Chu Hsi and Neo-Confucianism

By Wing-Tsit Chan | Go to book overview

8

On Chu Hsi's Theory of
the Great Ultimate

TENG AIMIN

THE PHILOSOPHY OF CHU Hsi should be considered the summation of idealism in old China. His doctrine was accepted as the official philosophy, possessing unquestionable authority and serving the interests of feudalistic dynasties for more than seven hundred years, from the late Southern Sung (1127-1279) to the end of the Ch'ing dynasty (1644-1912). Chu Hsi's philosophy also had a tremendous influence in Korea and Japan.

Compared with the West, Chinese feudal society developed more fully and lasted much longer. In its late period, the development of science and technology was slow, and the emergence of capitalist production lagged much behind Western society. Chu Hsi's doctrine, being the dominant official philosophy, evidently had negative effects in this respect.

Since the beginning of the modern period (1840-1949), China has passed from a semifeudal and semicolonial society to socialism through revolutionary transformation. The influence of Chu Hsi's philosophy, however, has persisted. Even now, feudal ideology remains an obstacle to the modernization of China.

Since Chu Hsi was so influential, we should make an unbiased evaluation of his achievements and draw useful lessons from them, instead of merely emphasizing the negative aspect of his philosophy. This paper is a preliminary study of Chu Hsi's theory of the Great Ultimate from this approach.

Some researchers of Chu Hsi's philosophy have used the Chu Tzu yü-leia (Classified conversations of Master Chu) as the main text. It is true that the Chu Tzu yü-lei, as the record of his dialogues, treats some problems more concretely than do his other writings, as well as reflecting his thoughts in his late years. However, since there are discrepancies among the records of different disciples, these records are not as reliable as his own writings. Therefore, although I shall also use the Chu Tzu yü-lei as an important reference, I prefer the "T'ai-chi-t'u shuo chieh"b (Commentary on the "Explanation of the Diagram of the Great Ultimate") as the main text for this discussion, because in this writing Chu Hsi himself systematically elucidated his theory of the Great

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