CHINAKNOWLEDGE - a universal guide for China studies | HOME | About
Encoding: Unicode (UTF-8) [Location: HOME > Literature > Confucian Classics > Zhongyong]

Chinese Literature
Zhongyong 中庸 "The Doctrine of the Mean"

The Zhongyong 中庸 "Doctrine of the mean" is a Confucian classic and part of the Four Books (Sishu 四書). It is actually a chapter of the ritual classic Liji 禮記 and was extracted from this book and treated as a separate book from the Song period 宋 (960-1279) on. There are several different opinions about the authorship of the Zhongyong. It is traditionally attributed to Zisi 子思 (Kong Ji 孔伋), a grandson of Confucius. The Qing period 清 (1644-1911) scholar Cui Shu 崔述 doubted this because of linguistic evidence. The text seems, as modern authors also stress, at least partially to have been compiled during the Former Han period 前漢 (206 BCE-8 CE).
The concept of "the Mean" is a core idea of Confucianism. It says that in all activities and thoughts one has to adhere to moderation. This will result in harmony in action, and eventually in a harmonious society. Pure harmony without wandering from the central tone (an image from the music), and standing in the centre without leaning towards one side will keep all social positions stable. A man in a high position must not be arrogant, otherwise the people will rebell. Simple-minded persons in high position must not think of their own profit, otherwise the social structures will be disrupted. Wisdom (zhi 智), kindheartedness (ren 仁) and courage (yong 勇) are thre three virtues of the mean way that will keep stable all social relations. The cultivation of the self, the regulation of the society and the government of a whole state all depend on the adequate behaviour of each part of society which has to be geared to the mean and the centre. A very important aspect treated in the Zhongyong is sincerity (cheng 誠). Sincerity is the actual nature of Heaven which is transmitted to all beings. It is the root of human behaviour, and without sincerity there is no man. Man has to seek for the good through self-cultivations, and he has to keep it in his heart, so that sincerity is automatically put into the centre of all deeds and thoughts without that any further strains were necessary to bring it forward. The man clinging to the mean learns in all broadness, questions with caution, is careful in his thoughts, discusses clearly, and acts faithfully. The rulers of antiquity achieved the mean way and the utmost clarity by following a virtuous path of life and caring for learning more and deeply. Learning thus became a fundamental requirement of Confucian education. Heaven and sprits are, in the eyes of the Confucians, helpful instruments for a ruler or normal persons by indicating them through omina or other means if they is on the right way or not.

Source: Shen Fu'en 潘富恩 (1987). "Zhongyong 中庸", in: Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Zhexue 哲學, vol. 2, pp. 1229-1230. Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe.

Exemplarious translation:

禮記; 28.(31.)中庸
What Heaven has conferred is called the nature; an accordance with this nature is called the parth of duty; the regulation of this path is called instruction. The path may not be left for an instant. It it could be left, it would not be the path. On this account, the superior man does not wait till he sees things, to be cautious, nor till he hears things, to be apprehensive. There is nothing more visible than what is secret, and nothing more manifest than what is minute. Therefore the superior man is watchful over himself, when he is alone.
While there are not stirrings of pleasure, anger, sorrow or joy, the mind may be said to be in the state of equilibrium. When those feelings have been stirred, and they ace in their due degree, there ensues what may be called the state of harmony. This equilibrium is the great root from which grow all the human actings in the world, and this harmony is the universal path which they all should pursue. Let the states of equilibrium and harmony exist in perfection, and a happy order will prevail throughout heaven and earth, and all things will be nourished and flourish.
Zhongni (Confucius) said: "The superior man embodies the course of the Mean; the mean man acts contrary to the course of the Mean. The superior man's embodying the course of the Mean is because he is a superior man, and so always maintains the Mean. The Mean man's acting contrary to the course of the Mean is because he is a mean man, and has no caution."
The Master said: "Perfect is the virtue which is according to the Mean! Rare have they long been among the people, who practise it.!"
The Master said: "I know how it is that the path of the Mean is not walked in: The knowing go beyond it, and the stupid do not come up to it. I know how it is that the path of the Mean is not understood: The men of talents and virtue go beyond it, and the worthless do not come up to it. The is nobody but eats and drinks. But they are few who can distinguish flavours."
The Master said: "Alas! How is the path of the Mean untrodden!"
6.子曰:「舜其大知也。與舜好問,而好察邇言,隱惡,而揚善,執其兩端, 用其中於民,其斯以為舜乎。」
The Master said: "There was Shun: He indeed was greatly wise! Shun loved to question others, and to study their words, though they might be shallow. He concealed what was bad in them, and displayed what was good. He took hold of their two extremes, determined the Mean, and employed it in his government of the people. It was by this that he was Shun!"

Translated by James Legge (1960). The Chinese Classics in Five Volumes. 1. Confucian Analects, The Great Learning, The Doctrine of the Mean. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press.
Chinese literature according to the four-category system

July 24, 2010 © Ulrich Theobald · Mail