Doctrine of the Mean

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Doctrine of the Mean
Chinese 中庸

The Doctrine of the Mean (Chinese: 中庸; pinyin: Zhōng yōng), is both a doctrine of Confucianism and also the title of one of the Four Books of Confucian philosophy.

The text is attributed to Zisi (also known as Kong Ji), the only grandson of Confucius. It was published as a chapter in the Classic of Rites.

The phrase Doctrine of the Mean (zhōng yōng) first occurs in Book VI, verse 26 of the Analects of Confucius:

Analects never expands on what this term means, but Zisi's text, Doctrine of the Mean, explores its meaning in detail, as well as how to apply it to one's life. The text was adopted into the canon of the Neo-Confucian movement, as compiled by Zhu Xi.

Although Burton Watson translated zhōng yōng as Doctrine of the Mean, other English-language translators have rendered it differently. James Legge called it Constant Mean. Pierre Ryckmans (aka Simon Leys) Middle Way, while Arthur Waley chose Middle Use. Ezra Pound's attempts include Unswerving Pivot, and Unwobbling Pivot. Roger T. Ames and David L. Hall titled their 2001 translation Focusing the Familiar.


The Doctrine of the Mean is a text rich with symbolism and guidance to perfecting oneself. The mean is also described as the ["unswerving pivot" = Ezra Pound] 'unwobbling pivot' or zhongyong. Zhong means bent neither one way or another, and yong represents unchanging.[1] In James Legge's translation of the text, the goal of the mean is to maintain balance and harmony from directing the mind to a state of constant equilibrium. The person who follows the mean is on a path of duty and must never leave it. A superior person is cautious, a gentle teacher and shows no contempt for his or her inferiors. S/he always does what is natural according to her or his status in the world. Even common men and women can carry the mean into their practices, as long as they do not exceed their natural order.[2]

The Doctrine of the Mean represents moderation, rectitude, objectivity, sincerity, honesty and propriety.[3] The guiding principle is that one should never act in excess. The Doctrine of the Mean is divided into three parts:

  1. The Axis – Confucian Metaphysics
  2. The Process – Politics
  3. The Perfect Word/Sincerity – Ethics (The Great Digest and Unwobbling Pivot, 1951).

Tsze Sze's First Thesis, as stated in "The Great Digest and Unwobbling Pivot" (1951: pp. 99) further describes their connection:

What heaven has disposed and sealed is called the inborn nature. The realization of this nature is called the process. The clarification of this process [the understanding or making intelligible of this process] is called education (Pound's translation (1951)).

In Chinese society[edit]

In China prior to the twentieth century the Doctrine of the Mean was integrated into the education system state wide. Also, one of the prerequisites for employment in the imperial government was the study and understanding of the Four Classics, included in this is the Doctrine of the Mean. The imperial state wanted to reinforce the three bonds of society; between the parent and child, husband and wife, and ruler and subject. This was believed to emphasize a peaceful home and an orderly state.[citation needed]

Recently in China, the New Confucians revisited the Classics, because of its strong foundation in the educational system. Using the Doctrine of the Mean has become a useful source for New Confucians due to the similarities in the terminology and expression used by them and found within the text. This is further reinforced by the support from ancient sages and worthies who prefer education systems more closely linked to traditional Confucian thought.[citation needed]

Translation and study[edit]

Andrew Plaks wrote the essay "The mean, nature and self-realization. European translations of the Zhongyong", which was published in De l'un au multiple: Traductions du chinois vers les langues européenes. In his essay Plaks argues that since the text of the Doctrine of the Mean is "too easy", this factor is, as paraphrased by Joshua A. Fogel, an author of a book review for the De l'un au multiple book The Journal of Asian Studies, a "major impediment" to translation.[4]

Tsinghua cash features the text "Bao xun" 保訓 which shares the topos of centrality with the Zhongyong. [1]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Great Digest and Unwobbling Pivot, 1951.
  2. ^ Internet Sacred Text Archive, 2008.
  3. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica (2008). Britannica Encyclopedia. Rosen Pub Group. ISBN 1-59339-292-3. 
  4. ^ Fogel, p. 161.


  • Fogel, Joshua A. De l'un au multiple: Traductions du chinois vers les langues européenes (book review). The Journal of Asian Studies, ISSN 0021-9118, 02/2001, Volume 60, Issue 1, pp. 159 – 161. Available from JStor.
  • Gardner, Daniel. "Confucian Commentary and Chinese Intellectual History". The Journal of Asian Studies 57.2 (1998): 397-.
  • Hare, John. "The Chinese Classics". Internet Sacred Text Archive. 2008. Accessed: 27 October 2008.
  • Riegel, Jeffrey. "Confucius". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 2006. Accessed: 23 October 2008.
  • Pound, Ezra (translation and commentary). "The Great Digest & Unwobbling Pivot". New York, New York, USA: New Directions, 1951.
  • Smith, Huston. The World's Religions: Our Great Wisdom Traditions. New York, New York, USA: HarperCollins, 1991.
  • Williams, Edward T. "Ancient China" The Harvard Theological Review vol.9, no.3 (1916): 258-268.
  • Wing-Tsit Chan. "Neo-Confucianism: New Ideas on Old Terminology" Philosophy East and West vol.17, no. 1/4 (1967): 15-35.
  • "Zhongyong". Encyclopædia Britannica, 2008. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Accessed: 27 Oct 2008

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]