Toward the Ecumenical Unity of East and West
The Renaissances of Confucian China and Christian Europe
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The millions of people throughout the world who watched the 1989 revolutionary upsurge in China were awed and inspired by images of universal culture presented by the courageous young demonstrators: Beethoven's heroic Choral Symphony played over the students' loudspeakers; the Goddess of Democracy statue; quotations from Abraham Lincoln on large banners. To the Chinese who were observing these events (or were participating in them) another image presented itself for reflectionan image from Chinese antiquity. In the closing chapter of the Analects (or The Discourses) of Confucius, the sage quotes a great Emperor of an earlier age giving instructions to his appointed successor as his own death drew near: "If there shall be distress and want within the Empire, the mandate of Heaven shall be taken away from you forever."
Author's note- The author's former highly critical view of the Deng Xiaoping- led reform movement, and the post-Cultural Revolution Chinese leadership generally, has significantly changed, for the better, since the time this article was written. But the importance of reviving Chinese Classical Culture, and the dialogue with Western Classical Culture, as presented historically here, remains crucial to China and the world.
The author's further development of these themes can be found in FIDELIO, Fall, 1994, "The Taoist Perversion of 20th Century Science"; FIDELIO, Summer , 1995, "The European Enlightenment and the Middle Kingdom"; and FIDELIO, Fall 1997, "The Deconstructionist Assault on China's Cultural Optimism." (April, 2002)
I consider it a singular plan of the fates that human cultivation and refinement should today be concentrated, as it were, in the two extremes of our continent, in Europe and in China, which adorns the Orient as Europe does the opposite edge of the earth. Perhaps Supreme Providence has ordained such an arrangement, so that, as the most cultivated and distant peoples stretch out their arms to each other, those in between may gradually be brought to a better way of life.
Novissima Sinica, 1697
Ignoring the Confucian warning, Margaret Thatcher and George Bush defied Heaven and rushed to defend Deng Xiao-ping's Communist regime, even before the blood was washed away and the dead were buried. Henry Kissinger praised Deng's pragmatism and insisted that moral considerations should not sway the response in the West. Bush sent Kissinger Associates executives Brent Scowcroft and Lawrence Eagleburger as official emissaries to meet with Deng; their message: continue driving millions of desperate unemployed Chinese peasants and workers into the colonial-style "concessions" (now called "Special Economic Zones") along the coast, providing cheap labor to foreign investors, and the Anglo-Americans will protect the regime from the righteous anger of the world's citizens.
The Communist Party of China (C.P.C.) which Bush was protecting, is a modern expression of the most infamous reign of terror in Chinese history, that of Emperor Ch'in Shi-huang (reigned 221-206 b.c.) The Ch'in Empire was based on the principles of Legalism and Taoism, the sworn enemies of the moral teachings of the Confucian school established by Confucius (551-479 b.c.) and Mencius (372-289 b.c.). Emperor Ch'in Shi-huang, whom Mao Zedong revered as his hero and mentor, is most famous for burning the Confucian scholars alive, along with their classical texts, while imposing a vast forced-labor policy on a population stripped of education and culture. Most importantly, the Legalists and Taoists, like Mao, rejected the Confucian belief that man was fundamentally good, owing to the power of reason bestowed by the grace of Heaven. Instead, they considered man to be a mere beast, devoid of any higher spiritual qualities, driven only by greed and the sensual passions.
Among men and women of moral conscience, the Tiananmen massacre provoked a response more in keeping with the Confucian dictum, however. In Eastern Europe, the courage of the Tiananmen martyrs inspired millions of citizens to overcome the fear that had held them captive to years of Communist tyranny. As the Berlin Wall fell, the world witnessed with joy a recurrence of the images from Tiananmenmass, peaceful demonstrations against the armed might of the state, accompanied by the music of Bach and Beethoven. Here, too, the Anglo-American leadership rushed to defend the Communist dictatorships which had, in their view, served to keep the European continent divided and weak. Unlike the situation in China, however, the spirit of freedom prevailed.
Today, that freedom is about to be lost. Rather than the expected support from the West, the ex-Communist states received "shock therapy." Motivated by "geopolitical," balance-of-power considerations, the I.M.F. has acted to prevent the economic recovery of these nations, fearing a potential alliance of European and Asian nations for the economic development of the Eurasian landmass.
This "divide and conquer" mentality was perhaps best expressed by the racist Rudyard Kipling, the apologist for the British Empire's rape and looting of "lesser races," who said, "East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet." Such statements were not philosophical ruminations, but statements of policy: the fruits of Western science and technology were to be denied to the East, while the moral, ethical, and cultural heritage of the East would be distorted and hidden in a cloak of "inscrutability" from Western minds.
The revolutionary upsurge which swept from Beijing to Berlin to Moscow, despite severe setbacks, has unleashed the universal moral spirit needed to unite East and West in a new Renaissance. The Maoist efforts to extirpate the Confucian moral tradition from the soul of Chinese youth has failed, just as the Christian concept of the divine nature of the individual has survived communist thought-control in Eastern Europe.
Each of these moral traditions was enhanced by a great Renaissance during the first half of the current millennium, which renewed and strengthened its philosophical inheritance from antiquity. The purpose of this study is to demonstrate that the Chinese Renaissance of the eleventh- and twelfth-century Sung Dynasty, associated with the Neo-Confucian school of Chu Hsi ( 1130-1200 a.d.), paralleled in all fundamental aspects the Christian Renaissance of fifteenth-century Europe. In particular, we will compare the extraordinary coherence between Chu Hsi's work and that of the central figure of the Christian Renaissance, Cardinal Nicholas of Cusa (Cusanus) (1401-64). Reference to the works of a crucial predecessor of Cusanus, St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-74, more nearly a contemporary of Chu Hsi) will reinforce this comparison.
Cusanus dedicated himself to the effort to reconstitute the divided Christian Church upon the basis of the conception of man created imago viva dei, in the living image of God, as expressed in the Christian Trinity. He set about proving this concept scientifically, historically, and philosophically, drawing on the works of Plato as well as the Church Fathers and St. Augustine. These efforts, which led to the brief unification of Christendom achieved at the 1437-39 Council of Florence, were the launching pad for the achievements of the Golden Renaissance in the arts and sciences.
Cusanus strove to establish world peace by forging an ecumenical agreement between Christendom and those whose belief in God was expressed through the other major religions of the world. His method was to demonstrate that the revealed truth of the Christian Trinity, the existence of the Triune GodGod the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spiritwas also a scientific truth imbedded in the lawfulness of Creation, and that, therefore, every sincere seeker after truth would necessarily be brought to discover this natural law reflection of the Trinity. In De Pace Fidei (On the Peace of Faith), Cusanus uses this method to create an ecumenical dialogue between Christian, Moslem, Jew, Buddhist, pagan, and others.
Cusanus was not familiar with Confucianism, however, let alone with Chu Hsi's twelfth-century contributions to Confucian knowledge. An included result of this study, therefore, will be to extend Cusanus' ecumenical approach to embrace China and Confucianism, demonstrating the coherence of the fundamental conceptions and worldview of Sung Renaissance Confucianism with the natural law expression of the Christian Trinity.
An Ecumenical "Grand Design"
The greatest scientist and statesman of modern European history, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716), did make extensive studies of Confucianism, however, and of Chu Hsi in particular, through his correspondence with Jesuit missionaries in China. This collaboration represented the first, and perhaps the only, serious effort by the West to discover the truths that made possible the development of the largest and oldest civilization in the world.
Following the Golden Renaissance, as part of the same process that led to the discovery and evangelization of the Americas, Christian missionaries from the Society of Jesus settled in China, studying and translating the Chinese classics, while preaching the Christian message and teaching the scientific discoveries of the Renaissance. They found in the ancient Chinese sages and the Sung Neo-Confucians, a deep understanding of natural law, and found nothing to conflict with the potential to adopt the Christian faith.
Back in Europe, Leibniz followed these developments with avid interest and hope. The existence in China of an ancient culture so in keeping with the truths of natural law discovered by Western civilization, were proof to Leibniz that the human mind must, through reason, naturally arrive at these truthsor, as he said, that these truths were "inscribed in our hearts" for all to read.
Father Matteo Ricci (1552-1610), the Jesuit priest who led the opening to China in 1581, had received intensive training in Rome in the scientific breakthroughs of the Renaissance, including the construction of astronomical and musical instruments. He believed that the leap in scientific progress in Renaissance Italy was inseparable from the parallel developments in Christian theology, but insisted that such scientific knowledge was not a "secret" of the West, but the patrimony of all mankind. He found the Chinese to be of a moral disposition to embrace Christianity, while also willing and anxious to enhance their rich scientific heritage with the scientific ideas and technologies that the Jesuits brought with them. Ricci concluded that if the Chinese would reject Buddhism and Taoism, and also reject polygamy and a few other relatively minor rites, they "could certainly become Christians, since the essence of their doctrine contains nothing contrary to the essence of the Catholic faith, nor would the Catholic faith hinder them in any way, but would indeed aid in that attainment of the quiet and peace of the republic which their books claim as their goal."
Leibniz, later, reflecting on the writings of the Jesuits and his own study of the classics, characterized Confucianism as follows:
To offend Heaven is to act against reason; to ask pardon of Heaven is to reform oneself and to make a sincere return in work and deed in the submission one owes to this very law of reason. For me, I find this all quite excellent and quite in accord with natural theology.... Only by strained interpretation and interpolation could one find anything to criticize on this point. It is pure Christianity, insofar as it renews the natural law inscribed on our hearts, except for what revelation and grace add to it to improve our nature.
As will become clear in the course of this study, the historical conflict between Confucianism, on the one hand, and Legalism and Taoism, on the other, follows the same course as the conflict between Platonism and Aristotelianism in the West. And thus, just as the representatives of Renaissance Christian Platonism identified with the Confucian tradition when they encountered it in China, so too did the Western Aristotelians recognize in Legalism and Taoism a kindred spirit.
The nearly successful alliance of Christianity and Confucianism championed by Leibniz collapsed in the early eighteenth century. Within a century, the British Imperial intrusion into China was unleashed, with opium and gunships jointly leading the assault to break the moral and political institutions of the faltering Ch'ing Dynasty. Immediately, the British empiricists launched cultural warfare against Confucianism, extolling Taoist mysticism and Legalist totalitarianism as the "essence" of Chinese culture. Later, the British contributed to the creation of a new Legalist Dynasty under Taoist Mao Zedong, organized to a large extent to sabotage the efforts of the great Chinese statesmenand Christian, and ConfucianDr. Sun Yat-sen.
British support for tyranny in China has been justified for centuries by the fraudulent argument that the Chinese have never believed in the freedom of the individual, individual civil and human rights, or other "Western" concepts, and thus the bloody suppression of any and all dissent, as carried out by dictators (Communist or otherwise), is justified by "Chinese" standards.
To the contrary, the dominant school of Confucianism for nearly a thousand years in Chinathe Sung Neo-Confucian schoolproclaimed the role of the individual as the singular reflection of the love of the creator of Heaven and earth; an individual whose creative potential must be nourished and extended without bound in order to achieve both personal peace, in keeping with the Way of Heaven, and social progress, based on the expanding capacity of each individual to contribute to that process of development. This scientifically valid view of mankind is the necessary basis for ecumenical peace and global development. Accommodation to any other view will court disaster.
Following the collapse of the T'ang Dynasty in 907 a.d. and a period of general disunity, the Sung Dynasty emerged in 960. The T'ang era had seen the general collapse of the Confucian moral tradition and a broad degeneration of society and culture. The founders of the T'ang, and most of its Emperors, had been dedicated Taoists, but Buddhism also swept through the East during the seventh to tenth centuries. The Taoists and Buddhists were occasionally in conflict (between .d. 843 and 845a.d., a fanatical Taoist Emperor totally suppressed Buddhism, closing thousands of shrines and defrocking the monks and nuns), but they generally merged into a syncretic amalgam, dragging most of the Confucian scholars into the soup.
The Renaissance In Chinese Society
There were some exceptionsnotably Han Yü (968-824), who attempted to defend the teachings of Confucius and Mencius against both the irrationalist, animist mysticism of Taoism and against Buddhism, especially the pervasive influence of the Zen (Ch'an) Buddhist sect (Zen had developed in the East out of Mahayana Buddhism through contact with Taoism). He equally attacked those Confucianists who believed the three worldviews could coexist.
As the economy and society degenerated under the T'ang, the Buddhist monastic communities became the centers of power for oligarchical families. Chinese law had long forbidden the rule of primogeniture, forcing a division of property and wealth between one's progeny, which hindered the development of powerful landed families, as well as the larger-than-life power of such "fondi" over several generations. However, the monastic communities were generally tax-exempt and were permitted to expand their property holdings indefinitely. Thus, families with oligarchical ambitions would establish their own Buddhist monasteries, and "contribute" extensive wealth and property to the monastic "community." These functioned much the same as the fondi in Europethe monasteries ran businesses, owned vast agricultural lands, and even functioned as the primary source of credit, running pawn shops and loaning money at interest.
The Neo-Confucian school, often called the "Sung teaching" or the "Ch'eng/Chu school," emerged in the eleventh century as a direct counter to this pervasive corruption of government and society, which they blamed squarely on the "heterodox" teachings of Taoism and Zen Buddhism, and the capitulation of Confucianists to these heresies. Just as St. Thomas Aquinas (a.d.: 1225-74) undertook the task of countering the destructive influence of Aristotelianism, which had increasingly corrupted Christian teachings in Europe, so the leading scholar of Neo-Confucianism, Chu Hsi (1130-1200), building especially on the work of four great scholar/statesmen from the eleventh century [see appendix], unleashed a devastating attack on the immoral and scientifically fraudulent premises of Taoist and Zen Buddhist beliefs.
Also, extending the comparison, just as St. Thomas, in the process of combatting Aristotelianism, had reached back to the ideas of Plato, as adopted and amended from a Christian standpoint by St. Augustine, and laid the foundation for the Christian Renaissance that followed, so, too, the Neo-Confucianists re-examined and advanced the teachings of Confucius and Mencius. The result was a Confucian Renaissance, a burst of cultural and scientific progress in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, which was to be revived again in the early fifteenth century following the intervening Mongol occupation of China.
The Sung Economic Revolution
The Chinese discovery of woodblock printing in the tenth century led to a vast expansion of printed books in subsequent centuries. Not only were the Confucian classics printed and distributed, but also the works of the Neo-Confucians, by both government and private publishers. For the first time in history, scholars were able to reach the entire nation with their teaching. The other major category of printed books was scientific studies, covering agriculture, hydraulics, astronomy, and other areas of technological development. The Ch'eng/Chu dictum to "investigate the Principle in things to the utmost" led to an explosion of scientific and technological discoveries, with each discovery spread around the country rapidly through books and newspapers.
The agricultural revolution was the driving force for the expansion of the economy. Historian Mark Elvin has written: "It was the generalization over the country as a whole of the best Sung techniques, without a correspondingly large expansion of the area of farmland ... [by which] the foundation of China's enormous present population was laid." (Elvin) [see: Bibliography for publication information.] The potential population density exploded, as the following technological capacities were developed and implemented (see Graph I):
New hydraulic techniques and irrigation networks
New seed strains, to increase yields and enhance the capability for double cropping;
Improved methods of soil preparation, utilizing fertilizers and tools; and
vast networks of roads and canals, allowing broader marketing, and thus greater specialization of crops.
By the thirteenth century, "China had what was probably the most sophisticated agriculture in the world, India being the only conceivable rival." (Elvin)
Internal and foreign trade boomed. Shipbuilding became a major industry, producing thousands of inland and seagoing ships of a quality not seen in Europe for centuries. The mariners compass, discovered in about 1119, led to the charting of the sea and advanced navigation techniques. A national customs service was established to regulate and tax trade, with over two thousand custom houses. Standardized coinage and the world's first system of paper currency were established in the early eleventh century. Federally issued notes, based on convertibility at any of several provincial Treasuries, facilitated safe and expanding internal trade.
Industries of a size not seen in Europe until the eighteenth century were developed. Iron works, using coke and other metallurgical discoveries, and silk factories with as many as five hundred looms, contributed to national growth and to rapid urbanization. By 1100 there were fifty-one prefectures which had over 100,000 households, far surpassing the extent of urbanization in Europe.
Although there were many internal policy differences, the Sung leadership was generally the driving force behind the revolution in education and science. Books in all fields were prepared and published by the government, while great public works, public granaries, and infrastructure projects were undertaken at government expense. Chu Hsi was himself a significant figure in establishing these policies, both through his writings and through his various positions in government. His establishment of public granaries in the area under his jurisdiction, both to prepare for emergencies and to prevent speculation by "the propertied gentlemen who would stop selling grain in order to realized a profit" (Further Reflections on Things at Hand, 9:23) was adopted as national policy.
Chu Hsi's advice on infrastructure reveals an advanced sense of physical economy:
Recruiting hungry people to build waterworks, and slightly increasing outside sums to be used for capital in beginning construction, is to protect against disaster and to create new prosperity, like killing two birds with one stone.... The cost would be minimal, but the advantages would last forever. (Further Reflections, 10:51)
Chu Hsi and the Conjunctural Crisis
Chu Hsi knew, however, that China had fallen into a severe, long-term breakdown crisis over the previous millennium, and that as important as the developments under the Sung were, the underlying problem had not been solved. He repeatedly warned that the rule of Universal Principle was lost among the people, and that a disaster (an "unnatural embankment") faced the nation:
Today, the Principle of Tao is lost. Can we unflaggingly cultivate ourselves and restore it? This is why it is such an urgent matter. If we do not study, we will face an unnatural embankment. In normal times we could, perhaps, barely get by. But when we are faced with a critical matter, there will be only confusion. (Further Reflections, 2:35)
The works of his eleventh-century predecessors, in fact, had been subjected to severe attack. Cheng I had been banished in 1097, and his teachings prohibited. He was then pardoned in 1100, blacklisted in 1103, and pardoned again in 1106; but the ban on his teachings remained until 1155, when Chu Hsi revived them. In the interim, in 1126, the Juchin from Manchuria successfully invaded northern China, establishing the Chin Dynasty in the north, while the Sung were forced into the south.
Chu spent nine years in government office. He submitted numerous memorials on diverse subjects to several different Emperors, with varying effect. His proposals for specific government policies in water management, canal building, national food resources, and other areas were implemented regionally and in some cases nationally. He instituted the White Deer Grotto Academy as the center for his teaching, which became the pre-eminent intellectual center of his time, and the model for education in China, Korea, and Japan for centuries.
But his warnings made many uncomfortable. In his sixty-sixth year, he was dismissed from his last official position in the Court, accused of teaching a "false theory" and of plotting to usurp the government. His leading pupil was declared a criminal and exiled. It was in these last years that he devoted himself to completing his work on the Confucian text the "Great Learning." [see: this issue)
Once the Mongol invasions, begun in 1211, were successful in over-running the country in 1279, a Dark Age descended over China. With the subsequent 1368 collapse of the Mongol Dynasty, however, China experienced a phenomenal internal and external expansion of great projects, including the rebuilding of the Grand Canal, the movement of the capital to Peking in the north, and the launching of the greatest ocean-going armada in history, carrying out missions of peaceful exploration and diplomacy to India, Africa, and the Persian Gulf. This was the era of the flowering of the Ch'eng/Chu school, which almost entirely dominated the court, the education system, the civil service exams, and the political leadership at every level.
The great projects, and especially the voyages, were in fact the direct expression of the domination of Chu Hsi's philosophical worldview over China. The continuation of the earlier Sung commitment to the development and application of science and technology to internal infrastructural projects, and the voyages of the eunuch Admiral Cheng Ho, were expressions of the view that man could and must carry out God's mandate for the exploration of the Principle in all things under Heaven. These policies continued until the emergence of a counter-reaction to this Renaissance view, leading to a sudden and disastrous reversal after the year 1435.
Highlights of the accomplishments before 1435 include:
Education and the examination system were vastly expanded, based entirely on Chu Hsi's curriculum. Chu Hsi's works were officially compiled and the examinations restructured in 1415. For the first time in history, virtually all responsible positions in the court and at the district level were filled by graduates of the highest degree (chin-shih). This education and examination system functioned in the manner of a constitution, in the sense that attaining a position of responsibility in the Empire required a rigorous demonstration of an understanding of and a dedication to virtue, as embodied in the classics compiled by Chu Hsi and the related scientific training.
The Grand Canal connecting the northern and southern regions of the country, which had been closed by the upheavals of the Mongol era, was totally reconstructed. This allowed the transfer of the capital north to Peking, which depended on the Grand Canal for grain from the south, and for the supply of military forces to defend against continuing threats from the Mongols beyond the Great Wall. This led to considerable economic development along the route of the canal itself.
Shipbuilding became a top priority. Between 1403 and 1419, 2,149 seagoing vessels were built in the major shipyard in Nanjing. Quite a number of these were "treasure ships," which held five hundred men and utilized technologies not developed in Europe for centuries.
Voyages of Discovery and Diplomacy were launched beginning 1405, continuing until 1433. Under the eunuch Admiral Cheng Ho, seven major voyages were undertaken, which explored the Indian Ocean, the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea up to Jidda, Saudi Arabia, and along the East coast of Africa. They carried out trade, brought diplomatic representatives back to China, and performed scientific investigations.
Trade extended eastward. Japan had closed all contact after the failed invasion under the Mongols, and banned all foreign trade. But in 1401, on an initiative from the Japanese, trade was re-opened and was to continue until 1549.
Had the voyages continued, it is not unlikely that a "Columbus" voyage to the East may have been launched sometime in the fifteenth century, discovering America from the west. But this was not to be.
During the 1430's, Nicolaus of Cusa was leading the efforts to reconstitute the Christian Church in Europe, culminating in the 1439 Council of Florence, which, among other achievements, hatched the plans for the Age of Discovery, including the Columbus voyages fifty years later. During this same time period, the Chinese took a giant leap in the opposite direction. With the death in 1435 of Emperor Hsüan-te, the last Ming Emperor who sponsored great voyages, the Renaissance worldview and economic policies were suddenly and ruthlessly crushed. The voyages were ended, the shipyards deteriorated, and China turned inward. Although the scale of the economy and the population would continue to grow throughout the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, this was due entirely to the technological revolution of the Sung and early Ming dynasties. The "Intuitionist" school, heavily influenced by Zen Buddhism and Taoism, which had taken root during the Mongol occupation, now rapidly became predominant.
The parallels between the Confucican and the Christian Renaissances are most obvious when both are viewed from the perspective of universal history. The converse is also true: without this demonstrably valid view of history, any attempts at comparison result in the wildest fantasies and concoctions. Such strained comparisons literally fill the scholarly texts on comparative philosophy. Chu Hsi, for example, has been compared often (and correctly) to St. Thomas Aquinas, but also to Alfred North Whitehead, G.W.F. Hegel, and Immanuel Kant, while even described by some as a polytheist. As we will see, such views belie a total failure to grasp the fundamental principles guiding Chu Hsi's thought.
Confucian and Christian Renaissances
Leibniz, in his 1716 Natural Theology of the Chinese, approached his analysis of Chinese philosophy by acknowledging that the highly cultured and learned civilization of the Chinese, and the relatively enormous population density, were proof that the Chinese had succeeded historically in mastering to a high degree the truths of natural law which govern the universe. He, therefore, in undertaking a study of the classic texts, assumed the most positive interpretation possible of the ideas presented, not out of a false sense of generosity or kindness to the Chinese, but in order to ferret out the truths which he knew must be contained within these writings, without, of course, ignoring disagreements on important secondary issues. Cusanus, although he was unfamiliar with Confucianism and thus did not address it directly in his writings, expressed the same principle in "On the Peace of Faith": "The divine commandments are very brief and are all well known and common in every nation, for the light that reveals them to us is created along with the rational soul." (in Wertz, Toward A New Council of Florence)
Confucian Jen and St. Paul's Agape
A crucial polemic of the Neo-Confucians revolved around the interpretation of the notion of jen ( ), a word usually translated as "humanity" or "benevolence," terms which do not adequately convey the meaning in Chinese. Confucius and Mencius defined jen as the highest of all virtues with which Heaven endows mankind, subsuming love and righteousness, propriety and wisdom. In the eleventh century, Ch'eng I, one of the greatest of Chu Hsi's predecessors, identified the fact that the interpretation of the term jen, over the centuries following the death of Mencius in 289 b.c. , had become synonymous with another term meaning "love." But since this term for "love" represented a human feeling, often ambiguously connected to notions of mere sensuality, it had become "an inferior and crude concept," in the words of one of Chu Hsi's students. (Ch'en Ch'un (1159-1223), cited in Hitoshi)
Even the greatest of the T'ang Dynasty Confucians, Han Yü, who extended the meaning of jen to be "universal love," still failed to comprehend the "loftier and nobler" concept intended by Confucius and Mencius, according to this Neo-Confucian school.
The failure to understand the deeper meaning of jen was blamed primarily on the acceptance, even by supposedly Confucian scholars, of the object fixation and irrationalism of the pervasive Zen and Taoist schools of thought. As shown below, Chu Hsi argued that these sects failed to recognize the divine spark of reason in man, man's capacity to participate in God's continuing creation of the universe, and they were thus reduced to a materialist view of the world, a God-less world in which man is impotent to rise above an animal state of sense perception.
The solution lay, said Chu Hsi in his "Treatise on Jen," in recognizing that jen is the "principle of love." Chu wrote:
When one realizes that jen is the source of love, and that love can never exhaust jen, then one has gained a definite comprehension of jen. (Hitoshi)
Together with righteousness, propriety, and wisdom, jen is a virtue created by God for no "practical" purpose, but as a pure expression of his own boundless love. Human love and compassion are the effect of jen, not its substance. Confucius said that "spreading charity widely to save the multitudes" is not jen, although jen is the source of all morality and of all such moral deeds. Said Chu,
It is not for the sake of anything that [jen] came into existence.... Jen is the principle of love and the way of life. Thus by living in jen, all four primary virtues will be covered. (Hitoshi)
Ch'eng I emphasized that jen is the "foundation of goodness," and as such can be considered as "universal impartiality," (Chu Hsi, Reflections on Things at Hand, 1:11), in the sense of God's impartial love for all creatures. Man's coherence with universal impartiality is guided by the Golden Rule, which is expressed by Confucius and Mencius in both positive and negative forms: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you," and "Do not do anything to another which you would not have them do unto you." The principles of both charity and equity are subsumed in this notion of impartiality. Says Cheng I,
Because of [man's] impartiality, there will be no distinction between himself and others. Therefore, a man of jen is a man of both altruism and love. Altruism is the application of jen, while love is its function. (Reflections, 2:52)
Chu Hsi identifies jen as the essence of creation itself:
The mind of Heaven to produce things is jen. In man's endowment, he receives this mind from Heaven, and thus he can produce. Therefore, man's feeling of commiseration is also a principle of production. (Reflections, 1:42)
The divine spark of reason, which distinguishes man from beast, and provides man with the unique capacity to participate in God's continuing creation of the universe, is precisely this power of love, jen.
The effort to identify the more profound meaning of jen proves to be a process of discovery parallel to that of St. Paul in developing the concept of a higher form of love, or agape. This higher notion of love, as distinguished from erotic love, was located in the love of God, the love of truth, and of mankind as a whole which must guide man if he is to find true peace and meaning in his life.
One of the clearest expressions of the Neo-Confucian development of this concept came in the famous "Western Inscription" of Chang Tsai, also called "Correcting Obstinacy":
Heaven is my father and Earth is my mother, and even such a small creature as I finds an intimate place in their midst. Therefore, that which fills the universe I regard as my body, and that which directs the universe I consider as my nature. All people are my brothers and sisters, and all things are my companions.... Respect the aged.... Show affection toward the orphans and the weak.... Even those who are tired, infirm, crippled or sick, those who have no brothers or children, wives or husbands, are all my brothers who are in distress and have no one to turn to....
To rejoice in Heaven with no anxiety, this is filial piety at its purest.
He who disobeys [the principle of Heaven] violates virtue. He who destroys jen is a robber. He who promotes evil lacks [moral] capacity. But he who puts his moral nature into practice and brings his physical existence into complete fulfillment can match [Heaven]. One who knows the principle of transformation will skillfully carry forward the undertaking of Heaven, and one who penetrates spirit to the highest degree will skillfully carry out Heaven's will.
Do nothing shameful in the recesses of your own house.... Preserve the mind and nourish the nature and thus serve them with untiring effort....
In life I follow and serve [Heaven]. In death I will be at peace. (Reflections, 2:89)
Several points are of special significance. First, the "Western Inscription" places the concept of jen as the guiding principle of God's creation, and defines man's nature as the same as "that which directs the universe." In Christian terms, this is to be "in the living image of God," imago viva Dei. It also addresses another related Christian concept, that man is created with the capacity to be like-unto-God, capax Dei, by acting in accord with His will. Here, Chang Tsai says that if man applies his true God-given moral nature in every aspect of his life, and subjects his physical nature to God's will, he can "match" God.
Secondly, the "Western Inscription" places a profoundly higher perspective on the meaning of filial pietya fundamental Confucian virtue, but one often interpreted as merely a set of strict codes of conduct towards one's parents. Here, Chang Tsai holds Heaven to be the father and Earth to be the mother of man, in the sense of God creating man's physical body out of the substance of His material creation. Man exists in a dignified "intimate" place in the universe owing to his creation as a human being, a blessing he owes to God and to all of God's creatures who have gone before him, and in particular to his physical mother and father. In return for this endowment of life, man returns this love, to his parents, of course, but also to all mankind and to God himself. Thus, "to rejoice in Heaven with no anxietythis is filial piety at its purest."
Lastly, while none of the Confucian nor the Neo-Confucian scholars explicitly taught the existence of everlasting life after death in the sense of the Christian Heaven, it is acknowledged that upon death, that part of man which came from Earth returns to Earth (dust to dust), while that part which came from Heaven returns to Heaven. The so-called ancestor worship of Confucianism is primarily a ritual of paying respect and love to the spirit of those departed souls. What was utterly rejected by Chu Hsi was the Buddhist notion of the transmigration of souls, not the idea of an eternal soul. Therefore, the closing paragraphs of the "Western Inscription," like other similar expressions throughout Neo-Confucian teaching, which refer to attaining peace at death, can be interpreted as: "Follow God and serve Him, and you shall enter the Kingdom of Heaven."
Chu Hsi refers directly, although negatively, to the immortality of the soul in writing that if one fails to live according to the Way of God, "then one will live an empty life and die an empty death, be an empty shell, and vainly eat the food of mortals." (Further Reflections, 12:14)
Ch'eng I said that a virtuous man identifies a quality in himself which is more important than life itself, and implies that that quality is sustained in death when one's life is given for humanity:
Some ancient sages sacrificed their lives. They must have truly understood that life is neither as important as righteousness nor as satisfactory as death. Therefore, they sacrificed their lives to fulfill humanity. (Reflections, 7:25)
Li: The School of Principle
The Neo-Confucian school is also known in Chinese as the "School of Principle." The primary new conceptual contributions to the Confucian body of knowledge by the Ch'eng/Chu School centered on the concept of Li ( ), or Principle. Confucius did not use the term at all, while Mencius used it to mean "moral principle," but not as a fundamental concept in his teaching. Chu Hsi developed and used the concept in a manner analogous to Plato's concept of the eternal "Ideas." Leibniz noted that Chu's concept was similar to his own notion of the "Monad." Lyndon LaRouche has developed his own notion of the "thought-object" as analogous to the historically specific concepts of Plato's Ideas and Leibniz's Monads. The Neo-Confucian Principle (Li) is coherent with these various valid scientific discoveries concerning the fundamental lawfulness of the universe.
Chu Hsi defines Principle as follows:
Universal Principle is indeed complete wholeness. However, we call it Principle in that it has a completely ordered pattern.... Universal Principle is simply a comprehensive term for the four virtues (jen, righteousness, propriety, and wisdom), and each of them is an individual enumeration for Universal Principle. (Further Reflections, 1:9)
Universal Principle is sometimes called the Great Ultimate, or the Ultimate of Non-being, or the Essence of Tao, where Tao means the Way or the Path. To Chu Hsi, these terms all refer to the one Creator God in the same sense as was understood by the fathers of Christianity and those who followed in the tradition of St. Augustine. [Since these terms are used interchangeably by Chu and his school, we occasionally use the word God in place of each of them in these translations, although the works cited in the Bibliography do not do so.]
Leibniz, in his study of Neo-Confucianism, arrived at this same conclusion, while also equating Principle (Li) with Universal Reason:
The first principle of the Chinese is called Li, that is, Reason, or the foundation of all nature, the most universal reason and substance; there is nothing greater nor better than Li.... [It] is not at all capable of divisibility as regards its being and is the principal basis of all the essences which are and which can exist in the world. But it is also the aggregation of the most perfect multiplicity because the Being of this principle contains the essences of things as they are in their germinal state. We say as much when we teach that the ideas, the primitive grounds, the prototypes of all essences are all in God.... The Chinese also attribute to the Li all manner of perfection ... so perfect that there is nothing to add. One has said it all. Consequently, can we not say that the Li of the Chinese is the sovereign substance which we revere under the name of God? (Leibniz, Discourse on the Natural Theology of the Chinese, #4-9)
To Chu Hsi, God, the Universal Principle, is infinite, indivisible, and eternal. He is the creator of all that is, and preceded everything which was created. Most importantly, Chu developed the notion that Principle "is an all encompassing wholeness which contains everything, and which is contained in everything." (Further Reflections, 1:2) Principle is Unity, but "the myriad things partake of it as their reality. Hence, each of the myriad things possesses in it the Great Ultimate." (Chu Tzu ch'üan-shu [Collected Works of Chu Hsi], 49:8b-13a; hereafter CTCS. All translations from CTCS are from deBary, Sources of Chinese Tradition) The true essence of every individual thing in the universe is its Principle, which is given by God as its nature. In particular, the nature of man is Principle.
Leibniz, in his Discourse on Metaphysics, said, "It can indeed be said that every substance bears in some sort the character of God's infinite wisdom and omnipotence, and imitates Him as much as it is able to." Like Plato's Ideas, the individual Principle of any created thing is eternal, although the thing itself is, of course, not eternal. St. Augustine, drawing on Plato through the revelation of Christianity, said:
Ideas are the primary forms or the permanent and immutable reasons of real things and they are not themselves formed; so they are, as a consequence, eternal and ever the same in themselves, and they are contained in the divine intelligence. (quoted in Wertz, Toward a New Council of Florence)
Cusanus extended this concept, saying that, "every created thing is, as it were, a finite infinite." It is finite, in that it is bounded by its material form, but it is infinite precisely as its nature reflects God's creation. The nature of every created thing (Chu Hsi's "Principle") is demonstrated by the fact of the coherent, self-developing order of the universe itself, or as Cusanus said: "The universe is ordered to its originthrough order the universe indeed shows itself as being from Godit is ordered to Him as to the Order of the order in everything." ("On the Not-Other," in Wertz)
This concept, that all created things reflect the lawfulness of the creation, and that this connection between all things and the Creator is the essence of each particular thing, is the necessary basis of any scientific knowledge, while also serving to refute any and all materialist views of the universe. To the Christian humanists, the empiricist tradition of Aristotle, which attempts to reduce the world to a mere collection of disconnected objects, and man's impotent observations (sense-perception) of those objects, was both false and an obstacle to the development of fruitful scientific knowledge of the universe.
In Plato's terms, true scientific knowledge comes from a process of hypothesis; when an existing state of knowledge is contradicted by newly discovered phenomena, an hypothesis based on this higher conception of the order of creation (Plato's Ideas) would provide the basis for advancing the state of knowledge as a whole, affecting the entire range of human knowledge, beyond the specific phenomena investigated. (see LaRouche - Science of Christian Economy) and Fidelio, "On the Subject of God")
Chu Hsi's understanding of science is in keeping with this Platonic method. The primary tenet of the Neo-Confucian teaching is that the nature of man, like the nature of all things, and of the universe as a whole, is Principle. Ch'eng I said: "Principle is one but its manifestations are many.... There is only one Principle. As applied to man, however, there is in each individual a particular Principle."
God creates the universe through what Chu calls Ch'i ( ) or Material Force (Ch'i is also translated as "energy," "vital force," etc. Mencius used the term as that which "pervades and animates the body," subordinate to the will, and nourished by acting according to righteousness and reason. (Mencius, 2:1.2)) This Material Force, as developed by Chu, is not identical with Principle, but is created by it and cannot exist without it. Universal Principle, God, is infinite, incorporeal, and eternal. The Material Force, said Chu,
refers to material objects, which are within the realm of corporeality; it is the instrument by which things are produced.... Before heaven and earth came into being, Principle was as it was.... As there is a certain Principle, there is the Material Force corresponding to it, and as this Material Force integrates in a particular instance, its Principle is also endowed in that instance. (CTCS 49:5b, 6a, 8a)
The Material Force can be thought of as the lawfulness imbedded in nature, or, the non-linear geometry of the created universe. While the laws of creation are not the same as God, who precedes them, those laws are indistinguishable from God, and it is through these laws that the creation of all things takes place. All created things thus reflect these laws in their being, and God exists in them in this way. Inanimate objects, plants, and animals represent, in ascending order, this natural law, in that they reflect increasingly the self-generating principle of God, while only man has this natural law in such purity, through the power of reason, that he can reflect upon and perfect his powers of creativity and self-generation.
Leibniz also concluded that Chu Hsi's Material Force (Ch'i) functioned as the natural law created by God:
Thus I believe that without doing violence to the ancient doctrine of the Chinese, one can say that the Li [Principle] has been brought by the perfection of its nature to choose, from several possibilities, the most appropriate; and that by this means it has produced the Ch'i [Material Force] with dispositions such that all the rest has come about by natural propensities. (Leibniz, #18)
This is a reference to Leibniz's concept that this world is "the best of all possible worlds," such that the laws governing the physical universe assure that the greatest good is achieved in the most efficient way possible: "we say that nature is wise; that she does all for an end and nothing in vain." (Leibniz, #8) Chu Hsi hinted at this by asserting: "Everything naturally has a way of being just right." (Further Reflections, 10:11)
In this light, it is important to note that Chu Hsi, like Cusanus and Leibniz, rejected any materialist idea that material objects were composed of some "fundamental particle," but, rather, saw in even the smallest being a dynamic existence in space-time. The laws of creation found in every created thing are intelligible to man, as Cusanus' Minimum/Maximum Principle or Leibniz's Principle of Least Action are examples. (LaRouche, "Metaphor") Chu would have laughed at the modern-day search for the "ultimate particle," recognizing such efforts as a reflection of a Taoist view of the universe.
Leibniz saw in Chu Hsi's concept of the Material Force a reflection of his own notion of the continuum of space-time, and related it to his idea of the aether. Leibniz wrote:
It seems that this Ch'i (Material Force), or this primitive air, truly corresponds to Matter, just as it corresponds to the instrument of the first principle which moves matter; just as an artisan moves his instrument, producing things. This Ch'i is called air, and for us could be called aether, because matter in its original form is completely fluid, without bonds or solidarity, without any interstices and without limits which could distinguish parts of it one from another. In sum, this Ch'i is the most subtle one can imagine.
Thus, to Leibniz, as to Chu Hsi, the Material Force (Ch'i) is the geometry of the universe, the non-linear ordering principle by which all things come into being, and the basis upon which all things interact with each other.
It is the Material Force in each created thing, its particular "geometry," which distinguishes the myriad of things from one another. In particular, although all things are equally created by God and reflect His perfection through their Principle, it is through the Material Force that God made man in His own image, just as the Bible identifies this fundamental truth for Judeo-Christian culture. Said Chu Hsi,
From the point of view of Principle, all things have the same source, and, therefore, man and things cannot be distinguished as higher or lower creatures. From the point of view of Material Force, man receives it in its perfection and unimpeded, while things receive it partially and obstructed. Because of this, they are unequal, man being higher and things lower. (CTCS 42:27b-29c)
This, then, is the condition of each and every man at birth. Mencius had emphasized this fact, that Man is born Good, reflecting the Highest Good of God, and that this was the primary truth of mankind, without which nothing could be understood. Throughout Chinese history, those who wished to justify evil, those who wished to impose political tyranny, argued against Mencius on precisely this point. Like the Aristotelians in Western history, the Legalists in ancient China, based on Taoist ideology, argued that man was born as a mere beast, driven by greed and other animal instincts, who can be ruled only by enforcing a stratified, slave society, governed by punishment and reward. [See Billington, "The British Role in the Creation of Maoism," for a comparison of Legalism and modern British empiricism.] Mao Zedong, in particular, totally rejected Mencius in favor of Legalism, going so far as to declare that "class enemies" of the Communist Party were, often by mere circumstances of birth, not human beings, and, therefore, not worthy of any basic human rights.
Chu Hsi extended Mencius' idea to a higher scientific level. It is this quality of perfected Material Force, or perfected potential, which makes man uniquely capable of both continuous expansion of his knowledge of the laws of the physical universe, and also of participating with God in the continuing creation of the universe, through the exercise of his "divine spark" of reason, the Principle (Li) endowed by Heaven.
In the Christian tradition, St. Thomas Aquinas and Nicolaus of Cusa distinguished between the intellect and lower levels of human thought, including mere linear, logical, inductive or deductive thinking, and the even lower level of sense-perception. The mind is always in danger of becoming entangled with the material, finite aspects of the things of this world, which are the objects of our senses, but by rising to the level of the intellect, which is that part of our mental powers which reflect the Creator, we can intuit the Absolute Infinite. This is because, as St. Thomas wrote,
the intellect is a form not in matter, but either wholly separate from matter, as in the angelic substance, or at least an intellectual power, which is not the act of an organ, in the intellectual soul joined to a body. (Summa Theologica, Part I, Q.7, article 2)
Chu Hsi's notion of the mind is very similar to this. While the original nature of man is Principle, which comes from God, and man receives the Material Force "in its perfection," still, the mind is always in danger of responding to the appearance of material things rather than their essence, their Principle. In this way, the mind becomes "cloudy," dragged down by selfish desires and the fixations on things in themselves, and the purity of the God-given original nature is obscured. Chu points out that man receives the Material Force in the clearest form, while animals receive it in a turbid state. "However," says Chu, "those whose Material Force is turbid are not far removed from animals." (CTCS 43:7a-b) Also:
The essence of a person's original mind is also boundless. It is only that it is corralled by the selfishness of the thing, and stagnated by the paucity of knowledge. (Further Reflections, 1:56)
How does one overcome "selfishness" and "paucity of knowledge"? Chu insisted that true knowledge is not particular facts about particular things, but rather the knowledge of God, the Principle of the universe. Since the Principle of any created thing reflects the Universal Principle of the Creator, the investigation of the Principle of any particular thing will contribute to understanding the Principle of all other things, as well as the Universal Principle itself. Also, by the fact that every created thing reflects God's creation, and that man's (unobscured) mind is based on that same Principle, man is uniquely capable of achieving an understanding of any particular thing or phenomena in the universei.e., the laws of the universe are intelligible to man.
Conversely, achieving such an understanding of the Principle of any particular thing improves one's knowledge of one's own nature, and thus increases one's ability to probe deeper into the Principle of other things and into one's own mind.
The following quotes illustrate the concept:
When Heaven creates a thing, it gives each thing a truth. (Further Reflections, 1:66)
There is not one thing in the universe, however great or small, or obscure or bright, that is without Principle. We cannot speak of inner and outer. If there is anything that cannot be reasoned out, then how could it mean Principle? (Further Reflections, 3:8)
All things under Heaven can be understood through Principle.... Each thing necessarily has its manifestations of Principle.
By enlarging one's mind, one can enter into all things in the world.... The mind of ordinary people is limited to the narrowness of what is seen and heard. The sage, however, fully develops his nature and does not allow what is seen and heard to fetter his mind. Heaven is so vast there is nothing outside it. Therefore, the mind that leaves something outside it is not capable of uniting itself with the mind of Heaven. (Reflections, 2:83)
'Learning for Adults'
The message that man must pursue the scientific investigation of the ordering principles of things and phenomena in the physical universe, became a central theme of Chu Hsi's effort to save Chinese civilization. The Taoists taught that the laws of the universe were unknowable, that an irrational, mystical force governed Heaven and Earth, and that proper government required the suppression of knowledge in order to enforce order. The Buddhists rejected the physical world as unreal, teaching that enlightenment is found by suppressing thinking altogether, through quietism. To combat this, Chu Hsi chose a short passage from the ancient Book of Rites, which was probably written by Confucius. Called the "Great Learning," the passage consisted of only seven short paragraphs, plus commentary by a disciple of Confucius.
Through a new interpretation of two key passages in the "Great Learning," Chu turned it into a concrete starting point for the broad dissemination of his own fundamental epistemological contributions, using the words of Confucius himself. In fact, Chu Hsi even interpreted the title ("Great Learning") differently than had been generally accepted usage, taking the word for "Great" to mean "Adult": The title then is "Learning for the Adult." This contrasted with a common understanding that the classics were "learning for the sages." Chu Hsi's interpretation is in keeping with his life-long commitment to the establishment of universal education, both because such education is necessary for each individual to achieve true happiness through communion with the Creator, but also because the successful progress of the state depends on an enlightened population.
The first of the two passages from the "Great Learning" re-interpreted by Chu is in the first paragraph, which reads in Chu Hsi's interpretation:
The way (Tao) of greater learning lies in keeping one's inborn luminous virtue unobscured, in renewing the people, and in coming to rest in perfect goodness. (Gardner)
Earlier scholars had interpreted the italicized phrase as "manifesting luminous virtue," with the intention that the sage or ruler must manifest outwardly a perfected virtue, which by example would inspire the people to virtue. Chu, instead, emphasized the "inborn" nature of the "luminous virtue," in keeping with his concept that the nature of man is the God-given Principle, which is one with jen, the highest virtue. This then applies to all men, not just the ruler. In addition, Chu changes "manifesting" to "keeping unobscured," which re-emphasizes the same pointthat the nature of all mankind is good, in the image of God, but becomes obscured in the process of interacting with the physical universe. Chu says that although the God-given luminous virtue can become restrained or obscured by material things and human desires, "Never, however, does its original luminosity cease. Therefore, the student should look to the light that emanates from it and seek to keep it unobscured, thereby restoring its original conditions." (Gardner)
Chu Hsi retains the notion of teaching by example, as in the phrase: "renewing the people," which results from the love and charity (jen) of one who "keeps the inborn luminous virtue unobscured." But, again, this is something which each individual, not just the ruler, is capable of doing, and is called upon by Heaven to do.
The second section of the "Great Learning" (or "Learning for Adults") which Chu Hsi interpreted in a new way came in the famous passage which sequentially links proper government to the full development of the individual creative potential. In Chu Hsi's interpretation, this reads as follows:
Those of antiquity who wished that all men throughout the empire keep their inborn luminous virtue unobscured put governing their states well first; wishing to govern their states well, they first established harmony in their households; wishing to establish harmony in their households, they first cultivated themselves; wishing to cultivate themselves, they first set their minds in the right; wishing to set their minds in the right, they first made their thoughts true; wishing to make their thoughts true, they first extended their knowledge to the utmost; the extension of knowledge lies in fully apprehending the principle in things.
Note that the last line is not part of the sequence, but is a general statement defining the extension or perfection of knowledge. This statement is, in the Chinese, ambiguous, and had been subject to drastically different interpretations historically. Chu's interpretation meant that the final source in the entire sequential process necessary for successful government was the scientific investigation of the Principle of all things and phenomena in society and in the physical universe by the individual.
This was a dramatic contribution to the interpretation of the classics, although Chu insisted that this was precisely the meaning understood by Confucius and Mencius. To justify his interpretation, Chu Hsi did something even more dramatic, making what could be called a Promethean intervention into history, past, present, and future. He argued that a chapter in the commentary by the disciple of Confucius, which discussed the meaning of this passage, had been lost and that he, Chu, had, in his own words, "taken the liberty ... of filling in the lacunae," and "made bold ... to supplement it." This added chapter is an eloquent statement of Chu's understanding of the beautiful order of the creation:
What is meant by 'the extension of knowledge lies in fully apprehending the principle in things' is that, if we wish to extend our knowledge to the utmost, we must probe thoroughly the Principle in those things we encounter. It would seem that every man's intellect is possessed of the capacity for knowing and that everything in the world is possessed of Principle. But, to the extent that Principle is not yet thoroughly probed, man's knowledge is not yet fully realized. Hence, the first step of instruction in greater learning is to teach the student whenever he encounters anything at all in the world, to build upon what is already known to him about Principle and to probe still further, so that he seeks to reach the limit. After exerting himself in this way for a long time, he will one day become enlightened and thoroughly understand; then, the manifest and the hidden, the subtle and the obvious qualities of all things will all be known, and the mind, in its whole substance and vast operations, will be completely illuminated. This is called 'fully apprehending the Principle in things.' This is called 'the completion of knowledge.'
Note, first, that Chu Hsi rejects Aristotelian empiricism as a method of scientific exploration, demanding the investigation of the Principle of things, rather than mere observation of physical characteristsics, and, second, that he identifies the necessity of the Platonic method of hypothesis"to build upon what is already known to him about Principle"in order to achieve true knowledge.
Chu Hsi is accused by his enemies with tampering with the Confucian classics and distorting their meaning. Any serious study of those classics, however, confirms Chu's contention that the concepts he develops all come directly from Confucius and Mencius, or were coherent with the worldview taught by the sages. In fact, Chu Hsi himself carried out a comprehensive study of the classics, wrote extensive commentaries on all of them, and is even personally responsible for elevating the writings of Confucius and Mencius to become the central focus of all education and examinations in the Empire. Previously, it had been even earlier texts, which Confucius had studied (and helped to compile), that had functioned as the core of the scholarly curriculum. Chu chose two shorter sections from the Book of Ritesthe "Great Learning" and the "Doctrine of the Mean"which, together with the collected writings of Confucius and Mencius, were called the "Four Books." These texts, with commentaries by Chu Hsi, remained the core of the education and examination system into the twentieth century.
The Renaissance in the West
Chu Hsi's central concepts, discussed above, can be readily shown to be coherent with those which guided the Renaissance in the West. In Cusanus' "On Equality," he describes the universe and everything in it as "similitudes" of God, in the same sense that Chu sees the Principle of every created thing as coming directly from God and reflecting His creation. Then, as in Chu's central theme that "the extension of knowledge lies in fully apprehending the Principle in things," Cusanus says that the human intellectual soul sees the "knowable extrinsic through the consubstantial intrinsic.... The more it moves toward the other, in order to know it, the more it enters into itself." The shared concept here is that the laws of creative thought in the human mind are the same as the laws that govern the creation and development in the physical universe, and this fact uniquely defines man's capacity to know those laws, in an increasingly less-imperfect way.
In "On Beryllus," Cusanus restates this concept, including words similar to Chu Hsi's interpretation of the "Great Learning," which called on man to "keep one's inborn luminous virtue unobscured." Cusanus states that while God is absolutely infinite, and although the truth cannot be known in full by man, "but in its similitude, which can be received to a greater or lesser degree, according to the disposition of the recipient, it is communicable."
Cusanus said that man, by acting on his "similitude" with God, through exercise of the intellect, can become an "adoptive Son of God." Thus man is "relatively infinite," capable of comprehending the Absolute Infinite from within the finite, material body. (Aristotle, by contrast, argued that "the infinite considered as such is unknown.")
St. Thomas Aquinas had formulated these ideas in a manner which also reveals the parallel to Chu Hsi. In the Summa Theologica, St. Thomas said that man is capable of knowing God and the laws of the universe
according to analogy, that is, according to proportion.... Thus, whatever is said of God and creatures is said according to the relation of a creature to God as its principle and cause, wherein all perfection of things pre-exist excellently. (emphasis added)
There is, furthermore, an explicit parallel between Chu Hsi's use of the concept of Material Force (Ch'i) as described above, and a concept introduced by Cusanus, "the potential-to-become." Cusanus distinguishes between the eternal, the perpetual, and the temporal. God, the eternal, is actual-potential. But every created thing which is actual in the universe had the potential-to-become, which was created by God. This "potential-to-become" is the perpetual process whereby all temporal things are created by God, in keeping with His law. According to Cusanus the potential-to-become is created out of nothing by God, who is the actual-potential. Therefore, the potential-to-become is created, but does not cease; rather it remains for all time and is perpetual, because it precedes everything that has become actual, which is temporal.
This is a scientific statement of Creation, of God creating the heaven and the earth out of nothing. Unlike the Aristotelian empiricist cults which dominate scientific thinking today, which describe a finite world with a fixed number of "fundamental particles" which is entropically "running down," Cusanus' notion describes the actual negentropic universe, undergoing perpetual creation through the potential-to-become, which was created by the actual-potential which is God.
Compare this to Chu Hsi's discussion of Principle (Li) and Material Force (Ch'i):
God has no other business but to produce things. The Material Force of the origination revolves and circulates without a moment of rest, doing nothing but creating the myriad things. (CTCS 49:23b-24a)
That which integrates to produce life and disintegrates to produce death is only Material Force.... Principle fundamentally does not exist nor cease to exist because of integration or disintegration. As there is a certain Principle, there is the Material Force corresponding to it, and as this Material Force integrates in a particular instance, its Principle is also endowed in that instance. (CTCS 49:8a)
This substantiates the view of Leibniz, discussed above, that Chu Hsi's Material Force (Ch'i) corresponded to his notion of the aether.
The coherence between the Neo-Confucian worldview of natural law as expressed in the concepts of jen and Li, and the fundamental concepts of Christian humanism, is most clearly seen insofar as these concepts are reflections of the ideas expressed by the Christian notion of the Trinity.
Cusanus argues that the revealed truth of the Trinity, the triune God, consisting of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, always existed, even before the time of Christ, in the form of Unity, Equality, and Connection, and that the Trinity is thus inherent in any form of knowledge of the One God.
By Unity is meant the One and the Many co-existing in God; that the One God is the cause of everything singular, while every actual thing is singular in its essence precisely as it is a reflection of God's creation. This is God the Father. It should be clear that to the Neo-Confucians this is a description of Universal Principle, which is the One God, and which exists in each created thing as its nature.
By Equality is meant the unique capacity of man in his purest, God-given nature, in the living image of God, to approach equality with God, as a similitude of God, and through the intellect to examine and discover the similitude of all things to the Creator. For Christians, God the Son represents perfect Equality with God, while through the imitation of Christ every man can be one with Him. For the Neo-Confucians, this describes man's "innate luminous virtue," the particular Principle (Li) in each man, manifested through the Material Force (Ch'i, or Cusanus' "potential-to-become"), and through which, if kept unobscured and nourished through the sincere investigation of the Principle in things, can make it possible to walk in the Path of God (Tao).
By Connection, Cusanus meant precisely that divine love which flows from the Unity of God, connecting Him directly with his creation, and which flows also from the creatures of his creation through their Equality, or similitude, with God. This capacity to love is what defines man as being in the living image of God. To Christians, this is the Holy Spirit, St. Paul's agape, which proceeds from the Father and from the Son. To Confucians, this is jen, the boundless love of Heaven and Earth.
Thus, the three central concepts in Chu Hsi's Neo-Confucian worldview can be described as:
1. Universal Li (Principle), or the Great Ultimate, the origin of the universe;
2. Li (Principle), the nature of every created thing, imbedded in the process of creation through the instrument of the Ch'i (Material Force), the "geometry" or the lawful ordering principles of the created universe; and
3. jen, divine love, the essence of the Creation.
These three concepts, to Chu Hsi, are One. They constitute, not coincidentally, an equivalence in natural theology with the Trinity of Christian Renaissance humanism.
This ecumenical vision came close to becoming a reality at the end of the seventeenth century, through the nearly successful evangelization of China by Jesuit missionaries working with Neo-Confucian scholars under the Kang Hsi Emperor. The sabotage of that effort came primarily from Europe, from the Aristotelian faction whose reaction against the Golden Renaissance had fueled the Reformation, Counter-Reformation, and Enlightenment; it was assisted, however, by the emergence in China of a campaign against the Renaissance thought of Chu Hsi, and can be understood only by reviewing the intervening developments of the Neo-Confucian school.
What is the nature of the belief, or faith, of the Confucians?
The Faith of Confucianism
The often repeated contention that Confucianism is not a religion obscures the issue, for although the Rites of Confucianism do not include formalized rituals for the worship of God, the insistence on unbending faith in the truth of God is found throughout both the Confucian texts and those of the Neo-Confucians.
The Confucians use the term "sincerity" (cheng, ) in a much broader and deeper sense than the English term connotes. When used as a necessary quality in the virtuous man, it includes the sense of a strong faith in God. Being sincere of heart and mind is to follow the will of God in all things, not simply out of obligation, but due to uncompromising belief, or faith, in the Tao. Ch'eng I said,
The way to make the self sincere lies in having firm faith in God. As there is firm faith in God, one will put it into practice with determination. When one puts it into practice with determination, he will keep it securely. Then jen, righteousness, loyalty and faithfulness will never depart from his heart. (Reflections, 2:3)
Ch'eng Hao describes the superior man who lives by such sincerity as one who "makes uninterrupted effort all day," and "faces the Lord in Heaven all day." (Reflections, 1:19)
In the same way that St. Paul warned that one cannot fool God by performing acts of charity if one does not at the same time have total faith in God, so Chu Hsi warned:
There are indeed those people who do good their whole lives and yet who deceive themselves. One must arrange things completely. Only when one's intention is sincere will the mind be upright, and only when you have passed through this will you be able to advance. (Further Reflections, 2:21)
Cusanus made the same point:
One attains nothing without faith, which places the wanderer on his way at the beginning. Therefore, the power of our soul is able to climb upwards to the perfection of the intellect only insofar as it believes. ("On the Filiation of God," in Wertz)
Faith without charity is impossible, since faith is "formed" through works of charity, says Cusanus. God will not be fooled by insincere acts of charity, but even less can one who knows God shrink from acting to combat the great evil in the world, regardless of personal dangers. Ch'eng I said: "When sages and worthies know the Way is being destroyed in the world, can they remain seated, watching the chaos, and refuse to save the world?" (Reflections, 7:9)
Empiricists and positivists, following Aristotle, argue that faith in God is not in keeping with a "scientific" view of the world. Such a concept reduces "science" to no more than a description of the appearance of things, and is incapable of making any true scientific discovery, which must necessarily come from the discovery of a higher-ordering principle in the universe, bringing our knowledge closer to God's law, or Universal Principle. Chu Hsi addressed this in discussing the scientific investigation of the Principle of things:
The mind of God is the ruler, and the mind of man cannot dominate it. Thus, if we are faced with an extremely difficult task and for the tiniest instant are cut off from God, then human desire will be active. (Further Reflections, 4:13)
Here, he means selfish desires and habits. What is desired is good, said Chu, only when it is the desire for jen, or for "the idea of what can be loved." (Further Reflections, 1:15)
Chu Hsi agreed with Mencius that the nature of man was good, but he clarified this in order to combat various "Manichean" ideologies which used the Taoist yin-yang dualism to posit the equal existence of good and evil in the universe. To say simply that God is good is misleading, he said. It is better to say that God is the source of all goodness, for, said Chu, God is
an all pervading perfection not contrasted with evil. This is [also] true of what Heaven has endowed in the self. But when it operates in man, there is the differentiation of good and evil. When man acts in accord with it, there is goodness. When man acts out of accord with it, there is evil. (CTCS 42:9b-10a)
It is because man is endowed with free will, necessary for the exercise of reason, that he is capable of failing to act in accord with God's will, which causes evil. But such evil is not a choice between two equally eternal forces, but a failure to act in accord with the One eternal force. As St. Augustine made the some point, the existence of evil is not a necessary existence, but derives from a created thing (in Christianity, from the angel Lucifer), which acts against the only necessary existence, God.
This is essential in understanding the idea of man created in the image of God. Chu Hsi completed his discussion as follows:
What is received from Heaven is the same nature as that in accordance with which goodness ensues, except that as soon as good appears, evil, by implication, also appears, so that we necessarily speak of good and evil in contrast. But it is not true that there is originally an evil existing out there, waiting for the appearance of good to oppose it. We fall into evil only when our actions are not in accord with the original nature. (CTCS 42:9b-10a)
It is the same good whether before it has emerged or afterward when it becomes contrasted with evil. Only after its emergence is it intermingled with evil. But the good in this state is the same good that emanates from the source of our being. (CTCS 42:13b-14a)
Universal Classical Education
The purpose of education to the Ch'eng/Chu school was the transformation of the world, with the primary goal being that of providing every human child the opportunity to develop his "inborn luminous virtue," and become a sage. Ch'eng Hao said,
The essential training should be the way of choosing the good and cultivating the self until the whole world is transformed and brought to perfection so that all people from the ordinary person up can become sages. (Reflections, 9:2)
Chu Hsi, in his several political assignments and in his teachings and writings, insisted that anything less than classical education was, in the long run, more destructive than constructive. By education, Chu meant a rigorous examination of the Principle in all things, with the classics functioning as a guide for the process of that investigation.
Education to Chu was the basis upon which every child was connected to every other human being, past, present, and future. The study of the classics allowed the ancient sages to cross centuries of time and impart their eternal wisdom, and, together with the student, to build the proper future for all those to come. The curriculum was to be centered on the works of Confucius and Mencius. But, although Chu Hsi compiled the "Four Books" and wrote extensive commentaries, which he continued to refine throughout his life, he nonetheless denounced rote learning:
If students stick to the classics, recite them in order to know their words, and analyze them in order to penetrate their meaning without focusing on essentials, this is not learning. (Further Reflections, 2:24)
As to scientific and technical training, the Ch'eng/Chu School drew on the work of an early eleventh-century scholar and educator, Hu Yuän (993-1059), who taught many officials of the early Sung Dynasty. Hu Yün linked classical studies with courses on mathematics, hydraulic engineering, military science, and civil administration. He emphasized specialization only following a mastery of each field. Chu's curriculum added the study of astronomy, geography, topography, proper rites and music, and criminal justice.
However, Chu went to great effort to counter those who studied merely to pass examinations and win official positions, and even more those who fell into dilettantism, dabbling in the arts and literature to flatter leaders or pander to sensuality.
On the issue of morally depraved scholarship, the Neo-Confucians were uncompromising. During the T'ang Dynasty and into the Sung, an artistic school in art, poetry and music had developed which used flowery techniques and ornamentation to pander to sensual titillation. The Ch'eng/Chu sages insisted that the purpose and true Principle of art was the capacity to convey truth from one mind to another.
On literature, Ch'eng I said,
Today those who are engaged in writing literary compositions devote themselves exclusively to phraseology and diction in order to please people's ears and eyes.... The sage, however, unfolded and expressed what was held in his mind, and that naturally became literature. (Reflections, 2:57)
On music, Chou Tun-I was even more uncompromising:
Rulers claimed that ancient music is not worth listening to and replaced it by or changed it into modern music, which is seductive, licentious, depressive, and complaining. It arouses desires and increases bitterness without end.... Alas! Ancient music appeased the heart, but modern music enhances desires. Ancient music spread civilizing influence, but modern music increases discontent.
On poetry, Chu Hsi, in a preface to his commentary to the Book of Poetry, showed an understanding of the nature of tragedy in art:
The emotions sometimes may be morally right and sometimes morally wrong, so what is expressed may be either right or wrong. According to the sage-emperors, the emotions were rightly expressed if their language could be used for purposes of teaching. Even if the emotions became violent, their expression might be pedagogically useful as a warning....
Although Confucius was viewed as the greatest of all sages, and certainly worthy of imitation, the Neo-Confucians posited an idealized sage as a model for emulation. In the opening paragraph of the Reflection on Things at Hand, the basic collection of Neo-Confucian writings compiled by Chu Hsi, Chu quotes from Ch'eng I:
The sage establishes himself as the ultimate standard for man. Hence the character of the sage is "identical with that of Heaven and Earth; his brilliancy is identical with the sun and moon; his order is identical with the four seasons; and his good and evil fortunes are identical with those of spiritual beings." (Reflections, 1:1; the quoted passage is from the commentary on the first hexagram in the Book of Changes.)
The responsibilities of the sage cannot be simply enumerated. Primarily, as was stated in the "Western Inscription" above, his task is that of a model whose love of God and of His creation, and whose projection of jen in all his pursuits, "renews the people." But he cannot exclude from his responsibilities those of scientist, statesman, moral philosopher, and teacher. The Ch'eng/Chu writings refer repeatedly to the sins of omission of those who fail to achieve breakthroughs in all these areas.
Ch'eng I placed the responsibility for technological innovations, necessary for advancing the livelihood of the people, on the sage:
Take plows, plowshares, and the instruments of the potter and the blacksmith, for example. If any of these had not been invented, man's livelihood would have been reduced. How could sages and worthies stop speaking even if they wanted to? (Reflections, 2:5)
The Neo-Confucians were not only analyzing the cultural decay and economic collapse of the past centuries, they were constantly warning that if their policies were not adopted, that another breakdown crisis was imminent. (The Mongol invasion did, in fact, follow by only a few decades the death of Chu Hsi in 1200.) Ch'eng I addressed the task of the sage both generally and personally:
When sages and worthies know the Way is being destroyed in the world, can they remain seated, watching the chaos, and refuse to save the world?... [The sage] should investigate his fate to the utmost in order to fulfill his aim. When he knows that according to fate the situation should be so, his mind will not be disturbed by poverty, obstacles, or calamity. He will merely act according to what is right. (Reflections, 7:9 & 13)
Ch'eng I is equally clear that while a superior man cannot shrink from a crisis, it is also the case that the impending crisis can be met only if the sage is given the reins of power:
Things in the world will retreat if they do not advance. They cannot remain still.... The sage alone can handle the abnormal situation in an expedient manner.... (Reflections, 8:13)
Just as Chu Hsi fought for universal education, so he believed that every human being had the capacity to become a sage, if he would "diligently put his mind in order and not allow it to strive after material goods." (Further Reflections, 2:30) Lü Liu-liang, the seventeenth-century follower of Chu Hsi during the reign of the Kang Hsi Emperor, extended this idea to include both the freedom to develop and the necessity of that development. Referring to the famous "mandate of Heaven" bestowed on the Emperor, which is removed by Heaven if he fails to meet the needs of the people, Lü Liu-liang said:
This is not only a responsibility which weighs on the ruler. Everyone has his own self, and therefore there is no one on whom the responsibility does not lie.... The commoner may not have the official function of ordering the state and bringing peace to the world, but inherent in the fulfilling of his self-cultivation is the principle of ordering the state and bringing peace to the world. (deBary, Trouble with Confucius, R 71)
This is very close to the Christian notion of a personal relationship to God as the basis for individual sovereignty, located in the individual's capacity (and necessity) to bring change to the world as a whole.
In this light, the Ch'eng/Chu school also emphasized the potential for redemption of even the most evil of sinners. Chu said,
Even the most wicked person, if he can be good for one day, becomes a good man for that day. Is it possible that one cannot change? (Reflections,, 1:14)
For those who are most evil, my only lament is that they are so thick-headed and unenlightened. If in their own minds they would come to realize their insecurity and then follow up on this and correct the fault, could they too not be good people? (Further Reflections, 12:39)