(PHILOSOPHY in CHINA and JAPAN – continued)

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The Neo-Confucian Zhu Xi

Zhu Xi appeared on the philosophy scene in China a century after Zheng Yi. He studied under a follower of Chang Yi. In 1179 Zhu Xi was appointed Prefect of Nankang Military District, and he got into the same kind of trouble that Zheng Yi had: after three years he was demoted for attacking the incompetence of some officials. Socrates annoyed people with his questions; neo-Confucians were annoying people with their certainties.

Zhu Xi became the leading figure in philosophy and the most influential neo-Confucian in China. It was he who reached the position of choosing the core curriculum for aspiring scholar officials, and he chose to emphasize Confucianism's Four Books: the Great Learning, Doctrine of the Mean, Analects and the Life and Teachings of Mencius. These four books would be the basis of civil service examinations in China until 1905.

On these classics he wrote extensive commentaries – as philosophers in Europe were doing regarding Biblical text. And he wrote about li and a partner abstraction: qi. Li was propriety. Qi was a character in Chinese language that represented a force in nature. In the 21st century we are aware of a great number of different forces in nature, but the Confucians joined with some others in putting all these forces into one abstraction. Scientists would find it of no value in describing phenomena and of no value in the study of the human psyche, but as presented by Confucianists it sounded profound. Zhu Xi claimed that li and qi worked together and were active in all aspects of nature – like the force of Yin and Yang entertained by Confucianists during Han rule.

Western philosophers had sin to consider. For Zhu Xi there was qi which as a force of nature interfered with everybody's moral nature. Everybody has a perfect moral nature embodied in li – the principle that governs the universe, similar to the concept that God is in everyone. The task of being moral, Zhu Xi claimed, is to work on one's qi. If one's qi is clear and balanced he or she will act with perfect morality. A Confucian could ask what he had done for his qi lately.

With li and qi as universal forces, Zhu Xi had no need for God in his scheme of things, and he is said to have encouraged an agnostic tendency within Confucianism – while practicing ancestor worship in the form of remembrance and gratitude. It is reported that he denied the existence of the souls of ancestors.

He practiced meditation in the form of quiet introspection, focusing on his qi and harmony with the universe.

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