book of Changes,
explicating the principle of five virtues of Yin and Yang and
applying that to the study of human nature, making that study clear
Chou Tun-i's two treatises, An Explanation of the Diagram of the
Supreme Ultimate (The T'ai-chi-t'u Shuo) and Penetrating the Book of
Changes (The T'ung-shu) gave a new look to Confucianism. In these
treatises, Chou laid the pattern of cosmology, ontology, and ethics for
later Neo-Confucian philosophers. Before Chou there was no Confucianist
who presented any systematic and comprehensive interpretation of being
and change in the universe. Chou's diagram (Figure II) of the Supreme
Ultimate indicates the evolutionary course of the universal creation
from the Supreme Ultimate through the passive cosmic force, Yin, and
The Ultimate of Nonbeing
[Principle of Heaven]
[Principle of Earth]
Production and Evolution of
Figure: Diagram of the Supreme Ultimate
From: Fung Yu-lan, A History of Chinese Philosophy,
Vol. II, trans. by Derk Bodde (Princeton:
Princeton University Press, 1953), p. 436.
the active cosmic force, Yang, to the myriad existences. This has
assimilated the Taoist concept of the Ultimate of Non-being (wu-chi),37
on the one hand, and follows the concept of the creation process in the
Confucian Book of Changes, on the other hand. Chou's interest in
building cosmology and ontology into his philosophy was, generally
speaking, inspired by the idea of Buddhism from India. He also developed
some crucial concepts inherited from classical Confucianism, e.g.,
sincerity, destiny, the nature, and sagehood.
According to Chou, sincerity means not only sincerity in the narrow
sense, but also honesty, absence of fault, seriousness, being true to
one's true self, being true to the nature of being, actuality, and
realness. Chou said that sincerity is pure and perfectly good, is the
foundation of Constant Virtues--humanity, righteousness, propriety,
wisdom, and faithfulness--and the source of all activities.38 Chou
further pointed out that "sagehood is nothing but sincerity"39 and "the
sage is the one who is in the state of sincerity, spirit, and subtle
incipient activation."40 It is evident that sagehood is the aim of
education, and sincerity the nature of goodness--the ideal to be
encouraged and developed in moral education. The concepts of sagehood
and sincerity are not new in Confucian philosophy, but it is Chou Tun-i
who gave them metaphysical rationale.
Shao Yung (1011-1077 A.D.) and Chang Tsai (1020-1077 A.D.)
Shao Yung is the first Chinese philosopher who based his whole
philosophy on the concept of number and built a system of numerical
progression. He spent the last thirty years of his life in Lo-yang, a
big city in Honan Province of old China, where his residence was very
near to those of Chang Tsai, Ch'eng Hao, and Ch'eng I. They became
good friends, often met and talked together about philosophical issues,
and influenced each other. Shao Yung's Supreme Principles Governing the
World (Huang-chi Ching-shih) is an outstanding philosophical writing
which melded concepts from Taoism with the Confucian Book of Changes.
Since Shao Yung wrote little on education, his influence on Chinese
education is indirect.
Chang Tsai developed a cosmological theory based on The Book of
Changes. In his well known essay, Correcting Youthful Ignorance (Cheng
Meng), he emphasized especially the concept of material force, which
became more important in Chu Hsi's philosophy. Concerning material
force, he first suggested the concept of "The Great Harmony" to be the
motive of change. According to Chang, the Great Harmony is called "the
Way," which is the origin of the process of fusion and intermingling,
of overcoming and being overcome, and of expansion and contraction of
everything in the universe. That which is dispersed, differentiated,
and capable of assuming form becomes material force (ch'i), and that
which is pure, penetrating, and not capable of assuming form becomes
spirit. The Great Vacuity is the original substance of material force.
Although material force in the universe integrates and disintegrates,
and attracts and repulses in a hundred ways, nevertheless the Principle
of Nature (Li) according to which it operates has an order and is
unerring. From what Chang said, it is clear that the Principle of
Nature is one of harmony: an atmosphere pure and good in essence which
could be considered as either the universal soul or human nature. As an
entity, material force simply reverts to its original substance when it
disintegrates and becomes formless. When it integrates and assumes form,
it does not lose the eternal Principle of Nature.41
Material force is extensive and vague. Yet it ascends and descends
and moves in all ways without ever ceasing. Material force moves and
flows in all directions and in all manners. Its two elements, Yin and
Yang, unite and give rise to the concrete. Thus, the multiplicity of
things and human beings is produced. In their ceaseless successions,
Yin and Yang constitute the fundamental principles of things and human
beings. It is because of these two forces that transformation and
changes occur in the universe.42
Chang Tsai distinguished heavenly nature from physical nature in
the human being. He pointed out that man's strength, weakness, slowness,
quickness, and talent or lack of talent are due to the one-sidedness of
material force. The manifestation of this one-sidedness in man is his
physical nature. On the other hand, heaven is originally harmonious and
not one-sided. Heavenly nature in man, then, is always good, while
physical nature is not always so. If one skillfully cultivates the
material force and returns to the original nature endowed by Heaven and
Earth, he can fully develop his nature and be in harmony with Heaven.
This harmony is one manifestation of the Great Harmony. The way of
cultivation is to investigate things to the utmost and keep one free
from insincerity and disrespect. A person with perfect sincerity,
according to Chang, will obey the Principle of Nature and find
In "Western Inscription" ("Hsi Ming"), the particularly famous
passage of Chang's most important writing Correcting Youthful Ignorance,
Chang Tsai pictured the ideal a Confucian learner must seek and laid the
basis of Neo-Confucian ethics. Since all things in the universe are
constituted of the same material force, men and all other things are but
part of one great body. Thus, one should love other men and everything
else in the universe; "all people are my brothers and sisters, and all
things in the world are my companions."44 The sage is the one who un-
derstands and practices this principle. In order to become a sage, the
learner must first learn to change and improve the evil parts of his
character, or in Chang's words, to "transform his physical nature
himself"45 so that he will attain the enlightenment and return to the
Heavenly nature, or develop and actualize the goodness inborn in man.
Ch'eng Hao (1032-1085 A.D.) and Ch'eng I (1033-1107 A.D.)
It is interesting that Neo-Confucianism began to develop into two
different directions in the philosophies of two brothers, Ch'eng Hao
and Ch'eng I. The rationalistic school of Principle was initiated by
Ch'eng I and completed by Chu Hsi. The former formulated the major
concepts and provided the basic arguments, while the latter
supplemented and refined them and brought Neo-Confucianism into a
systematic and rationalistic whole. The idealistic school of Mind was
started with Ch'eng Hao's philosophy of humanity, mind, nature, and
Principle, elaborated by Lu Hsiang-shan, and was developed and completed
by Wang Yang-ming. Although the school of Principle dominated Chinese
thought from the twelfth century to the nineteenth century, A.D., the
school of Mind always posed a strong challenge and almost replaced it
from the fifteenth to the seventeenth centuries.
Both Ch'eng brothers were students of Chou Tun-i, friends of
Shao Yung, and nephews of Chang Tsai. Chu Hsi has said, "After Mencius'
death, nobody inherited his learning. Although his books remained, very
few read them. Then two masters of Honan Province, the Ch'eng
brothers appeared, and Mencius' philosophy continued."46 Chu's comment
is correct in describing the Ch'eng brothers' influence in the process
of transforming Confucianism. Mencius' death really signifies the end
of mainstream Confucian philosophy, while the rise of Neo-Confucianism
signifies the revival of Confucian philosophy; and it is in the Ch'engs'
philosophies that Neo-Confucianism began to flower. Like some other
Neo-Confucian philosophers, the Ch'eng brothers once indulged in the
study of Buddhism and Taoism, and again like some others, they finally
became critics of Buddhism and Taoism, rejected them, and returned to
The Ch'eng brothers were born with different temperaments. Ch'eng
Hao, the elder brother, was gentle and kindly. Students in his class
always felt as if "bathed in the peaceful and warm Spring wind."47
Ch'eng I, on the other hand, was serious in his appearance and severe
in his manner of instruction.48 But both were great teachers. Although
they shared many philosophical ideas, they did not agree totally in
their philosophies. Actually, they held different opinions concerning
some fundamental philosophical issues.
Ch'eng Hao elaborated Confucius' idea of humanity (Jen), founded
his theory on the concept of humanity and the function of mind, and gave
them a cosmological basis. He argued that students must first of all
understand the nature of humanity. The person with humanity forms one
body with all things without any differentiation. Righteousness,
propriety, wisdom, and faithfulness are all expressions of humanity,
according to Ch'eng Hao. One's duty, then, is to understand this
principle and preserve humanity with sincerity and seriousness. There
is no need for caution and control.49
Ch'eng Hao was influenced by Lao Tzu and insisted that the error
of students was selfishness and in knowing nothing about following the
natural way of wisdom. People do not realize their ignorance, and they
feel satisfied with their wrong doing. Ch'eng Hao also was influenced
by another ancient Taoist philosopher, Chuang Tzu, when he said that
inner peace and tranquility could be obtained only by forgetting the
differences between those thing within and without one's body. This
results in one's becoming united with the Heaven, the Earth, and every
person and every thing in the world. The love for all existence in the
world, and the spontaneous expression of one's peaceful and easy
personality in his joyous talking and tranquil gesture, are all
manifestations of the Principle of Nature.50 Ch'eng Hao's character is
the embodiment of his philosophy. He practiced in actual life what he
While Ch'eng Hao said that "Nature is the same as material force
and material force is the same as nature,"51 and thus eliminated the
opposition between Heavenly nature and physical nature, his brother
Ch'eng I asserted that the Heavenly nature in man always directs him
to do the good, but the material force of man can commit an error.52
In other words, the human mind is originally good, but as it is aroused
and expresses itself in thoughts and ideas, there is good and evil.53
He further pointed out that joy and anger arise from within and under
external influence; they are to human nature what waves are to water.
It is the nature of water to be clear, level, and tranquil like a
mirror, but when the wind moves over it, it begins to move violently
and gives rise to waves and currents. But these are not the nature of
water.54 Ch'eng I's position was later followed closely by Chu Hsi
and marked an important characteristic of Ch'eng-Chu school of Neo-
Confucianism in the establishment of metaphysics.
How does one preserve the original good without committing error?
Ch'eng I taught his students that if one can diminish his selfish
desires, he will progress in achieving this end. This is the major
interest that young people should be devoted to in the process of
learning.55 But how can one conquer or master his desires? Ch'eng I's
answer is that one should study, investigate, and examine the matters
and events around him, try to the utmost to understand their "principles,"
and he will be able by reasoning to control desires.56 But this is only
a cognitive step to that purpose. One must also practice what he knows
in daily life, e.g., work at solving problems and keeping the mind in
peace and tranquility.57 The practice will make one's behavior perfect,
always in accordance with the Heavenly nature instead of selfish desires.
Such a practice is called "staying in sincerity" or "keeping the heart
in sincerity and seriousness" by Ch'eng I. One of the effective methods
of practice is to be attentive to one thing, one thought, or one problem
at a time.58 Such a practice was evidently influenced by Taoist and
Buddhist methods of meditation. Although mentioned by Ch'eng I and
Chu Hsi, the method of meditation was not as much emphasized or
encouraged by them as by the idealist Neo-Confucian philosophers.
Chu Hsi (1130-1200 A.D.)
Chu Hsi may be the most influential philosopher in the past eight
centuries of Chinese history. His philosophy, like that of Lao Tzu
and Confucius, has been absorbed and has become part of Korean and
Japanese cultures, although he is not as well known as Confucius and
Lao Tzu in the rest of the world. Generally speaking, he is the person
who synthesized the thought of the Neo-Confucianists preceding him--
Chou Tun-i, Chang Tsai, Shao Yung, Ch'eng Hao, and particularly Ch'eng I.
According to The History of Sung Dynasty59 and Anthology and
Critical Accounts of the Neo-Confucianists of Sung and Yuan Dynasties,60
Chu Hsi was born in central Fukien, a southeastern province on the
Chinese mainland. From 1158 he studied under Li Tung, who continued
the tradition of Confucianism from Ch'eng Hao and Ch'eng I. At the age
of eighteen, he passed the government examination and started a
succession of official posts. Because his political statements and
ideas, which were derived from Confucian philosophy, were not
appreciated by the emperor, in fact, sometimes were hated by the ruler
and others powerful in the court, Chu Hsi was not happy in public
service and time and again he declined official positions. But he
contributed much to the cultivation of culture and education wherever
he was appointed. He revived the Academy at the White Deer Grotto in
the present Chiangsi Province, and his lectures there attracted prominent
scholars. He died of dysentry in 1200 and was placed, worshipped, and
honored in the Confucian Temple. Fung Yu-lan commented that Chu Hsi was
a philosopher of subtle argument, clear thinking, wide knowledge, and
voluminous literary out-put. Fung said that, with Chu Hsi, the
philosophic system of the Ch'eng-Chu (Ch'eng I-Chu Hsi) school remained
the most influential single system of philosophy until the introduction
of Western philosophy in China in recent decades.61
Chu Hsi said that everything has an ultimate, and that which unites
and embraces the Principle of Heaven, Earth, and all things is the
Supreme Ultimate (T'ai-chi). The Supreme Ultimate is the highest of all,
beyond which nothing can be.62 Chu Hsi's concept of Supreme Ultimate
was considered to have come from Chou Tun-i's An Explanation of the
Diagram of the Supreme Ultimate, but his further argument concerning the
Supreme Ultimate and material force were intended to interpret and clarify
the ideas presented by the Ch'eng brothers on the same topic.
According to Chu, there is but one Supreme Ultimate, which is received
by each individual in its entirety and undivided. It is like the moon
shining in the heavens; though it is reflected in rivers and lakes and
thus is everywhere visible, we would not say that it is divided.63
There are two elements which are indispensable ingredients in making
this world: the Principle of Nature and material force. The Principle
of Nature is the source from which all things are produced. At the
moment of production, they must receive the material force in order to
have bodily form, while the Principle of Nature constitutes only a pure,
empty, and vast world, and is similar to Aristotle's concept of "form,"
the material force has the capacity to condense and thus to form things,
and is similar to Aristotle's concept of "matter."
The Supreme Ultimate embraces the multitude of the Principle of
Nature for all things and is the highest summation of all of them.
Since the Principle of Nature also signifies the perfect and ideal
form of everything in the world, the highest stage that the individual
person and the particular thing can achieve, it is also called "ultimate"
by Chu Hsi. Chu says that every person has a small Supreme Ultimate,
which is the sum of the ultimate in him; and everything else has it too.
In the whole universe there is a large Supreme Ultimate, which is
nothing but an extremely good and an absolutely perfect Tao (the Way).64
In this sense, the concept of the Principle of Nature is also similar to
Plato's concept of Idea--an independent reality prior to the existence
of the physical world and prior to our being born. In Plato's Symposium,
Socrates explains how one can pass on to the apprehension of the nature
of Beauty from a love of the beauty of physical objects. Beauty itself
means here an Idea of Beauty, or put it in Chu Hsi's words, the
Principle of Beauty. The difference is that Socrates asserted in
Parmenides that there are absolute Ideas of the just, the beautiful, the
good, and such matters, but he was not certain that there are Ideas of
man, fire, and water, and he was certain that there are no absolute
Ideas of such vile things as hair, mud, and dirt; while Chu Hsi insisted
that nothing can really exist without the Principle. Nevertheless,
Socrates did admit that he sometimes thought that there is an Idea of
everything--that even the most vile things partake of absolute Ideas--
but that he was afraid that this extreme view would turn out to be non-
"Nature," so called by Chu Hsi, is the Principle of Nature when the
latter is shared, distributed, and reflected within the individual
person, matter, and thing. Human nature is no more than the Principle
of Nature which is within human beings, and this is called the principle
of human being. The principle of a person is his original nature, and
unmoved and perfectly good nature, and this is also called the Heavenly
nature or innate nature. For Chu Hsi, it is opposite to physical
nature. Physical nature is the mixture of original nature and material
force, involving both good and evil. The differences among human beings
rest not in original natures, but in physical natures, for original
natures are always perfect and good, while the physical natures are
variable from person to person. The person endowed with a clear and
bright physical nature is the sage and the virtuous, while the person
endowed with a dark and turbid physical nature is the stupid one. No
matter how clear and bright, or dark and turbid, the principle is always
within. The difference is that in the former case, the principle can
be seen clearly while in the latter case it cannot be seen--it is like
looking into turbid water. One of the major purposes of education is to
purify the turbid, to restore its freshness and function, so that the
principle can operate clearly again. That is so that man can think
reasonably and behave morally again.
According to Chu Hsi, the mind unites nature and emotion. When the
mind does not move, it is called nature; when it moves, it is called
emotion. The mind is like water: nature is the water at rest, emotion
is the water flowing, and desire is the waves of water.65 For Chu Hsi,
the fundamental task of a learner consists in preserving his mind,
nourishing his nature, and cultivating and mastering both.
Lu Hsiang-shan (1139-1193 A.D.)
Lu Hsiang-shan, the founder of the idealistic school of Neo-
Confucianism, was the contemporary of Chu Hsi. When commenting on his
own theory, Lu once said that the ideas of the school were the result
of his own meditation and life experiences. But what Lu said does not
imply that he owed nothing to others or that he was not inspired by
others in the development of his philosophy. On the contrary, he
admired and learned much from Mencius. Besides, Lu's philosophy was
influenced by Neo-Confucian philosophers of the earlier Sung Dynasty,
especially by Ch'eng Hao. Lu Hsiang-shan and Chu Hsi were friends, but
their philosophic views were widely divergent. The verbal and written
debates between them on major philosophical issues have evoked great
interest for further study among philosophers since their time.
Lu Hsiang-shan often quoted Mencius' sayings in his writings,
tried to explain them, and used them in expressing his own thought.
He elaborated Mencius' thought in some respects, and, on the other hand,
he initiated ideas of his own and opened a new direction for the develop-
ment of Neo-Confucianism. The great philosopher and educator in the
Ming Dynasty, Wang Yang-ming, followed Lu's way of thinking and
elaborated it to its ultimate, although Wang himself did not admit the
fact in his writings. Their philosophy is called the Lu-Wang school of
Neo-Confucianism. Some psychologists in present-day Taiwan are
interested in the Lu-Wang method of dealing with the mind. They think
that the method could be useful for educational guidance and counseling.
This method will be discussed later in this chapter and in the third
In "A Letter to Tsung Tsai-tzu,"66 Lu Hsiang-shan briefly and
clearly stated his philosophy. He argued that the Principle of Nature
is not remote or hard to find, for it resides in our mind. Therefore,
he said, the mind is the Principle, and the Principle is the mind. They
are actually one, instead of two different things. That is why our mind
can tell right from wrong, good from evil. Any person, if he makes up
his mind, is able to have the Principle of Nature work well in himself.
The aim of the student is to have that Principle work well, so that he
will be able to know the right way to go and what to do. The learner
must first of all build up the nobler part of his nature, and then the
inferior part cannot overcome it. The person who fails to build up the
nobler part of his nature will be overcome by the inferior part. As a
result, the Principle within him will be violated, and he becomes
different from Nature. Ordinary people reject the Principle, while the
superior person preserves it. Lu commented that this is why Mencius
said that the great person is the one who does not lose his child's
heart, for the child's heart is filled with the Principle.67
In comparing Lu Hsiang-shan with Chu Hsi, Huang Tsung-hsi has said
that the difference between them lies in the emphasis on learning and
the procedure taken by the learner. For Chu Hsi, the initial and most
important step the learner should take is to investigate the facts or
the particulars of the material world. But for Lu Hsiang-shan, a
learner should first of all deal with the mind, preserving the Principle,
otherwise he will lose it, and this is the most dangerous and worst thing
a student might encounter.68 In that case, selfish desires and evil
thoughts will dominate his action. A closer investigation will show that
Chu preferred the inductive method of learning while Lu liked to teach
students to do logical thinking in a deductive way. In this sense, Lu
is similar to Descartes.
In comparing their ontological viewpoints, Fung Yu-lan argues that
there is a fundamental difference between Chu Hsi's idea that "nature
is the Principle" and Lu Hsiang-shan's that "Mind is the Principle."
Fung indicates that the mind, in Chu's system, is conceived of as the
concrete embodiment of Principle as found in material force; it is not
the same as the abstract Principle itself. But in Lu's system, the mind
itself is nature, and he considered the presumed distinction between
nature and mind as nothing more than a verbal one.69 In contrast with
Chu Hsi's dualism between Principle and material force, Lu commented:
It is said in The Book of History that the human mind is precarious,
the moral mind is subtle. Most interpreters have explained the
human mind, which is liable to make mistakes, as equivalent to
selfish human desires, and the moral mind, which follows the way
or moral law, as equivalent to the Principle of Nature. The
interpretation is wrong. The mind is one. How can one have two
Wang Yang-ming (1472-1529 A.D.)
Wang Yang-ming was a native of Yueh in the present Chekiang
Province. He began his service in government around 1500. In 1506,
because he offended a eunuch, he was banished to modern Kueichow where
he stayed for more than two years. In 1510 he was appointed a magistrate
in Kiangsi, where he built a reamrkable record of administration. From
1517 to 1519, he suppressed several rebellions in Kiangsi and Fukien.
He also established schools and reconstructed the economy. He was
awarded the title Earl and promised certain hereditary privileges, but
his enemies at court accused him of conspiring with a rebellious prince
and he was ostracized. In 1527, he was called to suppress rebellions in
Kwangsi, which he did successfully. He died on his return home at the
age of fifty-seven.71
Wang was a great philosopher, educator, and soldier. When he was
very young, he had studied the Buddhist and Taoist philosophies for some
years, but according to The History of Ming Dynasty,72 he made no
progress in them. He once made an experiment on "the investigation of
things" in Chu Hsi's way, but he failed,73 and after that he abandoned
the approach set by Chu Hsi's philosophy. It was at Dragon Field
(Lung-ch'ang), in the present Kueichow Province, that he obtained a
sudden enlightenment, a thorough understanding of Confucian philosophy,
especially that transmitted from Confucius through Mencius, Ch'eng Hao,
and Lu Hsiang-shan. Wang thus succeeded in establishing his own system
of philosophy. He became a famous scholar, and followers came to learn
with him from almost every corner of the country. His influence even
extended to Japan and had a strong impact in the Meiji Restoration of
Japan in 1868. Because of his opposition to Chu Hsi's philosophy, which
had become the idol of conservative scholars and officials, continuous
severe criticism and blame were put on him. But he never changed what
he believed, and he spoke and .wrote amid the objections. Wing-tsit
Chan says that the dynamic idealism of Wang Yang-ming dominated China
during his lifetime and for 150 years thereafter.74 The truth is that
many of his ideas are still influential in Taiwan and Japan today.
In "Inquiry on The Great Learning," Wang Yang-ming contended that
in the eyes of the great person, Heaven, Earth, and all things are just
parts of one body. The world is one family, and the country is one
person. In explicating this idea of humanity, which was transmitted
from Confucius, Mencius, and Ch'eng Hao, Wang gave many examples. He
said that when one person sees a child about to fall into a well, he
cannot suppress a feeling of alarm and commiseration. This shows that
his humanity forms one body with the child. When he observes the pitiful
cries and frightened appearance of birds and animals about to be
slaughtered, he cannot help feeling an "inability to bear" their
suffering. This shows that his humanity forms one body with birds and
animals. Even when he sees plants broken and destroyed, he cannot
suppress a feeling of pity; or when he sees tiles and stones shattered
and crushed, he cannot suppress a feeling of regret. These show that
his humanity forms one body with living things like plants as well as
inert objects like tiles and stones.75
\For Wang, desires and selfishness are harmful to the cultivation
and development of humanity. Therefore he argued that the learning of
the great person (and the small person as well) consists entirely in
getting rid of the obstruction of selfish desires in order, by his own
efforts, to manifest his clear character and to restore the condition
of forming one body with Heaven, Earth, and all things.76 By analyzing
what Wang said in "Inquiry on The Great Learning," three steps in the
development of humanity can be seen. The first step is loving people
and other beings; the second is to form one body with them; and then
we can progress to the third step where "clear character" is
On the other hand, Wang defined humanity as a process of unceasing
production and reproduction.78 Although humanity is prevalent and
extensive and there is no place where it does not exist, there is an
order in its operation and growth. Because there is order, there is
a starting point. And because there is a starting point, there is
growth--an unceasing growth, and the process of it is one of production
Take a tree, for example. When in the beginning it puts forth a
shoot, there is the starting point of the tree's spirit of life.
After the root appears, the trunk grows. After the trunk grows,
branches and leaves come, and then the process of unceasing
production and reproduction has begun.79
The human phenomenon is very similar to the growth of a tree:
The love between father and son and between elder and younger
brothers is the starting point of human mind's spirit of life,
just like the sprout of the tree. From here it is extended to
humanness to all people and love to all things. It is like the
growth of the trunk, branches, and leaves. Filial piety and
brotherly respect are the root of humanity. This means that the
principle of humanity grows from within.80
According to Wang, the product of this process is again a clear
character. What is a clear character? Wang Yang-ming pointed out that
the original substance of a clear character is the innate knowledge of
good; with it we can see the highest good--the ultimate Principle of
showing character and loving people--if it is not obscured by selfish
desires.81 He argued against the theory held by Chu Hsi that every
event and every object has its own particular definite principle.
Instead, Wang insisted that the Principle of things, or the highest
good, is inherent in our minds.82 It is wrong to seek the Principle
outside the mind among events and objects, for it will make the mind
fragmentary, isolated, broken, and without definite direction.83
Avoiding these dangers, the mind will be clear and tranquil. Whenever
a thought arises or an event acts upon it, the mind will, with its innate
knowledge, examine carefully to determine if the thought or the event is
in accord with the highest good and will make a wise decision after
deliberation. It is in this way that man keeps his behavior in the most
appropriate condition. This is Wang's interpretation of Confucius'
doctrine of the Mean.
As a master of the school of Mind, Wang Yang-ming used the concept
of mind as the underpinning of his whole philosophy. Like Lu Hsiang-
shan, Wang Yang-ming thought that the mind is the Principle of Nature,
and the Principle can be found only in the mind. That is, there is
only one universal Principle, and that is the mind.84
The interesting thing is that similar ideas can be found in
All things are consciousness only and there is nothing else which
is external to the mind.83
All dharmas depend on this mind for their being and take the mind
as their substance. When it is compared with dharmas all of them
are unreal and imaginary, and their existence is the same as non-
existence. Contrasted with these unreal and false dharmas, the
mind is regarded as true.86
So it seems incorrect to say that Wang's concept of the mind was not
influenced by Buddhism, although Wang declared that he merely elaborated
and made clear what he inherited from Confucius and Mencius.
For Chu Hsi, the investigation of things will lead to the
understanding or particular events and objects and then to the grasp
of the principle of each of them; this is the extension of knowledge.
But for Wang Yang-ming, to investigate things is to rectify the mind
and is the work of abiding in the highest good. Once a person knows
what the highest good is, he knows how to investigate things.87
Therefore one of Wang's favorite students, Hsu Ai, said that he felt
Wang's teaching did not agree with Chu Hsi's doctrine of the investi-
gation of things.88 And Wang himself also criticized that Chu's
teaching about the investigation of things is not free from being
forced, arbitrary, and far-fetched.89 For Wang Yang-ming, the extension
of knowledge is not what later scholars understood to be an enriching
and widening of knowledge. It is simply extending to the utmost one's
innate knowledge of the good.90 Innate knowledge is the sense of right
and wrong common to all people, which requires no deliberation to know,
nor does it depend on learning to function. This is the original mind,
which is devoid of selfish desires, is intelligent and not clouded.
All people have this mind, and this mind is identical with the Principle
Why do some people do good and others do evil? Wang said that the
mind of the evil person has lost its original substance because of
selfish human desires.91 The main work of a learner, then, is to
endeavor to get rid of selfish desires and preserve the Principle of
Nature, that is, preserve and develop fully the original substance of
the mind. This also means that the will should be sincere.
Filial piety can be taken as an example. If one's mind is free
from selfish desires and become completely identical with the Principle
of Nature, it will be sincere in its filial piety to parents. In the
winter, the child will naturally think of the cold and seek a way to
provide warmth for his parents; in the summer he will naturally think
of the heat and seek a way to provide coolness for the parents. These
are the workings of a mind that is sincere in its filial piety. Con-
cerning this, Wang concluded in one of his letters to Ku Tung-chiao92
that where the mind has filial piety toward parents, there also is the
Principle of filial piety. If there is no thought of filial piety,
there will be no Principle of filial piety. So there are no principles
external to the mind. It is then clear that to extend innate knowledge
of the good to the utmost is the basis for becoming empathetic with
all kinds of existence in the world. The extension of knowledge thus is
the extension of communication and empathetic understanding with
every human being, event, and object in the environment shared with us.
In this section, the philosophies of various Neo-Confucian
philosophies stated above will be synthesized, so that the general
characteristics of Neo-Confucianism in the Sung and Ming Dynasties as
represented by these philosophers will be clear. In order to do this,
some basic concepts of Neo-Confucian philosophy are explained in
The Principle of Nature
The Principle of Nature is the Soul, Spirit, Reason, or Ideal of
the universe. But neither Soul, nor Spirit, nor any other words alone
can describe it accurately. It seemingly means more than any one of
When the Principle of Nature is related to the human mind, it is
called nature, or original nature, or Heavenly nature, which is, like
the Principle itself, always purely perfect and good. In relation to
things and events, the Principle of Nature is called principle, e.g.,
the principle of tree or the principle of filial piety. In this sense,
it is similar to Plato's concept of Idea or Form.
Some Neo-Confucianists explicitly stated that the Principle resides
in all human beings and in all things in the world. Shao Yung said
that the Principle governing Heaven and man are found in all events,
great or little.93 Ch'eng Hao said that all things have their principle.94
And Lu Hsiang-shan said that the Principle fills the universe, who can
escape from it?95
The Principle of Nature is, in one sense, the Natural Law according
to which every existence in the universe originates, grows, develops, and
realizes itself. On the other hand, it is the moral principle according
to which human mind operates and his actions obey. The Principle of
Nature is self-sufficient and unchangeable, but it is the motive to all
changes.96 There is only one Principle in the world, but the manifes-
tations of it are as many as countless.97
Chang Tsai, a dualist, first suggested the idea of material force
as opposed to the Principle of Nature. Ch'eng I and Chu Hsi strictly
followed the dualism initiated by Chang Tsai in ontology. We will find
that there is no discussion about material force in Lu Hsiang-shan and
Wang Yang-ming's works. Both Lu and Wang were monists who insisted
that the Principle is mind and the mind is Principle, and without mind
there is nothing else.
According to Chang Tsai, material force is that which is dispersed,
differentiated, and capable of assuming form in the universe. It
integrates, disintegrates, and moves in all ways without ceasing, and
thus produced the multiplicity of things and human beings with Yin and
Yang, its two fundamental elements. But the operation of material
force is in order and unerring, for it moves in accord with the
Principle of Nature.98 But Chu Hsi said that there are two indispensa-
ble elements in the making of the world: the Principle of Nature and
material force. The former is the source from which all things are
produced, but at the moment of production, they receive material force
in order to have bodily form.99 In this sense, the Principle of
Nature is similar to Aristotle's "ideas" or "forms," while material
force is similar to his "matter."100
In tune with the separation between the Principle of Nature and
material force, Chang Tsai, Ch'eng I, and Chu Hsi argued for the
division between original nature and physical nature. This is again
contrary to what was asserted by Ch'eng Hao, Lu Hsiang-shan, and Wang
Yang-ming, who excluded the idea of physical nature from their theory
of human nature.
According to Chang Tsai, Heavenly nature in man is always good,
but physical nature is not always so, because the latter is the
manifestation of the one-sidedness of material force, while the former
is always in accord with the Principle of Nature. Ch'eng I also argued
that by nature men are alike, but owing to the differences of physical
nature, they have become far apart through practice.101 Ch'eng I
further pointed out that Heavenly nature in man always directs him to
do the good, while the material force of man can commit an error. The
human mind is originally good, but when it is aroused and expresses
itself in thoughts and ideas, there is good and evil. Chu Hsi thought
along the same line started by Chang Tsai and Ch'eng I and said that
one's original nature is no more than the Principle of Nature which
is within human beings. it is perfectly good and opposite to physical
nature--the mixture of original nature and material force, which
involves good and evil. The differences among human beings, then, rest
not in original nature but in physical nature.
While Chang Tsai, Ch'eng I, and Chu Hsi attributed evil to
selfish desires and selfish desires to physical nature, Ch'eng Hao,
Lu Hsiang-shan, and Wang Yang-ming also attributed evil to selfish
desires, but they did not say where such desires come from, as the
former philosophers did. Their problem is that in their philosophy,
the idea of physical nature does not exist. And, they did not invent
anything else in place of physical nature. For Wang Yang-ming, as
instance, the substance of human nature--innate knowledge--is the
equilibrium before the feelings are aroused. It is possessed by all
people, absolutely good, quiet, and inactive. As feelings are
aroused, there are both good and evil, because in this case, "people
cannot help being darkened and obscured by material desires."102 Wang
further explained that the original substance of mind--innate
knowledge--is the highest good; when one deviates a little from this
original substance, there is evil. But Wang said that it is not that
there is good and also evil to oppose it, but rather that "good and
evil are one thing."103 Wang quoted Ch'eng Hao's sayings which show
that good and evil come from the same source--the Principle of Nature
in the human mind: "Man's nature is of course good, but it cannot be
said that evil is not our nature." Again Ch'eng Hao said:
Good and evil in the world are both the Principle of Nature.
What is called evil is not originally evil. It becomes evil only
because of deviation from the Mean.104
It seems that when innate knowledge works, selfish desires do not
occur; when selfish desires work, one will deviate from innate
knowledge, and thus deviate from the Mean, and then evil arises. This
is Ch'eng Hao and Wang Yang-ming's theory about the origin of evil.
It is also true for Wang Yang-ming that if we can deal with our mind
and keep it in the state of equilibrium, absolute quiet, and imparti-
ality before feelings are aroused, the innate knowledge in our mind
will function well, and wise judgment and adequate action will result.
Because of the different views concerning the origin of evil
among these philosophers, their suggestions for eliminating evil from
the human mind are different too. For the dualistic philosophers, the
efforts are concentrated on the improvement of physical nature, while
those in the other group stressed the preservation of original
substance of one's mind. More detailed discussion about the culti-
vation of human nature will be included in Chapter Three.
Humanity was one of the most important concepts in ancient
Confucian classics. It was equally emphasized by Neo-Confucian
philosophers, elaborated, and many new insights and understandings
In ancient Confucian philosophy, humanity mainly means one's love
for all people. For Neo-Confucianists, it means not merely love for
all people, but love for all things in the world. For Chang Tsai,
"All people are my brothers and sisters, and all things are my com-
panions."105 Ch'eng Hao also claimed that the person with humanity
regards Heaven and Earth and all things as one body. To such a
person, there is nothing in the world that is not himself.I06 Humanity
thus is a universal love based on empathetic communication and
For Neo-Confucian philosophers, humanity is the highest good one
can achieve, the fully developed state of human nature. Chu Hsi's
in-depth analysis of this shows that wherever selfish desires can be
entirely eliminated and the Principle of Nature freely operates, there
is humanity. For those who seek the way leading toward humanity, they
must know that it is just the same path which leads to the limit of
human nature.107 Therefore the person with humanity is a sage. Hu-
manity thus becomes a superior virtue, the Idea of virtue in Plato's
terms, wherein all other virtues, e.g., righteousness, propriety,
wisdom, and faithfulness, are found and manifested.
The concepts and ideas sketched in the foregoing passages will
remain important in discussion of educational thought in next chapter.
We will see the intimate relation of Neo-Confucian philosophy in
general to its educational thought in following passages.
1 Confucius, "The Analects," in Wing-tsit Chan (ed. and trans.),
A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy (Princeton: Princeton University
Press, 1973), p. 31.
2 Some of the classics compiled and edited by Confucius are The
Book of Changes, The Book of Rites, The Book of Odes, The Book of Music,
and The Book of History.
3 Confucius, "The Analects," in Wing-tsit Chan, A Source Book in
Chinese Philosophy, op. cit., p. 40.
4 Ibid., p. 41.
5 Ibid., p. 25.
6 Ibid., p. 31.
7 Ibid., p. 46.
8 Ibid., p. 42.
9 Ibid., p. 47.
10 Ibid., p. 18.
11 Ibid., p. 24.
13 Ibid., p. 27.
14 Ibid., p. 44.
15 Confucius, "The Analects," in William Theodore de Bary, Wing-
tsit Chan, and Burton Watson Compp. and trans.), Sources of Chinese
Tradition (New York: Columbia University Press, 1967), Vol. I, p. 25.
16 Ibid., p. 24.
17 Confucius, "The Analects," in The Four Books (Taipei: San-ming
Book Co., 1981), p. 130. Written in Chinese.
18 Confucius, "The Analects," in de Bary, Chan, and Watson, Sources
of Chinese Tradition, op. cit., p. 20.
23 Chu Hsi's remark to "The Great Learning," in Wing-tsit Chan,
A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy, op. cit., p. 87.
24 Ibid., pp. 85-86.
25 Chu Hsi's remark to Confucius, "The Doctrine of the Mean," in
The Four Books, op. cit., p. 17. Also Wing-tsit Chan, A Source Book in
Chinese Philosophy, op. cit., p. 97.
26 Confucius, "The Doctrine of the Mean," in Wing-tsit Chan, A Source
Book in Chinese Philosophy, op. cit., p. 98.
27 Ibid., pp. 98-99.
28 Ibid., p. 107.
29 Ch'u Chai and Winberg Chai, The Story of Chinese Philosophy (New
York: Washington Square Press, Inc., 1961), p. 43.
30 Mencius, "The Mencius," in The Four Books, op. cit., pp. 298,
31 Ibid., pp. 285-289, 391, 398-399, 476, 517.
32 Fung Yu-lan, A History of Chinese Philosophy, trans. by Derk
Bodde (Princeton: Princeton University Press, Vol. II, 1973), pp. 408-413.
33 Ibid., pp. 410-411.
in the Yuan Dynasty.
ninety years, and no
and historians do not talk much about Neo-Confucianism
The Dynasty, founded by Mongolians, lasted only
important philosophers appeared in the period.
35 Wing-tsit Chan, "Notes on Chart 4," in Historical Charts of
Chinese Philosophy (Far Eastern Publications, Yale University, 1955).
No numbers of pages.
36 The History of Sung Dynasty (Sung Shih) was compiled and written
in 496 chapters by T'o-ke-t'o and others in the fourteenth century. The
passage quoted is from The Complete Collection of Books in Four Divisions
(the largest library series in Chinese history, which collected almost
all books in print until the seventeenth century; edited and published
in the Ch'ing Dynasty in 79931 volumes and partially reprinted by Taiwan
Commercial Press, Taipei, in 1983), Vol. 288, p. 11. Trans. by Naichen
37 In Tao-te Ching (ch. 40), Lao Tzu said, "All things in the world
come into being from Being, and Being comes into being from Non-being."
See Tao-te Ching (Taipei: Chi-ming Book Co., reprinted 1952), p. 108.
Trans. by Naichen Chen.
38 Chou Tun-i, "Penetrating the Book of Changes," in Wing-tsit
Chan, A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy, op. cit., pp. 465-467.
39 Ibid., p. 466.
40 Ibid., p. 467.
41 Chang Tsai, "Correcting Youthful Ignorance," in Collected Works
of Chang Tsai (Taipei: Li-jen Book Co., 1979), pp. 7-10. Written in
43 Chang Tsai, "Correcting Youthful Ignorance," in Wing-tsit Chan,
A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy, op. cit., pp. 507-514.
44 Chang Tsai, "Western Inscriptions," in Wing-tsit Chan, A Source
Book in Chinese Philosophy, op. cit., p. 497.
45 Chang Tsai, "An Essay on Propriety and Principle," in Collected
Works of Chang Tsai, op. cit., p. 274. Written in Chinese.
46 Chu Hsi, "Preface to The Great Learning," in The Complete Works
of Chu Tzu (Taipei: Chung-hwa Book Co., Ltd., 1966), pp. 20-21. Trans.
by Naichen Chen.
47 Huang Tsung-hsi (1610-1695 A.D.) et al., Anthology and Critical
Accounts of the Neo-Confucianists of Sung and Yuan Dynasties, re-edited
and annotated by Miao Tien-shou (Taipei: Taiwan Commercial Press, 1970),
pp. 104-105. Written in Chinese.
48 Ibid., p. 111.
49 Ch'eng Hao, "On Understanding the Nature of Jen [Humanity],"
in Wing-tsit Chan, A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy, op. cit., p. 523.
50 Ibid., pp. 523-524.
51 Ch'eng Hao, "Selected Sayings," in Wing-tsit Chan, A Source Book
in Chinese Philosophy, op. cit., p. 527.
52 Ch'eng I, The Surviving Works of the Ch'engs (Taipei: Taiwan
Commercial Press, 1978), p. 226. Written in Chinese.
53 Ibid., pp. 225-226.
54 Ibid., p. 226.
55 Ibid., pp. 160-161, 177.
56 Some of Ch'eng I's sayings collected in Huang Tsung-hsi et al.
(eds.), Anthology and Critical Accounts. Sung and Yuan Dynasties,
o cit., pp. 122-123.
57 Ibid., pp. 126-127.
58 Ibid., p. 125.
59 T'o-ke-t'o, The History of Sung Dynasty (Taipei: Ting-wen Book
Co., Ltd., 1978), Vol. 16, Book 429, pp. 12751-12770. Written in Chinese.
60 Huang Tsung-hsi, Anthology and Critical Accounts Sung and
Yuan Dynasties, op. cit., pp. 242-252. Written in Chinese.
61 Fung Yu-lan, A Short History of Chinese Philosophy (New York:
The Free Press, 1966), p. 294.
62 Chu Hsi, The Classified Recorded Sayings of Chu Tzu (Taipei:
Taiwan Commercial Press, 1982), pp. 1-2. Written in Chinese. Also "The
Complete Works of Chu Hsi," in Wing-tsit Chan, A Source Book in Chinese
Philosophy, op. cit., pp. 638-641.
63 Chu Hsi, "The Complete Works of Chu Hsi," in Wing-tsit Chan,
A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy, op. cit., p. 638. Also Fung Yu-lan,
A Short History of Chinese Philosophy, op. cit., p. 298.
64 Chu Hsi, The Classified Recorded Sayings of Chu Tzu, op. cit.,
pp. 1-2. Also Wing-tsit Chan, A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy, op.
cit., pp. 638-641.
65 Chu Hsi, The Classified Recorded Sayings, as quoted from the
chapter on Chu Hsi in Huang Tsung-hsi, Anthology and Critical Accounts
. Sung and Yuan Dynasties, op. cit., p. 261. Written in Chinese.
66 Lu Hsiang-shan, The Complete Works of Mr. Hsiang-shan (Taipei:
Taiwan Commercial Press, 1979), pp. 3-7. Written in Chinese.
67 Ibid., p. 144.
68 Huang Tsung-hsi, Anthology and Critical Accounts Sung and
Yuang Dynasties, op. cit., p. 357.
69 Fung Yu-lan, A Short History of Chinese Philosophy, op. cit.,
70 Lu Hsiang-shan, The Complete Works, op. cit., pp. 393-394.
Trans. by Naichen Chen.
71 Huang Tsung-hsi, Anthology and Critical Accounts Sung and
Yuang Dynasties, oE. cit., pp. 81-85. Also Wing-tsit Chan, Dynamic
Idealism in Wang Yang-ming," in A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy, op.
cit., p. 654.
72 Chang T'ing-yu, et al. (eds.), The History of Ming Dynasty (Taipei:
Ting-wen Book Co., 1980), Vol. 7, Book 332, pp. 5159-5170. Written in
73 Following Chu Hsi's doctrine, Wang Yang-ming sat in front of
bamboos and tried to investigate the principle of bamboo, only to become
ill after seven days.
74 Wing-tsit Chan, "Dynamic Idealism in Wang Yang-ming," in A Source
Book in Chinese Philosophy, oE. cit., p. 654.
75 Wang Yang-ming, "Inquiry on The Great Learning," in Wing-tsit
Chan, A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy, op. cit., pp. 659-666.
76 Ibid., p. 660.
77 Ibid., pp. 660-661.
78 Ibid., pp. 675-676.
79 Ibid., p. 676.
81 Ibid., p. 661.
82 Ibid., pp. 661-662.
83 Ibid., p. 662.
84 Wang Yang-ming, "Instructions for Practical Living," in Wing-tsit
Chan, A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy, op. cit., p. 667.
85 Hsuan-tsang (596-664 A.D.), "The Treatise on the Establishment of
the Doctrine of Consciousness-Only," in Ibid., p. 388.
86 Hui-ssu (514-577 A.D.), "The Method of Concentration and Insight,"
in Ibid., p. 399.
87 Wang Yang-ming, "Instructions for Practical Living," in Ibid.,
89 Ibid., p. 672.
90 Ibid., pp. 664-665.
91 Ibid., p. 674.
92 Ibid., p. 681.
93 Shao Yung, "Selected Sayings," in Ibid., p. 494.
94 Ch'eng Hao, "Selected Sayings," in Ibid., pp. 533-534.
95 Lu Hsiang-shan, "The Complete Works of Lu Hsiang-shan," in Ibid.,
96 Ch'eng Hao, "Selected Sayings," in Ibid., p. 534.
97 Ch'eng I, "Selected Sayings," in Ibid., p. 571.
98 Chang Tsai, "Correcting Youthful Ignorance," in Collected Works
of Chang Tsai, op. cit., pp. 7-10. Written in Chinese.
99 Chu Hsi, "The Complete Works of Chu Hsi," in Wing-tsit Chan,
A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy, op. cit., pp. 636-637.
100 Howard Ozmon and Sam Craver, Philosophical Foundations of
Education (Columbus, Ohio: Charles E. Merrill Publishing, 1976), pp. 37-
101 Ch'eng I, "Selected Sayings," in Wing-tsit Chan, A Source Book
in Chinese Philosophy, op. cit., p. 568.
102 Wang Yang-ming, "Instructions for Practical Living," in Ibid.,
103 Ibid., p. 684.
105 Chang Tsai, "Western Inscriptions," in Ibid., pp. 497-498.
106 Ch'eng Hao, "Selected Sayings," in Ibid., p. 530.
107 Chu Hsi, "The Complete Works of Chu Hsi," in Ibid., p. 633.
THE EDUCATIONAL THOUGHT OF NEO-CONFUCIANISM
Almost all major Neo-Confucian philosophers in the Sung and Ming
Dynasties were great teachers; each of them had many students and
followers. They were interested and enthusiastic in instructing young
people by means of self-cultivation of their minds and behavior. They
also wrote much about education. In this chapter, their educational
thought will be analyzed and synthesized under five headings: the
ultimate goal of education, knowledge and action, intellectual learning,
moral cultivation, and elementary education. It is assumed that the
ideas about education which are adopted and included in this chapter
might suggest useful ingredients for forming modern Chinese philosophy
of education. The materials which are presented here are in accord
with the logical nature of Neo-Confucian philosophy in general.
Sagehood: The Ultimate Goal of Education
During the period of some thirteen centuries, from the Sui Dynasty
(581-618 A.D.) when the official examination system for governmental
service was first established, to the first decade of the twentieth
century when the system was abolished, most Chinese students studied
with only one thought in mind: to pass the examination and to achieve
the reputation, position, wealth, and happy marriage that as a result
would fall on them. Neo-Confucian teachers were the few who encouraged
their students to study not for the sake of career, wealth, and
position, but for more "farsighted" or superior or nobler ends. In
this sense, they are in agreement with the classical Confucian
philosophers. For Confucius and Mencius, each person has the
potentiality to learn to become a sage. It is not endowed nature, but
the education one receives and the effort one contributes to self-
cultivation that will determine if a person becomes or comes closer
to a sage. Neo-Confucian philosophers of education inherited and
elaborated this idea.
Wang Yang-ming argued that the learner must determine to become
a sage.1 Chu Hsi also said: "The student must first of all keep this
in mind: how to surpass the ordinary people and become a sage."2 What
Chu Hsi means is not that the sage is different from ordinary people
in human nature. Rather, the sage has the same human nature as
ordinary people do.3 Wang also said that even an ordinary person,
with intelligence and talent no greater than others, can learn to
become a sage if he determines to get rid of the selfish desires and
preserve the Reason or Natural Law (the Principle of Nature).4 There-
fore, to be a sage is not an educational ideal set by Neo-Confucianists
for an elite, but for all people. Neo-Confucian teachers did not
expect that all of their students would finally become sages, but they
did expect that through a long term of self-cultivation all their
students would come closer to that end. Sagehood as an educational
ideal always functions as perfect model or ideal, which keeps a distance
from actuality. Although it is not far away when people look at it,
it is not easy to achieve. Therefore the ideal is a direction in the
process of education rather than a concrete object to be grasped. It
is just like what Ssu-ma Ch'ien wrote in Confucius' biography: "Although
we are not sure that we can achieve the aim of becoming a sage like
Confucius, we are unceasingly longing for it."5
What does it mean to be a sage? What are the traits we can find
in the personality of a sage? For Chu Hsi, to memorize what one learns
and to write compositions good enough to pass an examination have
little or nothing to do with becoming a sage. The sage is the one
who knows justice and the Natural Law through self-training, on the
one hand, and tries to help other people, on the other hand.6 For Lu
Hsiang-shan, the sage is the one who can distinguish what one should
do from what one should not do and what is good for the public from
what is good only for oneself.7 For Wang Yang-ming, the sage is the
person whose mind is occupied purely with Reason (the Principle of
Nature), not mixed with impurities of selfish desires.8 To become a
sage, then, is to regain one's innate nature9 or, in Buddhist terms,
to know or to recognize again one's original nature. For Ch'eng Hao,
the sage is the one who understands the nature of humanity and forms
one body with all things without differentiation.10 These definitions,
although expressed in different terminologies and from different view-
points, are not incompatible. Rather, they are supplementary and
support each other.
To synthesize these definitions, a clear and complete picture of
the sage can be given. First, he is the symbol of perfect personality.
His mind is pure and occupied with no selfish desires. His moral
judgment is always in agreement with Reason or the Natural Law--innate
knowledge. His behavior thus does not deviate from the Mean--as a
result of the wisest judgment and most appropriate choice. As Chang
Tsai put it, a sage is a person with perfect sincerity, who obeys the
Natural Law and there find advantage.11 Ch'eng I also said that when
one abides by the Mean and correctness and becomes sincere, he is a
sage. Ch'eng further pointed out that when one is completely trans-
formed to be goodness itself, he is called a sage.12 Chou Tun-i said
that sagehood is nothing but sincerity, and that sincerity is pure
and perfectly good,13 so it is clear that sagehood is pure and perfectly
good. The pure and perfectly good personality as represented by
sincerity consists of at least these important virtues: wisdom, humanity,
courage, righteousness, and impartiality.14
Among these virtues humanity is the most important; it emerges as
a synonym for sagehood. In "The Western Inscription," Chang Tsai had
a very good explanation of humanity. He said:
Heaven is my father and Earth is my mother, and even such a
small creature as I finds an intimate place in their midst.
Therefore 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
Respect the aged. Show deep love toward the
orphaned and the weak. The sage identifies his character
with that of Heaven and Earth. .15
Ch'eng Hao said that the man of humanity--the sage--regards Heaven
and Earth and all things as one body, to him nothing is not himself.16
Therefore, when one becomes a sage, he will help others to become sages
too. "He will share his knowledge with all. He will love universally.
When he achieves something, he wants others to achieve the same."17
A sage thus will try to give things every benefit and forget his own
ego.18 He will forget the distinction between himself and others, and
when such a distinction is forgotten, the state of quietness and peace
is attained, "Peace leads to calmness and calmness leads to
enlightenment .. ."19 Such a person, who loves all people and things,
and always acts according to the Mean, is one who worries, fears, and
puzzles no more. This is the person who "functions" best. Is he not
the "best" human being?
Such ideas of sagehood and humanity are in some sense consistent
with democratic ideas in modern Western world. The universal love
embodied in humanity is a basis of real equality and mutual respect
and concern among people, which are desirable in democracy. A person
with humanity--a sage--will contribute his ability and offer service
to his fellow people and the society he belongs to, and even will go
beyond that. This is also an ideal that democratic education pursues,
particularly in John Dewey's philosophy. A sage is also a person who
always follows Reason in making judgments and decisions, and Reason
is important and indispensable in a healthy democratic society.
It is this ideal that Neo-Confucian teachers set up as the ultimate
educational aim. How did they try or suggest to achieve this goal or
at least to get closer to it? The answer to this question is discussed
in the next sections of this chapter.
What is the relation of the ancient conception of "sage" to that
of a modern "sage", if there is such a thing as a modern sage? What
are the similarities and differences between them? These will be
elaborated in the last chapter of the study.
Knowledge and Action
The relationship between knowledge and action was a topic which
had for a long time interested Chinese philosophers. The common
understanding of it was that knowledge and action are separate rather
than a single thing or two aspects of a single entity. It is Wang
Yang-ming who first argued against this opinion. Chu Hsi, on the
other hand, is the best representative of those who insisted on the
separation of knowledge and action, though he did not view them as
opposites or being incompatible. In contrast, we have Wang Yang-ming
as maybe the only philosopher who argued for the unification of
knowledge and action and viewed them as two inseparable aspects of
a single thing.
According to Chu Hsi, knowledge and action always require each
other. In order, knowledge comes first, but action is more important.20
This implies that knowledge and action are two things. It also shows
that Chu Hsi argued against the conventional belief that knowledge is
more important than action. Chu also stressed that the efforts of
both knowledge and action must be cultivated to the utmost. Chu
further pointed out that as one knows more and more clearly, he acts
more earnestly, and as he acts more earnestly, he knows more clearly.
This means that knowledge and action are reciprocal rather than incom-
patable. It is clear that Chu was influenced by Ch'eng I concerning
this point. Ch'eng I said that when knowledge is profound, action will
be thorough; if one knows without being able to act, the knowledge is
just superficial.21 Such knowledge then, according to Ch'eng I, is
not "true knowledge." True knowledge is that which leads one to do
something under the direction of what he knows.22
For Chu Hsi, neither action nor knowledge should be unbalanced or
discarded, since they are like a person's two legs. But here Chu Hsi
indicated the importance of extending knowledge.
It is like a person's two legs. If they take turns to walk, one
will be able gradually to arrive at the destination. If one leg is
weak and soft, then not even one forward step can be taken.
However, we must first know before we can act. This is why The
Great Learning first talks about the extension of knowledge,
The Doctrine of the Mean puts wisdom ahead of humanity and
courage, and Confucius first of all spoke of knowledge being
sufficient to attain its objectives. .23
What Chu Hsi said may puzzle us. His argument may be unclear as to
whether knowledge is more important than action, or vice versa. It
seems that both knowledge and action are important equally; it seems
meaningless to assert that one is more important than another in a
case when no one can stand alone without the support of the other,
using the analogy of a person's two legs. On the other hand, it makes
sense to say that (and which) one should come before the other in
arranging a learning sequence. As Wang Yang-ming pointed out, if
knowledge and action are inseparable, the problem of which comes first
will turn out to be meaningless again.
As mentioned above, Wang Yang-ming differed from what Chu Hsi
advocated. Wang severely criticized people in his time who dis-
tinguished between knowledge and action and who pursued them separately
and believed that one must know before he acts. The consequence of this
belief was that even to the last day of life, they would never act and
thus would also never know. Wang insisted that knowledge and action
are a single thing. In "Instructions for Practical Living," the famous
dialogues recorded by his favorite student Hsu Ai (1487-1518 A.D.) and
others, Wang gave some examples to explain the relationship between
knowledge and action.24 First Wang claimed that seeing beautiful
colors appertains to action. As soon as one sees a beautiful color,
he already loves it. One does not first see it and then make up his
mind to love it. Second, he contended that in order to know filial
piety and brotherly respect, one must actually have practiced filial
piety and brotherly respect. Only by experiencing them do we come to
know them. We do not know filial piety and brotherly respect if we
simply show them in words but do not actually practice these virtues.
The same is true of pain, cold, and hunger. One cannot know them
unless they have already experienced them. Wang Yang-ming concluded
by saying that knowledge is the directive of action and action the
effort of knowledge, and that knowledge is the beginning of action and
action the completion of knowledge. When knowledge is mentioned,
action is included, and vice versa. It is as Hsu Ai recorded:
The teacher said: "Knowledge is the beginning of action and
action is the completion of knowledge. Learning to be a sage
involves only one effort. Knowledge and action should not be
In a letter to Ku Tung-chiao (1476-1545 A.D.), a high official
and renowned poet, Wang Yang-ming said:
Knowledge in its genuine and earnest aspect is action, and action
in its intelligent and discriminating aspect is knowledge. At
bottom the task of knowledge and action cannot be separated.
Only because later scholars have broken their task into two
sections and have lost sight of the original substance of
knowledge and action have I advocated the idea of their unity
and simultaneous advance.26
Wang asserted that there have never been people who know but do
not act. Those who are supposed to know but do not act simply do not
yet know. This seems to be a parallel to Socrates' theory that
knowledge is morality. Both Chu Hsi and Wang Yang-ming stressed the
importance and necessity of action (practice) in learning. What they
imply is that if students want to obtain "true" knowledge, action is
indispensable. They also imply that knowledge in turn will make one's
action perfect. Their difference lies in the fact that Chu viewed
knowledge and action as two separate things while Wang regarded them
as a single entity. Chu's position inevitably, perhaps, leads to a
separation of intellectual learning and moral cultivation in education
which John Dewey strongly argued against in his writings. While Wang's
theory reminds us of Dewey's argument against separating knowledge
from moral education,27 Dewey's theory of learning by doing similarly
implies the necessity of unifying knowledge and action in the process
of learning. Dewey further developed a scientific method of verifying
knowledge through experimental steps in practice, which later influenced
Hu Shih--a modern Chinese philosopher--and became Hu's favorite philo-
sophical method. Another Chinese philosopher who agreed with Wang
Yang-ming and John Dewey was Dr. Sun Yat-sen. The relationship among
their philosophies of education and the implications derived from their
comparison will be discussed in the fourth and fifth chapters of
If one classifies Neo-Confucian philosophers of education into
two groups, one stressing the importance of intellectual learning for
young students' development and the other stressing the importance of
moral cultivation, he will find that Ch'eng I and Chu Hsi belong to the
first group, while Ch'eng Hao, Lu Hsiang-shan,and Wang Yang-ming belong
to the second group. The more accurate description may be that both
groups never ignored or neglected the importance of the other aspect
of the educational process. For Chu Hsi, for example, intellectual
study will lead to an affective purpose--moral cultivation-rather than
scientific discoveries or inventions.28 For Wang Yang-ming, it is
simply wrong to view intellectual learning and moral cultivation as
two things; the truth is that they are two inseparable aspects of a
One of the important concepts in the writings of Neo-Confucianism
concerning intellectual learning is the extension of knowledge. The
extension of knowledge consists in the investigation of things. Both
Ch'eng I and Chu Hsi have the same beliefs.29 Both contended that
investigation should not be done in hurry; rather it should be done
gradually, for the factor of gradual accumulation is important for
intellectual learning. For Ch'eng I, it is not sufficient to investi-
gate only one thing. "One must investigate one item today and another
item tomorrow. When one has accumulated much knowledge he will natu-
rally achieve a thorough understanding like a sudden release."30 But
Ch'eng I may confuse us when he said also that it is not necessary to
investigate the principle or the nature of something or an event to
the utmost; the principles in other things or events can then be
inferred by the learners themselves.31
Chu Hsi made similar ideas much clearer. According to Chu Hsi,
the extension of knowledge implies that everything must be studied.
From the most essential and most fundamental about oneself to
every single thing or affair in the world, even the meaning of
a word or half a word, everything should be investigated to the
utmost, and none of it is unworthy of attention.32
But is it possible to study everything? Chu Hsi's answer is that
Although we cannot investigate all, still we have to keep on
devoting our attention to them in accordance with our intelligence
and ability, and in time there will necessarily be some accomplish-
ment. Is this not better than not to pay attention at all?33
For Chu Hsi, tp investigate things and affairs will lead to the
grasp of their principle, and to investigate the principle to the
utmost means to seek to know the reason for which things and affairs
are as they are and the reason according to which they should be.
Chu's sayings about the extension of knowledge seem to imply an
inductive process of obtaining knowledge rather than a deductive one.
Thus it is reasonable that Chu Hsi argued for the importance of
extensive study and viewed it as the first step prior to others in
intellectual learning.34 The second step is accurate inquiry, ac-
cording to Chu.35 Inquiry arises from doubt, and doubt is necessary
for learning; that is why Ch'eng I said that a student must first of
all learn to doubt.36 What follows inquiry is careful thinking, Chu
Hsi said,37 and this is the third step in intellectual learning.
Confucius said that one who learns but does not think will gain
nothing.38 Chu Hsi interpreted this idea and said that reading,
discussion, or listening will gain little if one does not do deep
thinking. One must do it carefully, and gradually he will overcome
difficulties in understanding.39 After careful thinking, there comes
the fourth step, clear sifting.40 This is used to determine similari-
ties and differences among informations one receives. It is also
used to distinguish between things right and wrong, between what one
should do and should not do.
These four steps in learning--extensive study, accurate inquiry,
careful thinking, and clear sifting--remain in the cognitive domain.
Chu Hsi argued that they still are not sufficient for obtaining true
knowledge. True knowledge is obtained through action and experiencing.
When one knows something but has not yet acted on it, his
knowledge is still shallow. After he has experienced it, his
knowledge will be increasingly clear, and its character will be
different from what it was before.41
Therefore Chu Hsi, in "Learning Rules of White Deer Grotto Academy,"
has "vigorous practice" as the fifth step of learning, which follows
the four steps mentioned above, and thus the process of intellectual
learning is complete.42
But as stated above, intellectual learning itself is not the
end of education for Chu Hsi. His views are quite like John Dewey's
who says that the end of education is morality and that educators
should achieve the aim through the development of knowledge.4 Chu Hsi
says that the first step toward knowledge is to investigate everything
and understand the principle of everything in the world, but the ulti-
mate purpose of it is to cultivate the learner's morality. Both the
extension of knowledge and the cultivation of morality are essentials
for the student to advance in establishing himself in life. As Chu
Hsi said that knowledge comes prior to action, it seems that he did
not imply the extension of knowledge will automatically lead to moral
cultivation. Chu did not say it clearly. It seems that some other
efforts must be made for moral cultivation. This topic will be
discussed in the next section.
In order to bridge the gap between the extension of knowledge
and moral cultivation, and to synthesize the basic concepts and major
ideas of Neo-Confucian philosophers of education concerning these two
topics, a diagram is presented (Figure III). At the core of the
diagram is Principle, which is similar to Natural Law, Idea or Soul
of the universe. According to all Major Neo-Confucian philosophers,
the Principle is always perfect and purely good.44 All things have
their principle. There is only one principle in the world, but its
manifestations are innumerable in the many things in life. Principle
is unchangeable, but it is the motive for the change of universe. The
change following the Principle as represented by Yin and Yang is called
the Way or Tao.45 This Principle or Idea or Soul of the universe is
often called by Neo-Confucianists the Principle of Nature, or Principle
of Heaven. The Principle inherent in individual things is called
principle too, but in English it is written in lower-case instead of
capital letter. As the Principle is manifested in human mind, it is
named human nature or original nature by Neo-Confucian philosophers.
Human nature is originally good too. Evil arises not from original
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