The story

Confucianism - History

Confucius was born to a poor but aristocratic family. He became a teacher, traveling the country tutoring sons of nobles. His philosophy was based on the proper role of the individual within society. He believed in a universal law to which everyone and everything had to conform. The family was the basic unit within society, according to Confucius. Within the family the male was superior to the female and age was superior to youth. Confucius believed in gentlemanly conduct. If people lived virtuous and ethical lives, peaceful and well-run governments would result. Confucius believed in good government and the duty of a ruler to rule


CONFUCIANISM IN JAPAN . The earliest Japanese chronicles tell us that Confucianism was introduced to Japan near the end of the third century ce, when Wani of Paekche (Korea) sent the Confucian Analects (Chin., Lun-y ü Jpn., Rongo ) to the court of Emperor Ō jin. Although the actual date of this event may have been a century or more later, it is also likely that continental emigrants familiar with Confucian teachings arrived in Japan prior to the formal introduction of Confucianism.

Influence of Confucianism

Influence on China

Confucianism has been existed in China for several thousand years. It still has tremendous potential influence on all the aspects such as politics and economy in China. Confucian thoughts have been the most basic mainstream value of the common people of the Han nationality and other nationalities in China all through the ages. The basic values of Confucian thoughts of "rite, justice, honesty, shame, humanity, love, loyalty and filial piety" are the basic rules of conciousness for the daily conduct of most of Chinese people all the time. The courteous, friendly, gentle, honest, tolerant, earnest and industrious temperament of Chinese nation has also gradually developed under the education of Confucianism.

Influence on East Asia

The Confucian thoughts have a wide influence in all the nations of East Asia.
In Korea and Japan, ethic and etiquette have been under the influence of the Confucian viewpoints such as humanity, justice and etiquette, etc. The influence is still quite obvious up to the present. In Korea, there are many people that believe in all kinds of religion. But they give prominence to Confucianism in ethics and morals. After the invasion of western civilization into Korean society, all kinds of social problems have increased to some extent. However, the Korean government takes the ethics and morals of Confucian thoughts as a restrictive power for maintaining social stability and deepens Confucian thoughts in education.

Influence on Modern Education

Confucius had three thousand disciples and hence summarized many effective educational methods, such as "Look back to the old, if you would learn the new", "Among any three people walking, I will find something to learn for sure", and "Leaning without thinking you feel lost, thinking without learning you turn to indolent", etc. Confucius was respectfully called "a person of exemplary virtue of all ages" by posterity. Regions such as Taiwan fix the "birthday of the saint Confucius" as "the Teachers’ Festival". "Advocating literature" and placing an emphasis on education is the Confucian thought and also one of the basic values of Chinese people.

Origin of Confucianism

Confucius had to pay the price of ignoring the mysteries of life in order to focus his energy on the world. Confucian indifference to the great mysteries, whether cause or effect of lack of imagination, was the only approach consistent with the moment Confucius developed his thinking, a moment of great political struggle, moral chaos, and intellectual conflict, when order was practically non-existent. He decided to look for a solution to the challenges of his time, a way of curing a society that according to most of the people who lived in it was sick.

Confucianism - History

Shrine of Confucius in Thian Hock Keng in Singapore.

Confucianism (Traditional Chinese: 儒學 Simplified Chinese: 儒学 Pinyin: Rúxué literally means "The School of the Scholars" see Names for Confucianism for details) is an East Asian ethical and philosophical system originally developed from the teachings of the early Chinese sage Confucius. It is a complex system of moral, social, political, and religious thought which had tremendous influence on the history of Chinese civilization up to the 21st century. Some have considered it to have been the "state religion" of imperial China.

The cultures most strongly influenced by Confucianism include those of China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam, as well as various territories including Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan, and Singapore, where ethnic Chinese are the majority.

The development of Confucianism is traced through the development of its canon. It is therefore helpful to first list the main Confucian texts. The orthodox canon of Confucian texts, as eventually formulated by Zhu Xi, is the so-called "Four Books and Five Classics". These are:

  • The Great Learning (Chinese: 大學 Pinyin: Dàxúe)
  • The Doctrine of the Mean (Chinese: 中庸 Pinyin: Zhōngyōng)
  • The Analects of Confucius (Chinese: 論語 Pinyin: Lùnyǔ)
  • The Mencius (Chinese: 孟子 Pinyin: Mèngzǐ)
  • The Classic of Poetry (Chinese: 詩經 Pinyin: Shījīng)
  • The Classic of History (Chinese: 書經 Pinyin: Shūjīng)
  • The Classic of Rites (Chinese: 禮經 Pinyin: Lǐjīng)
  • The Classic of Changes (Chinese: 易經 Pinyin: Yìjīng I Ching)
  • The Spring and Autumn Annals (Chinese: 春秋 Pinyin: Chūnqīu)

A sixth book, the Classic of Music (Chinese: 樂經 Pinyin: Yùejīng), is referred to but was lost by the time of the Han Dynasty.

There is a further canon known as the Thirteen Classics (Chinese: 十三經 Pinyin: Shísānjīng).

There is considerable debate about which, if any, of these books were directly written by Confucius himself. The main source of his quotations, the Analects, was not written by him. As with many other spiritual leaders such as Siddhartha Gautama, Jesus, or Socrates, our main source of Confucius' thought, the Analects, was written down by his disciples. Some of the core canon is argued to have been written by Confucius himself, such as the Spring and Autumn Annals. There is considerable debate about this, however.
This factor is further complicated by the "Burning of the Books and Burying of the Scholars", a massive suppression of dissenting thought during the Qin Dynasty, more than two centuries after Confucius' death. The emperor Qin Shi Huang destroyed a great number of books, possibly destroying other books written by Confucius or his disciples in the process.
The current canon of Four Books and Five Classics was formulated by Zhu Xi. Many versions contain his extensive commentaries on the books. The fact that his specific version of the Confucian canon became the core canon can be seen as an example of his influence in Confucianism.
Other books are not included in the current canon but once were. The major example is the Xun Zi.

Confucius was a famous sage and social philosopher of China whose teachings have deeply influenced East Asia for 2400 years. The relationship between Confucianism and Confucius himself, however, is tenuous. Confucius' ideas were not accepted during his lifetime and he frequently bemoaned the fact that he remained unemployed by any of the feudal lords.

Although we do not have direct access to Confucius' beliefs, we can sketch out Confucius' ideas from the fragments that remain. Confucius (551-479 BCE) was a man of letters who worried about the troubled times he lived in. He went from place to place trying to spread his political ideas and influence to the many kings contending for supremacy in China. He was greatly concerned with how successful societies should work, how rulers should rule and how relationships should be maintained.
In the Eastern Zhou Dynasty (771-221 BCE), the reigning king of the Zhou gradually became a mere figurehead. In this power vacuum, the rulers of small states began to vie with one another for military and political dominance. Deeply persuaded of the need for his mission- "If right principles prevailed through the empire, there would be no need for me to change its state" Analects XVIII, 6- Confucius tirelessly promoted the virtues of ancient illustrious sages such as the Duke of Zhou. Confucius tried to amass sufficient political power to found a new dynasty, as when he planned to accept an invitation from a rebel to "make a Zhou dynasty in the East" (Analects XV, 5). As the common saying that Confucius was a "king without a crown" indicates, however, he never gained the opportunity to apply his ideas. He was expelled from states many times and eventually returned to his homeland to spend the last part of his life teaching.
The Analects were composed primarily during this period. As with most religious or philosophical texts, there is considerable debate over how to interpret the Analects.
Unlike most Western philosophers, Confucius did not rely on deductive reasoning to convince his listeners. Instead, he used figures of rhetoric such as analogy and aphorism to explain his ideas. Most of the time these techniques were highly contextualised. For these reasons, Western readers might find his philosophy muddled or unclear. However, Confucius claimed that he sought "a unity all pervading" (Analects XV, 3) and that there was "one single thread binding my way together." (op. cit. IV, 15).

The first occurrences of a real Confucian system may have been created by his disciples or by the disciples of his disciples. During the philosophically fertile period of the Hundred Schools of Thought, great early figures of Confucianism such as Mencius and Xun Zi (not to be confused with Sun Zi) developed Confucianism into an ethical and political doctrine. Both had to fight contemporary ideas and gain the rulers' confidence through argumentation and reasoning.
Mencius gave Confucianism a fuller explanation of human nature, of what is needed for good government, of what morality is, and founded his idealist doctrine on the claim that human nature is good (性善). Xun Zi opposed many of Mencius' ideas, and built a structured system upon the idea that human nature is bad (性悪) and had to be educated and exposed to the rites (li) before being able to express goodness.
Some of Xun Zi's disciples, such as Han Feizi and Li Si, became Legalists (a kind of law-based early totalitarianism, quite distant from virtue-based Confucianism) and conceived the state system that allowed Qin Shi Huang to unify China under the strong state control of every human activity. The culmination of Confucius' dream of unification and peace in China can therefore be argued to have come from Legalism, a school of thought almost diametrically opposed to his reliance on rites and virtue.

As mentioned above, the Burning of the Books and Burying of the Scholars resulted in the destruction of large numbers of books, and very probably some Confucian texts. Nonetheless, Confucianism survived this suppression, some say because a scholar hid the texts in the walls of his house.
After the Qin, the new Han Dynasty approved of Confucian doctrine and sponsored Confucian scholars, eventually making Confucianism the official state philosophy (see Emperor Wu of Han). Study of the Confucian classics became the basis of the government examination system and the core of the educational curriculum. Temples of Confucius were established throughout the land to propagate the state cult of Confucius. No serious attempt to replace Confucianism arose until the May 4th Movement in the 20th century, although there were Emperors who gave increased favor to Daoism or Buddhism.
Beginning in the Tang Dynasty, but especially during the Song Dynasty, the Neo-Confucians sought to bring renewed vigor to Confucianism. Zhu Xi, Wang Yangming and the other Neo-Confucians gave Confucianism a more thorough system of metaphysics and distilled a more clearly codified value structure from the ideas of Confucius and his early disciples.
After its reformulation as Neo-Confucianism, both Korea and Japan adopted Confucianism as their state philosophies. Korea during the Yi Dynasty has been described as a "Confucian state."
In the 1960s, Confucianism was attacked during the Cultural Revolution in the People's Republic of China. It was seen as the crux of the old feudal system and an obstacle to China's modernization. It is, however, arguable that Confucianism influenced Chinese society even during the Cultural Revolution, and its influence is still strong in modern-day mainland China. Both interest in and debate about Confucianism have surged.
In the modern world, there are many signs of Confucianism's influence. Many sources, including the Baltimore Sun (U.S.), have called Singapore the modern world's "only Confucian state." However, it is doubtful that Singapore is truly a thoroughgoing Confucian state because Singapore is a multicultural society in which only a portion of the society is committed specifically to Confucian ideals. The actual influence of Confucianism on South Korea, however, is still very great. The Asian values debate of the 1990s stems in large part from the question of the role of Confucian social approaches in modern societies, especially economic development.
Modern movements such as New Confucianism seek to find new inspiration from the thought system of Confucius and his followers.

Lead the people with administrative injunctions and put them in their place with penal law, and they will avoid punishments but will be without a sense of shame. Lead them with excellence and put them in their place through roles and ritual practices, and in addition to developing a sense of shame, they will order themselves harmoniously. (Analects II, 3)

The above explains an essential difference between legalism and ritualism and points to a key difference between Western and Eastern societies. Confucius argues that under law, external authorities administer punishments after illegal actions, so people generally behave well without understanding reasons why they should whereas with ritual, patterns of behavior are internalized and exert their influence before actions are taken, so people behave properly because they fear shame and want to avoid losing face.

"Rite" (禮 Lǐ) stands here for a complex set of ideas that is difficult to render in Western languages. The Chinese character for "rites" previously had the religious meaning of "sacrifice" (the character 禮 is composed of the character 示, which means "altar", to the left of the character 曲 placed over 豆, representing a vase full of flowers and offered as a sacrifice to the gods cf. Wenlin). Its Confucian meaning ranges from politeness and propriety to the understanding of everybody's correct place in society. Externally, ritual is used to distinguish between people their usage allows people to know at all times who is the younger and who the elder, who is the guest and who the host and so forth. Internally, they indicate to people their duty amongst others and what to expect from them.
Internalization is the main process in ritual. Formalized behavior becomes progressively internalized, desires are channeled and personal cultivation becomes the mark of social correctness. Though this idea conflicts with the common saying that "the cowl does not make the monk", in Confucianism sincerity is what enables behavior to be absorbed by individuals. Obeying ritual with sincerity makes ritual the most powerful way to cultivate oneself. Thus "Respectfulness, without the Rites, becomes laborious bustle carefulness, without the Rites, becomes timidity boldness, without the Rites, becomes insubordination straightforwardness, without the Rites, becomes rudeness" (Analects VIII, 2). Ritual can be seen as a means to find the balance between opposing qualities that might otherwise lead to conflict.
Ritual divides people into categories and builds hierarchical relationships through protocols and ceremonies, assigning everyone a place in society and a form of behavior. Music, which seems to have played a significant role in Confucius' life, is given as an exception as it transcends such boundaries, 'unifying the hearts'.
Although the Analects promotes ritual heavily, Confucius himself often behaved otherwise for example, when he cried at his preferred disciple's death, or when he met a fiendish princess (VI, 28). Later more rigid ritualists who forgot that ritual is "more than presents of jade and silk" (XVII, 12) strayed from their master's position.

One theme central to Confucianism is that of relationships, and the differing duties arising from the different status one held in relation to others. Individuals are held to simultaneously stand in different degrees of relationship with different people, namely, as a junior in relation to their parents and elders, and as a senior in relation to their children, younger siblings, students, and others. While juniors are considered in Confucianism to owe strong duties of reverence and service to their seniors, seniors also have duties of benevolence and concern toward juniors. This theme consistently manifests itself in many aspects of East Asian culture even to this day, with extensive filial duties on the part of children toward parents and elders, and great concern of parents toward their children.

Filial piety, filiality, or filial devotion (xiào, 孝) is considered among the greatest of virtues and must be shown towards both the living and the dead. The term "filial", meaning "of a child", denotes the respect and obedience that a child, originally a son, should show to his parents, especially to his father. This relationship was extended by analogy to a series of five relationships or five cardinal relationships (五伦 Wǔlún):

Specific duties were prescribed to each of the participants in these sets of relationships. Such duties were also extended to the dead, where the living stood as sons to their deceased family. This led to the veneration of ancestors.
In time, filial piety was also built into the Chinese legal system: a criminal would be punished more harshly if the culprit had committed the crime against a parent, while fathers exercised enormous power over their children. Much the same was true of other unequal relationships.
The main source of our knowledge of the importance of filial piety is The Book of Filial Piety, a work attributed to Confucius but almost certainly written in the third century BC. Filial piety has continued to play a central role in Confucian thinking to the present day.

Loyalty is the equivalent of filial piety on a different plane, between ruler and minister. It was particularly relevant for the social class to which most of Confucius' students belonged, because the only way for an ambitious young scholar to make his way in the Confucian Chinese world was to enter a ruler's civil service. Like filial piety, however, loyalty was often subverted by the autocratic regimes of China. Confucius had advocated a sensitivity to the realpolitik of the class relations that existed in his time he did not propose that "might makes right", but that a superior who had received the "Mandate of Heaven" should be obeyed because of his moral rectitude.
In later ages, however, emphasis was placed more on the obligations of the ruled to the ruler, and less on the ruler's obligations to the ruled.

Confucius was concerned with people's individual development, which he maintained took place within the context of human relationships. Ritual and filial piety are the ways in which one should act towards others from an underlying attitude of humaneness. Confucius' concept of humaneness (rén, 仁) is probably best expressed in the Confucian version of the Golden Rule phrased in the negative: "Do not do to others what you would not like them to do to you".
Rén also has a political dimension. If the ruler lacks rén, Confucianism holds, it will be difficult if not impossible for his subjects to behave humanely. Rén is the basis of Confucian political theory: it presupposes an autocratic ruler, exhorted to refrain from acting inhumanely towards his subjects. An inhumane ruler runs the risk of losing the "Mandate of Heaven", the right to rule. Such a mandateless ruler need not be obeyed. But a ruler who reigns humanely and takes care of the people is to be obeyed strictly, for the benevolence of his dominion shows that he has been mandated by heaven. Confucius himself had little to say on the will of the people, but his leading follower Mencius did state on one occasion that the people's opinion on certain weighty matters should be polled.

The term "Jūnzǐ" (君子) is a term crucial to classical Confucianism. Literally meaning "son of a ruler", "prince", or "noble", the ideal of a "gentleman," "proper man," or "perfect man" is that for which Confucianism exhorts all people to strive. A succinct description of the "perfect man" is one who "combine(s) the qualities of saint, scholar, and gentleman" (CE). (In modern times, the masculine bias in Confucianism may have weakened, but the same term is still used the masculine translation in English is also traditional and still frequently used.) A hereditary elitism was bound up with the concept, and gentlemen were expected to act as moral guides to the rest of society. They were to:

  • cultivate themselves morally
  • participate in the correct performance of ritual
  • show filial piety and loyalty where these are due and
  • cultivate humaneness.

The great example of the perfect gentleman is Confucius himself. Perhaps the greatest tragedy of his life was that he was never awarded the high official position which he desired, from which he wished to demonstrate the general well-being that would ensue if humane persons ruled and administered the state.
The opposite of the Jūnzǐ was the Xiǎorén (小人), literally "small person" or "petty person." Like English "small", the word in this context in Chinese can mean petty in mind and heart, narrowly self-interested, greedy, superficial, and materialistic.

"To govern by virtue, let us compare it to the North Star: it stays in its place, while the myriad stars wait upon it." (Analects II, 1)

Another key Confucian concept is that in order to govern others one must first govern oneself. When developed sufficiently, the king's personal virtue spreads beneficent influence throughout the kingdom. This idea is developed further in the Great Learning and is tightly linked with the Taoist concept of wu wei: the less the king does, the more that is done. By being the "calm center" around which the kingdom turns, the king allows everything to function smoothly and avoids having to tamper with the individual parts of the whole.
This idea may be traced back to early shamanistic beliefs, such as that of the king (wang, 王) being the axle between the sky, human beings and the Earth. (The character itself shows the three levels of the universe, united by a single line.) Another complementary view is that this idea may have been used by ministers and counselors to deter aristocratic whims that would otherwise be to the detriment of the population.

"In teaching, there should be no distinction of classes."
(Analects XV, 39)

Although Confucius claimed that he never invented anything but was only transmitting ancient knowledge, he did produce a number of new ideas. Many western admirers such as Voltaire and H.G. Creel point to the (then) revolutionary idea of replacing the nobility of blood with one of virtue. Jūnzǐ (君子), which had meant "noble man" before Confucius' work, slowly assumed a new connotation in the course of his writings, rather as "gentleman" did in English. A virtuous plebeian who cultivates his qualities can be a "gentleman", while a shameless son of the king is only a "small man". That he allowed students of different classes to be his disciples is a clear demonstration that he fought against the feudal structures in Chinese society.
Another new idea, that of meritocracy, led to the introduction of the Imperial examination system in China. This system allowed anyone who passed an examination to become a government officer, a position which would bring wealth and honor to the whole family. Though the European enthusiasm toward China died away after 1789, China gave Europe one very important practical legacy: the modern civil service. The Chinese examination system seems to have been started in 165 BCE, when certain candidates for public office were called to the Chinese capital for examination of their moral excellence by the emperor. Over the following centuries the system grew until finally almost anyone who wished to become an official had to prove his worth by passing written government examinations.
Confucius praised those kings who left their kingdoms to those apparently most qualified rather than to their elder sons. His achievement was the setting up of a school that produced statemen with a strong sense of state and duty, known as Rujia 儒家, the 'School of the Literati'. During the Warring States Period and the early Han dynasty China grew greatly and the need for a solid and centralized corporation of government officers able to read and write administrative papers arose. As a result Confucianism was promoted and the corporation of men it produced became an effective counter to the remaining landowner aristocrats otherwise threatening the unity of the state.
Since then Confucianism has been used as a kind of "state religion", with authoritarianism, legitimism, paternalism and submission to authority used as political tools to rule China. In fact most emperors used a mix of legalism and Confucianism as their ruling doctrine, often with the latter embellishing the former. They also often used different varieties of Taoism or Buddhism as their personal philosophy or religion. As with many revered men, Confucius himself would probably have disapproved of much that has been done in his name: the use of ritual is only part of his teachings.

Different from many other political philosophies, Confucianism is reluctant to employ laws. In a society where relationships are considered more important than the laws themselves, if no other power forces government officers to take the common interest into consideration, corruption and nepotism will arise. As government officers' salary was often far lower than the minimum required to raise a family, Chinese society has frequently been affected by those problems, and still is. Even if some means to control and reduce corruption and nepotism have been successfully used in China, Confucianism is criticized for not providing such a means itself.
One major argument against this criticism is that the so-called Confucian East Asian societies such as Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, and China have exhibited the most extraordinary growth rates in economic history. Singapore has also consistently been noted as one of the most corruption-free states on earth. If Confucianism promotes corruption, how can such rapid growth be possible? Critics point to continuing problems with nepotism and corruption in those countries and slowing economic growth in the past decade, not only in Japan, but also, to a lesser extent, in the others. Furthermore, Singapore may be classed as an example of a Western, Kantian system of rule by law, or perhaps a Legalist system, rather than Confucian.

One of the many problems in discussing the history of Confucianism is the question of what Confucianism is. In this article, Confucianism can be understood roughly as largely "the stream of individuals, claiming Master Kong to be the Greatest Master" while it also means "the social group following moral, political, and philosophical doctrine of what was considered, at a given time, as the orthodox understanding of Confucius". In this meaning, this "group" can be identified, during periods of discussions with others doctrines, like Han and Tang dynasty, with a kind of political party. During periods of Confucian hegemony, such as during the Song, Ming and Qing dynasties, it can be identified roughly with the social class of government officials.
But the reality of such a grouping is debated. In his book, Manufacturing Confucianism, Lionel Jensen claims that our modern image of Confucius and Confucianism, which is that of a wise symbol of learning and a state-sponsored quasi-religion, did not exist in China from time immemorial, but was manufactured by European Jesuits, as a "translation" of the ancient indigenous traditions, known as "Ru Jia", in order to portray Chinese society to Europeans. The notion of Confucianism was then borrowed back by the Chinese, who used it for their own purposes.
Therefore, we could define Confucianism as "any system of thinking that has, at its foundations, the works that are regarded as the 'Confucian classics', which was the corpus used in the Imperial examination system". Even this definition runs into problems because this corpus was subject to changes and additions. Neo-Confucianism, for instance, valorized the Great Learning and the Zhong Yong in this corpus, because their themes are close to those of Taoism and Buddhism.

The origin of this problem lies with the attempt of the First Emperor, Qin Shi Huang, to burn all of the books. After the Qin dynasty was overthrown by the Han, there was the monumental task of recreating all of the knowledge that was destroyed. The method undertaken was to find all of the remaining scholars and have them reconstruct, from memory, the texts that were lost. This produced the "New Script" texts. Afterwards, people began finding fragments of books that had escaped the burning. Piecing those together produced the "Old Script" texts. One problem that has plagued Confucianism, through the ages, is the question of which set of texts is the more authentic the "Old Script" texts tend to have greater acceptance. In actuality, the verification and comparison for authenticity between the 'old scripts' and 'new scripts' text has remained the works of Confucian scholars for 2000 years up to the twentieth century. Their work also involved interpretation and derivation of meanings from the text under a field of study was known as Jingxue 經學 ("the study of classics").

It is debatable whether Confucianism should be called a religion. While it prescribes a great deal of ritual, little of it could be construed as worship or meditation in a formal sense. Confucius occasionally made statements about the existence of other-worldly beings that sound distinctly agnostic and humanistic to Western ears. For example, he stated "Show respect to the ghosts and spirits, but keep them at a distance" (Analects, VI 19). He also said, when asked by an impetuous disciple how to serve ghosts and spirits, "Till you have learnt to serve men, how can you serve ghosts?" The disciple (Zilu) then asked about the dead. The Master said, "Till you know about the living, how are you to know about the dead?" (Analects XI. 11. tr. Waley) Thus, Confucianism is often considered an ethical tradition and not a religion.
Its effect on Chinese and other East Asian societies and cultures has been immense and parallels the effects of religious movements, seen in other cultures. Those who follow the teachings of Confucius are comforted by it it makes their lives more complete and their sufferings bearable. It includes a great deal of ritual and (in its Neo-Confucian formulation) gives a comprehensive explanation of the world, of human nature, etc. Moreover, religions in Chinese culture are not mutually exclusive entities- each tradition is free to find its specific niche, its field of specialization. One can be a Taoist, Christian, Muslim, Shintoist or Buddhist and still profess Confucianist beliefs.
Although Confucianism may include ancestor worship, sacrifice to ancestral spirits and an abstract celestial deity, and the deification of ancient kings and even Confucius himself, all these features can be traced back to non-Confucian Chinese beliefs established long before Confucius and, in this respect, make it difficult to claim that such rituals make Confucianism a religion.
Generally speaking, Confucianism is not considered a religion by Chinese or other East Asian people. Part of this attitude may be explained by the stigma placed on many "religions" as being superstitious, illogical, or unable to deal with modernity. Many Buddhists state that Buddhism is not a religion, but a philosophy, and this is partially a reaction to negative popular views of religion. Similarly, Confucians maintain that Confucianism is not a religion, but rather a moral code or philosophic world view.
The question of whether Confucianism is a religion, or otherwise, is ultimately a definitional problem. If the definition used is worship of supernatural entities, the answer may be that Confucianism is not a religion, but then this definition could also be used to argue that many traditions commonly held to be religious (Buddhism, some forms of Islam, etc.) are also not, in fact, religions. If, on the other hand, a religion is defined as (for example) a belief system that includes moral stances, guides for daily life, systematic views of humanity and its place in the universe, etc., then Confucianism most definitely qualifies. As with many such important concepts, the definition of religion is quite contentious. Herbert Fingarette's Confucius: The Secular as Sacred is a good treatment of this issue.

Confucianism, Comparative Theology and the Confucius Sinarum philosophus

The Confucius Sinarum philosophus, or Scientia Sinensis (Chinese learning), like Isaac Newton's Principia Mathematica that was published in the same year, sought to establish the one-to-one correspondences between God's providential order and other signifying systems. It represented the accumulation of one hundred years of translation and exegesis in its demonstration of China's archaic monotheism and offered the first documented use of the descriptive term Confucian. Earlier missionary scholarship had similarly focused on history and geography, cartography, or language and grammar, but this work was different: it was a massive annotated translation in service to a more ambitious ecumenical program of comparative theology. It contained detailed chronological tables of Christian and Chinese history, an incomplete translation of a recension of the Sishu, an exhaustive critical introduction including a disquisition on popular religion, and a biography of Confucius.

The Jesuit compilers assembled this heterogeneous fund of plural schools, practices, texts, and interpretations into a system identified as the legacy of the mythic philosopher-hero. It was just this metonymic reduction of the many to the one that was responsible for the political significance of the Confucius Sinarum philosophus for new states seeking to articulate, justify, and enforce absolute claims to nationhood. Confucius was, in fact, China, and so too could Louis XIV (r. 1661 – 1715) be France or William III (r. 1689 – 1702) be England. The Jesuits could not have foreseen such an interpretation of their work, but they did believe that China could be reduced to Confucius, offering at least two reasons that would justify this equivalence.

First, they argued that because he was the author of the libri classici (the classics), which are the literary summation of China's ancient culture, Confucius had been immemorially honored. While he was described by Ricci and Trigault as the Chinese equal of "ethnic philosophers" like Plato or Aristotle, a living icon of a system of thought, the authors of the Confucius Sinarum philosophus compared Confucius to the Oracle at Delphi, though in higher regard than the latter because he enjoyed more authority among the Chinese than that attributed to the Oracle by ancient Greeks. In this way they presumed Confucius's teachings were a good propaedeutic to Christianity, suggesting the necessary evolution of one into the other.

Second, like the early accommodationists, they saw Confucius's teaching, ju kiao (rujiao ), as a distillation of the ancient belief in Xan ti (Shangdi ), or what the authors now called Religionem Sinensium (The Chinese religion.) Here they exceeded the ground-level ethnographic notations on religious practice made by Ricci, demonstrating a compelling cognate philological link between Xan ti, Deus, Elohim, and Jehovah. The authors claimed that these four terms were etymologically derived from the same source. It was just such curious philology in support of ecumenism that especially appealed to Leibniz, whose efforts to create a characteristica universalis (universal system of characters) were justified by the testimony of these translations.

Revealing something of the indistinguishability of theology and contemporary politics, the authors remind us that the Chinese monarchy had been in place for more than four thousand years, seventeen hundred of which were continuously under the Magistratum Confucium (Magistracy of Confucius). The essential equation of China and Confucianism and Christianity as the inevitable singular belief system of China was reinforced in the European imagination by the testimony of "Siu Paulus," or Paul Xu (Guangqi, 1562 – 1633), that "[Christianity] fulfills what is lacking in our Master Confucius and in the philosophy of the literati it truly removes and radically extirpates nefarious superstitions and the cult of the demons [Daoism, Buddhism, and neo-Confucianism]." In the instability of Europe after the religious wars of the sixteenth century, a reasoned defense of national faith in a single religion or ideology, such as the Jesuits described for China, was read politically as a justification for the peaceful coexistence of national singularity and religious uniformity.

This same interpretive mechanism of unequal complementarity — Christianity as the "high religion" supplemented by the "lower religions" of ethnic others like the Chinese — would soon be found in a host of works on pagan religion and world chronology written by figures like Isaac Newton and David Hume as the quarrel between the Ancients and the Moderns raged among European philosophes. The semiotic taxonomies of the imperial genealogy and the Tabula Chronologica (a comparative chronology of Chinese and biblical time) included as appendices of the Confucius Sinarum philosophus were readily admitted into the rhetoric of authentic representation of the physical world that occupied the energies of seventeenth-century lay intellectuals. The perplexing chasm they faced between the fallen languages of man and the work of God provoked a search by way of linguistics, experimental science, mathematics, and natural philosophy to invent new semiotic forms capable of representing God's creation while avoiding the sin of hubris.

And, once Chinese scriptural texts of Confucianism were understood as semiotic forms representative of nature, then the Jesuits' translations and interpretive commentaries could serve the same pious function as the strategies of Leibniz and Newton. Moreover, Jesuit translations of the "real characters" of Chinese offered evidence of the reasonableness of the contention of European scientists that real characters, the calculus, or a universal language could be deduced from the "natures of things" as unmediated expressions of God's intention. In so doing, the Jesuits named the Chinese system that some Europeans believed was isomorphic with nature and about which, as Umberto Eco has shown, the Europeans increasingly expounded in a search for "the perfect language." These missionaries called this religious system "Confucian."

In inventing this eponymous term the accommodationist compilers of the Confucius Sinarum philosophus achieved the fateful reduction of China to Confucius. The "Dedicatory Letter" addressed to Louis XIV that opens the work asserts that "by the blood of Chinese rulers, he who is called Confucius … is the wisest moral philosopher, politician, and orator." Elsewhere, Couplet and his coauthors chronologically document the transmission of the genuine ru teachings from the heralded moral philosopher to themselves when they write, "the lineage of this one [Confucius] has been propagated with a not-uninterrupted series in this year 1687." At the close of the Confucii Vita, the compilers summarize Chinese dynastic descent from the Han dynasty to the present, taking care to note the millennial tribute to Confucius paid by a succession of imperial families. Further, in obvious deference to the self-conception of le Roi Soleil (the Sun King), they report that, although Confucius was symbolic of Chinese religion, the rites performed to him were thoroughly secular — "civiles sunt honores ac ritus illi Confuciani " (civil are the honors and those Confucian rites) — and here the authors deliver the inevitable neologism, "Confucian."

A paragraph below this phrase, a similar formulation appears. It reads "vero magis confirmat ritus illos Confucianos mer è esse politicos " (he confirms those Confucian rites are truly political), which again affirms the secular character of the rites in honor of Confucius. These were assurances that the worship of Confucius was not idolatrous and therefore worthy of comparison with the cultlike adulation rendered to Louis XIV by his people. Consequently, the invocation of Louis XIV, "MAGNI LUDOVICI [LOUIS THE GREAT]," in the summary paragraph of Confucii vita, was intended as a way for Couplet and colleagues to pay homage to their monarch and benefactor by deliberately drawing a comparison between the undying symbol of the Chinese people and the living icon of the French and their enlightened culture. In this way the Chinese dependency complex of ru and imperial government was reproduced by Jesuit missionaries. Confucianism was the key to China and it was the language of God among the Chinese. For this reason, above all, whether one wished to extol or repudiate Chinese civilization, Confucianism and Confucius influenced Europe's intellectual agenda.

Rites and Rituals

Confucius taught the importance of rituals in uniting people. In the Analects—a collection of ideas, thoughts, and quotes attributed to Confucius—the importance of observing rites and rituals with body and mind is revered.

According to Confucian beliefs, all ceremonies should be intentional acts of social unification. They should be practiced with others, and they should be done with reverence and high regard, rather than a mindless repetition of words and actions.

Rites and rituals include funeral practices during which observers wear white and grieve for the dead for up to three years, weddings beginning with appropriate matchmaking, coming of age ceremonies for young men and women, and offerings to ancestors, among many other regional practices.

Facts about Confucianism 7: the idea in Confucianism

Let’s find out the main idea in Confucianism. It tells the people to live in honesty and moral virtue. Moreover, it also encourages the people to have the ideal social relationship. Find facts about Christianity here.

Facts about Confucianism 8: the virtues in Confucianism

There are five virtues in Confucianism. The first one is Ren. It focuses on the benevolence or humaneness.

3. Early-Modern Confucianism: Major Philosophical Themes

Japanese developments of Confucian philosophy are often discussed in relation to the Tokugawa period (1600&ndash1868), with scant mention of what came before, other than to say that Confucian thought had been submerged earlier in an eclecticism dominated by Zen monks. Tokugawa Confucianism is typically described by recitation of a succession of names and schools. Much of this approach to the philosophical history of Japanese Confucianism derives from interpretations advanced by Inoue Tetsujirō (1855&ndash1944), professor at Tōkyō Imperial University, in his monumental trilogy dating from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Inoue is noteworthy for having viewed Japanese Confucianism as &ldquophilosophy&rdquo (tetsugaku), and for affirming that Confucian scholars had set forth substantial and diverse philosophical perspectives in Japan well in advance of the introduction of Western philosophy.

Vaguely following Hegelian notions of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis, Inoue described the unfolding of Japanese philosophy by explaining the dialectical relationships of three major philosophical schools: the Zhu Xi School, the Wang Yangming School, and the School of Ancient Learning. Ever since Inoue, Japanese Confucianism has been most typically explained in terms of these three schools, as represented by a succession of philosophers associated with each, including Zhu Xi philosophers such as Fujiwara Seika (1561&ndash1617), Hayashi Razan (1583&ndash1657), Yamazaki Ansai (1619&ndash1682) Wang Yangming philosophers such as Nakae Tōju (1608&ndash1648) and Kumazawa Banzan (1619&ndash1691) and so&ndashcalled Ancient Learning philosophers such as Yamaga Sokō (1622&ndash1685), Itō Jinsai (1627&ndash1705), and Ogyū Sorai (1666&ndash1728).

Rather than recite this interpretive schema, which in many respects, despite its trilogistic appeal, simply does not accurately represent developments of Japanese Confucianism, this essay will offer an alternative approach. Here, Confucian philosophy is explained as a discourse comprised of major concepts addressed by virtually all who would be called Confucian philosophers. Quite typically, Japanese Confucians articulated their philosophical visions by defining terms that were at the core of their systems. While accounts of the meanings of words varied widely, an easily discernible discourse developed.

Overall, Japanese Confucianism from the seventeenth through the early-nineteenth centuries reasserts the integrity of language, meaning, and discursive truth. This reassertion was made in opposition to the Buddhist view of language which was, despite myriad sutras in the Tripitaka, or the Buddhist canon, rather negative. Or at least this was how many early-modern Japanese Confucians understood it. According to these Confucian critics, the Buddhists held that ordinary language lacked ultimate meaning and the ability to convey absolute truth. Rather than packed with significant meaning, Buddhists insisted that words were to be viewed as inherently empty. If wrongly understood as conveyors of substantial meaning, they became the source of profound error. Perhaps the unifying feature of Confucian philosophizing in the early modern period was the view that words were crucially important as vehicles for substantial meaning. Moreover, words and their correct usage were deemed by Confucians as absolutely essential to self-understanding, self-cultivation, and at the grandest level, to governing the realm and bringing peace and prosperity to the world. In this regard, Japanese Confucian philosophy can be viewed as an East Asian philosophy of language engaged in a search for right meaning. This &ldquoright meaning&rdquo was considered fundamental to any attempt to resolve philosophical problems.

Insofar as the ultimate achievement of Japanese Confucian philosophizing amounted to a relative turn away from nominalist Buddhist claims about the semantic emptiness of words and the merely conventional nature of meaning and truth, it set the philosophical stage in profound ways for the conceptual assimilation of Western philosophical learning during the Meiji period (1868&ndash1912). Because it was, when viewed comprehensively, a conceptual movement of enormous consequence relative the development of modern philosophy in Japan, the period from the seventeenth through the early-nineteenth centuries is referred to here as &ldquoearly modern,&rdquo emphasizing its role in establishing the foundations of modernity, rather than in terms of the more traditional terminology of historical periodization where the &ldquoTokugawa&rdquo or &ldquoEdo&rdquo period is often associated with either &ldquolate medieval&rdquo or &ldquofeudalistic&rdquo developments. Apart from the contributions of Confucian philosophy to early-modern understandings of language, meaning, and discursive truth, Confucian philosophizing in Japan during this period was simply not always related to or an expression of the interests of the Tokugawa shoguns, nor did it always issue from the shogun&rsquos capital, Edo. Thus, the terms &ldquoTokugawa&rdquo and &ldquoEdo&rdquo as historical categories do not satisfactorily convey the generally progressive proto-modern thrust of Confucian philosophizing as a whole during this period.

Additionally, Japanese Confucian philosophy emerged in no small part in opposition to the western religion of Christianity and all that was associated with it, including the threat of possible domination. While this was true throughout the Tokugawa period and in the Meiji as well, it is nowhere more conspicuous than in an early Tokugawa work, Ethics (Irinshō) by Matsunaga Sekigo. Writing shortly after the brutal defeat of the Christian-nuanced Shimabara Rebellion of 1637&ndash38, Sekigo used words rather than swords to combat what he viewed as the dangerous foreign heterodoxy might mean ruin to the Japanese polity. Unlike the earlier debates against the Christians carried out by the Buddhists on strictly metaphysical grounds Seikigo aimed to demonstrate the superiority of Confucianism as a philosophy that was universal, in his view, and yet distinctively East Asian and Japanese in its cultural roots. Arguably, later affirmations of Confucianism were meant to do much the same, even long after the effective threat of the spread of Christianity had been stopped by government policies such as Buddhist temple registration. Somewhat similarly, in the late Meiji, Inoue Tetsujirō defined Japanese Confucianism as Japan&rsquos first philosophy, yet he also stood as one of the most outspoken and vehement critics of Christianity as a system of thought that was inherently mistaken and completely inappropriate for Japanese. Throughout much of its history, Japanese Confucianism has therefore implicitly if not explicitly opposed Christianity on philosophical grounds.

3.1 Language

As various forms of Buddhism dominated the medieval period of Japanese philosophical history, so did Buddhist estimations of words and meaning come to inform the minds of many of the philosophically inclined. While some aspects of Rinzai Zen esteemed components of traditional Chinese arts and letters, the more central spiritual praxis was more renowned for its their anti-intellectualism. This latter stance was well expressed in the use of kōan, or paradoxical exchanges meant to facilitate realization of Buddha-nature. The gist of the Zen teachings was that words, at best, are mere conventions useful for everyday communication. The transitory, insubstantial way of things (suchness or emptiness) cannot be adequately captured by the fixed meanings of conventional language. When transmitted from teacher to disciple, the highest level of truth could only be conveyed in a mind-to-mind transmission, one that typically eluded simple discursive language.

Generally speaking, the Neo-Confucian position of early-modern Japan was defined in opposition to assertions of the semantic emptiness or radical nominalism so often advanced by Buddhists. While the Neo-Confucian affirmation that words convey significant meaning might seem commonplace, it was hardly so at the juncture of Japan&rsquos medieval and early modern history. Indeed, the rise of Neo-Confucian discourse in the Tokugawa should be understood as a reassertion of the meaningfulness of language and its ultimate value in relation to any understandings of truth.

An early expression of the Neo-Confucian belief in the ultimate value of language and meaning was made by Hayashi Razan in the preface to his colloquial rendition of Chen Beixi&rsquos (1159&ndash1223) The Meanings of Neo-Confucian Terms (Xingli ziyi). Incidentally, the latter text can easily be interpreted as a sustained reaffirmation of the correct meanings of terms in the wake of an age of semantic skepticism, and as a defense of Confucian realism over rampant Buddhist nominalism. That Razan devoted much of his final years to authoring a lengthy colloquial explication of Beixi&rsquos Ziyi speaks volumes about his view of the importance of language. In his preface, Razan explained the crucial nature of language by reasoning that &ldquothe minds of the sages and worthies are manifest in their words, and their words are found in their writings. Unless we understand the meanings of their words, how can we comprehend the minds of the sages and worthies?&rdquo Elsewhere Razan emphasized that people could never realize the minds of the sages and worthies in themselves unless they first understood the remarks of the sages and worthies as recorded in the words of texts communicating them.

Razan even suggested that thorough immersion in the words of the sages was the best way to achieve a kind of comprehensive, mystic enlightenment experience. Thus when asked about the methods involved in the study of words, Razan explained,

Razan was hardly alone in emphasizing the semantic integrity of words. Itō Jinsai&rsquos most comprehensive philosophical text, the Gomō jigi (The Meaning of Words in the Analects and Mencius), articulates both a defense of the meaningfulness of words, and in-depth, systematic analyses of the meanings of some two dozen high-level philosophical terms. In his preface to the Gomō jigi, Jinsai explained his pedagogical approach in terms of the study of language and meaning. There he stated,

Jinsai&rsquos emphasis on semantic etymology and philological instruction was meant to offset Buddhist training and presuppositions: he wanted his students to recognize the difference between Buddhist terms with their various nuances and those of Confucianism. In particular Jinsai was offended to see so many seemingly Buddhist terms in Neo-Confucian discourse. In an attempt to rid such terms from Neo-Confucianism, Jinsai took great pains to document the heterodox lineages of words so that they could be eliminated from Neo-Confucian writings.

Brief introductory essays defending the ability of language to refer to reality are relatively common in early-modern Neo-Confucianism. Ogyū Sorai&rsquos (1666&ndash1728) Benmei (Distinguishing Names), presents an even more in-depth analysis of philosophical terminology than Jinsai&rsquos Gomō jigi. In the preface to his Benmei, Sorai highlighted the political edge intrinsic to language and meaning, at least as understood by many Confucians and Neo-Confucians alike. After allowing that some words are coined by commoners, Sorai emphasized that the more abstract and philosophical terms are the very ones articulated by sages for the sake of instructing people in the foundations of civilized life. Sorai then added that because these terms convey such powerful teachings, princes are cautious in using them.

Sorai next alludes to a passage from the Analects (13/3) which relates that Confucius had said that if given charge of the government of a state, his first priority would be correcting the meanings and usages of words. When asked the reason for this, Confucius replied in effect that socially and politically, all else depends upon correct usage of language. Without that, there would be no limits to which people might go. Sorai proceeds to sketch his understanding of the problems related to philosophical meaning in his day, adding that his intent in authoring the Benmei was to understand the right relationships between words and things so that the minds of the sages could be fathomed.

In essence, Sorai believed that by rightly defining words he was providing the foundations for the integrity of a rightly governed social and political order. Ultimately, then, Confucians and Neo-Confucians in their repeated reaffirmations of the importance of language and meaning were not simply indulging in philological exercises or arcane semantic research. Instead, they were engaged in an effort to recover the way (C: dao/J: michi) for the sake of establishing a means to sagely truth, and a ground for a righteous political order.

Many other examples of the Confucian reassertion of meaning in the early-modern period could be given. Suffice it to say that the concern for language so evident in Confucian writings reflected both a profound turn away from what they considered to be the empty talk of Buddhists, especially Zen Buddhists, and toward a concern for defining the conceptual bases for a well-ordered society. The need to defend the integrity of language gradually subsided as Japanese thinkers increasingly recognized the importance of words and meaning for philosophical analysis. This reinforced an emphasis on linguistic truth and meaning as a means for providing political order, an emphasis that continued well into the modern period.

3.2 Metaphysics

An important Neo-Confucian contribution to the philosophical consciousness of early-modern Japan was its metaphysical account of the world of ordinary experience as fully real. Early in the Tokugawa period, Hayashi Razan was among the leaders of those Japanese theorists who reiterated, with some distinctive variations, the metaphysical accounts synthesized by Zhu Xi during late-Song China. Essentially, this metaphysics explained reality in terms of two components, ri (&ldquoprinciple&rdquo or &ldquopattern&rdquo) and ki (&ldquogenerative force&rdquo). Ri referred to the rational and moral order of things generally, as well as that of each and every thing in terms of their particulars. In Razan&rsquos view, there is a ri for each aspect of existence, making all particulars what they are in actuality. At the same time, there is an essential universal element in ri that defined a larger realm of commonality in terms of what things can potentially be. Thus, for example, the human nature that defines all people as people is referred to as ri, indicating that the rational order integral to humanity is shared in common. But more importantly, there is a normative, moral side of ri which makes it as much an ethical aspect of existence as it is a rational one. In the case of humanity, as well as virtually all of the ten-thousand things of the cosmos, ri is defined as morally good. This affirmation means, in the case of humanity, that human nature is good. Viewed in the perspective of all things existing between heaven and earth, the goodness of ri means that the world as such is also ethically good by nature and in terms of what it is to become as well. No doubt evil enters in, but that is not the original state, nor should it be the ultimate fate of things.

The other component of reality, that of ki, accounts for the substantial, creative reality of all that exists in the world. Ki is the vital, transformative stuff of all that exists, including things that are solid, liquid, and gaseous. This ki is described variously in terms of its clarity or turbidity, but invariably things that exist have it as their substantial being. Simply put, nothing exists without ki. In certain respects, Neo-Confucian philosophers such as Zhu Xi and Razan affirmed that ki was the stuff of reality in order to counter the Buddhist claim that all things are insubstantial or empty. While admitting that things are not always as they might seem, Neo-Confucians typically affirmed that there was a substantial basis even behind the illusory and ephemeral.

Generally speaking, Razan and other Neo-Confucian philosophers who affirmed the duality of ri and ki added that it was impossible for there to be ri without ki, or ki without ri. In reality, the two were absolutely inseparable. Yet there were moments of equivocation, especially while analyzing the two notions, when Razan, following a long line of Neo-Confucian philosophers including Zhu Xi himself, emphasized the priority of ri over ki. No sooner was this broached, however, than it was also denied, with the appended insistence that one could not exist without the other. Nevertheless, later critics of the more standard Neo-Confucian line rarely bypassed the opportunity to criticize at length those who privileged ri over ki.

Itō Jinsai was one such critic. It would be easy to conclude that since Jinsai differed with orthodox Neo-Confucians such as Zhu Xi and their Japanese exponents, including Razan and others, that he was not a Neo-Confucian himself. There can be no doubt that Jinsai was not an orthodox, Zhu-Xi style Neo-Confucian. But then being a Neo-Confucian did not necessarily mean that one had to agree with Zhu Xi on all counts. Indeed Neo-Confucians often criticized one another to no end, but nonetheless remained Neo-Confucians. Doubt, questioning, and rigorous critique were at the heart of Neo-Confucianism as a philosophical movement. Jinsai&rsquos inclusion of a metaphysics of ki and ri, along with his critical disagreement with Zhu Xi over their relative priority, arguably made him an exemplary Neo-Confucian. Certainly, there was scant ground for such a systematic metaphysics as Jinsai affirmed in any of the ancient texts, especially the Analects and Mencius, that he otherwise identified with. In this respect, the common characterization of Jinsai as an &ldquoancient learning&rdquo (kogaku) philosopher who simply rejected Neo-Confucianism is misleading.

Rather than a dualism of generative force and principle, Jinsai affirmed an ostensible monism of ki, one which held that nothing existed other than ki. Yet Jinsai did not deny that there is ri in the world: rather, he simply subordinated it to ki, suggesting that while only ki exists, ri dwells within ki. Apart from its embedded nature within ki, ri has neither priority nor independent ontological status of any sort. It is wholly enveloped within ki. In making these claims, Jinsai was in effect rebalancing the more orthodox but often ambiguous Neo-Confucian metaphysics, away from its more standard equivocation hesitantly favoring some sort of prior status for ri by insisting in a more thoroughgoing manner a monism of generative force.

A corollary of Jinsai&rsquos outspoken subordination of principle within generative force was his denial of the relatively orthodox Neo-Confucian claim that human nature is united in morally good ri. Rather than a universalistic affirmation of the goodness of human nature, Jinsai emphasizes the diversity of human nature as a person&rsquos inborn disposition, ranging from good to bad. Needless to say, Jinsai saw the Cheng-Zhu claim that human nature is principle, or ri, as profoundly mistaken. After all, in Jinsai&rsquos view, ri, which as a written word depicts the veins in a piece of jade, was a &ldquodead word,&rdquo i.e., one that refers to an inanimate order not typically associated with the vitality of the human world. In contrast to ri, Jinsai extolled michi, or the way, as a &ldquoliving word,&rdquo i.e., one which symbolized the dynamism of human activity.

Jinsai and Sorai both criticized the Neo-Confucian metaphysical notion of principle, stating that rather than a word with ancient, and therefore legitimate, Confucian origins, ri was a term that had derived in part from Daoist and Buddhist discourse and so was often wrongly construed in Neo-Confucian discussions out of ignorance of, or disregard for, the sanctity of the original teachings of Confucianism. Jinsai&rsquos standard on this count was supposedly the lexicon of the Analects and Mencius, while Sorai&rsquos was the more ancient Six Classics. Despite their disagreements on the level of antiquity that should be considered as the source of legitimate philosophical discourse, both agreed that principle was a problematic part of it and so should not be naively highlighted in metaphysical discussions.

Jinsai and Sorai&rsquos critiques notwithstanding, the metaphysics of ri and ki came to enjoy a degree of philosophical domination in the remainder of the early modern period, especially among orthodox Neo-Confucians. Although often modified in one respect or another, the dualism of substantial, energetic generative force and rational, ethical order seemed like a compelling and sufficient account for the diversity of experience. Not surprisingly, both ri and ki were appropriated in any number of neologisms of the Meiji period to refer to terms from western philosophy and the sciences as they were translated into Japanese. One example is the word &ldquologic,&rdquo or ronri in Japanese. The word ronri, when considered not as a unified word but as two words that can be read apart, indicates &ldquodiscussions (ron) of principle (ri),&rdquo a typically Neo-Confucian activity. Although there were Huayan Buddhist usages of these terms, when the modern lexicon of theoretical discourse crystalized in the Meiji period, it was the Neo-Confucian usages that were then most relevant to the new terms coined such as ronri.

3.3 Doubt and the Critical Spirit

One of the more distinctive features of the various expressions of Neo-Confucian philosophy in early-modern Japan was their shared emphasis on the importance of doubt in learning. Chinese philosophers from the Song dynasty, from Zhang Zai (1020&ndash1077) through Zhu Xi, emphasized the need for doubt and skepticism in relation to achieving any real progress in philosophical learning. In Japan, doubt came to have notable advocates, first with Hayashi Razan, one of the earliest and most consistent advocates of Neo-Confucianism, and later with Kaibara Ekken (1630&ndash1714), to the end a professed Neo-Confucian, but one who advanced one of the most systematic expressions of philosophical doubt in the early-modern period. With Razan and Ekken, skepticism was never an end in itself, but rather a significant waypoint on the way toward coming to more solid conclusions regarding philosophical questions, and indeed, all matters related to informed engagement in this world.

One of Ekken&rsquos most famous texts, the Taigiroku, is an account of his professed doubts about the validity of the teachings of Zhu Xi. Ekken opens his work by quoting Lu Xiangshan (1139&ndash1192), Zhu Xi&rsquos contemporary, who observed, &ldquoIn learning, a person should be worried when he has no doubts. If he has doubts, then progress follows. As a result, he will learn something.&rdquo Zhu Xi made the case for doubting along similar lines, noting, &ldquoThose with major doubts make much progress. Those with minor doubts make little progress. Those without doubts make no progress.&rdquo Such remarks relating to the need for doubt and its resolution were quoted and paraphrased repeatedly by Razan, Ekken, and a number of others, as they sought to realize higher levels of philosophical confidence or even certitude regarding their positions.

One reason for the invitation to doubt extended by Neo-Confucians seems to have been their realization that many Neo-Confucian tenets, especially metaphysical ones, were profoundly novel. Upon first hearing these new ideas, students might have many questions before they could accept them. So, the Neo-Confucians typically encouraged students to ask questions and reflect critically on the matters prompting their doubts. By doing so, the critical spirit so often associated with philosophy as a discipline in the West was clearly instilled in the early-modern students of Neo-Confucian thought. There can be little question that the number of extended critiques of Neo-Confucian thinking in the early-modern period were in part an outgrowth of the invitation to doubt advocated by proponents of Neo-Confucianism. Far from a rigid and unchanging orthodoxy that allowed for little if any questioning and doubt, Neo-Confucianism actively engaged doubt as a prerequisite to progress in learning.

3.4 Ethics

Confucian philosophy in Japan, ancient, medieval, and early-modern, is often caricatured as a teaching of loyalty and trustworthiness, that is, one suited to authoritarian rulers and obedient subjects, as well as warrior-lords and their samurai followers. No doubt loyalty and trustworthiness were integral to the Confucian ethic, but equally important were more universal ethical prescriptions such as humaneness (jin). Humaneness was described variously, but most often associated with the injunction not to do to others what one would not want done to oneself. Humaneness might well be deemed the most quintessential of all Confucian and Neo-Confucian virtues. While Neo-Confucians affirmed the ancient and fundamental meaning of humaneness as the &ldquogolden rule,&rdquo they added substantially to the meaning of humaneness by suggesting that being truly humane led one to become mystically one body with everything in existence. While such a unity was grounded substantially in the single generative force constituting all reality (ichigenki), it was equally a function of recognizing other selves as oneself, and other entities, sentient or not, as part of a cosmic, familial continuum of essential oneness and wholeness. Moreover, the unity reflected one&rsquos immersive participation in the generative activities of heaven and earth, and ultimate identification with the all-inclusive unity of the limitless creative potential of the cosmos. At a more rationalistic level, this unity was equally grounded in a cognitive grasp of the rational principles defining human nature&rsquos goodness and the core ethical goodness of all things and their limitless becoming.

Another ethical notion crucial to Confucian and Neo-Confucian ethics was that of gi, or justice. Often translated as &ldquorighteousness&rdquo and &ldquorightness,&rdquo gi also conveys a sense, in some contexts, of duty, responsibility, and obligation. To affirm that something or someone is gi amounted to ethical praise of the highest order, while denying the same meant virtual condemnation. Gi was often combined with humaneness to form the compound, jingi, indicating humaneness and justice, inherently political virtues that established the clear legitimacy of a regime embodying them.

From Mencius forward, fidelity to gi was often defined in terms of one&rsquos willingness to sacrifice one&rsquos life if realization of gi and one&rsquos continued existence could not be realized in tandem. One of the most famous debates of the Tokugawa period centered around an incident occurring in 1703 concerning a group of forty-seven samurai who had been left masterless (rōnin) due to the shogun&rsquos forcing the suicide of their lord. The question was whether the rōnin were acting according to gi in taking revenge upon the man who had, in the first place, prompted their deceased lord to commit the offense that led to his being condemned to self-destruction. Clearly, the issue was not the legal one of whether the rōnin obeyed or disobeyed the law, but instead the moral one of whether they acted on the basis of a sense of rightness and justice. Opinions varied, of course, but that the debate was widespread and meaningful reveals the extent to which Neo-Confucian ethical notions such as gi had become integral, substantive factors in public discourse in early-modern Japan.

3.5 Mind

The early-modern Neo-Confucians commonly described mind as the master of the body. All of the body&rsquos activities are under the control of the mind. As a combination of ri (principle) and ki (generative force), the mind can serve as the master of the body because of its capacity for clear and unclouded intelligence. Due to the ri within it, the mind is originally good. Though evil might intrude into its workings, the mind&rsquos original state is one of ethical goodness.

The Neo-Confucian position may not seem particularly profound unless we consider the Buddhist position it opposes. Namely, some Buddhists held that the discriminating mind is essentially empty and the seat, in everyday cognition, of delusion and ignorance. Rather than dismissing the everyday mind as the source of error, or advocating the realization of a mind that is &ldquono-mind,&rdquo Neo-Confucians sought to describe the mind as a real, substantial entity in which intelligible ethical and rational principles indwelled, enabling humanity to know both what is, and what is right. The knowledge provided by the mind was not considered delusional or unreal, but rather as real as any could possibly be. Insofar as the principles that dwell within the mind are identical with those pervading the external world, the mind became the foundation for a mystic union with all existent things.

Often the mind was discussed in relation to the feelings issuing from it. Most Neo-Confucians considered human feelings&mdashpleasure, anger, sorrow, fear, love, hate, and desire&mdashto issue from the mind when it encounters things. As long as these feelings are expressed in accord with principle, they are considered natural outgrowths of the mind. If manifested insufficiently or to excess, the feelings are judged to be negative and in need of control. So as to enable the mind to master itself appropriately, Neo-Confucians sometimes advocated a Zen-like practice called &ldquoquiet-sitting.&rdquo Essentially a meditation upon one&rsquos original, moral nature, quiet-sitting perceives the calmness and stillness of the mind before its engagement with the world of activity. The latter was typically seen as a source of overstimulation, one which could easily distract or distort the mind. If properly practiced, quiet-sitting could enable one to engage in any activity without overstepping or falling short in terms of emotive reactions. Such a mind was viewed as one well-regulated in accordance with the mean.

Neo-Confucian critics such as Itō Jinsai and Ogyū Sorai objected to characterizations of the mind in terms of &ldquostillness&rdquo and &ldquocalmness,&rdquo asserting that those attributes harked back to Buddhism or Daoism, not Confucianism. Whereas their criticisms had some merit, previous orthodox Neo-Confucians such as Hayashi Razan had insisted that the Confucian usage of terms such as &ldquostillness&rdquo and &ldquocalmness&rdquo meant something profoundly different from what was meant by Buddhists and Daoists. Ultimately, Razan insisted, the mind is an active thing, meant to be engaged in ongoing relations with the world at large and so, &ldquostillness&rdquo is being poised for engagement, rather than an end in itself.

3.6 Human Nature

One of the many terms used in East Asian philosophical discussions to refer generally to the ideas of the Song philosophers of the Cheng-Zhu tradition and their exponents in later dynastic periods, was seirigaku (C: xinglixue), or &ldquothe school of human nature and principle.&rdquo The two words &ldquohuman nature&rdquo (C: xing J: sei) and &ldquoprinciple&rdquo (C: li J: ri) were joined in part as a reflection of the Neo-Confucian identification of human nature with principle. In Japan, this position, equating human nature and principle, was affirmed by orthodox proponents of the Cheng-Zhu teachings such as Hayashi Razan and later, Yamazaki Ansai and their followers. In many respects, their accounts of human nature can be construed as an egalitarian affirmation of the commonly shared nature of all people. The grammar of most statements asserting the identity of human nature and principle support this understanding: they leave little room for doubt that orthodox Cheng-Zhu thinkers were saying that all people have the same human nature, and that that human nature is principle. To the extent that they explained the myriad differences in humanity, they did so by reference to variations in the clarity or turbidity of the generative force (ki) of particular individuals.

The ethical nuance assigned to human nature was a function of the Cheng-Zhu understanding of principle in both positive and normative terms. Not only did principle indicate what &ldquois,&rdquo it also referred to what &ldquoought to be&rdquo in a particular entity. In all matters, including human nature, principle was considered to be morally good. Thus at the macrocosmic level, the world of ordinary life was viewed not as the Buddhists saw it in terms of delusion, error, and anguish, but rather as the bountiful and morally good creation of heaven and earth, leading to the on-going production and reproduction of the ten-thousand things of the world in which we live. At the microcosmic level, rather than stressing human thoughts and feelings as given to attachments leading to one painful rebirth after another, the orthodox early-modern Neo-Confucians viewed the person as ethically good by virtue of their human nature. Those with clear generative force perhaps better understood and manifested the goodness of their human nature, while those with more turbid generative force did so less aptly. Nevertheless, with education and effort all could perfect themselves so as to realize fully the original goodness of their human nature. The human ideal of sagehood, more sought after than perhaps ever actually realized, was recognized as one that all could, with sufficient effort, achieve.

The orthodox Neo-Confucian explanation of human nature was frequently affirmed in early-modern Japan, especially in philosophically informed circles. However, those circles tended to be populated by individuals representing hereditary, status-bound social estates. At the top of the social system were the aristocrats of the ancient imperial capital, Kyōto, including the imperial family. Yet, during the Tokugawa period, the aristocracy was both respected and controlled by the samurai leadership exercising coercive governing power. Apart from the aristocracy, which was by and large restricted to the ancient imperial capital, the samurai were at the top of the secular social system. Below them were peasant farmers, then artisans, and finally merchants. Shintō and Buddhist clergy, often defined by hereditary lines as well, were esteemed as outside the secular social system. Thus, in practice, there was precious little egalitarianism in the early-modern social system.

Reflecting the inequalities of the day, Itō Jinsai challenged the orthodox Neo-Confucian view by asserting that human nature is simply the physical disposition (kishitsu) that each person is born with. In formulating this view, Jinsai was essentially agreeing with Dong Zhongshu (ca. 179&ndash104 B.C.E.), who defined human nature as &ldquothe inborn disposition&rdquo of each person. But Jinsai also sympathized with the thinking of Zhou Dunyi (1017&ndash1073), a Song philosopher who is often considered an early exponent of the Neo-Confucian philosophy that found its most complete form in the thought of Zhu Xi. Zhou Dunyi differentiated five natures including the morally strong, the immorally strong, the morally weak, the immorally weak, and the mean which relies on neither strength or weakness.

Jinsai did not seek to advance Zhou&rsquos position as much as to expand it into a recognition of the manifold diversity of human natures. A scholar by profession, Jinsai&rsquos own social standing was that of a townsperson, presumably of merchant background. The orthodox Neo-Confucian egalitarian position was at odds with the official hierarchy, but so was Jinsai&rsquos view insofar as it affirmed a far more individualized diversity than the established hierarchy allowed. Though Jinsai&rsquos theory of human nature as innate, individual physical disposition was reformulated by Ogyū Sorai, it did not achieve wide acceptance in early-modern Japan. Despite the extent to which it was at odds with reality, Confucian pronouncements on human nature in the early-modern period tended to repeat the Neo-Confucian line that human nature, as principle (ri), is morally good.

3.7 Political Thought

There is always a political nuance to Confucian philosophizing. Confucius himself first sought to offer his teachings to a ruler, thinking that they would provide an effective solution to the political crises of his times. The human ideal extolled by Confucius was that of the junzi (J: kunshi), or the &ldquoson of a ruler&rdquo that is, a &ldquoprince.&rdquo (Some translators have rendered this term as &ldquogentleman,&rdquo &ldquonoble person,&rdquo or &ldquoexemplary person.&rdquo) But for Confucius, the true prince was not one born to the position. Rather, Confucius most admired the person who cultivated himself to such a point that he embodied a host of virtues associated with royal birth. Confucius had little use for the person who was born to that station but neglected the task of self-cultivation. Such a person, in Confucius&rsquo view, hardly merited the standing accorded by birth. This understanding of the true prince implied that those born to high rank must strive to earn, through self-cultivation, the kind of respect and right to exercise power otherwise associated with their standing.

Mencian political thought was grounded in the view that government ought to be humane, and provide for the best interests of humanity. In this context, the ruler was characterized as the parent of the people, and his subjects as his own children, emphasizing the importance that he should attach to their welfare. Mencius at points explained success in governing as a matter of gaining the hearts-and-minds of the people at large, suggesting that without popular support rule would not be effective. In addressing questions related to instances in the past where tyrants had been executed, Mencius argued that there had been no instances of regicide. Instead, those put to death had been common criminals, having forfeited their legitimacy by their very mistreatment of people. Implied, of course, was that rulers who did the same might be legitimately dealt with in a similar manner.

Given the conditional perspective that Confucianism affirmed in relation to governing, it is not surprising that Confucian teachings tended to circulate first and foremost among the ruling elite throughout most of Japanese history. After all, had they had a wider circulation, the political implications might have resulted in even more challenges to those in power than actually occurred. Even more problematic than the views of Confucius and Mencius were those in the Book of Historical Documents related to the notion of tianming (J: tenmei), or &ldquothe mandate of heaven.&rdquo According to numerous passages in the History, if a ruler repeatedly abandoned his concern for the people, heaven would eventually give the mandate to rule to a new line, one that distinguished itself on the basis of concern for the people. In this process, the role of the people was instrumental. One passage in the History even states that heaven and the people are nearly the same: &ldquoheaven sees with the eyes of the people, and hears with the ears of the people.&rdquo

There can be no question that this notion entered Japan, as surely as the classical literature of China did. That the tianming notion attained no wide circulation reflects the extent to which Confucian political teachings in particular were restricted to the ruling elite rather than taught to the population at large. It must be added, however, that as Confucian learning became more widespread, even the peasantry began to understand the basics of Confucian political thought and developed clear expectations regarding humane government. Early-modern peasant protest movements and uprisings were often grounded in the notion that righteous and humane rulers ought to provide for the just interests of society as a whole. When such expectations were not fulfilled, it was not uncommon for peasants to make their dissatisfaction evident through remonstration and rebellion.

By comparison with the ancient, foundational writings, Neo-Confucian political philosophy was far more concerned with the project of ensuring that the ruler understood the benefits of self-cultivation. One of the most pertinent texts, the Great Learning (C: Daxue J: Daigaku), outlines how a ruler should proceed if he wishes to manifest luminous virtue, noting that the project most fundamentally involves self-cultivation. For the latter to be realized, the ruler must first make his mind correct and his thoughts sincere. To realize this project, he must extend his understanding of things by studying and investigating them. If those ruling could cultivate themselves in this way, then they would find their families well ordered, their states well governed, and all below heaven enjoying great peace. Effective rule was thus cast as a matter of self-cultivation on the part of those ruling. This was the central political philosophy taught by orthodox Neo-Confucians such as Hayashi Razan, Yamazaki Ansai and their followers in Tokugawa Japan.

One major challenge to this approach came from Ogyū Sorai. According to Sorai, the orthodox Neo-Confucian position was impractical because it was based on the assumption that the human mind can control itself. In Sorai&rsquos view, this was simply impossible because it would entail dividing the mind into two entities: the controlling mind and the controlled mind. Rather than expect the mind to control the mind, Sorai appealed to the Book of History and its teaching that the rites of &ldquothe early kings&rdquo be used to control not only the mind, but the socio-political realm at large. Sorai claimed that his philosophy was based on a correct reading of the ancient classics, especially the Book of History, but it is clear that he leaves a great deal out. Most particularly, he passes over the tianming notion completely, even though it is at the very core of the Book of History. Sorai also extolled the rites and music and their effectiveness for ruling, but never provided great clarity regarding what these included. Moreover, he repeatedly praised &ldquothe early kings&rdquo as the only sages who had and would ever exist in human history. The sagehood of the early kings was a function of their having established the way of social and political organization, a way that could never be surpassed, only followed. Sorai identified that way, &ldquothe way of the sages,&rdquo as consisting in the rites and music, as well as the laws and bureaucratic forms necessary for good government.

Ultimately, it seems that Sorai&rsquos political philosophy meant to extol in later history those who stood as the representatives of the early kings. For him, these were the samurai ruling elite of his day, and their imposition of rites, laws, and administrative government as a means of implementing the greatest peace and prosperity for the greatest number. Sorai surely had little faith in the efficacy of internal means of self control instead, he consistently advocated external strategies such as rites and music, penal laws, and administrative government as the means for providing, along utilitarian lines, for the welfare of all.

Sorai&rsquos political philosophy, though one of the most systematic statements offered during the early-modern period, was never fully accepted as the philosophy of the ruling elite, despite the fact that that seems to have been Sorai&rsquos explicit intent. Rather, his political philosophy ended up being viewed as a heterodox alternative, one much akin to that of Xunzi in ancient China.

3.8 Education

A most important contribution of Neo-Confucianism to early-modern Japanese culture was its emphasis on education at virtually all levels. Orthodox Neo-Confucianism viewed learning as one of the most basic methods of self-cultivation, one that contributed positively to the full realization of a person&rsquos morally good human nature. At the highest level, education and learning were considered integral components in the realization of a well-governed state and peace throughout the world.

According to Zhu Xi, learning involved most basically the process of emulation. This account of learning came to be widely endorsed in early-modern Japan, even by heterodox thinkers such as Itō Jinsai and Ogyū Sorai. The model that Jinsai used in explaining learning as emulation was that of calligraphy. In learning to write, a student is presented with the example of his teacher, and then is expected to emulate it. Sustained efforts at emulation lead eventually to comprehension and the ability of the student to perform thoughtfully the task that has been learned.

While the practice of learning as emulation was widely endorsed, early-modern philosophers disagreed over the subject matter of education. Orthodox Neo-Confucians typically emphasized broad learning in the ancient classics and historical literature, but most importantly they extolled the value of studying the Four Books and Zhu Xi&rsquos commentaries on them. Reflecting the orthodox Neo-Confucian value placed on education is the first of the Four Books, the Great Learning . Described as the &ldquogateway&rdquo to all subsequent learning, the Great Learning outlines the series of methods to be mastered in order for a person to manifest luminous virtue. In this process, the investigation of things is preliminary. With such investigation, our understanding of things becomes complete and our thoughts sincere. Then, our minds are rectified. With this comes the realization of a cultivated self, one capable of regulating families, governing states, and bringing peace to the world.

Orthodox Neo-Confucians viewed the Great Learning as a work for mature students. To provide for the most widely educated society possible, other texts, such as the Elementary Learning, addressed topics for younger minds. In early-modern Japan, the Neo-Confucian emphasis on education also led to the formulation of a curriculum for women, as is evident in the Great Learning for Women (Onna daigaku), attributed to Kaibara Ekken, the Elementary Learning on Samurai Teachings (Bukyō shōgaku) by Yamaga Sokō, and other educational works for townspeople and farmers.

Heterodox thinkers such as Jinsai and Sorai often challenged orthodox Neo-Confucians on matters related to the texts elevated for study. Jinsai in particular affirmed that the most important works for students were the Analects of Confucius and the Mencius. Distancing himself considerably from the orthodox position, Jinsai offered a series of arguments seeking to prove, on textual and philosophical grounds, that the Great Learning was not a Confucian text. While he admitted that there was value in the study of the ancient classics, Jinsai believed that the Analects and Mencius were by and large sufficient for meaningful education.

By contrast, Ogyū Sorai emphasized the efficacy of studying the Six Classics. In Sorai&rsquos view, the Six Classics conveyed the words of the sages predating Confucius. He considered their words unique insofar as they enabled humanity to fathom the minds of the sages themselves. Sorai did value texts such as the Analects, but decidedly less so. After all, Sorai reasoned, Confucius had not been fully a sage, at least not in his strictest sense of the term. For him, the sages were those ancient figures who had established the basic way of socio-political civilized life, the way that Confucius later championed as a transmitter. Yet, far more than learning through books, Sorai valued learning gained through practice in following the way. With this kind of performative learning, students were expected to come gradually to realize a full level of practical knowledge: knowing how to do something rather than knowing that something is the case.

The proliferation of education in early-modern Japan, producing mid-nineteenth-century literacy rates comparable to those of the most advanced Western nations, resulted from a complex set of factors, including the development of mass printing, the creation of schools in the various samurai domains, and the rise of educational movements related to Japanese literature and culture that were highly critical of Chinese-style philosophy of any sort. Yet, at the base of much of this was the Neo-Confucian view, shared generally by orthodox and heterodox thinkers, that education, whether practical or discursive or both, was a necessary ingredient in the life of all persons who might hope to realize their full potential.

3.9 Critiques of Buddhism

The liberation of Neo-Confucianism from the domination of Zen learning only became possible in the late-sixteenth and early-seventeenth centuries, following Toyotomi Hideyoshi&rsquos (1537&ndash1598) invasions of the Korean peninsula. As a result, a number of Neo-Confucian texts that included pointed critiques of Buddhism came into Japan. As the anti-Buddhist perspectives of these texts came to be ever more influential throughout the seventeenth century, an increasingly common theme in Japanese Neo-Confucian discourse was its relationship, positive or negative, to Buddhism.

One of the more interesting Confucian critiques of Buddhism was articulated by Itō Jinsai (1627&ndash1705), a Kyōto-based scholar who, significantly enough, had neither been brought up nor educated by Buddhists. In his discussion of &ldquothe way,&rdquo Jinsai suggested that the Buddha believed emptiness was the way, and that mountains, rivers, and land masses were all unreal. In opposition, Jinsai argued along distinctly commonsensical lines: that for myriad ages heaven and earth have sustained life the sun and moon have illuminated the world mountains have stood and rivers flowed birds, beasts, fish, insects, trees, and grasses have lived as they do now. Given this evidence from the phenomenal world, Jinsai asked how the Buddhists could claim that all is emptiness or nothingness. Answering his own question, Jinsai said that their emphasis on emptiness derived from their tending to retire to mountains and to sit silently while emptying their minds. Thus, Jinsai argued, the theoretical principles affirmed by the Buddhists&mdashemptiness and nothingness&mdashexist neither within this world nor outside it.

Instead of Buddhist emptiness which he claimed to be groundless, Jinsai affirmed that the principles of love and social relations are found in every aspect of life from humanity down to bamboo plants, trees, grasses, insects, fish, and even grains of sand. Jinsai denied that Buddhist principles received any corroboration in any level of existence whatsoever, dismissing them as heterodoxies utterly lacking any basis in reality.

Jinsai maintained that the Confucian way is how people should conduct themselves ethically in their daily lives. In doing so, he asserted that the Confucian way is both natural and universal insofar as it is understood by everyone in every part of the universe as the inescapable path of all. Because this has been and will be true for all time, it is simply called &ldquothe way.&rdquo Amplifying his point, Jinsai added that the Confucian way does not exist simply because it is taught. Rather, its vitality is naturally and universally so. By contrast, the teachings of Buddhism exist only because certain people revere them. If those people vanished, Jinsai maintained, so would Buddhism. Emphasizing their lack of practicality, Jinsai observed that even when Buddhist teachings are accepted, they bring no benefits. If they are rejected, people lose nothing. Worst of all, Jinsai said, when the world followed the teachings of the ancient Confucian sages, it was at peace, but since Buddhism had become dominant, great chaos and disturbances have ensued. Thus, Jinsai&rsquos rejection of Buddhism follows, at least in part, pragmatic lines, emphasizing that at best there is no gain from it, and at worst that it brings chaos and disorder to the world.

Jinsai also criticized Buddhists for abandoning ethics, in particular righteousness and justice (gi). While he allowed that Buddhists taught the virtue of compassion, Jinsai added that they ultimately extolled nirvana as the way. This led them to downplay righteousness rather than recognize it as &ldquothe great path of all below heaven.&rdquo

Jinsai emphasized the mind as the seat of the moral sentiments giving rise in action to the virtues of humaneness and righteousness. In making this point and at the same time emphasizing the vital activity of the mind, Jinsai enthusiastically endorsed the views of Mencius. Jinsai pointedly criticized Buddhists and others who followed them for claiming that the mind is empty. He also argued against the Buddhist belief that the mind ought to be made pure, utterly rid of human desires, and empty like a bright mirror or calm like still water. Jinsai rejected such images for being at odds with the energetic approach to moral action that Confucianism endorses. For Jinsai, moral action emerges from moral sentiments and can never be divorced from the passions. Because the Buddhists sought, according to Jinsai, to eliminate passions in their pursuit of nirvana, their view of the mind was fundamentally mistaken.

Yet for all of his criticisms of Buddhism, Jinsai explained, in one of the appendices to his Gomō jigi, that the best way to refute Buddhism and heterodoxies generally was not by means of debate, but instead by manifesting the Confucian way of ethical engagement with the world in daily practical activities. Debate, argument, and rhetoric were, in Jinsai&rsquos view, little more than empty formulations reflecting descent into the same kind of emptiness that so characterized the Buddhist teachings one sought to oppose.

It might be added in this connection that Tokugawa Confucians often sought to outdo one another in their opposition to Buddhism. In one of his more tolerant moments, Jinsai wrote a farewell letter to a Buddhist monk, Dōkō (b: 1675?), who was about to depart Kyōto after a period of study there. In the letter, which Jinsai surely never meant to be construed as a definitive statement of his views on Buddhism, he praised Dōkō&rsquos study of Confucianism. At one point, Jinsai graciously added, &ldquoFrom the perspective of scholars, both Confucianism (Ju) and Buddhism (Butsu) definitely exist. However from the vantage point of heaven and earth, there is most fundamentally neither Confucianism nor Buddhism. Rather, there is only one way and that is all.&rdquo Jinsai&rsquos letter, which was subsequently published, shocked many Confucians who were far more doctrinaire in their opposition to Buddhism. One scholar, Satō Naokata (1650&ndash1719), went so far as to republish Jinsai&rsquos letter with a running commentary, sharply critical of both Buddhism and Jinsai. The latter was the subject of Naokata&rsquos wrath because Jinsai, in Naokata&rsquos intolerant view, had been insufficiently hostile to the &ldquoevil thing,&rdquo namely, Buddhism.

Confucian discourse on Buddhism, then, was much more complex than Jinsai&rsquos critiques alone might suggest. But what is clear is that during the early-modern period of Japanese intellectual history, Confucianism and Buddhism came to be fairly distinct philosophical forces, with much critical antipathy issuing from the Confucian camp. As Confucian learning became increasingly secure and respected in its own right, these critiques tended to diminish. Ogyū Sorai, for example, rarely discussed Buddhism, though when he did his remarks were critical. Still one senses that for Sorai and his audience, Buddhism did not need to be subjected yet again to a Confucian critique. Buddhism had its own relevance for some people at certain times, and Confucianism had its own. Confucianism had arrived, apparently, as a largely secular ethic with clear and distinct socio-political relevance that to many suggested not just independence, but even philosophical dominance.

3.10 Ghosts and Spirits

Neo-Confucian philosophical discussions, often featuring lengthy explanations of &ldquoghosts and spirits&rdquo (C: guishen J: kishin), differed markedly from ancient Confucianism. Confucius declined to discuss spiritual matters at length, even when asked about them specifically. Why address the world after, Confucius asked, when one has yet to master the way of humanity within this world? Confucius was not disrespectful of ceremonies for the spirits, but he did emphasize that he maintained a respectful distance from them. Still, if he found himself in attendance at such a ceremony, he behaved as if the spirits were actually there. Confucius&rsquo reluctance to discuss the spiritual dimension in any real detail has led many to speculate that he was an atheist, or perhaps a polite agnostic.

In the wake of Buddhism, however, it was impossible for Confucians to ignore the topic of ghosts and spirits. Buddhist literature went into great detail about the Western Paradise, or the Buddhist Pure Land, and the many layers of hell where sinners would be punished by wardens of hell. Graphic depictions of the spirit world, heaven, hell, demons, hungry ghosts, and angelic bodhisattvas made the accounts seem all the more credible. In Japan, Shinto as well had its own traditions of ghosts, spirits, goblins, and changelings. To counter such discourse, Neo-Confucians formulated their own explanations of spiritual phenomena, ones offering a more naturalistic account of the apparent activities of ghosts and spirits. These accounts can be interpreted as bordering on atheism or agnosticism and so are in keeping with Confucius&rsquo position, at least as some have interpreted it. Yet, they were far more lengthy overall than anything that Confucius or most prior Confucians had offered.

A key feature of Neo-Confucian philosophical discussions of ghosts and spirits is their naturalistic metaphysical character. Rather than purporting to describe particular spirits, many Neo-Confucians, following Cheng Yi, explained ghosts and spirits as &ldquotraces of the creative transformations of the world.&rdquo More specifically, Neo-Confucians often interpreted what appeared to be ghosts and spirits as &ldquothe spontaneous activities of the two generative forces,&rdquo yin and yang. As yin and yang expanded and contracted, spiritual forces purportedly emerged with yang, and ghostly forces with yin.

While casting ghosts and spirits in metaphysical terms that in certain respects seemed intent on explaining away ghosts and spirits, Neo-Confucians also affirmed that just as yin and yang pervade reality, so do ghosts and spirits. The spirits are simply the expansive and ghosts, the contractive forces of the world. Recognizing the interrelatedness of ghosts and spirits with the world at large, many Neo-Confucians associated spirits with heaven, spring and summer, morning, the sun, light, music, and so on, while ghosts were linked to the earth, fall and winter, evening, the moon, darkness, rituals, and so forth. With this analysis, Neo-Confucians did not deny spirits, but instead asserted that they infuse every aspect of reality just as surely as do yin and yang.

Providing a basis for ancestor worship, Neo-Confucians typically claimed that within a family line, there is a shared generative force, which entails a shared spirituality. This common spirituality is communicated through the male line in ancestral rites performed by sons to their fathers, grandfathers, and so on. Because the shared family line was considered essential to the shared spiritual basis, Neo-Confucians emphasized that if a family had to adopt a child, then it should take care to adopt a son from a male relative of the father so that the sacrifices offered by the adopted son might be happily accepted by the spirits. If adoption was outside the male line of the family, then offerings to the family ancestors would actually be communicated to the family line of the adopted son, leaving the family that had adopted the son unhappily neglected. In an effort to curb popular involvement in spiritualistic movements and practices, Neo-Confucians generally described as wanton and improper any participation in a religious ritual or ceremony that had no relationship with the larger family involved with them.

One of the more heterodox Neo-Confucian accounts of ghosts and spirits came from Ogyū Sorai. Unlike the naturalistic explanations provided by most Neo-Confucians, Sorai emphasized the integrity of the accounts of ghosts and spirits set forth by the ancient sage kings. Sorai asserted that since the ancient kings had said that there were spirits, then there must indeed be spirits. Likewise with ghosts, as well as a host of other spiritual beings. To question the existence of ghosts and spirits was, in Sorai&rsquos view, to disrespect the ancient sage kings. Sorai&rsquos insistence upon an unquestioning belief in ghosts and spirits, however, was more the exception than the mainstream view among early-modern Japanese Confucians.

3.11 Environment: Mountains, Rivers, and Forests

One of the great texts of Song dynasty Confucianism is Zhang Zai&rsquos (1020&ndash1070) &ldquoWestern Inscription&rdquo (Ximing). In its opening lines, Zhang states that he views heaven as his father, earth as his mother, and the ten thousand things of the world as his brothers and sisters. All that fills the space between heaven and earth he considers as his body. Elsewhere Zhang spoke more metaphysically, describing that which fills all between heaven and earth as qi, or the generative force (J: ki) that is the creative substantial being and energy of becoming in all things. Zhang also explained qi in terms of the great vacuity, a notion that sounds Buddhistic but was meant to capture the openness of all becoming to change and transformation. Yet in the end, qi was the rock bottom of Confucian realism, metaphysically speaking, and was in large part the ontological dimension of things that prompted Confucians throughout East Asia to take the world seriously not as a site of delusion and ignorance, but instead as a both the crucible of their being and an extension of themselves in becoming. Reportedly, Zhang&rsquos sense of oneness and kinship with everything between heaven and earth left him unable to cut the grass and bushes outside his window. Other Song Confucians offered their own vision of oneness with reality by declaring that the humane person forms one body with the ten thousand things of existence. These visions of oneness and kinship prompted Confucians to paint landscape (shanshui) paintings, literally paintings of mountains (shan) and water (shui), compose poetry alluding to the interrelatedness of things, and to direct public works projects meant to maintain the harmony and balance of heaven, earth, and humanity.

Zhang&rsquos &ldquoWestern Inscription&rdquo inspired Confucians throughout East Asia to develop philosophical thinking about their oneness with the natural world and its generative being, and to advance practical thinking about how to respectfully engage with the realm of heaven and earth. In Tokugawa Japan, this environmental concern took many forms. Kaibara Ekken&rsquos Plants of Japan (Yamato honzō), a kind of botanical study of Japanese medicinal plants and herbs, is one example. In his Instructions of Cultivating Life (Yōjōkun), Ekken emphasized the importance of nourishing one&rsquos ki, or generative force, in harmony with that of all between heaven and earth. Equally important, especially as an indicator of the perennial significance of Zhang Zai&rsquos &ldquoWestern Inscription&rdquo is Kumazawa Banzan&rsquos (1619&ndash1691) &ldquoWestern Inscription for Japanese&rdquo (Yamato nishi no mei), an expansive, vernacular commentary on Zhang Zai&rsquos brief text. In his Questions and Answers on the Great Learning (Daigaku wakumon), Banzan outlined various policy proposals, including limits on the construction of Buddhist temples and samurai castles, as a means of preventing deforestation. He also declared mountains, forests, and rivers &ndash metaphors for the natural world&mdashto be the foundations of the state, and essential components in the longevity of political lines. If a ruler forfeited these components of nature and his realm&rsquos balance with the natural world, then his line would pay the price. Banzan&rsquos writings reveal that even Confucians in the private sector were thinking proactively about achieving a sustainable equilibrium with the forces of nature, one that provided for both the best interests of human society and the integrity of natural growth and development.


1 For example, modern New Confucian Mou Zongsan claims that traditional China had no political rule, only governance, because it was monarchy thus the politics of Confucianism would be fruitless to current politics. See Zongsan , Mou , Zhengdao yu Zhidao [Political rule and governance], ( Guilin : Guangxi Normal Teacher's University Press , 2006 ), 1 – 25 Google Scholar .

2 There have been written criticisms and responses between Confucians in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and mainland China since 2015. In 2016, there was the first dialogue between them in Chendu city of Sichuan Province. The main contents were published in Tianfu Xinlun, no. 2 (2016): 1–82.

3 For a concrete description, see Zhigang , Zhang , “ Rujiao zhi Zheng Fansi ” [Reflection on the controversy about Confucianism], Wen Shi Zhe , no. 3 ( 2015 ): 98 – 168 Google Scholar . Regarding the comprehensive controversy in mainland China, see Zhong , Ren and Ming , Liu , eds. Rujiao Chongjian: Zhuzhang yu Huiying [Rebuilding Confucianism: claims and responses] ( Beijing : Chinese Political and Law University Press , 2012 )Google Scholar .

4 See Xinzhong , Yao , “ Religion and Zongjiao: Zhongguo yu Youtai-jidujiao Youguan Zongjiao Gainian Lijie de Bijiao Yanjiu ” [A comparative study of the understanding of religion between China and Christian], Xuehai , no. 1 ( 2004 ): 87 – 95 Google Scholar .

5 Jian , Zhang , Zhongguo Gudai Zhengjiao Guanxishi [History of state-religion relations in ancient China] ( Beijing : Chinese Social Science Press , 2012 ), 23 – 49 Google Scholar .

6 Lai , Pan-Chiu , “ Subordination, Separation, and Autonomy: Chinese Protestant Approaches to the Relationship between Religion and State ,” Journal of Law and Religion 35 , no. 1 ( 2020 ) (this issue)CrossRefGoogle Scholar .

7 There are a great many forms of Confucianism found in history. The famous scholar Li Shen has argued that Confucianism has been understood as a distinct religion since Dong Zhongshu, while before that it was understood to be but one part of traditional religion. See Shen , Li , Rujiao Jianshi [A simple history of Confucianism] ( Guilin : Guangxi Normal Teacher's University Press , 2013 ), 1–2 , 37 – 58 Google Scholar .

8 See Zehou , Li , Lishi Bentilun [A theory of historical ontology] ( Beijing : Life, Reading and Knowledge Bookstore , 2002 ), 51 – 56 Google Scholar .

9 Qing , Jiang , A Confucian Constitutional Order: How China's Ancient Past Can Shape Its Political Future , trans. Ryden , Edmund , ed. Bell , Daniel A. and Fan , Ruiping ( Princeton : Princeton University Press , 2013 ), 134 –37 230–233Google Scholar .

Watch the video: Classical Civs: Confucius, Daoism, Legalism (November 2021).