Chu Hsi and Neo-Confucianism

By Wing-Tsit Chan | Go to book overview

4

A Historical Perspective
on Chu Hsi's Learning

CH'IEN MU

THERE EXISTS a characteristic in Chinese learning that can also be considered as the characteristic of Chinese civilization as a whole. It is to place value on similarity and convergence rather than on difference and divergence. Let me begin by examining Confucius (551-479 B.C.). Confucius described his own learning as an effort "to transmit and not to innovate, to trust and to delight in antiquity." 1 It is evident that for Master K'ung,a learning involves trusting and taking delight in what is being learned. He regarded as learning that which one has derived from the ancients, not that which one has arrived at independently to distinguish oneself from the ancients. Hence he lamented, "How far I have degenerated! It has been a long time since I last dreamt of the Duke of Chou [d. 1056 a.c.]!"b2 It can be seen that what Confucius had sought to learn, and what he had pursued ceaselessly day and night, was the Way of the Duke of Chou. Likewise, Mencius (372-289 B.C.?) also proclaimed that "what I wish to do is to learn to be like Confucius!" 3 There is a common thread that runs through the Duke of Chou, Confucius, and Mencius, and it creates the Confucian tradition in China.

Mencius also remarked that "Shunc the sage practiced virtue with others. He regarded virtue as the common property of himself and others ... and delighted to learn from others to practice what was virtuous." 4 It is therefore obvious that the Chinese consider similarity with others (t'ungd) as good. Thus the Great Similarity (ta-t'ung,e also translated as Great Unity) is at the same time the Supreme Good (chih-shanf). To engage in learning is to learn to be human. The great way of humanity resides in the commonality, and not the diversity, among man.

Indeed, this line of thinking was not confined to the Confucianists. It was shared by the Mohists. The Mohist philosophers advocated universal love, viewing the father of others as their own father and arguing for the "Will of Heaven" and "Agreement with the Superiors." They also insisted that if one did not subscribe to the Way of the sage Yü,g5 one would be unworthy to be a Mohist. Mo Tzu'sh (468-376 B.C.?) exaltation of Yü is analogous to Confucius' elevation of the Duke of Chou. Mo Tzu, like Confucius, was a transmitter and not an innovator. He too trusted and took delight in antiquity.

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