Chu Hsi and Neo-Confucianism

By Wing-Tsit Chan | Go to book overview

1

Introduction

WING-TSIT CHAN

THE PRESENT ANTHOLOGY consists of papers presented at the International Conference on Chu Hsi held July 6-15, 1982, in Honolulu. The symposium, convened as one of the continuing East-West Philosophers' Conferences and in conjunction with the seventy-fifth anniversary of the University of Hawaii, was the first on this Neo-Confucian thinker. A word may be appropriate to explain the reason for the event.

The main reason is Chu Hsi himself. He was the most influential Chinese philosopher since the time of Confucius (551-479 B.C.) and Mencius (372‐ 289 B.C.?). He was not only the crystalization of the Neo-Confucian movement that dominated China for 800 years but also the only thinker in the Christian era to influence many phases of Asian life throughout East Asia. Asian scholars have called him the "chi ta-ch'eng"a of Neo-Confucianism, using Mencius' description of Confucius as "a complete concert," 1 an orchestra in which all perfect notes blend together in a harmonious whole. However, because chi means "to gather" and ta-ch'eng means "great accomplishment," the Chinese phrase is usually rendered in English as "great synthesis." This translation gave rise to the general understanding in the West that Chu Hsi merely put together the philosophies of the early Sung (960-1279) Neo-Confucianists, notably Chou Tun-ib (1017-1073), Chang Tsaic (1020-1077), Ch'eng Haod (1032-1085), and his brother Ch'eng Ie (1033-1107), especially the last. But I preferred to translate the word ch'eng literally, namely, "to complete." When I wrote "Chu Hsi's Completion ofNeo-Confucianism" for the Sung Project in Paris, 2 I did not mean to suggest that the philosophical system of Chu Hsi was perfect. Scholars have pointed out many difficulties. But it is unfair to say that Chu Hsi did not offer anything new. As I pointed out in my essay, he reconstructed Neo-Confucianism in an original way in three areas. First was his completion of the concept of the Tradition of the Way (taot'ungf). He did this by leaving out the Confucianists of the Han (206 B.C.-A.D. 220) and T'ang (618-907) dynasties and a number of Sung Neo-Confucianists, notably Shao Yungg (1011-1077), Chang Tsai, Ssu-ma Kuangh (1019-1086), and even his own teacher, Li T'ungi (1093-1163), affirming a direct line from

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