Chu Hsi and Neo-Confucianism

By Wing-Tsit Chan | Go to book overview

21

Chu Hsi and Religion

REN JIYU

A FIGURE OF SIGNAL IMPORTANCE in the historical development of Chinese philosophy, Chu Hsi was, following Confucius (551-479 B.C.) and Tung Chungshua (176-104 B.C.), the most significant contributor to the completion of the Confucian system. The study of his thought, although an academic matter, is nonetheless relevant to the actual life of the contemporary Chinese people. Whereas the prevailing view in the Chinese academic world has been that Chu Hsi's thought belongs to the realm of philosophy, it is viewed in this paper as belonging to the realm of religion, with his philosophical ideas understood as having been in the service of his religious system.


Sociocultural Conditioning of Chinese Religion

Unlike the natural sciences, religion and philosophy have distinctive national features. A comparison of Chinese culture with the cultures of other nations reveals both similarities 1 and differences. Some distinctive characteristics of Chinese society as compared with the West are the following: the duration of Chinese feudal society was long and stable; its feudal-patriarchal system was more fully developed; the feudal autocracy exerted centralized power; peasant uprisings were more frequent and widespread; and capitalism failed to develop. China has a recorded history of nearly four thousand years, more than half of which were passed under feudalism, and among the elements of ancient Chinese thought that have drawn the attention of the whole world, the most conspicuous is its feudal culture. More penetrating research on Chinese feudal culture would require the common efforts of scholars in such fields as political science, economics, and culture. The present study addresses the problem solely from the perspective of philosophy and religion.

As stated above, one of the characteristics of the history of Chinese feudal society was its patriarchal system, which grew up during the later stages of the clan-dominated communal society. In general, under the conditions of productive backwardness, undeveloped labor skill, and extremely meager output, the social system was to a great extent dominated by blood relationships.

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