Various countries have their own cultures and way of living. Perhaps, one of the most unique cultures in the world is that of the Chinese. Among the Chinese, Confucianism is one of the central tenets of culture. Beyond Confucianism, Neo-Confucianism emerged as the main cultural continuity between the periods of Ming, Song, and Yuan. Professor Robert also provided insight that it has acted as the binding principle behind social and political continuity from the Song period and later on. It is usually argued that it was the main foundation of authoritarianism as well as elite resistance to any form of change. Ideally, the term is commonly used to refer to the revival of numerous threads of Confucian philosophy as well as political culture. It is a culture that began during the mid-9th century as China tried to break away from some of its traditions (De Bary 12). During the Northern Song Dynasty, it attained better levels of social as well as intellectual creativity. The renovation has various phases that can be used in explaining it. The phases were completed by Zhu Xi, Wang Yoinga Mingi, and Tu-Wei Ming. A review of various sources suggests that Neo-Confucianism was Confucians’ response to the dominance by Buddhists and Daoists.
After the Dynasty of Song, the movement had speculative philosophers, historians, doctors as well as civil servants. In the wake of the 14th century, daoxue was used as the standard curriculum. Daoxue was the Confucian thought that had been used by Zhu. The Daoxue system was used until 1905 when it was abolished. The main challenger of his thoughts was Wang Yangming who was a great Ming philosopher. Wang continued incorporating many of the features that had been used by Zhu, but proposed a different interpretation of the mind-heart (Professor Robert). During the Qing Dynasty that occurred between 1644 and 1911, hanxue combated the philosophical methods that had been deployed by Wang and Zhu (De Bary 18). Hanxue is heralded as the last school that was based on evidential research due to its commitment to historical research. The masters of Neo-Confucian also taught other moral self-cultivation forms (Professor Robert). The perspective assumed that having abstract knowledge without ethical self-reflection was useless. Abstract knowledge had to combine with ethical self-cultivation to result in appropriate moral behavior. Proponents of this school of thought sought to propagate humane flourishing through the use of several self-cultivation forms. It is also worth noting that it became a global movement and spread to Vietnam, Korea as well as Japan.
According to Professor Robert, Zhu was a philosopher and institution builder. In the period between 1130 and 1200, he completed the first phase of the tradition, thus making it the foundation for all the future Confucian reference. Zhu examined the origin and principles of the Earth and tried to develop a common view that human beings and other things are one body. He used the Daoist diagram as the foundation for the Neo-Confucian view of the world. Professor Robert emphasizes that wuji determines the Supreme Ultimate. Similarly, Zhu argues that Wuji is a term used for describing the origin of the universe. Supreme Ultimate contributes to the development of yin and yang. As the two major sources of power, yang and yin result in the Five Elements. The incorporation of these elements and power leads to masculine as well as feminine forces. The two forces create many things that lead to an unending transformation (Yao 98). Zhu’s view is holistic since it entails all inclusive and exclusive aspects of existence. It also infuses cosmic principles into life. It also resonates with the Confucian perception that human beings are the most superior creatures in the world because of their consciousness and intelligence. The two virtues of intelligence and consciousness enable them to understand the agreed universal principles. In addition, his view is an ethical system supporting the stance that morals are important for maintenance of order (Yao 101). The worldview focuses predominantly on peace instead of activity. According to Professor Robert, desires impede the development of tranquility in one’s mind while their absence induces peace. In addition, sincerity results in understanding, universality, and fairness. Finally, Zhu had a profound influence by eradicating the old classics and writing four books which form the basis of Neo-Confucian. The new canons acted as the foundation for the civil service and therefore played a crucial role in government attitudes. In addition, his books emphasized that virtue is the foundation for Neo-Confucianism.
Wang’s philosophy was predominant in the period between 1472 and 1529. He was a statesman, poet, and general. He is among the philosophers who had the most influence on the Confucian tradition. Arguably, his most popular theory is that of combining action and knowledge. While in exile, he developed Daoxue which is typically called ‘Learning of the Way’ (Yao 115). Professor Robert argues that his contribution to neo-Confucianism is the attempt to develop the argument that personal morality is the determinant of social well-being. His legacy in this tradition is the argument that the cause of all social problems is the failure to understand the self and the relation that it has to the world. Consequently, this failure prevents one from living up to their potential. He acknowledged Lu Xiangshan’s contribution to neo-Confucian principle, and particularly the principle of an individual being found in their mind-hearts. The emphasis on cultivating the mind-heart leads to his teachings to be categorized as xinxue. He opposed Zhu’s method on the basis that it was too fragmented to guide morality. In addition, he believed that Zhu’s methods were erroneous and quite dangerous to the development of Confucian value (Yao 119). He proposed the argument that knowledge acts as the start of action while action acts as the accomplishment of knowledge. In other words, whereas Zhu had favored theoretical leaning and research on things, Wang rejected this approach and advocated for a meditative approach for self-realization. Generally, Yangming’s philosophy suggested that Neo-Confucianism was founded on Taoism and Buddhism (Professor Robert). His philosophy could be understood easily, and he was instrumental in bringing together many scholars during the Ming dynasty.
There are various insights that Yangming provides on Neo-Confucianism. First, it is self-referential and depends on older texts to come up with new doctrines. Secondly, China’s philosophy tends to shift its attention from the people to the government and back (Professor Robert). He emphasizes that the role of learning is to get wisdom within, but not to cumulatively gain knowledge of outside things. In addition, he acknowledges that despite all individuals being the same in nature, their natural gifts are different, and, therefore, need varying efforts to attain wisdom (Yao 143). Despite these differences, all people have the ability to overcome their challenges and rise to the top. One of the shortcomings of the heart-mind is selfishness, but it also has the ability for self-correction which can guide a person to perfection. His philosophy influenced later political and philosophical development not only in China but also in Japan. Arguably, he set a crucial foundation for the development of various ideas and principles during the Ming Dynasty.
He is among the most renowned Chinese Confucian philosophers, particularly the New Confucians. Tu specifically emphasized the importance of religiosity in the philosophy of Confucianism. He aimed to improve Confucianism by using the Christian theology as well as social theoretical foundations from the West. The philosophy he developed suggests that Confucianism can gain insight from Western modernity without necessarily losing its heritage (De Bary 104). By incorporating elements from various cultures, Professor Robert argues that he hoped that various cultures and religions could learn and develop a universal ethic. According to his perspective, Confucian concepts of benevolence and humanness as well as the idea of ‘anthropo-cosmic unity’ could influence the resolution of problems that the contemporary world faces. Despite the various criticisms of his philosophy, his contribution to the neo-Confucian revolution cannot be underestimated.
Despite many Neo-Confucianists strongly opposing Taoism and Buddhism, Neo-Confucianism embedded the ideas of Taoism and Buddhism. Zhu particularly wrote numerous texts trying to explain the way his concepts were neither Taoist nor Buddhist. Unlike the Buddhists and Taoists, they believed that the external world was connected to the world of matter. Professor Robert argues that Buddhists believed in the concept of reincarnation and its relationship to the concept of karma. Neo-Confucians opposed these ideas by using the concept of li. Zhu proposed the research of things, while Yangming argued that since li is in the heart of an individual, the best place to seek is in the self. His preferred method of achieving li was meditation. The Neo-Confucianism school of thought was accepted as the major philosophy (Professor Robert). It guided the society during the Ming dynasty and continued dominating throughout the Qing dynasty. To some extent, it still dominates today. For example, many of the classical studies that are associated with the culture of China have robust foundations in the ethics of Neo-Confucianism (De Bary 75). It is also worth noting that Neo-Confucianism largely developed as an ideology to oppose Buddhism. Opposition to Buddhism intensified in Korea because of social, religious and political reasons (Professor Robert). Politically, Buddhism had entrenched itself in Korea as the state religion, but in a corrupt way. Despite opposing Buddhism, Neo-Confucianism used some of its concepts including meditation to develop its understanding of spiritual thinking as a way to enlightenment and sincerity (Yao 218). Furthermore, Neo-Confucianism also penetrated into Japan and influenced the society in a beneficial way. The Japanese Neo-Confucians appeared to be more interested in the philosophy of Yangming over the ones of Zhu. Some Japanese Confucians like Kaibara Ekken were also crucial in the development of the dominant political philosophy for the country. Arguably, the Confucian canon that exists today was mainly a compilation of Zhu Xi who broke away from tradition. He also codified the four famous books on Mencius, learning, mean doctrine and Confucius’ analects. In subsequent dynasties, the four books were crucial for military renovation, civil service examinations, and reformulation of practice and theory.
Neo-Confucianism is neither restricted to China nor an isolated tradition. It has exchanged with the ideas of other religions like Christianity and Islam. By drawing on many sources, the philosophy has become increasingly stronger. It has also enabled the philosophy to gain the ability to cope with the changing conditions and circumstances. Some of the traditions that Confucianism has exchanged ideas are Christianity, Daoism, and Buddhism (Professor Robert). It is the contact of the three with Confucianism that has exerted the most influence on Confucian tradition. Similar to numerous other orthodox traditions, Confucianism perceived itself as the sole truth and the only appropriate way of harmony and peace (Yao 189). The philosophy is mainly founded on Yangming’s principle that emphasizes that Neo-Confucianism is the source of tranquility and harmony within the society (Professor Robert). To remain relevant and dominant, Confucian masters criticized Buddhism and Daoism.
Such criticism encouraged political persecution. It also led to the emergence of the conflicts experienced within the traditions. Consequently, the attitude of Neo-Confucianists towards other religions is coupled with dogmatism, flexibility, inclusivity, and exclusivity (Yao 211). Inclusive and flexible attitudes have been identified as determinants of peace, unity, and harmony among the three traditions. Professor Robert further contends that Buddhism was mainly opposed because it was perceived as a barbarian doctrine which led to the propagation of reincarnation and violation of filial piety. Despite the conflict between the two, the Neo-Confucian renovation largely drew from Buddhism since it had been in existence for a long period. Professor Robert argues that the Buddhist challenge is based on the concept of syllogism which advocates for nine noble truths. Ideally, syllogism is a form of reasoning whereby an inference is drawn from two assumed propositions or premises. According to Professor Robert, the premises for syllogism are that all: life is suffering and suffering results from desire. Consequently, the Professor suggests that extinction of suffering means that there is no desire. Professor’s assertions are largely drawn from insights provided by Yangming. The Buddhist salvation is also founded on appropriate conducts, meditation and teaching.
Neo-Confucianism in the modern period started with responses to Western powers’ challenges. Due to tradition, the Korean and Chinese Confucians at first did not respond to modernity in a quick and rational way like their Japanese counterparts. As a result, the process of modernization was slowed down (Professor Robert). Despite this, it has been instrumental in the creation of East Asia (Yao 241). Countries such as Japan owe a large percentage of their success to Neo-Confucianism. The culture of Neo-Confucianism has been transferred to other world regions through various engagements and contacts. It has increasingly become part of the world views, especially with the rise of East Asia as a major economic hub. Many countries have become interested in the culture that has provided a foundation for the world’s economic giants: Asian Tigers.
Overall, the Neo-Confucian Renovation is among the central tenets of East Asia. It underwent a significant transformation during the eras of Song, Yuan, and Ming. With each passing dynasty, the culture changed with the demands or beliefs of the leadership that was in place. In addition, it has been the glue behind the political and social continuity of East Asia. Some have identified it as the basis for elite resistance and authoritarianism witnessed in China. To some extent, this paper has established that it was a response to the dominance of various religions and doctrines including Daoism and Buddhism. Arguably, it has been instrumental in the creation of states found in Eastern Asia as many of their cultures resemble its principles. Its current globalization suggests that the culture will continually spread and influence certain world views. There will be certain alterations, however, to enable the concept meet the changing societal demands. Each of the leaders in the regions that Confucianism has spread tends to significantly influence its content in some way and there is likelihood that these influences will continually impact the concept in future.