Chu Hsi and Neo-Confucianism

By Wing-Tsit Chan | Go to book overview

13

Chu Hsi and Wisdom
as Hidden and Stored

OKADA TAKEHIKO


I

As IS UNIVERSALLY KNOWN, Confucianism in the Han (206 B.C.-A.D. 220) and T'ang (618-907) periods deteriorated into a mere learning of comments and recitations. Furthermore, after the Wei (220-265) and Chin (265-420) periods, the thought of Taoists and Buddhists came to be dominant. Confucianism had to undergo a period of spiritual vacuum for a considerably long time. However, the will of Heaven circles, and never passes without returning. Fortunately, during the Sung period (960-1279), Sacred Learning, once considered to be extinct with the death of Mencius (372-289 B.C.?), was taken up again by thinkers and it sublimated old Confucianism by way of transcending the thought of the Buddhists and Taoists. Thus, the defect which had long been left uncorrected was finally rectified.

This Neo-Confucianism was advocated by Confucians of the Northern Sung (960-1126). By comprehensively organizing their thoughts, Chu Hsi established a grand philosophical system that is infinite in significance and profound in depth. The appearance of Chu Hsi marked, finally, a sharp change of direction in the world of thought, which had long been dominated by the Buddhists and Taoists. From this period on, Confucianism was at the center of the world of thought for a long time, eventually spreading to neighboring Korea and Japan. We may reasonably aver that Chu Hsi's contribution to and accomplishment in the world of thought was as great as that of Mencius.

Neo-Confucianism came into being not suddenly or abruptly but as a result of historical developments in thought and against the background of the spirit of the time. Hermits and Ch'ana masters who had long clung to empty learning (hsü-hsüehb), advocating either the Way of hermits or a transcendental and natural way of no practical use in the world, began to concern themselves with Confucianism, for it emphasized practical learning (shih-hsüehc) which, based on human ethics, prescribed the way by which to support community life. They also started to show a tendency to be involved and concerned with politics and economy.

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