Zhu Xi’s Ideal of Moral Politics: Theory and Practice

  • Diana ArghirescuEmail author
Part of the Dao Companions to Chinese Philosophy book series (DCCP, volume 13)


This analysis of Zhu Xi’s political thought is an attempt to argue for two main points. First, he was a profound and creative Neo-Confucian political thinker. Through his commentaries on the Four Books, Zhu sheds new light on Confucian and Mencian ancient political thought and gives them a whole new significance within the political and social context of his time. Second, to the extent possible given his modest position in the bureaucratic hierarchy and the context of his time, Zhu Xi valued what he considered his duty as a civil servant and was committed politically to actively putting into practice his vision of good governance in accordance with the political worldview of his School of principle (li xue 理學), which finds its source in the teaching of his Northern Song Masters, particularly that of the Cheng brothers. This study focuses on Zhu’s commentaries on the Four Books (Sishu zhangju jizhu 四書章句集注) (Zhu 2002, vol. 6), but also refers to the Family Rituals (Jiali 家禮) (Zhu 2002, vol. 7), Conversations of Master Zu (Zhuzi yulei 朱子語類) (Zhu 2002, vols. 14 and 17), Reflections on Things at Hand (Jinsilu 近思錄) (Zhu 2002, vol. 13), and Collected Works of Zhuwengong Huian (Huian xiansheng Zhuwengong wenji 晦庵先生朱文公文集) (Zhu 2002, vols. 20 and 21).


  1. Arghiresco, Diana. 2013. De la continuité dynamique dans l’univers confucéen, Lecture néoconfucéenne du Zhongyong 中庸. Paris: Éditions du Cerf. (This book provides a philosophical translation of the Zhongyong zhangju—Zhu Xi’s 12th century commentary on the Zhongyong, and builds a comparative [ancient Confucianism/twelfth-century Confucianism], intercultural [Chinese/Western] hermeneutics of Zhu Xi’s Neo-Confucian interpretation of the moral themes and notions presented in this classic.)Google Scholar
  2. Arghirescu, Diana. 2012. “Zhu Xi’s Spirituality: A New Interpretation of The Great Learning.” Journal of Chinese Philosophy 39.2: 272–289. (This article analyzes the spiritual dimension of Zhu Xi’s thought as reflected in his commentary of the four inner stages of the Great Learning [Daxue zhangju]).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. ———. 2018. “Connections Between Confucianism and Democracy in Xu Fuguan’s Thought: An Intercultural Hermeneutics.” Taiwan Journal of East Asian Studies 臺灣東亞文明研究學刊, 15.2: 129–172. (This essay intends to explore two new facets of Xu Fuguan’s 徐復觀 [1902–1982] work, which have not been previously addressed: his genuinely reconstructive understanding of the initially Western notion of democracy from within the core of Chinese tradition [Confucianism]; his new historical interpretation of the Confucian thought.)Google Scholar
  4. ———. 2019. “The Neo-Confucian Transmoral Dimension in Zhu Xi’s Moral Thought.” Philosophy East and West 69:1. (This essay is an examination of the perception during the Song dynasty of moral life and human nature as reflected in the moral thought of Zhu Xi and his commentaries on the Four Books. The thesis that this analysis defends is the existence of an immanent transmoral dimension within Neo-Confucian morality.)Google Scholar
  5. ———. Forthcoming. “Spiritual Discipline, Emotions and Behavior During the Song Dynasty: Zhu Xi’s and Qisong’s Commentaries on the Zhongyong in Comparative Perspective.” Philosophy East and West. Scheduled to be published in PEW 70:1 (January, 2020). Published electronically September 11, 2018. (This study proposes a comparative hermeneutics of two Song dynasty commentaries of the classic Zhongyong [Qisong’s 契嵩 (1007–1072) and Zhu Xi’s (1130–1200)] and puts forward a new perspective on this text, a viewpoint common to both Neo-Confucian and Chan schools, which focuses on emotions and on the “interdependent self.”)
  6. Barry, Brian. 1995. Justice as Impartiality. Oxford: Clarendon Press. (In this book, the author builds a theory of justice as impartiality, examines its principles and rules [i.e., justice, first-order impartiality and second-order impartiality] discusses impartial conceptions of the good, and responds to feminist criticism.)Google Scholar
  7. Bol, Peter. 2003. “Neo-Confucianism and Local Society, Twelfth to Sixteenth century: A Case Study.” In Paul Jakov Smith and Richard von Glahn, eds., The Song–Yuan–Ming Transition in Chinese History. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. (In this article, the author analyzes Neo-Confucian movements as evidence of competition between the part of the government that sought to reassert the authority and centrality of the court and those local literati who envisioned a more decentralized society. He argues that Neo-Confucianism provided the would-be decentralizers with both a program and a philosophical justification.)Google Scholar
  8. ———. 2004. “On the Problem of Contextualizing Ideas: Reflections on Yu Yingshi’s Approach to the Study of Song Daoxue.” Journal of Song–Yuan Studies 34. (This essay is a reflection on the methodological stance Yu Ying-shih takes in the introduction of his study of the historical world of Zhu Xi. The author explains that he is not convinced that “political culture” alone is an adequate approach for understanding how Daoxue as a social and intellectual movement made a connection between ideals and social life.)Google Scholar
  9. Chan, Wing-tsit. 1987. Chu Hsi, Life and Thought. Hong Kong: The Chinese University of Hong Kong. (In this book, the author examines several issues concerning Zhu Xi: the way in which partisanship has distorted the true character of Zhu Xi’s life and thought; the fact that he was not merely a synthesizer but an innovator in many fields; and his contribution to world philosophy. The author thus intends to demonstrate that Zhu Xi added something new to Neo-Confucianism, thus making it complete.)Google Scholar
  10. ———. 1989. Chu Hsi, New Studies. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. (The author aims to present hitherto undisclosed material and neglected topics on Zhu Xi’s life, his thought and his pupils and associates, from the Wenji, the Yulei and other sources.)Google Scholar
  11. de Bary, Wm. Theodore. 1953. “A Reappraisal of Neo-Confucianism.” In Arthur F. Wright, ed., Studies in Chinese Thought. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. (The article stresses that study of the Confucian tradition after the classical period has tended to overlook the development of its political and social doctrines. It also highlights the need to reassert Confucian ethics as essential to political stability and social welfare.)Google Scholar
  12. Golas, J. Peter. 1980. “Rural China in the Song.” The Journal of Asian studies. 39.2: 291–325. (This paper explains the emergence of a new rural order during the Song, which defined the relations between the landlords [officials] and their tenants. In connection with this issue, it discusses the special characteristic of the Song government: promoting the well-being of the peasantry through policies encouraging farming and aiming to increase the agricultural production.)Google Scholar
  13. Hsiao, Kung-chuan 蕭公權. 1979. A History of Chinese Political Thought, vol. 1: From the Beginnings to the Sixth Century A. D. Translated by F. W. Mote. Princeton: Princeton University Press. (This book is an attempt to make a systematic study of China’s political thought, with the Zhou period as the starting point. It first presents the rise of political thought in connection with the rapid changes underwent in the structure of society and with the appearance of great thinkers; second, it establishes a periodization of the history of Chinese political thought in accordance with the main outlines of the development of thought; third, it examines this periodization in accordance with the historical backgrounds of thought.)Google Scholar
  14. Hsiao, Kung-chuan 蕭公權. 2011. A History of Chinese Political Thought 中國政治思想史, vol. 1. Taipei 臺北: Lianjing chuban gongsi 聯經出版公司. (This first volume attempts to systematically identify the characteristics of the Chinese political theory through examining the political dimensions of Chinese thought during the pre-Qin period [ancient Confucianism and Taoism], throughout the Qin, Han, Tang periods to the Song dynasty.)Google Scholar
  15. Kao, Ming. 1986. “Chu Hsi’s Discipline of Propriety.” In Chan Wing-tsit, ed., Chu Hsi and Neo-Confucianism. Honolulu: University of Chicago Press. (This article first introduces the three elements of the Discipline of Propriety, i.e., the study of the Rites of Zhou [Zhouguan 周官], the study of the Ceremonies and rites [Yili 儀禮], the study of the Book of rites [Liji 禮記]; second, it presents Zhu Xi’s works on the discipline of propriety.)Google Scholar
  16. Lakoff, George. 2016. Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think. Chicago: Chicago University Press. (In this book, the author analyzes the worldviews of liberals and conservatives, provides evidence that they have different conceptions of morality, and explains how moral ideas develop in systematic ways from our models of ideal families.)Google Scholar
  17. Pocock, J. G. A. 1971. “Ritual, Language, Power: an Essay on the Apparent Political Meanings of Ancient Chinese Philosophy.” In Politics, Language and Time: Essays on Political Thought and History. New York: Atheneum. (In this essay, the author proposes the following enterprise: the writing of histories of East Asian political thought comparable with those which we have for the classical and postclassical West.)Google Scholar
  18. Schirokauer, M. Conrad. 1960. “The Political Thought and Behavior of Chu Hsi.” Ph.D. Diss., Stanford University. (The author’s aim is to present a general analysis of Zhu Xi as a political thinker and as an official. The study takes into account Zhu Xi’s views on metaphysics, psychology, classical exegesis, historiography, only as far as they are relevant to the political and economic aspects of his thought. It also introduces biographical material only to the extent to which it casts light on his political career.)Google Scholar
  19. ———. 1975. “Neo-Confucians Under Attack: The Condemnation of Wei-hsüeh.” In John Winthrop Haeger, ed., Crisis and Prosperity in Sung China. Tucson: University of Arizona Press. (The essay describes the bitter debate over “spurious learning,” which has its origins in the genuine Neo-Confucian effort to sort through the parentage of ideas, was fueled by factional politics, and finally led to a temporary ban on the most influential thinkers of the day.)Google Scholar
  20. ———. 1978. “Chu Hsi’s Political Thought.” Journal of Chinese Philosophy 5: 127–148. (This article examines several political ideas of Zhu Xi in connection with the classic Daxue: linking ethics and politics, self-cultivation and government, the cultivation of the “inner” man as political obligation, the rectification of the ruler’s mind, the selection and appointment of high officials.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Schirokauer, Conrad, and Robert P. Hymes. 1993. “Introduction.” In Robert P. Hymes and Conrad Schirokauer, eds., Ordering the World: Approaches to State and Society in Sung Dynasty China. Berkeley: University of California Press. (The article presents different social and political changes that occurred during the Song dynasty. First change concerns an apparent secular decline in the power of the Chinese state; the second change refers to the economic and social transformation that has been called the “Tang–Song transition”; the third change discussed is the difference between the northern Song elite and the Southern Song elite.)Google Scholar
  22. Tillman, Hoyt C. 1982. “The Debate on Ethics in Politics.” In Utilitarian Confucianism: Chen Liang’s Challenge to Chu Hsi. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. (This is a study of Chen Liang 陳亮 [1143–1194] and his debate with Zhu Xi. It explores China’s socio-political thought in the twelfth century and two of its dominant trends—“ethics of social orientations or end results” and “ethics of absolute ends or personal virtue.”)Google Scholar
  23. ———. 1992. Confucian Discourse and Chu Hsi’s Ascendency. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. (The author aims to introduce the historical development of Daoxue Confucianism during the Southern Song. The analysis is organized around four major questions concerning the success of the Confucian fellowship, Zhu Xi’s prominence in the tradition, other alternatives within the fellowship, and implications for studying Confucian philosophy.)Google Scholar
  24. Von Glahn, Richard. 1993. “Community and Welfare: Chu Hsi’s Community Granary in Theory and Practice.” In Robert P. Hymes and Conrad Schirokauer, eds., Ordering the World: Approaches to State and Society in Sung Dynasty China. Berkeley: University of California Press. (This article examines the issue of community-granary, a concept popularized by Zhu Xi and his disciples as a new vision of political activism grounded in both moral cultivation and the pressing social needs of the times.)Google Scholar
  25. Yu, Ying-shih 余英時. 2003. The Historical World of Zhu Xi: A Study of the Political Culture of Song Intellectuals 朱熹的歷史世界:宋代士大夫政治文化的研究, vol. 2. Taipei 臺北: Yunchen wenhua 允晨文化. (In this monumental work, the author develops a synthesis between the Song intellectual history and the Song political history, and examines their interaction within the context of Zhu Xi’s life.)Google Scholar
  26. Zhu, Xi. 1991. Chu Hsi’s Family Rituals. Translated by Patricia B. Ebrey. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  27. Zhu, Xi 朱熹. 2002. The Collected Works of Master Zhu 朱子全書, 27 vols. Shanghai 上海: Shanghai guji chubanshe 上海古籍出版社 and Hefei 合肥: Anhui jiaoyu chubanshe 安徽教育出版社.Google Scholar
  28. ———. 2005. Reflections on Things at HandNew Interpretation 新譯近思錄. Translated by Zhang Jinghua 張京華. Taipei 臺北: Sanmin shuju 三民書局.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversité du Québec à MontréalMontréalCanada

Personalised recommendations