Sage (shengren, 圣人)

  • Yueqing WangEmail author
  • Qinggang Bao
  • Guoxing Guan


“Sage” is an extremely important concept in Chinese philosophy; discussions in Confucianism, Daoism and Mohism have all revolved around this term. The ancient texts have explained “sage” as rui (睿) which means sagacious, sapient, percipient and farsighted and as tong (通) which means unimpeded access, passing through and going all the way (to the desired destination). In all, the term “sage” can be explained as “reaching in an unimpeded manner; percipient and wise” (通达睿智). The person that the sage refers to is someone who is above the common herd, of surpassing wisdom, and possessed of an ability to act in an unimpeded, far-reaching manner. In Chinese philosophy, what the sage represents contains two levels of meaning. First, it is the idealized character which the ancients sought to emulate; it is a value-orientation for self-improvement; this is the way of the “inner sage.” Second, it represents the model of the ideal sovereign, which reflects the pursuit after the ideal political model; this is the way of the “outer king.” Chinese philosophy’s investigation into the concept of the sage developed under this paradigm of “inner sage and outer king.” Apart from this, discussions about the sage also touched upon whether the sage is a product of nature or of latter-day cultivation.


  1. Ames, Roger T., and David L. Hall. 2003. Dao De Jing: A Philosophical Translation. New York: Ballantine Books.Google Scholar
  2. Chan, Wing-Tsit. 1963. Instructions for Practical Living and other Neo-Confucian Writings. New York and London: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Chan, Wing-Tsit. 1969. A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  4. Chan, Alan. “Do Sages Have Emotions?” Confucian Ethics in Retrospect and Prospect: Chinese Philosophical Studies, XXVII. Edited by Vincent Shen and Kwong-loi Shun. Washington, D.C.: The Council for Research in Values and Philosophy, 2008.Google Scholar
  5. Hutton, Eric L. 2014. Xunzi: The Complete Text. Princeton: Princeton University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Ziporyn, Brook. 2009. Zhuangzi: The Essential Writings. Indianapolis/Cambridge: Hackett Publishing.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Nanjing University Press 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.NanjingChina

Personalised recommendations