In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Neo-Confucianism

  • Introduction
  • Reference Works
  • Anthologies
  • Journals
  • Translations (Compilations)
  • Origins
  • Neo-Confucianism, Buddhism, and Daoism
  • Northern Song
  • Other Southern Song
  • Yuan
  • Wang Yangming

Philosophy Neo-Confucianism
Stephen Angle
  • LAST REVIEWED: 01 December 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 February 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0243


“Neo-Confucianism” refers to the broad revival of Confucian thinking that emerged in the early Song dynasty (960–1279 CE). At the core of this revival was the movement known to its adherents as the “Learning of the Way” (daoxue), but the new directions in which Confucians took their shared tradition are not limited to the texts and terminology of the Learning of the Way movement, and so it makes sense to use the Western neologism “Neo-Confucianism” as a capacious term to cover the whole Confucian revival. When we include both proponents of the Learning of the Way and their critics—the latter of whose views would not have been possible without the Learning of the Way innovations against which to react—it becomes clear that Neo-Confucianism extends temporally from the early Song all the way into the Qing dynasty (1644–1911) and extends spatially into Korea, Japan, and Vietnam. Although there are certainly themes and debates that extend across dynastic or national boundaries, these borders still serve as useful demarcations and are used here as a primary means of organization. The origins of Neo-Confucianism and its ongoing interactions with Daoist and Chinese Buddhist traditions are related because even if the old idea that Neo-Confucianism is a reaction against Buddhism is too simple, there nonetheless are clear resonances between certain Daoist and (especially) Buddhist views and those at the center of the Learning of the Way. Among the many key concepts of Neo-Confucianism, two have occasioned significant independent scholarly attention, so a separate section of the article focuses on li (pattern coherence, principle) and xing (nature). Finally, this article follows the existing literature in being broadly interdisciplinary. The most common approach to be found here is intellectual history—especially intellectual biography and history of ideas—but particularly in the more recent scholarship, we see philosophy, cultural history, and methods from religious studies. In each of these latter areas, there is substantial room for further development. One promising area has been the degree to which Anglophone scholars are engaging with Sinophone scholarship, and vice versa; with this in mind, the article includes some of the best and most influential Chinese-language materials where appropriate.

General Overviews

The overviews canvassed here can readily be divided into two categories: classic and modern. All the books in the former category are relevant not only for their pathbreaking contributions, aspects of which are still state of the art in the early 21st century, but also for the immense influence they have exerted on the field.

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