Chu Hsi and Neo-Confucianism

By Wing-Tsit Chan | Go to book overview
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The Problem of Orthodoxy
in Chu Hsi's Philosophy


IT IS A WELL-KNOWN FACT that Chu Hsi was the person mainly responsible for the establishment of the orthodox line of transmission of the Way, the so‐ called Tao-t'ung,a in the Confucian tradition. Wing-tsit Chanb has reported that "the line, with minor variations, is this: Fu-hsic ... Shen-nungd ... the Yellow Emperor ... Yaoe ... Shunf ... g ... T'angh ... Weni ... Wuj ... Duke of Chouk ... Confucius ... Tseng Tzul ... Tzu-ssum ... Mencius ... Choun ... Ch'engso ... Chu Hsi." 1 In a very influential essay, Chung-yung chang-chü hsüp (Preface to the Commentary on the Doctrine of the Mean) Chu Hsi said,

The orthodox line of transmission of the Way had a long history. It was reported in the Classics: Yao taught Shun that you must hold fast to the Mean, and Shun taught that the human mind is precarious, and the moral mind is subtle; have absolute refinement and singleness of mind, hold fast to the Mean.... From then on, such insights were passed on from one sage to another.... Even though our Master Confucius [551-479 B.C.] did not have the position [of a king], yet he had succeeded the sages in the past, and opened up new courses for students in the future; his achievement was greater even than that of Yao or Shun. But in his time there were only Yen Yüanq [521-490 B.C.?] and Tseng Shenr [505-436 B.C.?] who had learned about the Way and transmitted the line. Then in the second generation of Master Tseng's disciples there was Confucius' grandson Tzu-ssu [492-421 B.C.?].... Still another two generations, there was Mencius.... After Mencius (372-289 B.C.?) died, the line of transmission was broken.... It was not until the Ch'eng brothers [Ch'eng Hao,s 1032-1088, and Ch'eng I,t 1033-1107], who studied and regained the insight that the line of transmission which was discontinued for a thousand years was revived. 2

Professor Chan has noted that although the idea of Tao-t'ung may be traced back to Mencius, Han u (768-824), Li Aov (fl. 798), and then Ch'eng I, Chu Hsi was the first Neo-Confucian philosopher to use the term Tao-t'ung,3 and this idea was taken seriously by his disciples. Chan said:

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