Chu Hsi and Neo-Confucianism

By Wing-Tsit Chan | Go to book overview

6

Chu Hsi's Theory of
Metaphysical Structure

STANISLAUS LOKUANG


Introduction

IN THE HISTORY of Chinese philosophy, there is no term for metaphysics. There is only the term hsing-shang, of which scholars throughout the centuries have had different interpretations. The terms hsing-erh-shanga (prior to physical form) and hsing-erh-hsiab (posterior to physical form) originally are derived from the I-chingc (Book of changes). According to its "Appended Remarks," "That which is hsing-erh-shang is called the Way (Taod); that which is hsing-erh-shia is called a concrete thing (ch'ie)." 1 The Book of Changes did not give explanation or interpretation to these two terms; neither did scholars devoted to the study of the Classics in the Han dynasty (206 B.C.-A.D. 220) pay much attention to these two sentences.

Han K'ang-pof (332-380) commented on the sentence from the "Appended Remarks," part 1, chapter 2, "That which is visible we then call hsiang (form). That which has form we then call ch'i." 2 Han's commentary reads: "That which becomes form is called a concrete thing." 3 He takes hsing-erh-shang as that which does not yet have form and hsing-erh-hsia as that which has form.

Hsün Shuang'sg (128-190) commentary explained the sentence in question as follows: "It is said that the sun, moon, and stars that manifest themselves in the heavens become hsiang. The myriad things produced and grown on the earth have form and can be taken as concrete things." 4 Han K'ang-po's comment is based on this explanation, but neither Han nor Hsün commented on the terms hsing-erh-shang and hsing-erh-hsia.

Finally, in the Sung dynasty (960-1279) scholars of the School of Principle (Li-hsüehh) who studied principle (lii) and material force (ch'ij) began to pay attention to the problem of hsing-erh-shang and hsing-erh-hsia.

Chang Tsai'sk (1020-1077) I-shuol (Commentary on the Book of Changes) took hsing-erh-shang as a formless body and hsing-erh-hsia as a body with form. He said,

Hsing-erh-shang is that which is formless. Therefore hsing-erh-shang is called the Way. Hsing-erh-hsia is that which has form. Therefore hsing-erh-hsia is called a concrete thing. That which has no form or leaves no trace is the Way, like great

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