Neo-Confucianism

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Neo-Confucianism

 

an idealistic school of Chinese philosophy, which evolved mainly during the Sung dynasty (960–1279).

Neo-Confucianism took shape during Confucianism’s struggle with Buddhism and Taoism; as a result, neo-Confucianism adopted elements from both Buddhism and Taoism. Han Yü, a writer and philosopher of the eighth and ninth centuries, and Li Ao, a student of Han Yü, may be considered precursors of neo-Confucianism. They were concerned with the revival and further development of Confucianism for the purpose of counteracting the influence of Taoist and Buddhist teachings in China.

Unlike early Confucianism, with its predominantly ethical and political conceptions, questions of ontology, natural philosophy, and cosmogony occupied an important place in neo-Confucianism. One of the founders of neo-Confucianism, the 11th-century thinker Chou Tun-i, advanced the concept of the Great Ultimate (t’ai chi) as the fundamental principle of the world. The world of nature and the world of ethical relations as a single system, as two aspects of a single whole, is subordinated to this absolute Great Ultimate. The teachings of Chou Tun-i were developed by Chang Tsai and the brothers Ch’eng Hao and Ch’eng I.

A major Sung scholar of the 12th century, Chu Hsi, a commentator, historian, and dualist philosopher, was the most prominent representative of neo-Confucianism. He systematized the principal philosophical ideas of his predecessors. Chu Hsi believed that the Great Ultimate contained two principles: the ideal, incorporeal li and the material ch’i. He considered the li as preceding and dominating all things but existing only with the ch Y. Wang Yang-ming, a philosopher of the late 15th and early 16th centuries, is regarded as the most prominent representative of the subjective idealist trend in neo-Confucianism. He expanded Confucius’ and Mencius’ idea about the innateness of knowledge with the assertion that the world is a product of consciousness.

Neo-Confucianism supported ancient Confucianism’s reactionary conception of the immutability of existing social orders and the natural practice of dividing people into higher and lower strata: “noble men” and “petty people.” The Neo-Confucianists reexamined the interpretation of the basic code of Confucianist canonical literature, the Wu Ching (Five Classics). At the suggestion of Chu Hsi, the Ssu shu (Four Books) was proclaimed the new Confucianist canon.

In the late 13th and early 14th centuries, Neo-Confucianism became an official ideology. It retained its dominant position in the philosophical and sociopolitical thought of China until the early 20th century. It greatly influenced philosophy in Japan, Korea, and Vietnam.

L. I. DUMAN