Tuesday, December 19, 2006


Many people consider Zhuangzi, the great Daoism philosopher, as an utterly free but cold person. This is largely because of his claim of wuqing. Yet to understand Zhuangzi’s wuqing simply as “without feelings, emotions or passions” is superficial and it’s far from his true intent. Zhuangzi, as I understand him, also has feelings about human life, but he is alert to the possible harm qing could do to his body, which is given by tian, therefore, he tries to use li () to free himself from it.

One reason account for Zhuangzi’s content of wuqing is that you (being, existing) and wu (non-being, non-existing), sheng (living) and si (dead) are the same; they are bound together in an interchanging circle.

When Chuang Tzu's wife dies, Hui Tzu went to condole. He found the widower sitting on the ground, singing, with his legs spread out at a right angle, and beating time on a bowl.

'To live with your wife', exclaimed Hui Tzu, 'and see your eldest son grow up to be a man, and then not to shed a tear over her corpse, this would be bad enough. But to drum on a bowl, and sing; surely this is going too far.'

'Not at all', replied Chuang Tzu. 'When she died, I could not help being affected by her death. Soon, however, I remembered that she had already existed in a previous state before birth, without form, or even substance; that while in that unconditioned condition, substance was added to spirit; that this substance then assumed form; and that the next stage was birth. And now, by virtue of a further change, she is dead, passing from one phase to another like the sequence of spring, summer, autumn, and winter. And while she is thus lying asleep in Eternity, for me to go about weeping and wailing would be to proclaim myself ignorant of these natural laws. Therefore I refrain.' 1

Here Huishi represents the conventional perception of life and death, that life is something to be cherished and death is something to be mourned. On the contrary, Zhuangzi views death from a position higher than conventional emotions, appearing calm and rational. In Zhuangzi, the boundary between life and death doesn’t exist for they are forever transforming from one to another just like the sequence of spring, summer, autumn, and winter. Many critics have opposed Zhuangzi on this point, for instance, in the Preface of The Orchid Pavilion, the great writer, XiZhi Wang writes: “Well I know it is a lie to say that life and death are the same thing, and that longevity and early death make no difference!” 2

In a passage where Zhuangzi mentions the forms of qing: “Joy and anger, sadness and pleasure, anticipation and regret, fickleness and fixedness, vehemence and indolence, eagerness and tardiness”, he says: “(all these moods), like music from an empty tube, or mushrooms from the warm moisture, day and night succeed to one another and come before us, and we do not know whence they sprout. Let us stop! Let us stop! Can we expect to find out suddenly how they are produced?” It seems that qing to Zhuangzi is vague and traceless. He goes on to say that “It might seem as if there would be a true Governor concerned in it, but we do not find any trace (of his presence and acting). That such an One could act so I believe; but we do not see His form. He has affections, but He has no form.” 3This true Governor who has affection but no form appears to me as natural alterations in moods and feelings.

But when it comes to the sage, Zhuangzi contents that “He has the bodily form of man, but not the passions and desires of (other) men” because “The sagely man lays no plans;-- of what use would wisdom be to him? He has no cutting and hacking to do;-- of what use would glue be to him? He has lost nothing;-- of what use would arts of intercourse be to him? He has no goods to dispose of;-- what need has he to play the merchant? (The want of) these four things are the nourishment of (his) Heavenly (nature); that nourishment is its Heavenly food. Since he receives this food from Heaven, what need has he for anything of man's (devising)?”4 And as a result of not having the feelings of a man, “right and wrong cannot get at him.”5 Here we could see the notion of “right and wrong” (shi/fei) is brought up the table. It seems that the virtue of being without feelings is that people are excluded from the troubles of shi/fei . This connection between shi/fei and qing is clearer stated in the following text:

Hui Tzu said to Chuang Tzu, "Can a man really be without feelings?"

Chuang Tzu: "Yes."

Hui Tzu: "But a man who has no feelings-how can you call him a man?"

Chuang Tzu: "The Way gave him a face; Heaven gave him a form - why can't you call him a man?"

Hui Tzu: "But if you've already called him a man, how can he be without feelings?"

Chuang Tzu: "That's not what I mean by feelings. When I talk about having no feelings, I mean that a man doesn't allow likes or dislikes to get in and do him harm. He just lets things be the way they are and doesn't try to help life along."

Hui Tzu: "If he doesn't try to help life along, then how can he keep himself alive?"

Chuang Tzu: "The Way gave him a face; Heaven gave him a form. He doesn't let likes or dislikes get in and do him harm. You, now - you treat your spirit like an outsider. You wear out your energy, leaning on a tree and moaning, slumping at your desk and dozing - Heaven picked out a body for you and you use it to gibber about `hard' and `white'!" 6

In this passage, Zhuangzi’s recognition of the ability of distinguish shi/fei as the unique character of human beings seems to resonate with the teachings of Mencius and Xunzi. As Xunzi says: “[A human being] is not as strong as the ox, nor as swift as the horse, and yet he makes the ox and the horse work for him. Why? Because he is able to organize himself in society and they are not. Why is he able to organize himself in society? Because he sets up hierarchical distinctions” 7However, Zhuangzi’s attitude towards this ability are almost exactly the opposite of these held by the other Confucian philosophers. In another word, while Mencius and Xunzi advocate this ability of mankind, saying man should exercise it to a full extent in order to be a complete human being, Zhuangzi preaches that it is exactly the ability one should do without. Because it seems that the other Confucian philosophers’ goal is to be make the full use of the capacities of human, to be as human as possible, the goal of Zhuangzi is to be a sage, which is as far from human and conventional life as possible. Just as Slingerland says, “Indeed, the tendency to fall under the sway of shi/fei distinctions seems to Zhuangzi to be a deeply rooted human disposition: he refers to it as the ‘essence’ (qing) of human beings (i.e. that which distinguishes human beings from other living beings), and describes it as something that the Daoist sage must learn to do without”.8

So according to Zhuangzi, how should we lead our lives? Zhuangzi hasn’t provide us with a straight forward answer, because to do so means he has to dictate some doctrine or principle upon people, telling them shi/fei, which runs into contrary with the Daoism principle that everything revolves in a cycle. So what Zhuangzi does is to give us a description of a person who leads a life he advocates. Zhuangzi says: “The True men of old knew nothing of the love of life or of the hatred of death. Entrance into life occasioned them no joy; the exit from it awakened no resistance. Composedly they went and came. They did not forget what their beginning bad been, and they did not inquire into what their end would be. They accepted (their life) and rejoiced in it; they forgot (all fear of death), and returned (to their state before life).” And the result of this is that in those people there are “what is called the want of any mind to resist the Tâo, and of all attempts by means of the Human to assist the Heavenly”.9

This shows a picture of a truly free man, who has reached a state of which Zhuangzi calls xiao yao. Such a man is wuqing. Since the boundaries of men are created by his surroundings, by being wuqing, not caring about the surroundings, the True men can do anything he wants and are not bound to the conventional principles, or restricted by shi/fei. Wuqing means he has no desires, feelings, attitudes, or positions. He would not argue with people and he would not be argued against. He doesn’t care other people’s opinions to him, thus he could be truly independent in his conducting and thinking. This “advice seems unable to conform to the actual human situation. One may push a bit further in interpretation: If one follows Zhuangzi’s advice and abandons his existing desires, feelings, and ideas, he then no longer insists on any certain thing. As a consequence, he enters a field in which his current ideas, attitudes, and positions will lose control of him. Such a release will enable him to transform into a stage of life containing new ideas, attitudes, and positions.”10

It seems that Zhuangzi endorses a kind of disconnectedness with one’s surroundings and that he tents to cut off one’s relationships with the outside, however, it is not the case. The purpose of wuqing is not wuqing itself, but to avoid hurting one’s body which is given by the heaven and considered “true” (zhen). He contents that one should use li to reform qing and let qing follow li. Wangbi, a great scholar of the Wei Era, best describes this idea of wuqing: “conforms to subjects but not to be burdened by them” (應物而不纍於物).

Digging into the bottom of Zhuangzi’s idea of wuqing, we could see that it actually comes from the notion of “one and thousand as the same” (齐一万物)and “life and death as the same” (混同生死), which rooted in the Daoism philosophy as early as Laozi.

This reminds me of what is said in the Daodejing about the heaven and earth being wu qing ( or as later found in earlier text as bu ren ): “Heaven and earth do not act from (the impulse of) any wish to be benevolent; they deal with all things as the dogs of grass are dealt with. The sages do not act from (any wish to be) benevolent; they deal with the people as the dogs of grass are dealt with.”11 As Roger Ames comments: “Repeatedly the Daodejing expresses a fascination for the way in which an indeterminate source spontaneously and inexhaustibly gives rise to the provisionally determinate phenomena that we experience around us… Rather than relying upon externally acquired and often ineffectual learning, we should look to this inner source.”12

1 Chuang Tzu. Chuang Tzu. Translated by Herbert A. Giles. First edition, 1889; second edition, 1923. Chapter 18

2 Yutang, L., 1998. The Importance of Living. City: Perennial Currents. Xizhi Wang, Translated from The Orchid Pavilion by Yutang Lin

3 James Legge, The Writings of Chuang Tzu, Julian Press (1959). Khî Wû Lun, or 'The Adjustment of Controversies.'

4 Ibid. Teh Khung Fû, or 'The Seal of Virtue Complete.'

5 Watson, Burton. Basic Writings of Chuang Tzu. New York: Columbia University Press, 1996. The Sign of Virtue Complete

6 Ibid. The Sign of Virtue Complete)

7 Hs ̈un Tzu: Basic Writings. Translated by Burton Watson. New York: Columbia University Press. 1963. 45

8 Edward Slingerland. Effortless Action: Wu-wei As Conceptual Metaphor and Spiritual Ideal in Early China. Oxford University Press, USA, 2006. P286

9 James Legge, The Writings of Chuang Tzu, Julian Press (1959). Tâ Tsung Shih, or 'The Great and Most Honoured Master.'

10 Wenyu Xie, Approaching the Dao: From Lao Zi to Zhuang Zi, Journal of Chinese Philosophy Volume 27, Issue 4, Page 469-488, Dec 2000

11 Lao-Tse, The Tao Teh King [Daodejing], Or The Tao And Its Characteristics . Translated by James Legge. Chapter 5

12 Ames, Roger and Henry Rosemont. Daodejing “Making This Life Significant”. New York: Ballantine Books/Ballantine Pub. Group, 2003. 25

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Walking Towards the Horizon

To translate the title Daodejing, one must first have a basic understanding of the book itself. The discussion in the book could roughly be divided into two parts: one about dao, and one about de. While there are hundreds of different translations of the book, people’s translations of dao are more or less the same: many as “way, path, etc”, most just leave it alone. Many scholars, however, disagree on the translation of de. So my first attempt to translate the title is by rendering a felicitous translation of de. But I failed because as I was looking for evidences in the book to support my translation I find it impossible to discuss, let alone having a clear understanding of, de without looking at it along with “dao, wuwei, wuming”. In the same way, it is impossible to discuss any of the other three terms without viewing the rest.

While it is difficult to give a translation straight away, it is relatively clear to me what kind of ideas I want to convey in my translation. First, the dao should be a word that could be used both as a verb and a noun. Second, the direction of the dao should be toward something good and grand. Because no matter how de is translated, it could by no means be defined as vice or evil. And since the book mainly talks about cosmos and governing, the dao should be broad enough to carry tian. Third, the approach to dao and de is natural/ spontaneous and noncoercive. Fourth, the title should suggest a sense of continuity and transforming. The former two is easy to accomplish in a translation, whereas it is difficult to find the English equivalency of dao and de that can express the meaning of both naturalness and transforming.

Eventually, I came up the translation “Walking Towards the Horizon”. This is by no means the best translation, however, I believe it is a more expressive translation than most other ones.

Walking” gives a sense of spontaneous progressing, and it constant with one meaning of dao as road. “Towards” gives a sense of direction, suggesting it’s moving along the direction to something good. The word “horizon” is far from what generally held as de, but I think it is this word that livens the whole translation up.

When you think about horizon, what comes into your mind? Grand, endless, sun-rise and sunset, the sky meets the earth. At the same time, though it doesn’t say anything about virtue or moral, it gives people a feeling of magnificence and greatness. This is because, as far as I’m concerned, people are usually in awe with something grand, and moreover, people have the presumption that tian is always virtuous and right. Such assumptions could be seen from a number of Chinese Classics, including the ones we learnt, namely Zhongyong, in which it discusses people’s natural tendencies as given by the heavens. One interesting aspect of this is the fact that the horizon did nothing to make itself magnificent or great yet is perceived so is consistent with Daodejing’s notion of “wuwei and therefore achieve greatness”.

In addition, because no matter for how long you walk towards the horizon, it never ends and is forever expending/ stretching forward; this can give you a sense of continuity. It is also interesting to ask when that happens whether you have really got closer to the horizon or not? The answer of this question maybe find in the book’s discussion of youwei and wuwei. Furthermore, youwei and wuwei, just as the sunrise and sunset, is forever transforming from one to another.

Another reason why I propose the translation “Walking Towards the Horizon” is that I believe nothing can better put human being, the earths and the heavens into context than the picture of human beings walking towards the horizon.

From my above explanation, you could see that I place much importance on spontaneity, noncoerciveness, continuity and transforming. It is because I believe Daodejing does the same.

Human beings emulate the earth,

The earth emulates the heavens,

The heavens emulate way-making,

And way-making emulates what is spontaneously so (ziran).1

This passage tells us the working of the human and cosmos. It correlates human beings with the earth, the heavens, way-making and ziran (nature), and put ziran on a fundamental position. Ziran, what is spontaneously so, implies that no deliberate human effort or influence is needed, i.e. wuwei.

Wuwei doesn’t mean doing nothing; it means noncoercive, going with what is naturally so. Everything has its natural tendencies. Letting these tendencies carry out by themselves can realize their potentials. That is why Daodejing says: “One does things noncoercively, and yet nothing goes undone.”2 And when this idea applied to governing, it is also effective: “It is simply in doing things noncoercively (wuwei) that everything is governed properly.”3

Moreover, this wuwei is in close connection with the notion of wuming. Those wuwei should remain wuming because “Way-making (dao) is really nameless (wuming).”4 and “To retire when the deed is done is the way (dao) that tian works.”5 So wuming is one aspect of dao, as it is one aspect of tian.

Laozi also says: “The highest renown is to be without renown, They do not want to be precious like jade, But common like stone.” 6 But to understand “common as stone” as banal is far from what the original text wants to say. As far as I’m concerned, “common as stone” suggests not draw attention to oneself, and what’s more, because jade is precious and mostly processed, “common as stone” also indicates living in a rich context/ environment, and being natural and modest.

Then there is the notion of continuity and transforming. In Daoism, everything is forever changing. Nothing has only one form. For example, water could appear in the form of ice, water or steam; it also could appear in lakes, rivers, or oceans. These different forms of water could easily transform to one another, in addition, the different water bodies are constantly exchanging their containing water.

Perhaps the most prominent idea in Daoism is transforming, changing from one side to the opposite. It’s the way to maintain the continuity. It is common knowledge that the sun rises and then the sunsets, day becomes night. Day to night, as sunrise to sunset, are the opposite of each other. Time is what works in between them, transforming them to another. Yet without this transformation, time would have no meaning, it would not continue, a new day would not begin. Similarly, we are born to die.

Returning” is how way-making (dao) moves,

And “weakening” is how it functions.

The events of the world arise from the determinate (you),

And the determinate arise from the indeterminate (wu).7

So as we were born and filled with life, we are actually weakening and getting closer and closer to death every minute. It seems that the world spins, but never makes much progress as it would always return to its original form. Does this mean Laozi, or Daoism is pessimistic? I don’t think that way.

I see you and wu as two sides of an apple, the one facing you is you, and the one opposite you and thus you can’t see is wu. Now even if the wu part of the apple is bitten, when you see the unbitten side of the apple (you), you would still think the apple is a whole, that the wu part is the same as the you part. But you are deceived. How could a small apple deceive human beings, the supreme beings in the universe? Why are we so readily to make assumptions of something opposite us? The answer is quite simple. It’s because we all know that apple, as well as any other things, could not only have one side. Even a piece of paper, no matter how thin is it, it has to have two sides. The existence of one side is on the condition of the existence of the other. In this apple analogy, the complete side couldn’t exist if not for the bitten side just as you and wu are interdependent and non could exist without the other.

In Lau’s translation of Passage 42, it says:

The way begets one;

One begets two;

Two begets three;

Three begets the myriad creatures.

The myriad creatures carry on their backs the yin and embrace in their arms the yang

and are the blending of the generative forces of the two. 8

Ames contextualized the vogue terms and rendered a translation as follows:

Way-making gives rise to continuity,

Continuity gives rise to difference,

Difference gives rise to plurality,

And plurality gives rise to the manifold of everything that is happening.

Everything carries yin on its shoulders and yang in its arms

And blends these vital energies (qi) together to make them harmonious.9

The metaphor of yin on shoulders and yang in arms are similar to that of you and wu. But Daodejing does not stop on the coexisting and transforming of the opposites, it brings the relation of you and wu to a new level by saying they are co-consummate. The Daodejing says:

Crimped then whole,

Warped then true,

Hollow then full,

Worn then new,

Modest then satisfied,

Demanding then bewildered.

Is it for this reason that the sages grasp oneness

To be shepherds to the world.

Those who are not self-promoting are distinguished,

Those who do not show off shine,

Those who do not brag have lots to show,

Those who are not self-important and enduring.

It is only because they do not contend

That none are able to contend with them.10

To Laozi, the consummation of anything is based on not deliberately perusing it, only then can one acquire it through natural course. Otherwise, it would be like someone who is chasing the horizon, ends up exhausting himself without gaining anything.

Based on the above analysis of the Daoism notion of cosmos, spontaneity, transforming, I propose the translation of Daodejing as “Walking Towards the Horizon”. Nevertheless, I realize my translation is by no means perfect; it has limitations as to explaining the relationship between dao and de and how each or both works on people. Much discussion and a careful study of not only Laozi, but all Daoism works, is needed for rendering a felicitous translation to the title.

1 Ames, Roger and Henry Rosemont. Daodejing “Making This Life Significant”. New York: Ballantine Books/Ballantine Pub. Group, 2003. 25

2 Ibid. 48

3 Ibid. 3

4 Ibid. 32 & 37

5 Ibid. 9

6 Ibid. 39

7 Ibid. 40

8 Tzu, L. & Lau, D. C., (1994). Tao Te Ching. City: Everyman's Library. 42

9 Ames, Roger and Henry Rosemont. Daodejing “Making This Life Significant”. New York: Ballantine Books/Ballantine Pub. Group, 2003. 42

10 Ibid. 22


Tuesday, December 5, 2006

Why the Confucian China would not Wage a War Against Iraq

-- The Proposition of 修人观

I want to start with an argument that if the Confucian China were the U.S. (it’s very important not to miss the Confucian here), it would not wage a war against Iraq. This argument is based on my proposition that the Confucian philosophy holds a “修人观”. means cultivation/ education. has two levels of meaning: human beings and oneself. This proposition is mainly concerned with three aspects: 1) “由下至上”: the Confucian philosophy is from bottom to top, i.e. it starts at a personal level and then rises to family, community, state, and then the cosmos; 2) “由内而外”: like an extending ripple, to exert an effect on others or the cosmos one should start by cultivating oneself, only then can one affect the people and objects he has relationships with; likewise, in order to influence other states, a country should start by developing itself; 3) “成己成物成人(仁)”: consummating oneself, consummating other events and being a consummate person, these are the desired results of cultivation / education.

By saying the Confucian China would not wage a war against Iraq, I do not claim that it is because one should repay ill with beneficense, Confucius believes that punishments are necessary, and punishments should be given to where punishments are due. As said in the Analects: “(If one repay ill with beneficense, ) then how would one repay beneficence? Repay ill will remaining true. Replay beneficense with gratitude.”1 This leads us to believe that it might be possible for the Confucian China to wage a war against Iraq if 1) Iraq is identified as ill; and 2) by going into war we are actually remaining true. However, both assumptions are controversial. So instead of focusing on the justification / injustification of the Iraqi war, this essay attempts to discover the way in which the Confucian China would solve the Iraqi problems if it were in the position of the U.S..

The Confucian China has the capacity to go into a war; it is not an armless country. This could be drawn from a conversation between Zigong and Confucius when “Zigong asked about governing effectively. The Master said to him, ‘Make sure there is sufficient food to eat, sufficient arms for defense, and that the common people have confidence in their leaders.’” Armory and force is necessary in protecting a state against its enemies, and unfortunately, necessary in maintaining order within an morally imperfect state. However, Confucius goes on to say that “If you had to give up one of these three things… Give up the arms (first)”. That is to say among these three necessities of governing, arms is dispensable. This is because when the common people have food at eat and have confidence in their leaders, they themselves would not revolt and when attacked, they would be able to unite together and fight against the enemies. This passage goes on: “If you had to give up one of the remaining two,” he (Zigong) said, “which should be given up first?” “Give up the food,” he replied, “Death has been with us from ancient times, but if the common people do not have confidence in their leaders, community will not endure.”2 Now we can see that Confucius places common people’s confidence in their leaders on a higher position than deaths. Why? My understanding is that it’s not the confidence itself that is important but a leader who is worthy of such confidence, a leader that is similar to the Platonic philosopher-king. And the becoming of such a leader also requires education / cultivation.

The sense of “from bottom to top” is clearly showed in Zhongyong, as it says: “In general there are nine guidelines in administering the empire, the state, and the family: cultivate one’s person, esteem those of superior character, be devoted to one’s kin, respect the high ministers, be inclusive of the whole assembly of ministers, treat the common people as one’s children, attract the artisans, be tolerant of those from afar, and cherish the various nobles.”3

Moreover, if you observe how the Chinese character is formed you’ll find there is some truth to the notion that ren (human, person) is the foundation of all phenomena in the Confucian philosophy. Starting with (authoritative conduct), this is is its perfection; and , which is the basic component of a state (国家) is formed by several people, and ultimately, , which is, in fact, a very interesting character. You can see the in it, meaning the people is a part of tian, but not only that, the two strikes also have meaning. As far as I’m concerned, the upper one refers to the position of tian as above human beings and the middle strike refers to the responsibility human shoulders, which is carrying out the xing (“natural tendencies”) tian has given us, so ren is not only a part of tian, but also an active part. Furthermore, notice that the upper strike is placed upon ren, this could mean 1) the divine influence of tian on human beings; 2) ren is what holds up the tian; tian relies on / is built upon human activities/ conducts; so it shows the creative role human plays in the tian-ren relationship.

That is why I think Confucian philosophy is a from-bottom-to-top philosophy, both in a sociological sense and in a cosmological sense. It is important to note that the bottom here doesn’t mean low in terms of importance, it means personal, yet foundational.

The second aspect of my proposition, from inner to outside, is fairly straightforward. It means a person effect others and the people by cultivating himself first. When Zilu asked about what constitutes exemplary persons. Confucius said, “The cultivation of himself in reverential carefulness.” And when Zilu pursued the answer, Confucius said: “He cultivates himself so as to give rest to others… He cultivates himself so as to give rest to all the people. He cultivates himself so as to give rest to all the people:– even Yâo and Shun were still solicitous about this.” 4

This inner to outside notion plays a key role in Confucian China’s decision in not waging a war against Iraq. “Those near at hand are pleased, and those at a distance are drawn to you.”5 It shows the kind of Confucian idealism of governing by modeling, not governing by law and principle. Unlike western tradition in which to change others is done by making them change, the Confucian tradition is about making oneself better / adjusting oneself so as to show the others what is proper. As Confucius put it: “Governing effectively is doing what is proper. If … (the governor) lead by doing what is proper, who would dare to do otherwise?”6 So in an idealistic Confucian China, the best way to solve the problems with Iraq is not by fighting against it, but by educating our own country, our own people about ren (), by being a model and effecting the Iraqi leaders and their people in a positive way. When that is achieved, “what need is there for killing”?

The last is the notion of consummating. Confucius has very high standards for consummate persons, such persons should be wise, free from desires, bold, cultivated, “and who in addition, have become refined through observing ritual propriety and playing music”. Yet because of the lack of morality in the status quo, Confucius says that “if on seeing a chance to profit they think of appropriate conduct, on seeing danger they are ready to give their lives, and when long in desperate straits, they still do not forget the words they live by – such persons can also be said to be consummate”7. Being such a consummate person requires one to constantly educate oneself, and exercise the creativity tian has given him. Zhongyong says: “Creativity is self-consummating, and its way is self-directing.” And since the Confucian philosophy is concerned with relationships, not individuals, this “creativity is not simply the self-consummating of one’s own person; it is what consummates events.” Zhongyong goes on to say: “Consummating oneself is authoritative conduct; consummating other events is wisdom. This is the excellence of one’s natural tendencies and is the way of integrating what is more internal and what is more external. Thus, whenever one applies this excellence, it is fitting.”8 Because authoritative conduct and wisdom are criteria for a consummate person, it could be concluded that 修人 is a consummatory process that includes the consummation of oneself and events.

It is interesting to note that the Confucian philosophy is not the only philosophy that is concerned about consummation in a relational context, in Chapter 1 of John Dewey’s Art as Experience, he says: “For only when an organism shares in the ordered relations of its environment does it secure the stability essential to living. And when the participation comes after a phase of disruption and conflict, it bears within itself the germs of a consummation akin to the esthetic.”9

Now we can draw the conclusion that the Confucian tradition holds a 修人观 that advocates consummating oneself and events as a way achieve one’s consummation and advancing to reach harmony in a family, a community, a state, and between states.

1 Ames, Roger and Henry Rosemont. The Analects Of Confucius. New York: Ballantine Books/Ballantine Pub. Group, 1999. 14.34

2 Ames, Roger and Henry Rosemont. The Analects Of Confucius. New York: Ballantine Books/Ballantine Pub. Group, 1999. 12.7

3 Ames, R., & Hall, D. Focusing the Familiar. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press. 2001. XXII

4 Legge, James. The Analects Of Confucius, The Great Learning, Doctrine Of The Mean. New York: Dover Publications, 1971. The Analects: 14.42

5 Ames, Roger and Henry Rosemont. The Analects Of Confucius. New York: Ballantine Books/Ballantine Pub. Group, 1999. 13.16

6 Ames, Roger and Henry Rosemont. The Analects Of Confucius. New York: Ballantine Books/Ballantine Pub. Group, 1999. 12.17

7 Ames, Roger and Henry Rosemont. The Analects Of Confucius. New York: Ballantine Books/Ballantine Pub. Group, 1999. 14.12

8 Ames, R., & Hall, D. Focusing the Familiar. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press. 2001. XXV

9 John Dewey, Art as Experience, Perigee Trade. July 5, 2005

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Xing Qing

Xing (“natural tendencies”) and qing (“feelings” or “affectivity”) are two key terms in Zhongyong. The Chinese character xing and qing both contain one element: xin. So here’s where my attempt to explain the meaning of the two terms begins.

Xin, which is generally translated as “heart”, actually has a broad meaning. Almost all Chinese characters related to “feelings” has the element “xin” as a constituent part. It’s because like the ancient Egyptians, the ancient Chinese held that heart is the biological component for thinking and feeling, which are now recognized as the functions of the mind. So looking at the Chinese characters, you could find that xin means both thinking and feeling.

Now let’s take a look at the character xing. It has two parts, xin (thinking and feeling) and sheng (born). In many translations of Chinese classics, the word xing means nature, something people are born with. Is this a felicitous translation? This is the first question this article attempts to answer.

Xing is Natural Tendency

Zhongyong begins with “what tian commands is called natural tendencies”. (天命之谓性).

Because of Zhongyong’s particular role in Chinese philosophy, a bridge connecting the Confucianism and Daoism, understanding these two terms requires a careful reading of all of the Confucian and Daoist classics. In explaining this sentence, I first sought answer from the Analects. Zigong said, “We can learn from the Master’s cultural refinements, but do not hear him discourse on subjects such as our ‘natural disposition (xing)’ and ‘the way of tian (tiandao)’”1. According to my understanding, the reason why Confucius doesn’t talk about xing or tian is not because they are not important terms, but quite the contrary, they are so important that Confucius thinks you cannot simply put it into words and teach others; a better way would be for the others to spontaneously seek it through observing the conducts of exemplary persons and thus learn about it.

In Zhuxi’s commentary of the Zhongyong, xing is defined as li (rationality), xing ji li. However, the Chinese li is different from the Platoic reasoning or Aristotelian rationality. Li is closely related to people’s relationship with the world and their feelings toward the world.

When Aristotle discusses virtues, he tends to attribute it to acting upon rational principle, not something that comes to us by nature, for the function of human beings is “an activity of soul which follows or implies rational principle”2. In the Confucian tradition, on the other hand, virtues come from natural tendencies.

Mencius, as opposed to Confucius, doesn’t only talk about xing, but also gives a metaphorical explanation on the relationship between human nature and human goodness: “The tendency of man's nature to good is like the tendency of water to flow downwards. There are none but have this tendency to good, just as all water flows downwards.”3 This passage gives us the idea that “natural tendency”, not nature, is the matter that concerns most, for if human nature is virtuous, where does the need of nurture and development come in? This reminds me of the “ought” implies “can” principle in Kantian philosophy. I think the Kantian “ought” implies virtues, and “can” implies a possibility. “Natural tendency” suggests man’s possibility of being virtuous.

Look further in the Works of Mencius, says: “The feeling of commiseration is the beginning of ren; the feeling of shame and dislike is the beginning of rightness; the feeling of deference and compliance is the beginning of propriety, and the feeling of right and wrong is the beginning of wisdom. Men have these four beginnings just like they have their four limbs. ”4 Hence, we could see that like a bud needs water and sunshine to grow, human being have the natural tendency to be virtuous but are not naturally virtuous, so it also needs nurturing and educating. In this case, simply translating xing as “nature” is partial. A felicitous translation of xing would be “natural tendency”.

Xing serves “at least three functions: explanatory, originative, and regulative. In other words, “xing” rationally explains the moral motivation of a person in whatever sense of morality commands and compels our general and basic respect and trust; “xing” is understood or experiences to originate our initial moral impulses, which lead to our moral behaviors; and “xing” finally provides a normative or prescriptive definition of goodness: whatever “xing” manifests under optimum natural conditions is ontologically good and therefore should provide a basis and a starting point for moral goodness.”5

Another point calls for attention is the nontranscendent and organismic concept in early Chinese cosmology. The natural tendency of human beings is not endowed, but commanded, which means xing is not only generic, but also spontaneous. Xing is not an origin or an end, rather a process that requires human beings to put in their efforts.

Xing is a Process

Unlike the Western tradition in which tian is considered transcendent, the early Chinese tradition, since Zhou dynasty, bears the idea of san cai (ie. Tian (heaven), di (earth), and ren (human)) and pei tian (the complement of tian). The very basis of Zhongyong is the notion of tianrenheyi (heaven and human as one).

The process of self-realization, or self-transformation, which is later known as "learning to be a Sage" in the Confucian tradition was based on two premises: the Heaven-commanded natural tendency human possesses, and human’s capability of functioning as a creative agent. Therefore, it is “within one’s capacity in realizing and fulfilling this ideal goal of life.”6

Mencius said, “He who has exhausted all his mental constitution knows his nature. Knowing his nature, he knows Heaven. To preserve one's mental constitution, and nourish one's nature, is the way to serve Heaven.”7

To know the nature and nourish the nature is perceived as a way to serve heaven. This notion places one’s natural tendency in a position of a road map, which leads one closer to the way of tian. And since it “has its ultimate appeal to tian”, the natural tendency plays a role of “providing an authoritarian justification of the good.”8

Exemplary persons cannot but cultivate their persons. In cultivating their persons, they cannot but serve their kin. In serving their kin, they cannot but realize human conduct. And in realizing human conduct, they cannot but realize tian.”9 This passage suggests that the start of being an exemplary person is realizing tian, which, as far as I’m concerned, means to realizing our natural tendencies, knowing that we are given the ability to think and feel. The second step, realizing human conduct, is about carrying out our natural tendencies, actualizing them in our conduct. The next requirement, serving the kin, shows an extraordinary character of Chinese culture, which is the emphasis on filial piety. And this is where it differs most from Western ideology. Chinese philosophy put more emphasis on people’s emotional experiences and relationships with others. Then a person could be said as a cultivated person. So everything boils down to what we are given. Here I want to stress that xing is generic; it’s given to everyone, which means everyone has the capacity to become an exemplary person. Yet we are all “given to be not totally determined by what are given, for we are given what is not presently realized in the given.”10

So the question is what is realizing the given. And here is

Where Qing Comes In

Commiseration with the suffering of others, shame at one's own faults, deference to superiors, and approval/disapproval of the actions of others (Mencius 2A.2) are all parts of human feelings, which is, as I understand it, the forms of natural tendencies (xing). While there is nothing good or bad about certain feelings, there is, however, differences in the appropriateness in expressing feelings.

The moment at which joy and anger, grief and pleasure, have yet to arise is called a nascent equilibrium (zhong); once the emotions have arisen, that they are all brought into proper focus (zhong) is called harmony (he).”11

The Confucian tradition is more concerned with appropriateness than righteousness. So what matters most is the proper expression of qing, as it plays an important role in ritual propriety (li). Yucong (《语丛》) tells us that feelings rise from natural tendencies, and ritual proprieties rise from feelings ( 情生于性,礼生于情) ; it also says ritual proprieties are something people do according to their feelings (礼因人之情而) . Liji (《礼记》) expresses similar idea by saying “teaching the people to love one another, and high and low to cultivate good feeling between them;--such was the effect of those ceremonies”12 (上下用情,礼之至也) As we learnt in the Analects, the hard thing to do in filial piety (xiao) is not “displaying” the conduct of filial affection but really feeling the love and affection to parents (se nan). Without qing, all rituals will just be a synthetic display.

As we know, music plays an important part in ritual proprieties. In music as in other aspects of ritual proprieties, the concept of harmony is most indispensable, and it is also achieved through qing. Vladimir Ashkenazy would not play such beautiful piano works by Frederic Chopin if he is indifferent to the feelings revealed in the music.

So it could be concluded that the particular importance of qing lies in its access to harmony (he), which is the heart of Confucian philosophy. This harmony involves three levels: “the personal or individual heart–mind, the socio-moral, and the onto-cosmic and onto-cosmological. Each illuminates the other, and they form the Confucian vision of the trinity of heaven, earth, and man, which is a state of the utmost harmony and ultimate goal of the Confucian education.”13 This means that qing, by making persons properly focused and harmonious, has an effect on cosmic order.

As it says in Zhongyong, “the notion of equilibrium and focus (zhong) is the great root of the world; harmony then is the advancing of the proper way (dadao) in the world. When equilibrium and focus are sustained and harmony is fully realized, the heavens and earth maintain their proper places and all things flourish in the world.”

In conclusion, the natural tendency (xing) is what given to everyone in forms of qing and it calls for cultivation and development. Qing, when properly expressed, is what brings equilibrium and harmony to persons, cosmos, and to human-heaven relationships.

1 Ames, Roger and Henry Rosemont. The Analects Of Confucius. New York: Ballantine Books/Ballantine Pub. Group, 1999. V.13

2 Aristotle et.al. The Nicomachean Ethics. Oxford Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, 1998.

3 Legge, James. The Works of Mencius. New York: Dover Publications, 1990. 6A2

4 Legge, James. The Works of Mencius. New York: Dover Publications, 1990. 2A6

5 Chung-ying Cheng. “On a Comprehensive Theory of Xing (Naturality) in Song-Ming Neo-Confucian Philosophy: A Critical and Integrative Development”, Philosophy East & West, Volume 47, Number 1 January 1997. 33-46

6 Chung-ying Cheng, “On The Metaphysical Significance of Ti (body-embodiment) in Chinese Philosophy: Benti (origin-substance) and Ti-Yong (substance and function)”, Journal of Chinese Philosophy, vol. 29, no2, pp. 145-161 2002

7 Legge, James. The Works of Mencius. New York: Dover Publications, 1990. 7A1

8 Yunping Wang, “Autonomy and the Confucian Moral Person”, Journal of Chinese philosophy, vol. 29, no22, pp. 251-268, 2002

9 Ames, R., & Hall, D. Focusing the Familiar. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press. 2001. XX

10 Chung-ying Cheng, “On Education for Morality in Global and Cosmic Contexts: Two Philosophical Models”, Wingspan

11 Ames, R., & Hall, D. Focusing the Familiar. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press. 2001. I

12 James Legge, The Li Ki (The Book of Rites), XXI. KÎ Î,

13 Chung-ying Cheng, “On Education for Morality in Global and Cosmic Contexts: Two Philosophical Models”, Wingspan

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Cheng as Creativity

Cheng (and cheng zhi, zhi cheng) is a very important concept in the Doctrine of the Mean. There are several different interpretations: cheng as sincerity, integrity, creativity, and so on. This article attempts to discern which one best grasp the meaning of cheng.

In an article discussing Kant and Tao of Königsberg, Martin Schonfeld says, “if your concern is the “ought” for public life, read the Analects and the Mencius. If your concern is the “ought” for private life, read the Doctrine of the Mean. And if your concern is the “is,” then read Mencius, and Doctrine of the Mean once more, and study the Great Learning. The is-ought-distinction is a dogma of Western skeptics and foreign to the East. Like Russian dolls, the Analects and the Mencius nestle in the causal ontology of the Great Learning, which nestles in the cosmology of the Doctrine of the Mean. The Doctrine of the Mean explains humanity or benevolence (ren) in terms of integrity (cheng), and integrity in terms of following the Tao. This was the crucial link.”1 This well captured the relationships of these Chinese classics, the different aspects they focus on, on top of that, it puts emphasize on the cosmology in the Doctrine of the Mean and contextualizes cheng in the Doctrine of the Mean as a crucial link between ren and the Tao, the two dominant concepts in ancient Chinese philosophy.

Thereby, I want to first analyze cheng through its relationship to the dao.


Creativity is the way of tian; creating is the proper way of becoming human.”2

Sincerity is the way of Heaven. The attainment of sincerity is the way of men.”3

When translated as sincerity, integrity or honesty, the second cheng, as a verb, means “to make sincere, honest”. The question arises is that what does the zhi stand for, what is it that humans set out to make sincere, or honest? If you interpret zhi as insincerity and dishonesty, then this phrase means “to make the insincerity or dishonesty sincere/ honest”. But this is hardly probable as the distinction between sincerity and insincerity is not definite, and it’s impossible to shift from the latter to the former. So the only sensible explanation of zhi seems to be cheng itself, in which case the phrase becomes “cheng cheng zhe”. And consequently, we could not simply translate it as making sincerity sincere, but rather showing sincerity, or as Legge translated, as “the attainment of sincerity”. Yet there’s another understanding: “The concept of ch'eng-yi … could be taken … in the sense of "solidifying" one's thoughts. Chu Hsi himself glosses ch'eng as shih which is generally interpreted, especially in its relation to ch'eng, as genuine or true. But since shih can also mean what is real, or actual, or substantial, I am tempted to conjecture that Chu is explaining … that by making our ideas, those ideas in our mind as principles, real through the process of objectifying them in external things and events, of making them objectively certain, we are, in effect, also rendering them genuine and true.”4 This concept of solidifying and objectifying what is genuine and true is closer to the concept of “creating”, however, the former suggests a process of making something that has already existed stronger or expressing it in a concrete form while the latter could mean making something entirely different or new. Both are plausible translations, so in order to compare these two, I need to take a look at other paragraphs.


Here the translation of cheng as solidifying or objectifying what is genuine and true is also applicable, especially in the second sentence, which is about the interchangeable nature of cheng and ming. However, I find this paragraph having more to do with human nature (xing) than with authenticity or truth. In my understanding, the first phrase suggests that all humans have the nature of understanding/ being enlightened (ming); the second says it requires education to manifest this nature. As stated in the beginning of the Doctrine of the Mean “What heaven [cosmos] imparts to man is called human nature [vitality]”5, this human nature is to make the cheng of the heaven manifested through the cheng of human. Therefore, while xing exists in every person, what makes the difference between an ordinary person and a sage is that a sage is able to carry out his nature of understanding (human, life, and the cosmos) to its full extent.

While reading the Doctrine of the Mean, I strongly feel that it involves a profound way of cosmological thinking. “The human in this worldview is an active participant in the cosmic process”6 and it’s the human in the Doctrine of the Means that create the cosmos.


Only those who are the most sincere [authentic, true, and real] can fully realize their own nature. If they can fully realize their own nature, they can fully realize human nature. If they can fully realize human nature, they can fully realize the nature of things. If they can fully realize the nature of things, they can take part in the transforming and nourishing process of Heaven and Earth. If they can take part in the transforming and nourishing process of Heaven and Earth, they can form a trinity with Heaven and Earth.”7

Understanding the Doctrine of the Mean from a cosmological approach, cheng as creativity is a better translation because it gives people a broader perspective. Cheng is the way for both human (earth) and heaven to reach its full-existence. The Chinese have a long tradition of integrating heaven and human as one. Cheng, as a mode for self-development and self-cultivation, is a conscious process in which human can realize the principle of the heaven: cosmic creativity and unceasing productivity. These are what make the world exist and moving forward, and make human reach a full self-actualization.

As further said in the Doctrine of the Mean: “Being unceasing, it is long-lasting; lasting long, it becomes manifest. Being manifest, it is far-reaching; reaching far, it becomes broad and deep. Being broad and deep, it becomes lofty and bright. Because it is broad and deep,it is able to contain living things; because it is lofty and bright, it is able to complete living things....The Way of Heaven and Earth can be fully expressed in one sentence: these things being without doubleness, their giving birth to living things is unfathomable. The Way of Heaven and Earth is broad, deep, lofty, bright, far-reaching and long-lasting.”8 As Jeeloo Liu put it, “this view takes the way of heaven and earth to be the creative principle. This creative force is eternal and all-encompassing. The whole world is being generated and regenerated perpetually. It could not possibly have been derived from a prior state of non-being or nothingness.”9

Besides the reason of cosmological thinking, creativity as cheng is a felicitous translation because it carries a meaning of initiation and active engagement in people’s affairs. Because “[cheng] is not only completing oneself but is also the means for completing other living things”10, we cannot pull a person out from his relationships with others and let him develop a relationship with the heaven alone. The Doctrine of the Mean is not only about the relationship between heaven and earth, but also concerns the relationship between human and others, and how ordinary people manifest their full nature and get closer to a sage.

As stated above, cheng is a link to both dao and ren. The Doctrine of the Mean says: “Consummating oneself is authoritative conduct; consummating other events is wisdom. This is the excellence of one’s natural tendencies and is the way of integrating what is more internal and what is more external. Thus, whenever one applies this excellence, it is fitting.”11 Consuming oneself and consuming others have to be integrated to form cheng, so as to achieve ren and zhi. The Doctrine of the Mean also says “To practice with vigor (li xing) is to be near to magnanimity (ren).”12 Here li xing could also be understood as extending one’s xing to full, meaning creativity (cheng). Another famous passage about ren in the Doctrine of the Mean is “修道以仁”, here the relationship between dao and ren is clearer than ever. The word xiu here has a similar meaning to that of cheng. They both say people should take the initiative to cultivate themselves along the Way in order to be ren. This is a self-consummating and long lasting process. “Creativity is self-consummating, and its way is self-directing. Creativity is a process taken from its beginning to its end, and without this creativity, there are no events.”13 Cheng is the heart, the essence of all events, while dao, as li(), is rational and practical. So by translating cheng as creativity, we can see this internal-external relationship more clearly.

In conclusion, I think creativity is a felicitous translation of cheng because it grasps the sense of cosmos-making and acknowledges human’s ability to take initiative and be integrated with the way of the heaven.

1 Martin Schonfeld. Kant’s Thing in itself, or the Tao of Königsberg. Florida Philosophical Review. Vol. III, Issue 1, Summer 2003

2 Ames, R., & Hall, D. (2001). Focusing the Familiar. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press. XX.18

3 Legge, J., (2001). The Doctrine of the Mean in The Chinese Classics. London: Simon Publications. XX.18

4 Cheng Chung-ying. Practical Learning in Yen Yuan, Chu Hsi and Wang Yang-ming. 50.

5 Zhong Yong, Chan, W., (1963). A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

6 Tu Wei-ming, The Ecological Turn in New Confucian Humanism: Implications for China and the World, Journal of the American Academy of Arts and Science. Fall 2001

7 Zhongyong (Doctrine of the Mean), XXII. See Tu Wei-ming, Centrality and Commonality: An Essay on Confucian Religiousness (Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press, 1989), 77. This translation is slightly different from Wing-tsit Chan’s version, cited in the book.

8 Wm. Theodore de Bary & Irene Bloom, eds., Sources of Chinese Tradition: From Earliest Times to 1600, 2nd ed. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999), Chapter 26, 339.

9 Liu, Jeeloo, The Status of Cosmic Principle (li) in Neo-Confucian Metaphysics. Journal of Chinese Philosophy 32 (3), 391-407.

10 Wm. Theodore de Bary & Irene Bloom, eds., Sources of Chinese Tradition: From Earliest Times to 1600, 2nd ed. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999), 1:338–9.

11 Ames, R., & Hall, D. (2001). Focusing the Familiar. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press. XXV

12 Legge, J., (2001). The Doctrine of the Mean in The Chinese Classics. London: Simon Publications. XX.10

13 Ames, R., & Hall, D. (2001). Focusing the Familiar. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press. XXV