Xun Kuang

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This article is about the Chinese philosopher. For his work, see Xunzi (book).
Xun Kuang
Portrait of Xun Zi.jpg
Portrait of Xun Zi
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
Alternative Chinese name
Traditional Chinese 荀子
Simplified Chinese 荀子

Xun Kuang ([ɕy̌n kʰwâŋ]; Chinese: 荀況; pinyin: Xún Kuàng, c. 310 – c. 235 BC, alt. c. 314 – c. 217 BC),[1] also widely known as Xun Zi (Chinese: 荀子; pinyin: Xún Zǐ, "Master Xun"), was a Chinese Confucian philosopher who lived during the Warring States period and contributed to the Hundred Schools of Thought. A book known as the Xunzi is traditionally attributed to him. Xunzi's doctrines were influential in forming the official state doctrines of the Han dynasty, but his influence waned during the Tang dynasty relative to that of Mencius.[2]

Xunzi witnessed the chaos surrounding the fall of the Zhou dynasty and rise of the Qin state – which upheld "legalistic" doctrines focusing on state control, by means of law and penalties.[2] Unlike other Confucians, Xunzi allowed that penalties could play a legitimate, though secondary role in the state.[3] Educated in the state of Qi, Xunzi taught proponents of legalism, including the Qin Chancellor Li Si and Han Fei, and is sometimes considered a precursor to Han Fei or a Legalist himself. In reality, there is little evident influence of Xunzi on Han Fei.[4]

Like Shang Yang, Xunzi believed that humanity's inborn tendencies were evil and that ethical norms had been invented to rectify people. Xunzi's variety of Confucianism therefore has a darker, more pragmatic flavour than the optimistic Confucianism of Mencius, who tended to view humans as innately good. But like most Confucians, he believed that people could be refined through education and ritual,[5] while "Legalist" theory tends to ignore this in favour of law.

Xunzi mentioned Laozi as a figure for the first time in early Chinese history.[6]


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.[7][8]

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.[9]


  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. ^ (R.Eno), 2010 p.1. LEGALISM AND HUANG-LAO THOUGHT Indiana University, Early Chinese Thought [B/E/P374]. http://www.indiana.edu/~p374/Legalism.pdf
  4. ^ (R.Eno), 2010 p.2. LEGALISM AND HUANG-LAO THOUGHT Indiana University, Early Chinese Thought [B/E/P374]. http://www.indiana.edu/~p374/Legalism.pdf
  5. ^ INCIPIENT CHINESE BUREAUCRACY AND ITS IDEOLOGICAL RATIONALE: THE William C. Manso 1987 . p.271. CONFUCIANISM OF HSÜN TZǓ. Dialectical Anthropology, Vol. 12, No. 3 (1987), pp. 271-284 http://www.jstor.org/stable/29790241
  6. ^ Tae Hyun KIM 2010 p.18, Other Laozi Parallels in the Hanfeizi
  7. ^ Giles, Herbert (1898). A Chinese Biographical Dictionary. Bernard Quaritch (London). p. 315. 
  8. ^ Knoblock, John (1988). Xunzi: a translation and study of the complete works. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. p. 239. ISBN 0804714517. 
  9. ^ 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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