Published 20 Sep 2017
Neo-Confucianism is a somewhat modified version of traditional Confucianism. It appeared during the Song dynasty, which stretched between the tenth and thirteenth century A.D. At that time, some Buddhist precepts were integrated into Confucianism, as well as beliefs from other forms of Eastern ways of thinking, such as Taoism and the I Ching. This paper will be used to discuss Neo-Confucianism, the effects it had on Chinese civilization, and some of its benefits and drawbacks. In addition, I will attempt to apply the belief to my own life.
Neo-Confucianism is a form of traditional Confucianism that has been modified to incorporate values from other Eastern belief systems. During the twelfth century, during the Song dynasty, Zhu Xi synthesized Confucianism with ideals from Buddhism, Taoism, and the I Ching, as well as other similar ways of believing. Zhu Xi did so despite the Song contention that Buddhism offered little philosophy that had practical application. And, despite the concerns over the practical applications of Buddhism, Zhu Xi integrated these beliefs into the Confucian Classics. As part of the Confucian Classics, Neo-Confucianism was part of the Chinese civil service exam until 1905 (Murphey page #).
During the creation of Neo-Confucianism, Zhu Xi created a series of works that set forth a strict code of behavior. This code of behavior, according to Chinavoc.com:
became the official imperial ideology from late Song times to the late nineteenth century. As incorporated into the examination system, Zhu Xi’s philosophy evolved into a rigid official creed, which stressed the one-sided obligations of obedience and compliance of subject to ruler, child to father, wife to husband, and younger brother to elder brother. (par. 5)
The effect of this strict code was such that China’s society was essentially made static, with behavior that sought to comply with restrictive feudal ideals. The few changes that were made to the society were made slowly, over generations. This lack of societal growth extended into the nineteenth century, which effectively created cultural stagnation for that period.
However, in addition to this cultural stagnation, Neo-Confucianism radically changed the austere and practical nature of traditional Confucianism to reflect the other, less physically grounded, ways of thinking. Regardless, these changes did no have a major, lasting effect on the public mind. Instead, as Murphey points out, Neo-Confucianism “contributed to a stagnation of ideas and resistance to change and reform a period of centuries (Murphey date).
According to Zhu Xi’s philosophy that which is inborn to the child is the child’s “nature.” This human nature is essentially good in all people, which I fundamentally believe, although I question how to reconcile this belief with people like serial killers and child molesters. Perhaps that is because I have a hard time separating “human nature” from what Zhu Xi describes as “passions.” However, I suppose it is possible for an essentially good person to have a bad temper, so in that way I can understand some kind of separation between the two.
I believe that I try to live my life to find “the Way,” even if I’ve never called it that. I have difficulty with stillness, since I have always got to have something to do with myself. However, I do feel as if I am making strides with myself in terms of not caring about possessions. This example might be a poor one; however, I feel uncomfortable when someone asks me what I want for a gift and I feel more comfortable giving gifts than when receiving them. This position, I believe, corresponds with Confucious’ statement about “The Gentleman,” that “The gentleman cherishes virtue; the inferior man cherishes possessions” (de Bary, Chan, and Watson 31). There is a lot about Confucianism and Neo-Confucianism that I don’t understand. Living by those strict rules does not appeal to me at this stage of my life, although I can understand how abiding by them could possibly bring someone peace of mind.
Neo-Confucianism is a derivation of traditional Confucianism. It had some seriously negative effects on Chinese society, in that its rules were harsh and that it was tied to civil service exams. While I respect those who practice both Confucianism and Neo-Confucianism for their discipline in doing so, that choice and lifestyle does not appeal to me at this stage in my life.
- Chinavoc. “The Song Dynasty ( AD 960-1279 ).” 2002. 2 June 2007.
- De Bary, William Theodore, Wing-tsit Chan, and Burton Watson. Sources of Chinese Tradition. New York: Columbia University Press, date.