NEO-CONFUCIANISM, WANG YANGMING, SIMA GUANG AND “CULTURAL CONFUCIANISM”

NEO-CONFUCIANISM


Neo-Confucian Zhou Maoshu admiring lotuses

According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: “Neo-Confucianism” is a general term used to refer to the renaissance of Confucianism during the Song dynasty (A.D. 960-1127) following a long period in which Buddhism and Daoism had dominated the philosophical world of the Chinese and also to the various philosophical schools of thought that developed as a result of that renaissance. Neo-Confucianism had its roots in the late Tang, came to maturity in the Northern and Southern Song periods, and continued to develop in the Yuan, Ming, and Qing periods. As a whole, Neo-Confucianism can best be understood as an intellectual reaction to the challenges of Buddhist and Daoist philosophy in which avowedly Confucian scholars incorporated Buddhist and Daoist concepts in order to produce a more sophisticated new Confucian metaphysics. [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, afe.easia.columbia.edu <|>]

“With roots in the late Tang dynasty, the Confucian revival flourished in the Northern and Southern Song periods and continued in the Yuan, Ming, and Qing dynasties that followed. The revived Confucianism of the Song period (often called Neo-Confucianism) emphasized self-cultivation as a path not only to self-fulfillment but to the formation of a virtuous and harmonious society and state. The revival of Confucianism in Song times was accomplished by teachers and scholar-officials who gave Confucian teachings new relevance. Scholar-officials of the Song such as Fan Zhongyan (989-1052) and Sima Guang (1019-1086) provided compelling examples of the man who put service to the state above his personal interest...The revival of Confucianism during the Chinese Renaissance of the Song dynasty is partly attributed to the printing of Confucian texts which helped spread the word of the philosophy to a greater number of people. <|>

“As Neo-Confucianism developed, two trends of thought emerged out of the Southern Song philosopher and official Zhu Xi’s synthesis of the “learning of Principle” and the “Learning of the Mind and Heart.” Both trends agreed that all the myriad things of the universe are manifestations of a single “Principle” (li) and that this Principle is the essence of morality. By understanding the Principle that underlies the universe (just as Buddhists understood all things in the universe as manifestations of the single Buddha spirit), then, men may understand the moral principles that they must put into practice in order to achieve an ordered family, good government, and peace under heaven. The two trends of thought differed, however, on the way in which human beings are to understand Principle. <|>

Main Neo-Confucianist Figures: Song Dynasty (960-1279) Figures: The “Five Masters” of the Northern Song (960-1127): A) Zhou Dunyi (1017-1073), B) Shao Yong (1011-1077), C) Zhang Zai (1020-1077), D) Cheng Hao (1032-1085) and E) Cheng Yi (1033-1107); The “Great Synthesizer” of the Southern Song (1127-1279): Zhu Xi (1130-1200). Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) Figure: The founder of the “School of the Mind”: Wang Yangming (1472-1529).

Good Websites and Sources on Confucianism: Robert Eno, Indiana University indiana.edu; Confucianism religioustolerance.org ; Confucius.org confucius.org ; Religion Facts Confucianism Religion Facts ; Confucius .friesian.com ; Confucian Texts Chinese Text Project ; Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy plato.stanford.edu; Cult of Confucius /academics.hamilton.edu ; Confucian Temple China Vista ; Virtual Temple tour drben.net/ChinaReport Qufu Wikipedia Wikipedia Travel China Guide Travel China Guide ; UNESCO World Heritage Site: UNESCO

Books on Confucianism and Confucius: There is a classic account of Confucius’s biography by Herrlee Creel: Confucius, The Man and the Myth (New York: 1949, also published as Confucius and the Chinese Way), and a recent book by Annping Chin, The Authentic Confucius: A Life in thought and Politics (New York: 2007). According to Dr. Robert Eno: “Among the many translations of the “Analects” , well crafted versions by Arthur Waley (New York: 1938), D.C. Lau (Penguin Books, 1987, 1998), and Edward Slingerland (Indianapolis: 2003) are among the most accessible published. The “Analects” is a terse work with an exceptionally long and varied commentarial tradition; its richness and multiple levels of meaning make it a living document that reads differently to each generation (as true in China as elsewhere). Responsible interpreters vary in specific choices and overall understanding, and no single translation can be viewed as “definitive.”“

Good Websites and Sources on Religion in China: Chinese Government White Paper on Religion china-embassy.org ; United States Commission on International Religious Freedom uscirf.gov/countries/china; Articles on Religion in China forum18.org ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Council of Foreign Relations cfr.org ; Brooklyn College brooklyn.cuny.edu ; Religion Facts religionfacts.com; Religious Tolerance religioustolerance.org ; Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy stanford.edu ; Academic Info academicinfo.net ; Internet Guide to Chinese Studies sino.uni-heidelberg.de

History of Neo-Confucianism


Ru character

According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: “ There was a vigorous revival of Confucianism in the Song period. Confucian teachings were central to the civil service examination system, the identity of the scholar-official class, the family system, and political discourse. Confucianism had naturally changed over the centuries since the time of Confucius (ca. 500 B.C.). Confucius’s own teachings, recorded by his followers in the Analects, were still a central element, as were the texts that came to be called the Confucian classics, which included early poetry, historical records, moral and ritual injunctions, and a divination manual. But the issues stressed by Confucian teachers changed as Confucianism became closely associated with the state from about 100 B.C. on, and as it had to face competition from Buddhism, from the second century CE onward. Confucian teachers responded to the challenge of Buddhist metaphysics by developing their own account of the natural and human world. [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Consultants Patricia Ebrey and Conrad Schirokauer afe.easia.columbia.edu/song <|>]

Dr. Robert Eno of Indiana University wrote: “ The movement we now call Neo-Confucianism began during the 11th century. At that time, bitter factional disputes among literati at the center of government pitted reformers, championed by Wang Anshi (1021-1086), against traditionalists, led by Sima Guang (1019-1086). Although originally a contest between high-minded philosophies and ideals of governance, the followers of these two Prime Ministers competed with increasing viciousness as the favors of the Song Emperors swung from one approach to the other. Disillusioned by the fierceness of personal vindictiveness, a small group of men withdrew from the arena of political partisanship, to live as semi-hermits, remote from urban society. Five of these men (who were close relatives or friends, including two brothers and their uncle) became recognized as intellectual leaders of an alternative path for the Confucian tradition, one less concerned with issues of statecraft and more absorbed in metaphysical questions of the relationship between the forces of the cosmos and the ethical realm of human beings. These men came to be known as the “Five Masters.” Although they drew on ideas of earlier medieval Confucian intellectuals, such as the great Tang writer Han Yu, their teachings form the earliest core of Neo-Confucianism. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University indiana.edu /+/ ]

“The ideas of these five men were by no means alike in all respects, nor did they become influential in their own time. However, the intellectual and political confusion brought on by the loss of North China to Jurchen invaders in 1127 created an opportunity for the teachings of these men to come to the fore. An exceptional scholar named Zhu Xi (1130-1200) devoted himself to mastering these ideas, reconciling contradictions among them, and editing them into a new and coherent synthesis which became the basic structure of Neo-Confucian philosophy. /+/

“Zhu Xi’s system was initially resisted by power holders at the Southern Song court, and he himself was subject to political persecution. But a century after his death, his ideas had become so widespread that in 1313 the government of the succeeding Yuan Dynasty (1279.1368) proclaimed them to be the officially orthodox interpretations on the basis of which Imperial civil service examinations should be evaluated. From that time until the nineteenth century, Neo-Confucianism displaced all earlier forms of Confucianism. /+/

“Zhu Xi’s synthesis spurred many others to draw out more fully the implications of Neo-Confucian ideas, and a variety of approaches emerged over time. All orthodox Neo-Confucianism, however, adopted the basic dualism that Zhu Xi had found in the works of some of the Five Masters, viewing the cosmos as the interplay of Tian-guided “principle” ( l.), and energy or “material force” (qi). /+/

“This Neo-Confucian orthodoxy came to be known as the “school of principle” ( l-xue). During the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), a brilliant scholar and charismatic civil and military leader named Wang Yangming rejected major aspects of the orthodox approach, focusing far more on Confucian traditions of ethical self-discovery which held that moral imperatives were to be found through reflection on one’s own spontaneously ethical responses, endowed in all people alike by Tian. Wang’s ideas not only sought moral answers in the heart/mind ( xin), in a radically “idealist” philosophical move, Wang claimed that all experience was ultimately a product of the mind, rather than an interaction between human consciousness and objective existence. /+/

“Wang’s eminence as a politician and general, as well as the excitement of his philosophical ideas and their resonance with many of the most engaging ideas of Chan (Zen) Buddhism, attracted many followers, and his “school of the mind” ( xinxue) quickly became a major challenge to the “school of principle” tradition. While it never displaced Zhu Xi Neo-Confucianism, its intellectual influence was very broad, spreading beyond China to Korea and, particularly, to Japan, where the teachings of Wang (known as Ō Yōmei in Japanese) became a dominant stream in Confucian thinking. /+/

“Mind Is Principle” by Lu Jiuyuan


Lu Jiuyuan

Song Neo-Confucian Lu Jiuyuan (1139-1193, also known as Lu Xiangshan) wrote: “Mencius said, “That wherein human beings differ from the birds and animals is but slight. The multitude of people relinquish it, while the noble person retains it.” It is what Heaven has endowed in us. All human beings have this mind, and all minds are endowed with this principle. The mind is principle. The affairs of the universe are my own affairs; my own affairs are the affairs of the universe. [Source: “Sources of Chinese Tradition,” compiled by Wm. Theodore de Bary and Irene Bloom, 2nd ed., vol. 1 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999), 715-717; Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, afe.easia.columbia.edu <|>]

“The human mind is most intelligent, and principle is most clear. All people have this in mind and all minds contain this principle in full. The four directions and upward and downward constitute the spatial continuum. What has gone by in the past and what is to come in the future constitute the temporal continuum. These continua, or the universe, are my mind, and my mind is the universe. Sages appeared tens of thousands of generations ago. They shared this mind; they shared this principle. Sages will appear tens of thousands of generations to come. They will share this mind; they will share this principle. Over the four seas sages appear. They share this mind; they share this principle. [Xiangshan quanji 35:10a] What is relinquished is the mind. That is why Mencius said that some people “lose their original mind.” [Mencius 4B:19] What is to be preserved is the mind. That is why Mencius said, “the great man is he who does not lose the mind of a newborn babe.” [Mencius 4B:12] [What Mencius referred to as] the four sprouts [of pity and compassion, shame and aversion, modesty and compliance, and the sense of right and wrong] are this mind.

“The mind is one and principle is one. Perfect truth is always a unity; the essential principle is never a duality. The mind and principle can never be separated into two. That is why Confucius said, “In my Way there is one thing that runs throughout,”[Analects 4:15] and Mencius said, “The Way is one and only one.” [Mencius 3A:1, Quoting Confucius,] Mencius also said, “There are just two ways: being humane and being inhumane.” [Mencius 4A:2] To act in a certain way is humaneness. Not to act in a certain way is the opposite of humaneness. Humaneness is the mind, the principle. “Seek and you will get it” [Mencius 6A:6] means to get this principle. “Those who are first to know” know this principle, and “those who are first awakened” [Mencius 5A:7] are awakened to this principle. It is this principle that constitutes love for parents, reverence for elders, and the sense of alarm and commiseration when one sees a child about to fall into a well. It is this principle that makes people ashamed of shameful things and hate what should be hated.

“It is this principle that enables people to know what is right to be right and what is wrong to be wrong. It is this principle that makes people deferential when deference is due and humble when humility is called for. Reverent seriousness ( jing) is this principle; rightness is this principle. And what is internal and what is external are all this principle. … Mencius said, “What people are able to do without having learned it is innate ability. What they know without having to think about it is innate knowledge.” [Mencius 7A:15] These are endowed in us by Heaven. “We definitely possess them … they are not infused into us from without.”[Mencius 6A:6. Mencius refers here to humaneness, rightness, ritual decorum, and wisdom. In this “quotation,” Lu Jiuyuan reverses the order of the two clauses] Therefore Mencius said, “All the ten thousand things are complete in me. To turn within to examine oneself and find that one is sincere.. there is no greater joy than this.” [Mencius 7A:4] The Teacher said that the myriad things exist luxuriantly in the mind. What permeates the mind and, pouring forth, extends to fill the universe, is nothing but principle. <|>

“The Teacher always said that outside of the Way there are no events and outside of events there is no Way. The theory that principle is due to Heaven whereas desire is due to human beings is, surely not the best doctrine. If principle is due to Heaven and desire due to man, then Heaven and humans must be different. This theory can be traced to Laozi. The “Record of Music” says, “By nature a human being is tranquil at birth. When influenced by external things, he begins to be active which is desire arising from his nature. As one becomes conscious of things resulting from this impact, one begins to have likes and dislikes. … When [as a result of these likes and dislikes] one is unable to return to his original mind, the Principle of Heaven is destroyed.” 1 Here is the origin of the theory that principle is from Heaven whereas desire is from humans. And the words of the “Record of Music” are based on the Daoists. If it is said that only tranquility is inborn nature, is activity not inborn nature also? It is said in the Classic of Documents that “the human mind is precarious, the mind of the Way is subtle.”2 Most interpreters have explained the human mind [which is liable to make mistakes] as equivalent to human desires and the mind of the Way [which follows moral law] as equivalent to the Principle of Heaven. This interpretation is wrong. The mind is one. How can a human being have two minds? [1, “14 “Record of Music,” Record of Rites; see James Legge, Li Ki (Li.chi). Book of Rites, vol. 2 (Oxford: Sacred Books of the East, 1885; reprint, New York: University Books, 1967), 96; 2, “Counsels of the Great Yu,” Classic of Documents; see James Legge, The Chinese Classics, vol. 3 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1893.1895; reprint, Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 1979), 61]

Wang Yangming and His Philosophy


Wang Yangming

According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: “The thinking surrounding the “Learning of the Mind and Heart” is most often identified with the Ming general and statesman Wang Yangming (1472-1529). Wang argued that inasmuch as every living thing is a manifestation of Principle, then one need not look outside oneself in order to understand Principle (and therefore morality): one should consult one’s own heart (or mind), wherein Principle surely lay. Since Principle is the basis of human nature, then it follows that anyone who understands his or her true nature understands the Principle of the universe. [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, afe.easia.columbia.edu <|>]

The following passage from Instructions for Practical Living by Wang’s disciple Xu Ai relates Wang’s teaching regarding knowledge and action: “I [Xu Ai] did not understand the Teacher’s doctrine of the unity of knowing and acting and debated over it back and forth with Huang Zongxian and Gu Weixian without coming to any conclusion. Therefore I took the matter to the Teacher. The Teacher said, “Give an example and let me see.” I said, “For example, there are people who know that parents should be served with filiality and elder brothers treated with respect, but they cannot put these things into practice. [Source: “Unity of Knowing and Acting” by Wang Yangming, from “Sources of Chinese Tradition,” compiled by Wm. Theodore de Bary and Irene Bloom, 2nd ed., vol. 1 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999); Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, afe.easia.columbia.edu <|>]

“This shows that knowing and acting are clearly two different things.” The Teacher said, “The knowing and acting you refer to are already separated by selfish desires and are no longer knowing and acting in their original substance. 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. When sages and worthies taught people about knowing and acting, it was precisely because they wanted them to restore this original substance, and not just to have them behave like that and be satisfied.” <|>

In “Identification of Mind and Principle” Wang discusses the Mind/Principle relationship: “What Zhu Xi meant by the investigation of things is “to investigate the principle in things to the utmost as we come into contact with them.” To investigate the principle in things to the utmost as we come into contact with them means to search in each individual thing for its so-called definite principle. It means further that the principle in each individual thing is to be sought with the mind, thus separating the mind and principle into two. To seek for principle in each individual thing is like looking for the principle of filiality in parents. [Source: “The Identification of Mind and Principle” by Wang Yangming, from “Sources of Chinese Tradition,” compiled by Wm. Theodore de Bary and Irene Bloom, 2nd ed., vol. 1 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999); Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, afe.easia.columbia.edu <|>]

“If the principle of filiality is to be sought in parents, then is it actually in my own mind or is it in my parents? If it is actually in the person of my parents, is it true that as soon as parents pass away the mind will then lack the principle of filiality? When I see a child about to fall into a well [and have a feeling of commiseration], there must be the principle of commiseration. Is this principle of commiseration actually in the person of the child or is it in the innate knowledge of my mind? Perhaps one cannot follow the child into the well [to rescue it]. Perhaps one can rescue it by seizing it with the hand. All this involves principle. Is it really in the person of the child or does it emanate from the innate knowledge in my mind? What is true here is true of all things and events. From this we know the mistake of separating the mind and principle into two.” <|>

Wang Yangming on the Mind

Wang Yangming wrote: “The key to understanding does not lie in the world outside the mind: People fail to realize that the highest good is in their minds and seek it outside. As they believe that every thing or every event has some specific aspect of principle, they search for the highest good in individual things. Consequently, the mind becomes fragmentary, isolated, broken into pieces; mixed and confused, it has no definite direction. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University indiana.edu /+/ ]

“The outside world has no existence at all, independent of man’s mind: The innate knowledge of man is the same as that of plants and trees, tiles and stones.... Even Heaven and earth cannot exist without the innate knowledge that is inherent in man, for at bottom, Heaven, earth, the world of things, and man form one body. A friend pointed to flowering trees on a cliff and said, “You say there is nothing under heaven external to the mind. These flowering trees on the mountain blossom and drop their blossoms of 5 themselves; what have they to do with my mind?” The Teacher said, “Before you look at these flowers, they and your mind are in a state of silent vacuity. As you come to look at them, their colors at once appear clearly. From this you can know that the flowers are not external to your mind.”


Another rendering of Wang Yangming

“People need to eliminate any belief that separates the idea of knowledge from engaged action. Knowing in itself disposes us to action, as we can observe from examining our spontaneous responses: There have never been people who know but do not act. Those who are supposed to know but do not act simply do not know. Therefore, the Great Learning makes visible for us this link between true knowledge and action when it says, “It is like loving a beautiful color or hating a bad odor.” Seeing beautiful colors pertains to knowledge; loving beautiful colors pertains to action – but as soon as one sees a beautiful color one simultaneously loves it. You don’t see it first and then make up your mind to love it!... People today distinguish between knowledge and action and pursue them separately, believing that one must “know” before one can act.... Consequently, to the last day of life such people will never act and also never know. /+/

“What we need to know (understand deeply) the world and act in it lies in our natural minds: What emanates from the mind is the will. The original substance of the will is knowledge, and wherever the will is directed is a “thing” or “affair.” When the will is directed towards serving one’s parents, then serving one’s parents is the affair. When directed towards serving a ruler, then serving one’s ruler is the affair.... Therefore I say that there are neither principles nor things outside the mind.... The effort to make one’s bright virtue shine, described in the Great Learning, means nothing more than to make the will sincere and the work of making the will sincere is nothing other than “straightening out affairs.”

“True enlightenment must be sought not in passive thought or in books, but in real.world action: When I was young, my friend Qian and I discussed the idea that to become a sage or a worthy man, one must investigate all the things of the world.... [To begin], I attempted to investigate the principles in the bamboo in front of the pavilion. From morning till night, I was unable to find the principles in the bamboo. On the seventh day I became sick.... After I had lived among the barbarians for three years I understood what all this meant. There is really nothing in the world of things to investigate. The effort is only to be carried out with reference to one’s body and mind. /+/

“Meditation may yield insight, but divorced from engaged action it is harmful: Formerly, seeing that students tended to become wrapped up in intellectual explanations and debate, which did them no good, I taught them sitting in meditation. For a time, this helped them see the true way and they achieved some results, but they gradually developed the defect of fondness for tranquility and disgust with activity, and they degenerated into lifelessness like dry wood.6 The deepest insight into the nature of man and the universe is expressed in political action. Knowing Heaven is the same as knowing the affairs of a district or a county, which is what the titles for prefect [literally: “knower-of-the-district”] and magistrate [literally: “knower-of-the-county”] mean. It is a matter concerning one’s role, and the phrase “knowing Heaven” means that in moral character one has already become part of Heaven. /+/

“Cultural Confucianism” and Political Struggles in the 11th Century

Dr. Eno wrote: “The early Song leaders placed great emphasis on civil government, as opposed to military, and part of this involved active sponsorship of education and scholarship. The term for the civil aspects of society, wen, denoted far more than the non-military features of the state. wen denoted the patterns of art and social refinement of the past, and the goal of perfecting “wen society” was not pictured in economic terms, it expressed the ambition to create a cultural flourishing that would reflect the essence of sage wisdom, as that was portrayed in the Confucian canonical texts. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University indiana.edu /+/ ]

“In pursuit of this goal, the imperial court commissioned massive compilations of literary compendia, encyclopedias, and histories, that could bring together the now thousand year-old traditions of the “Confucian” state. Scholarship – pure scholarship – enjoyed a prestige beyond anything seen in past eras. The government’s interest in recruiting scholar-officials through the exam system became increasingly focused on the credentials of scholarship, an ideal that naturally now incorporated the artistic elements of poetry and, increasingly, calligraphy and painting, that had become central to the profile of the literatus. /+/

“In response to this direction of government ambition, each generation of examination candidates seemed to produce leading graduates whose scholarly virtuosity reached new heights. The intellectual history of the early Song is peopled by men whose encyclopedic knowledge and literary skill remain unsurpassed in later Chinese history. Since one’s standing in the examination results determined the level at which one’s official career would begin, many of these outstanding scholars became leaders of government, and naturally, they perpetuated this trend to demand increasingly deep scholarly credentials for the next generation of exam candidates.” /+/

“As the Cultural Confucians continued to raise the standards of classical scholarship demanded by the exams that qualified men for government service, the consequence was that the men who succeeded in earning government appointment were increasingly well screened for intelligence and ambition, but increasingly less familiar with the practical and technical aspects of society that they would be called upon to address once their quest for appointment was successful.” /+/

Sima Guang and “Cultural Confucianism”


Sima Guang

Dr. Eno wrote: “One of the outstanding examples of this type of Confucian virtuoso was Sima Guang (1019-86), who became one of the main figures in the most devastating factional battle in the history of Chinese politics – a battle that so weakened the dynasty that it set the stage for its inability to resist the invasions of 1127 and the loss of North China. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University indiana.edu /+/ ]

“Sima Guang was an outstanding scholar as a young man, and attained the highest examination degree at the age of only nineteen. His official career was a success from the start, and he ultimately rose to the position of Prime Minister, the highest civil service office in Song China. As a high minister, he steered the government towards highly conservative policies, designed to reinforce the Confucian stress on personal virtue, reflected in mastery of canonical and historical texts, as the central criterion for public leadership. /+/

“But this is not what Sima Guang is best known for in Chinese history. When not attending to the heavy duties of his high offices, Sima Guang devoted himself to the compilation of a history of imperial China that could become the standard for educating all future emperors, and all young men aspiring to official careers. Sima Guang’s text, The Comprehensive Mirror for Governance, was not only authoritative, it was and remains among the largest historical texts ever compiled, stretching over twenty volumes in modern editions. In this respect, Sima Guang resembles a Western conservative politician, known both for his accomplishments as Prime Minister and as author of voluminous, highly regard histories: Winston Churchill.

“Sima Guang’s culturally conservative approach to government represented the mainstream view among the elite of the Northern Song. Their focus was entirely on raising the scholarly and moral level of the highest tier of government leaders, and qualifications for leadership were conceived entirely in cultural terms. They were far less focused on the technical knowledge that might be needed to encourage and sustain the development of Song society in terms of economic growth, infrastructure building, and the maintenance of a capable military defense. Conservative Northern Song leaders of this type articulated a vision of literati excellence that may be called “Cultural Confucianism,” for its emphasis on the link between governance and mastery of China’s cultural tradition. /+/

“Comprehensive Mirror in Aid of Governance” by Sima Guang

In “Comprehensive Mirror in Aid of Governance”, Sima Guang wrote: “The year 642, summer, fourth month. The Emperor Taizong spoke to the Imperial Censor Chu Suiliang saying, “Since you, Sir, are in charge of the Diaries of Action and Repose, may I see what you have written?” Suiliang replied, “The historiographers record the words and deeds of the ruler of men, noting all that is good and bad, in hopes that the ruler will not dare to do evil. But it is unheard of that the ruler himself should see what is written.” The emperor said, “If I do something that is not good, do you then record it also?” Suiliang replied, “My office is to wield the brush. How could I dare not to record it?” The Gentleman of the Yellow Gate Liu Ji added “Even if Suiliang failed to record it, everyone else in the empire would” — to which the emperor replied, “True.” [Source: “Comprehensive Mirror in Aid of Governance” by Sima Guang, 1019-1086 from “Sources of Chinese Tradition,” compiled by Wm. Theodore de Bary and Irene Bloom, 2nd ed., vol. 1 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999), 656-658; [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, afe.easia.columbia.edu ]

According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: “Sima dates the following exchange, which he recapitulates as a basis for his own comment on the subject of the king and the hegemon, to 53 B.C. during the Former Han dynasty. The speakers are the heir apparent and future emperor Yuan (r. 49.33 B.C.) and his father, the reigning emperor, Xuan (r. 74-49 B.C.). The heir apparent appeals to his father to employ more Confucian scholars and fewer Legalists in his government. [Source:Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, afe.easia.columbia.edu <|>]

“The emperor, troubled that many officials were taking bribes, secretly ordered his attendants to test some of them with bribes. When a registrar in the Board of Punishments took a roll of silk and the emperor wanted to have him executed, Minister of the Treasury Bei Zhu remonstrated “An official taking a bribe should be punished by death, but Your Majesty entrapped this man by sending someone to give it to him. This, I fear, is not ‘leading the people by virtue and restraining them by the rules of decorum.’[Analects 2:3] Delighted, the emperor summoned all officials above the fifth rank and told them, “Bei Zhu was able to contest this case forcefully at court and, did not pretend acquiescence. If every matter is handled this way, what cause will there be to worry about misgovernment?” Your official Guang comments, The ancients had a saying that if the ruler is enlightened, the ministers will be honest. That Bei Zhu was given to flattery under the Sui dynasty but to loyalty under the Tang was not because his personality changed: a ruler who resents hearing of his faults turns loyalty into flattery, but one who is pleased by straight talk turns flattery into loyalty. Thus we know that the ruler is the gnomon [or post for measuring the height of the sun], the minister the shadow. When the gnomon moves, the shadow follows. <|>

“The heir apparent was soft and humane. He liked scholars but observed that many legal officials employed by the emperor used punishments in order to control subordinates. Once at a banquet he let himself go and said, “Your Majesty relies too heavily on punishments. It would be appropriate to employ scholars.” The emperor changed expression. “The House of Han has its own system based on mixing the way of the hegemon and that of the king. How could we possibly rely solely on moral instruction and employ Zhou governance? Moreover, ordinary scholars do not understand the needs of the day but like to affirm antiquity and deny the present, causing men to confuse name and reality so that they don’t know what to hold on to. <|>

“How can they be entrusted with the state?” Your official Guang comments, There are not different ways for king and hegemon. Of old when the Three Dynasties flourished and “rites, music, and punitive expeditions proceeded from the Son of Heaven” [Analects 16:2] [the ruler] was called “king.” When the Son of Heaven became weak and was unable to control the lords, there appeared among them those who could lead allied states to punish false states, thereby honoring the royal house: these were called hegemons. <|>

“Their conduct in both cases was based on humaneness and founded on rightness. They entrusted the worthy and employed the capable, rewarded the good and punished the evil prohibited cruelty and executed the rebellious. Therefore, they differ in the honor or pettiness of their status, in the depth or shallowness of their virtue, in the greatness or insignificance of their achievements, in the breadth or narrowness of their governmental orders, but they do not contradict each other like white and black or sweet and bitter. <|>

“The reason why the Han could not return to the government of the Three Dynasties was because the rulers did not do it and not because the way of the former kings could not again be carried out in later ages. Among scholars there are superior and petty men. Ordinary scholars truly are not qualified to participate in government. But why could they not have sought for genuine scholars and employed them? Ji, Xie, Gao Yao, Boyi, Yi Yin,3 the Duke of Zhou, and Confucius were all great scholars. Had the Han employed men such as these, the glory of its accomplishments would not have been as limited as it was.” <|>

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons,

Text Sources: Robert Eno, Indiana University indiana.edu /+/ ; Asia for Educators, Columbia University afe.easia.columbia.edu <|>; University of Washington’s Visual Sourcebook of Chinese Civilization, depts.washington.edu/chinaciv /=\; National Palace Museum, Taipei npm.gov.tw \=/; Library of Congress; New York Times; Washington Post; Los Angeles Times; China National Tourist Office (CNTO); Xinhua; China.org; China Daily; Japan News; Times of London; National Geographic; The New Yorker; Time; Newsweek; Reuters; Associated Press; Lonely Planet Guides; Compton’s Encyclopedia; Smithsonian magazine; The Guardian; Yomiuri Shimbun; AFP; Wikipedia; BBC. Many sources are cited at the end of the facts for which they are used.

Last updated September 2016

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