Cheng Yi (philosopher)
Imaginary of Cheng Yi by Shangguan Zhou (上官周, b. 1665).
|Died||1107 (aged 74)|
Cheng Yi (simplified Chinese: 程颐; traditional Chinese: 程頤; pinyin: Chéng Yí; Wade–Giles: Ch'eng I, 1033–1107), courtesy name Zhengshu (正叔), also known as Yichuan Xiansheng (伊川先生), was a Chinese philosopher of the Song Dynasty. He worked with his older brother Cheng Hao. Like his brother, he was a student of Zhou Dunyi, a friend of Shao Yong, and a nephew of Zhang Zai. The five of them along with Sima Guang are called the Six Great Masters by his follower Zhu Xi. He became a prominent figure in neo-Confucianism, and the philosophy of Cheng Yi, Cheng Hao and Zhu Xi is referred to as the Cheng–Zhu school or the Rationalistic School.
Cheng was born in Luoyang, Henan in 1033. Cheng entered the national university in 1056, and received the "presented scholar" degree in 1059. He lived and taught in Luoyang, and declined numerous appointments to high offices. He campaigned against the reformist policies of Wang Anshi, and after the reformers were dismissed from office, he was appointed expositor-in-waiting in 1086 to begin lecturing the emperor on Confucianism. He was more aggressive and obstinate than his brother, and made several enemies, including Su Shi, the leader of the Sichuan group. In 1097, his enemies were able to ban his teachings, confiscate his properties, and banish him. He was pardoned three years later, but was blacklisted and again his work was banned in 1103. He was finally pardoned in 1106, one year before his death.
A well known chengyu 程門立雪 refers to an incident when two men (Yang Shi and You Zuo) requesting to be taken on as his disciples stood in the snow for hours at his door and became renowned examples of the Confucian virtues of devotion to learning and respect for one's master.
Cheng Yi is widely believed to be responsible for the rise of the cult of widow chastity. He argued that it would be improper for a man to marry a widow since she had lost her integrity. On the question of widows who had become impoverished due to the death of their husbands, Cheng stated: "To starve to death is a small matter, but to lose one's chastity is a great matter." (餓死事小，失節事大) The practice of widow chastity that became common in the Ming and Qing dynasty would led to hardship and loneliness for many widows, as well as a dramatic increase in suicides by widows during the Ming era.
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