An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Zhang Shi 張栻

Feb 7, 2014 © Ulrich Theobald

Zhang Shi 張栻 (1133-1180), courtesy name Jingfu 敬夫, in later sources changed to Qinfu 欽夫, or Lezhai 樂齋, style Nanxuan Xiansheng 南軒先生, was a Neo-Confucian philospher of the early Southern Song period 南宋 (1127-1279) and founder of the so-called Hu-Xiang School 湖湘學派.

He hailed from Mianzhu 綿竹 in the prefecture of Hanzhou 漢州 (modern Mianzhu, Sichuan), but later moved to Hengyang 衡陽 (modern Hengyang, Hunan). Zhang Shi's father Zhang Jun 張浚 (1097-1164) was Counsellor-in-chief and advocated a war of reconquest of northern China that was occupied by the Jurchens, founders of the Jin dynasty 金 (1115-1234). Shi himself was a disciple of Hu Hong 胡宏 (1105-1161) and Qiao Ding 譙定 (b. 1023), who stood in the direct tradition of the Neo-Confucian master Cheng Yi 程頤 (1033-1107) and the thinker and writer Su Shi 蘇軾 (1037-1101). He supported his father in the duties of Counsellor and himself obtained the post of prefect (zhizhou 知州) of Yanzhou 嚴州, then of Yuanzhou 袁州, Jingjiang 靜江 and then Jiangling 江陵; later on he was promoted to the post of expositor-in-waiting (shijiang 侍講) of the vice director (yuanwailang 員外郎) in the Ministry of Personnel (libu 吏部), and then transferred to the Baowen Hall 寶文閣 and became senior compiler (xiuzhuan 修撰) in the Youwen Hall 右文殿.

The philosopher Zhang Shi was a representative of the "teachings of the universal principle" (lixue 理學) and for a long time held lectures in the famous Yuelu Academy 岳麓書院 in Changsha 長沙, Hunan. During that time his name was equally honoured like that of the masters Zhu Xi 朱熹 (1130-1200) and Lü Zuqian 呂祖謙 (1137-1181). These three were together called the "three worthies from the Southeast" (dongnan sanxian 東南三賢). Zhang Shi used the core concepts of Neo-Confucianism, namely the "utmost extreme" (taiji 太極), the universal principle (li 理), the human mind (xin 心), character (xing 性) and predisposition (tianming 天命), and brought them into a whole concept. He said that all these ideas belonged to one coherent system, but constituted different layers of it. Acknowledging the idea of the ancient philosopher Meng Ke 孟軻 (385-304 or 372-289 BCE, Mengzi 孟子) that the human character was good by nature he yet brought forward the argument that it was not equally balanced in all men.

Zhang once disputed with Zhu Xi about the goodness of the human character and argued that there were some men in which benignity was not yet fully developed or "brought to light" (wei fa 未發), while other men were already perfect (yi fa 已發). The only way to bring the character into perfection was first to undergo investigations about it, and then to nourish it inside one's mind, with all one's efforts (li xing 力行). Zhang Shi also tried to reconcile the ancient Confucian dichotomy of altruism or righteousness (yi 義) and profit (li 利), and the Neo-Confucian bisection of the Heavenly principle (li 理) and human desires (yu 欲), with the argument that in both cases the two opposites belonged to the same concept of the world. This was an advancement of the worldview of Cheng Yi and Zhu Xi.

Zhang Shi's most important writings are the exegetic texts Lunyu jie 論語解, Mengzi shuo 孟子說 and Yishuo 易說. His collected writings are called Nanxuan wenji 南軒文集. His posthumous title is Zhang Wenxuangong 張文宣公.

Pang Pu 龐樸, ed. (1997). Zhongguo ruxue 中國儒學 (Shanghai: Dongfang chuban zhongxin), Vol. 2, 146.