|Other names||Courtesy title (字): 元晦 Yuán Huì
Alias (号): 晦庵 Huì Àn
October 18, 1130|
Youxi, Fujian Province, China
|Died||April 23, 1200
|Alternative Chinese name|
|Literal meaning||Master Zhu|
Zhu Xi or Chu Hsi (Chinese: 朱熹, October 18, 1130 – April 23, 1200) was a Song Dynasty Confucian scholar who became the leading figure of the School of Principle and the most influential rationalist Neo-Confucian in China. His contributions to Chinese philosophy including his assigning special significance to the Analects of Confucius, the Mencius, the Great Learning, and the Doctrine of the Mean (the Four Books), his emphasis on the investigation of things (gewu), and the synthesis of all fundamental Confucian concepts, formed the basis of Chinese bureaucracy and government for over 700 years.
- 1 Life
- 2 Teachings
- 2.1 The Four Books
- 2.2 Vital force (qi 氣), principle (li 理), and the Supreme Ultimate (taiji 太極)
- 2.3 Human nature
- 2.4 Heart/Mind
- 2.5 Knowledge and action
- 2.6 The investigation of things and the extension of knowledge
- 2.7 Religion
- 2.8 Meditation
- 2.9 On teaching, learning, and the creation of an academy
- 3 Taoist and Buddhist influence on Zhu Xi
- 4 Zhu Xi's legacy
- 5 Achievements of Zhu Xi in the art of calligraphy
- 6 See also
- 7 Footnotes and references
- 8 Further reading
- 9 Complete works
- 10 External links
Zhu Xi, whose family originated in Wuyuan County, Huizhou (in modern Jiangxi province), was born in Fujian, where his father worked as the subprefectural sheriff. After his father was forced from office due to his opposition to the government appeasement policy towards the Jurchen in 1140, Zhu Xi received instruction from his father at home. Upon his father's death in 1143, he studied with his father's friends Hu Xian, Liu Zihui, and Liu Mianzhi. In 1148, at the age of 19, Zhu Xi passed the Imperial Examination and became a presented scholar. Zhu Xi's first official dispatch position was as Subprefectural Registrar of Tong'an (同安縣主簿), which he served from 1153 - 1156. From 1153 he began to study under Li Tong, who followed the Neo-Confucian tradition of Cheng Hao and Cheng Yi, and formally became his student in 1160. In 1179, after not serving in an official capacity since 1156, Zhu Xi was appointed Prefect of Nankang Military District (南康軍), where he revived White Deer Grotto Academy (白鹿洞書院). and got demoted 3 years later for attacking the incompetency and corruption of some influential officials. There were several instances of receiving an appointment and subsequently being demoted. Upon dismissal from his last appointment, he was accused of numerous crimes and a petition was made for his execution. Even though his teachings had been severely attacked by establishment figures, almost a thousand brave people attended his funeral. In 1208, eight years after his death, Emperor Ningzong of Song rehabilitated Zhu Xi and honored him with the posthumous name of Wen Gong (文公), meaning “Venerable gentleman of culture”. Around 1228, Emperor Lizong of Song honored him with the posthumous noble title Duke of (State) Hui (徽國公). In 1241, a memorial tablet to Zhu Xi was placed in the Confucian Temple at Qufu, thereby elevating him to Confucian sainthood. Today, Zhu Xi is venerated as one of the "Twelve Philosophers" (十二哲) of Confucianism. Modern Sinologists and Chinese often refer to him as Zhu Wen Kung (朱文公) in lieu of his name.
Zhu Xi was the son of a local official. He was educated in the Confucian tradition by his father and passed the highest civil service examination at the age of 18, when the average age for such an accomplishment was 35. Zhu Xi’s first official position (1151–58) was as a registrar in Tongan, Fujian. There he proceeded to reform the management of taxation and police, improve the library and the standards of the local school, and draw up a code of proper formal conduct and ritual, none being previously available. Before proceeding to Tongan, Zhu Xi called on Li Tong, a thinker in the tradition of Song Confucianism who decisively influenced his future thinking. He visited Li again in 1158 and spent several months studying with him in 1160. Li was one of the ablest followers of the 11th-century neo-Confucians who had created a new metaphysical system to compete with Buddhist and Daoist philosophy and regain the Confucian intellectual ascendancy lost for nearly a millennium. Under his influence, Zhu’s allegiance turned definitely to Confucianism at this time. After his assignment at Tongan ended, Zhu Xi did not accept another official appointment until 1179. He did, however, continue to express his political views in memorandums addressed to the emperor. Though Zhu Xi also remained involved in public affairs, his persistent refusal to accept a substantive public office reflected his dissatisfaction with the men in power and their policies, his spurning of factional politics, and his preference for the life of a teacher and scholar, which was made possible by his receipt of a series of government sinecures.
These years were productive in thought and scholarship as indicated both by his formal writings and by his correspondence with friends and scholars of diverse views. In 1175, for instance, he held a famous philosophical debate with the philosopher Lu Jiuyuan (Lu Xiangshan) at which neither man was able to prevail. In contrast to Lu’s insistence on the exclusive value of inwardness, Zhu Xi emphasized the value of inquiry and study, including book learning. Consistent with this view was Zhu Xi’s own prolific literary output. In a number of works, including a compilation of the works of the Cheng brothers and studies of Zhou Dunyi (1017–73) and Zhang Zai (1020–77), he expressed his esteem for these four philosophers, whose ideas he incorporated and synthesized into his own thought. According to Zhu Xi, these thinkers had restored the transmission of the Confucian Way (dao), a process that had been lost after the death of Mencius. In 1175 Zhu Xi and his friend Lu Ziqian (1137–81) compiled passages from the works of the four to form their famous anthology, Jinsi Lu (“Reflections on Things at Hand”). Zhu Xi’s philosophical ideas also found expression during this period in his enormously influential commentaries on the Lunyu (known in English as the Analects of Confucius) and on the Mencius, both completed in 1177. Zhu Xi also took a keen interest in history and directed a reworking and condensation of Sima Guang’s history, the Zizhi tongjian (“Comprehensive Mirror for Aid in Government”), so that it would illustrate moral principles in government. The resulting work, known as the Tongjian gangmu (“Outline and Digest of the General Mirror”), basically completed in 1172, was not only widely read throughout eastern Asia but also served as the basis for the first comprehensive history of China published in Europe, J.-A.-M. Moyriac de Mailla’s Histoire générale de la Chine (1777–85).
While serving as prefect (1179–81) in Nankang, Jiangsi, Zhu Xi used the opportunity to rehabilitate the White Deer Grotto Academy, which had been founded in the 9th century and had flourished in the 10th century but had later fallen to ruin. The prestige restored to it by Zhu was to last through eight centuries. Academies such as this provided an invaluable institutional basis for the neo-Confucian movement. In 1188 Zhu Xi wrote a major memorandum in which he restated his conviction that the emperor’s character was the basis for the well-being of the realm. Daxue (“Great Learning”), a text on moral government, asserted that by cultivating his mind the emperor set off a chain reaction leading to the moral transformation of the entire world. In 1189 Zhu Xi wrote an important commentary on this text, and he continued to work on Daxue for the rest of his life. Similarly, in 1189 he wrote a commentary on Zhongyong (known in the West as the “Doctrine of the Mean”). It was largely because of the influence of Zhu Xi that these two texts came to be accepted along with the Analects and Mencius as the Four Books basic to the Confucian educational curriculum.
On several occasions during his later career Zhu was invited to the imperial court and seemed destined for more influential positions, but his invariably frank and forceful opinions and his uncompromising attacks on corruption and political expediency each time brought his dismissal or his transfer to a new post conveniently distant from the capital. On the last of these occasions, near the end of his life, his enemies retaliated with virulent accusations concerning his views and conduct, and he was barred from political activity. He was still in political disgrace when he died in 1200. Zhu Xi’s reputation was rehabilitated soon after his death, however, and posthumous honours for him followed in 1209 and 1230, culminating in the placement of his tablet in the Confucian Temple in 1241. In later centuries, rulers more authoritarian than those he had criticized, discreetly forgetting his political and intellectual nonconformity, made his philosophic system the sole orthodox creed, which it remained until the end of the 19th century. 
The Four Books
During the Song Dynasty, Zhu Xi's teachings were considered to be unorthodox. Rather than focusing on the I Ching like other Neo-Confucians, he chose to emphasize the Four Books: the Great Learning, the Doctrine of the Mean, the Analects of Confucius, and the Mencius as the core curriculum for aspiring scholar officials. For all these classics he wrote extensive commentaries that were not widely recognized in his time; however, they later became accepted as the standard commentaries. The Four Books served as the basis of civil service examinations up until 1905, and education in the classics often began with Zhu Xi's commentaries as the cornerstone for understanding them.
Vital force (qi 氣), principle (li 理), and the Supreme Ultimate (taiji 太極)
Zhu Xi maintained that all things are brought into being by the union of two universal aspects of reality: qi, sometimes translated as vital (or physical, material) force; and li, sometimes translated as rational principle (or law). The source and sum of li is the Taiji (Wade-Giles: T‘ai Chi), meaning the Supreme Ultimate. The source of qi (Wade-Giles: ch‘i) is not so clearly stated by Zhu Xi, leading some authorities to maintain that he was a metaphysical monist and others to maintain that he was a metaphysical dualist.
According to Zhu Xi's theory, every physical object and every person has its li and therefore has contact in its metaphysical core with the Taiji. What is referred to as the human soul, mind, or spirit is understood as the Taiji, or the supreme creative principle, as it works its way out in a person.
Qi and li operate together in mutual dependence. They are mutually aspective in all creatures in the universe. These two aspects are manifested in the creation of substantial entities. When their activity is waxing (rapid or expansive), that is the yang energy mode. When their activity is waning (slow or contractive), that is the yin energy mode. The yang and yin phases constantly interact, each gaining and losing dominance over the other. In the process of the waxing and waning, the alternation of these fundamental vibrations, the so-called five elements (fire, water, wood, metal, and earth) evolve. Zhu Xi argues that li existed even before Heaven and Earth 
In terms of li and qi, Zhu Xi's system strongly resembles Buddhist ideas of li (again, principle) and shi (affairs, matters), though Zhu Xi and his followers strongly argued that they were not copying Buddhist ideas. Instead, they held, they were using concepts already present long before in the I Ching.
Zhu Xi discussed how he saw the Supreme Ultimate concept to be compatible with principle of Taoism, but his concept of Taiji was different from the understanding of Tao in Daoism. Where Taiji is a differentiating principle that results in the emergence of something new, Dao is still and silent, operating to reduce all things to equality and indistinguishability. He argued that there is a central harmony that is not static or empty but was dynamic, and that the Supreme Ultimate is itself in constant creative activity.
Zhu Xi considered the earlier Confucian Xun Zi to be a heretic for departing from Mencius' idea of innate human goodness. Even if people displayed immoral behaviour, the supreme regulative principle was good. The cause of immoral actions is qi. Zhu Xi's metaphysics is that everything contains li and qi. Li is the principle that is in everything and governs the universe. Each person has a perfect li. As such, individuals should act in perfect accordance with morality. However, while li is the underlying structure, qi is also part of everything. Qi obscures our perfect moral nature. The task of moral cultivation is to clear our qi. If our qi is clear and balanced, then we will act in a perfectly moral way.
Clarity of mind and purity of heart are ideal in Confucian philosophy. In the following poem, "Reflections While Reading - 1" Zhu Xi illustrates this concept by comparing the mind to a mirror, left covered until needed that simply reflects the world around it, staying clear by the flowing waters symbolizing the Tao. In Chinese, the mind was sometimes called "the square inch," which is the literal translation of the term alluded to in the beginning of the poem.
A small square pond an uncovered mirror
where sunlight and clouds linger and leave
I asked how it stays so clear
it said spring water keeps flowing in
(translation by Red Pine)
Knowledge and action
According to Zhu Xi's epistemology, knowledge and action were indivisible components of truly intelligent activity. Although he did distinguish between the priority of knowing, since intelligent action requires forethought, and the importance of action, as it produces a discernible effect, Zhu Xi said "Knowledge and action always require each other. It is like a person who cannot walk without legs although he has eyes, and who cannot see without eyes although he has legs. With respect to order, knowledge comes first, and with respect to importance, action is more important." 
The investigation of things and the extension of knowledge
Zhu Xi advocated gewu, the investigation of things. How to investigate and what these things are is the source of much debate. To Zhu Xi, the things are moral principles and the investigation involves paying attention to everything in both books and affairs because "moral principles are quite inexhaustible".
Zhu Xi did not hold to traditional ideas of God or Heaven (Tian), though he discussed how his own ideas mirrored the traditional concepts. He encouraged an agnostic tendency within Confucianism, because he believed that the Supreme Ultimate was a rational principle, and he discussed it as an intelligent and ordering will behind the universe (while stating that "Heaven and Earth have no mind of their own" and promoting their only function was to produce things. Whether this can be considered a conscious or intelligent will is clearly up to debate).<See W.T.Chan Source-Book Zhu Xi, Ch.11, #127, pg.643> He did not promote the worship of spirits and offerings to images. Although he practiced some forms of ancestor worship, he disagreed that the souls of ancestors existed, believing instead that ancestor worship is a form of remembrance and gratitude.
Zhu Xi practiced a form of daily meditation called jingzuo similar to, but not the same as, Buddhist dhyana or chan ding (Wade-Giles: ch'an-ting). His meditation did not require the cessation of all thinking as in some forms of Buddhism; rather, it was characterised by quiet introspection that helped to balance various aspects of one's personality and allowed for focused thought and concentration.
His form of meditation was by nature Confucian in the sense that it was concerned with morality. His meditation attempted to reason and feel in harmony with the universe. He believed that this type of meditation brought humanity closer together and more into harmony.
On teaching, learning, and the creation of an academy
Zhu Xi heavily focused his energy on teaching, claiming that learning is the only way to sagehood. He wished to make the pursuit of sagehood attainable to all men.
He lamented more modern printing techniques and the proliferation of books that ensued. This, he believed, made students less appreciative and focused on books, simply because there were more books to read than before. Therefore, he attempted to redefine how students should learn and read. In fact, disappointed by local schools in China, he established his own academy, White Deer Grotto Academy, to instruct students properly and in the proper fashion.
Taoist and Buddhist influence on Zhu Xi
Zhu Xi wrote what was to became the orthodox Confucian interpretation of a number of concepts in Taoism and Buddhism. While he appeared to have adopted some ideas from these competing systems of thought, unlike previous Neo-Confucians he strictly abided by the Confucian doctrine of active moral cultivation. He found Buddhist principles to be darkening and deluding the original mind as well as destroying human relations.
Zhu Xi's legacy
From 1313 to 1905, Zhu Xi's commentaries on the Four Books formed the basis of civil service examinations in China. His teachings were to dominate Neo-Confucians such as Wang Fuzhi, though dissenters would later emerge such as Wang Yangming and the School of Mind two and a half centuries later.
His philosophy survived the Intellectual Revolution of 1917, and later Feng Youlan would interpret his conception of li, qi, and taiji into a new metaphysical theory.
He was also influential in Japan known as Shushigaku (朱子学, School of Zhu Xi), and in Korea known as Jujahak (주자학), where it became an orthodoxy.
Achievements of Zhu Xi in the art of calligraphy
This renowned neo-Confucianist, educator and thinker from Southern Sung dynasty had, from an early age, followed his father and a number of great calligraphers at the time in practicing this art. At first he learned the style of Cao Cao, but later specialized in the regular script of Zhong Yao and the running cursive script of Yan Zhenqing. As he never ceased practicing, he reached a superb level in the art characterized by overpowering strength. Since then, though his manuscripts left to the world are piecemeal and incomplete, they have been regarded as invaluable for collection. While he bequeathed to posterity quite a bit of calligraphy which has been highly acclaimed in history, it is regrettable that most of it has been lost. Moreover, since the Yuan dynasty, his school of philosophy has been adopted as the official ideology of China. His philosophy not only profoundly affected traditional Chinese thinking and culture, but also spread outside China with tremendous influence. He has been hailed as one of the ten key philosophers of the Confucian School. His fame in the realm of philosophy was so great that even his brilliance in calligraphy was overshadowed. He was skillful in both running and cursive scripts, and more especially in large characters. His extant artworks consist mainly of short written notes in running script and rarely of large characters. His authentic manuscripts are collected by Nanjing Museum, Beijing Palace Museum, Liao Ning Province Museum, China; Taipei Palace Museum and the National Museum of Tokyo, Japan. Some pieces are in private collections in China and overseas. The Thatched Hut Hand Scroll, one of Zhu Xi's masterpieces in running-cursive script, is in an overseas private collection.
Thatched Hut Hand Scroll contains three separate parts:
- 102 characters by Zhu Xi in running cursive scripts
- The postscripts by Wen Tianxiang (1236～1283) of Sung dynasty, Fang Xiaoru (1375～1402), Zhu Yunming (1460–1526), Tang Yin (1470～1523) and Hai Rui (1514～1587) of the Ming dynasty.
The calligraphy of Zhu Xi had been acclaimed as acquiring the style of the Han and Wei dynasties. He was skillful in the central tip, and his brush strokes are smooth and round, steady yet flowing in the movements without any trace of frivolity and abruptness. Indeed, his calligraphy possesses stability and elegance in construction with a continuous flow of energy. Without trying to be pretentious or intentional, his written characters are well-balanced, natural and unconventional. As he was a patriarch of Confucianism philosophy, it is understandable that his learning permeated in all his writings with due respect for traditional standards. He maintained that while rules had to be observed for each word, there should be room for tolerance, multiplicity and naturalness. In other words, calligraphy had to observe rules and at the same time not be bound by them so as to express the quality of naturalness. It's small wonder that his calligraphy had been highly esteemed throughout the centuries, by great personages as follows:
Tao Chung Yi (around 1329～1412) of Ming dynasty:
Whilst Master Zhu inherited the orthodox teaching and propagated it to the realm of sages and yet he was also proficient in running and cursive scripts, especially in large characters. His execution of brush was well-poised and elegant. However piecemeal or isolated his manuscripts, they were eagerly sought after and treasured.
Wang Sai Ching (1526–1590) of Ming dynasty:
The brush strokes in his calligraphy were swift without attempting at formality, yet none of his strokes and dots were not in conformity with the rules of calligraphy.
People in the olden days said that there was embedded the bones of loyal subject in the calligraphy of Yan Zhenqing. Observing the execution of brush strokes by Zhu Xi, I am indeed convinced of the truth of this opinion.
Master Zhu was loyal, learned and a great scholar throughout ages . He was superb in calligraphy although he did not write much in his lifetime and hence they were rarely seen in later ages. This roll had been collected by Wong Sze Ma for a long time and of late, it appeared in the world. I chanced to see it once and whilst I regretted that I did not try to study it extensively until now, in the study room of my friend, I was so lucky to see it again. This showed that I am destined to see the manuscripts of master Zhu. I therefore wrote this preface for my intention.
The writings are enticing, delicate, elegant and outstanding. Truly such calligraphy piece is the wonder of nature.
- Zhou Dunyi
- Lu Jiuyuan
- Wang Yangming
- Wang Fuzhi
- Feng Youlan
- Yuelu Academy
- White Deer Grotto Academy
- Classical Chinese writers
- Yi Hwang or Toegye, A Korean Confucian scholar of the Joseon Dynasty
- Yi I or Yulgok, A Korean Confucian scholar of the Joseon Dynasty
- Fujiwara Seika, Japanese follower of the philosophy of Zhu Xi
- Hayashi Razan, Seika's student & Tokugawa political theorist
- Hayashi Gahō, Tokugawa shogunate academician/scholar/bureaucrat
- Kaibara Ekken, Edo period writer/botanist/philosopher
Footnotes and references
- Gardner, pp. 3 - 6
- Chan 1963: 588.
- Chan 1989: 34.
- Chan 1989: 34. Hui refers to Hui-chou his ancestral place in Anhui, now Jiangxi.
- Gardner 1989: 9.
- "World Architecture Images- Beijing- Confucius Temple". Chinese-architecture.info. Retrieved 2013-04-22.
- Chan 1963: 589.
- Red Pine, Poems of the Masters, Copper Canyon Press, 2003, p. 164.
- Zhu Xi 1986, Zhuzi yulei, Beijing; Zhonghua Shuju, p.1
- The Complete Works of Chu Hsi, section 20 in Chan 1963: 609.
- The Complete Works of Chu Hsi, section 26 in Chan 1963: 609.
- The Complete Works of Chu Hsi, section 27 in Chan 1963: 610.
- The Complete Works of Chu Hsi, section 147 in Chan 1963: 653.
- The Complete Works of Chu Hsi, section 138 in Chan 1963: 647.
- J. Percy Bruce. Chu Hsi and His Masters, Probsthain & Co., London, 1922.
- Daniel K. Gardner. Learning To Be a Sage, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1990. ISBN 0-520-06525-5.
- Bruce E. Carpenter. 'Chu Hsi and the Art of Reading' in Tezukayama University Review (Tezukayama daigaku ronshū), Nara, Japan, no. 15, 1977, pp. 13–18. ISSN 0385-7743
- Wing-tsit Chan, Chu Hsi: Life and Thought (1987). ISBN 0-312-13470-3.
- Wing-tsit Chan, Chu Hsi: New Studies. University of Hawaii Press: 1989. ISBN 978-0-8248-1201-0
- Gedalecia, D (1974). "Excursion Into Substance and Function." Philosophy East and West. vol. 4, 443-451.
- Hoyt Cleveland Tillman, Utilitarian Confucianism: Ch‘en Liang's Challenge to Chu Hsi (1982)
- Wm. Theodore de Bary, Neo-Confucian Orthodoxy and the Learning of the Mind-and-Heart (1981), on the development of Zhu Xi's thought after his death
- Wing-tsit Chan (ed.), Chu Hsi and Neo-Confucianism (1986), a set of conference papers
- Donald J. Munro, Images of Human Nature: A Sung Portrait (1988), an analysis of the concept of human nature in Zhu Xi's thought
- Wing-tsit Chan, Reflections On Things at Hand, New York, 1967. Translation of《近思录》.
- Wing-tsit Chan (translated and compiled), A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1963.
- Zhu Xi (translated with a commentary by Daniel K. Gardner) "Learning To Be a Sage: Selections From the Conversations of Master Chu, Arranged Topically". Berkeley, University of California Press, 1990.
- Zhu Xi, compiled by Li Jingde. Beijing: Zhonghua Shuju, 1986
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Zhu Xi.|
- Zhu Xi entry in the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- Zhu Xi and his Calligraphy Gallery at China Online Museum
- Chu Hsi and Divination - Joseph A. Adler
- Stillness & Activity - Joseph A. Adler
- Works by Zhu Xi at Project Gutenberg
- First part of the Classified Conversations of Master Zhu