Dao Companion to the Philosophy of Xunzi

Volume 7 of the series Dao Companions to Chinese Philosophy pp 475-501


The Xunzi in Edo Japan

  • Hung-Yueh LanAffiliated withInstitute of Social Research and Cultural Studies, National Chiao Tung University Email author 

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The Xunzi was transmitted to Japan as early as the ninth century. However, prior to the Edo period (1603–1867), few people had read the Xunzi. It was not until the early part of the eighteenth century that Japanese studies of Xunzi began to flourish, namely when an important thinker in the intellectual history of the Edo period, Ogyū Sorai 狄生徂徠 (1666–1728), carefully read and commented on the Xunzi. Furthermore, with respect to Japanese intellectual history, Sorai’s own thinking was also stimulated by the Xunzi. Others, ranging from Edo-period Confucians after Sorai down to recent researchers, have especially emphasized this point, and have believed that Sorai’s thought is just a sort of extension of Xunzi’s thought. With regard to this view, the present essay adopts a relatively reserved attitude, however. To speak of its conclusion first, this essay judges that one cannot say that Sorai’s thought is just a sort of Edo-period extension of Xunzi’s thought, but rather it is the case that, based on “Ming dynasty knowledge” and under the guidance of the methodology of kobunjigaku / guwencixue 古文辭學 (“the study of ancient words and phrases”), Sorai uses the Xunzi to reconstruct “the Way of the sages.” The Xunzi is thus indeed an important text that stimulates Sorai’s thought, but there are many intellectual differences between Sorai and Xunzi that need to be clarified. This essay will focus on discussing these questions. Subsequently, based on this study, it will discuss the development of scholarship on Xunzi in Edo Japan after Sorai.