From the Liu wei 六位 (Six Positions) Discussed in the Liu de 六德 (Six Virtues) to the San gang 三綱 (Three Principles of Social Order)

  • Li Rui 
Part of the Dao Companions to Chinese Philosophy book series (DCCP, volume 10)


The Three Principles (san gang 三綱) of the traditional Chinese ritual concept dealing with the father–son, husband–wife and ruler–minister relationships have been intensely criticized in modern times. Many people believe Confucius engendered this doctrine but in fact its primary proponent was Dong Zhongshu 董仲舒 (179–104 bce). As the Liu de 六德—a manuscript recently unearthed at Guodian—has revealed, an early Confucian doctrine, namely, the Six Positions (Liu wei 六位), approached these relationships differently, classifying the father–son relationship as one that is internal within the family and the ruler–minister, external to the family. Greater importance is accorded to the internal; thence the spirit of Confucianism is one that abides by the dao 道 rather than the ruler. The Three Principles propounded by Dong Zhongshu, in contrast, explicated these relationships in terms of the yin–yang framework without regard to the closeness of relationships, resulting in the ruler–minister relationship ranking equal to, or even higher than, that of the father and son. The spirit of early Confucianism was thus lost. The discovery of the Liu de has revealed that the Three Principles were not original Confucian thought and their harmful effects are to be dissociated from Confucianism.


Six positions Three principles Six virtues Guodian manuscripts Confucius 


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Li Rui 
    • 1
  1. 1.School of HistoryBeijing Normal UniversityBeijingChina

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