ChinaKnowledge.de - An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art
About [Location: HOME > Literature > Confucian Classics > Zhongyong]


Chinese Literature
Zhongyong 中庸


The Four Categories of Literature
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 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), Vol. 2, pp. 1229-1230.

July 24, 2010 © Ulrich Theobald · Mail
Chinese Literature over time