Xun Kuang

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This article is about the Chinese philosopher. For his work, see Xunzi (book).
Xun Kuang
Born c. 313 BC
State of Zhao
Died c. 238 BC (aged 74–75)
State of Chu
Occupation Philosopher
Opponent(s) Mencius, Zisi
Xun Kuang
Chinese 荀況

Xun Kuang ([ɕy̌n kʰwâŋ]; Chinese: 荀況, c. 310 – c. 235 BC, alt. c. 314 – c. 217 B.C.),[1] known as "Master Xun" (Xunzi), was a Chinese Realist Confucian philosopher who lived during the Warring States period and contributed to one of the Hundred Schools of Thought. Educated in the state of Qi, the Xunzi, an influential collection of essays is traditionally attributed to him. Witnessing the chaos surrounding the fall of the Zhou dynasty and rise of the Legalistic Qin state, the philosophy of the Confucian Xunzi has a darker, pragmatic, flavour compared to Confucian optimism of Mencius's view that man is innately good. Xunzi's doctrines were influential in forming the official state doctrine of the Han Dynasty, but during the Tang Dynasty his influence waned compared to that of Mencius.[2]

Xunzi would be the teacher of Qin Chancellor Li Si and Realpolitikal synthesizer Han Feizi, proponents of Legalism believing in control of the state by law and penalty.[2] Like Shang Yang he believed that man's inborn tendencies were evil, and that ethical norms had been invented to rectify mankind. Because of this, he is sometimes associated with Legalism. But like most Confucians he focuses on and believed that man could be refined through education and ritual.


Xunzi was born Xun Kuang (荀況). Some texts recorded his surname as Sun (孫) instead of Xun, either because the two surnames were homophones in antiquity or because Xun was a naming taboo during the reign of Emperor Xuan of Han (73–48 BC), whose given name was Xun. Herbert Giles and John Knoblock both consider the naming taboo theory more likely.[3][4]

The early years of Xunzi's life are enshrouded in mystery. Nothing is known of his lineage. Sima Qian records that he was born in Zhao, and Anze County has erected a large memorial hall at his supposed birthplace. He was first known at the age of fifty, around 264 BC, when he went to the state of Qi to study and teach at the Jixia Academy. Xunzi was well respected in Qi; the King Xiang of Qi honoured him as a teacher and a libationer.

It was around this time that Xunzi visited the state of Qin and praised its governance, and debated military affairs with Lord Linwu (臨武君) in the court of King Xiaocheng of Zhao. Later, Xunzi was slandered in the Qi court, and he retreated south to the state of Chu, where Lord Chunshen, the prime minister, gave him a position as Magistrate of Lanling (蘭陵令). In 238 BC, Lord Chunshen was assassinated by a court rival and Xunzi subsequently lost his position. He remained in Lanling, a region in what is today's southern Shandong province, for the rest of his life and was buried there. The year of his death is unknown.[5]

Of his disciples, the most notable are Li Si (prime minister to the First Emperor of Qin) and the Han state royal Han Feizi, who developed the quasi-authoritarian aspects of his thought into the doctrine called the School of Law, or Legalism. Because of Li Si and Han Feizi's staunch anti-Confucian stances, Xunzi's reputation as a Confucian philosopher has often come into question.


  1. ^ Knechtges & Shih (2014), p. 1757.
  2. ^ a b de Bary, William Theodore; Bloom, Irene, eds. (1999). Sources of Chinese Tradition: From Earliest Times to 1600 1. New York: Columbia University Press. pp. 159–160. ISBN 978-0231109390. 
  3. ^ Giles, Herbert (1898). A Chinese Biographical Dictionary. Bernard Quaritch (London). p. 315. 
  4. ^ Knoblock, John (1988). Xunzi: a translation and study of the complete works. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. p. 239. ISBN 0804714517. 
  5. ^ Watson, Burton (2003). Xunzi: Basic Writings. Columbia University Press. pp. 2, 120, 132–133, 145–146, 148, 154, 163–165, 170, 174. ISBN 978-0231129657. 


  • Cua, A.S. (1985). Ethical Argumentation: A Study in Hsün Tzu's Moral Epistemology. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 0-8248-0942-4. 
  • Knechtges, David R.; Shih, Hsiang-lin (2014). "Xunzi 荀子". In Knechtges, David R.; Chang, Taiping. Ancient and Early Medieval Chinese Literature: A Reference Guide, Part Three. Leiden: Brill. pp. 1757–65. ISBN 978-90-04-27216-3. 
  • Loewe, Michael (1993). "Hsün tzu 荀子". In Loewe, Michael. Early Chinese Texts: A Bibliographical Guide. Berkeley: Society for the Study of Early China; Institute of East Asian Studies, University of California Berkeley. pp. 178–88. ISBN 1-55729-043-1. 
  • Munro, Donald J. (2001). The Concept of Man in Early China. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan. ISBN 978-0892641512. 
  • Schwartz, Benjamin I. (1985). The World of Thought in Ancient China. Cambridge, MA.: Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-96190-0. 

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