Chu Hsi and Neo-Confucianism

By Wing-Tsit Chan | Go to book overview
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Chu Hsi on the Standard
and the Expedient


IN CHU HSI'S DIALOGUES with his students, the question of the standard (chinga) and the expedient (ch'üanb) was repeatedly raised. There are two reasons why his disciples unceasingly asked this question: Considerable debate by later Confucian scholars, each advocating his own interpretation, had arisen over what Confucius (551-479 B.C.) had meant by the term the "expedient" as mentioned in the Analects,1 and Chu Hsi's students wanted to know whose interpretation was the correct one; and, while all the numerous debaters 2 of the standard and the expedient agreed that the two concepts are closely related, they are after all two different concepts. Ch'eng Ic (1033‐ 1107) alone maintained that the expedient is the same as the standard, a view which Chu Hsi's students found impossible to understand.

These questions both originate from the same source—just what did Confucius mean by the expedient? Chu Hsi in his work Lun-chi-chud3 (Collected commentaries on the Analects) which he finished, after repeated revisions, at the age of forty-eight, emphasized Ch'eng I's rendering of the term "expedient," but he cited Mencius' (372-279 B.C.?) remark that "He who extends his hand to save his drowning sister-in-law, is exercising the expedient," thus inferring that the expedient and the standard should be considered as two separate concepts. In the Collected Commentaries on the Analects, Chu Hsi was favorable toward Ch'eng I's interpretation. If he occasionally took exceptions, the dissenting views were indicated as derived from Mencius' teaching.

His posture in regard to this question in his dialogues with his students is different, however. In his dialogues, Chu Hsi made many overt criticisms of Ch'eng I's theory. On the twenty-eight occasions in which the problem of the standard and the expedient is discussed, Ch'eng I is mentioned sixteen times; ten of those times Chu Hsi disagrees with him. The basic difference between Chu Hsi and Ch'eng I is that while Ch'eng I's view that "The expedient is the same as the standard" was originally set up to refute the argument of the Han (206 B.C.-A.D. 220) scholars that "That which is at variance with the standard and complies with the Way is the expedient," 4 Chu Hsi repeatedly indicated his approval of the Han scholars' view. To be sure, Chu Hsi was

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