Zhu Xi (1130–1200) was the most influential Chinese Neo-Confucian (Daoxue) scholar of imperial China (220 BCE–1908 CE). He is ranked the foremost philosopher of China since Mencius and Zhuangzi of Antiquity. His influence spread throughout East Asia, particularly to Korea, Japan, and Vietnam, and it persists to this day. Zhu was a master interpreter of the Confucian classics and the teachings of Confucius and Mencius and their earlier followers. He was such exuberant interpreter of the Confucian classics that he ventured not just to edit and rearrange many of them, but in the case of the Daxue (Great Learning) he interpolated a long paragraph that he himself wrote into the text. He also absorbed the philosophical concepts of the 11th-century Northern Song masters, such as Zhou Dunyi, Zhang Zai, Cheng Hao, and Cheng Yi, and integrated them into a comprehensive system by serious analytic and synthetic thinking. Zhu Xi’s system influenced his interpretive work, while the classics and thinkers he studied afforded him issues, topics, and examples for reflection and developing his system. Zhu had a probing, reflective mind, an analytic and synthetic acumen, and his philosophical inquiries led in every direction: ontology, cosmology, philosophical anthropology, natural philosophy, ethics, politics, epistemology, education, the transmission or succession of the Confucian Way, and so forth, making him the most well-rounded of traditional Chinese philosophers. In his philosophic thinking, Zhu Xi is distinguished for his arguing for determinate, well-defined views based on his system, categories, methodology, and place in the Confucian succession. He was at once a classical interpreter who sought deeper meanings as well as textual mastery and a philosophical thinker who discussed and debated a range of issues with his contemporaries. Many of Zhu’s writings and dialogues have been translated into English and other Western languages. And the body of research on Zhu’s scholarship, classical studies, and philosophical thought East and West is growing apace. The scholarship has evolved from general and philosophical to contextualized and historical. Issues have evolved from his comparability with Plato, Aristotle, and Whitehead to specific characteristics of his thought as transcendental versus immanental, conceptual, or formal versus process. Moreover, his ethical thought is compared with parallel Western approaches and brought to bear on a range of ethical issues.
Zhu Xi wrote many texts, and other important texts were compiled from his oral teachings and dialogues. The titles below are the texts that are most closely associated with his philosophical and ethical thought. Accessible original Chinese language editions are listed, as well as principal English translations. Zhu 1983 presents Zhu’s editions of the essential texts of early or classical Confucianism, with collected comments by Confucian scholars principally of the Han and Northern Song dynasties. Subsequent Confucian scholars in China all came to understand Zhu in light of this text. Zhu 1986 is a comprehensive compilation of his in-depth dialogues with students and peers, topically arranged on philosophical and ethical concepts, Confucian texts, Confucian masters, Chinese history, and Daoism and Buddhism. Zhu and Lü 1991 is an anthology of Northern Song Neo-Confucian paragraphs and statements on basic themes in Neo-Confucianism, with collected commentaries. This book is deemed an essential primer on the Cheng-Zhu school of Neo-Confucianism. Zhu 2010 is a recently compiled, edited, and annotated edition of Zhu Xi’s complete dialogues and writings. It is a landmark effort. Adler 2017 is an English translation of Zhu’s primer on studying and using the Book of Change. It is useful for studying Zhu’s thought as well as the Book of Change itself. Bruce 1922 presents an early English translation of Zhu’s discourses on philosophical and ethical topics. Although dated, Bruce’s approach is of historical interest in its own right. Chan 1967 is a highly influential English translation of Zhu and Lü 1991 that has made this essential Confucian anthology accessible to the wider educated reading public. Gardner 1990 offers a compilation of Zhu’s discourses on the basic concepts and practices necessary for achieving sagehood. Wittenborn 1991 presents the English translation of an anthology of Zhu’s discussions on the core themes of Neo-Confucianism as set forth in Zhu and Lü 1991 and Chan 1967; it highlights Zhu’s similarities and differences with earlier generations of Neo-Confucians.
Adler, Joseph. Introduction to the Study of the Classic of Change (I-hsueh ch'i-meng) by Chu Hsi. Corrected version. San Francisco: Academia.edu, 2017.
Annotated English translation of Zhu Xi’s introduction to the Book of Change for beginners, focused on the basic meaning and uses of the Book of Change. The book is straightforward and clearly written. Originally published in 2002 by Global Scholarly Publications (New York).
Bruce, J. Percy, trans. The Philosophy of Human Nature (Hsing Li) by Chu Hsi. London: Probsthain, 1922.
Translations and studies of seven sections from the “Complete” Works of Master Zhu (juan 42–48) (Li 1977), concerning Zhu’s understanding of human nature. This is an early attempt to present Zhu’s account of human nature in an annotated scholarly translation. Many of its interpretations and explanations are dated and a product of their times, making this edition of historical interest in its own right.
Chan, Wing-tsit, trans. Reflections on Things at Hand, The Neo-Confucian Anthology, compiled by Chu Hsi, and Lü Zuqian. New York: Columbia University Press, 1967.
Influential English translation of this topical collection of writings of the formative Northern Song Neo-Confucian masters. This translation includes Zhu Xi’s comments as well as those of other traditional Chinese scholars. The translator provides a clear introduction and many keys to understanding the text.
Gardner, Daniel, ed. and trans. Learning to be a Sage. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990.
Elegant English translations of selections from the Classified Conversations of Master Zhu on Confucian-style learning. Offers insight into the philosophic concepts that underlie Zhu Xi’s notions of experience, insight, and understanding, as well as the quest for a sort of Confucian enlightenment.
Ivanhoe, Philip, ed. and trans. Zhu Xi: Selected Writings. New York: Oxford University Press, 2019.
English translations on the main areas in Zhu’s philosophy, reviewed by leading experts in the field. Includes discussions on philosophical vocabulary and Zhu’s philosophical and cultural inheritance.
Li Guangdi 李光地, ed. Zhuzi Quanshu (朱子全書). 2 vols. Reprint. Taibei: Guangxue, 1977.
Topically arranged compendium of Zhu Xi’s essential writings and discussions on Confucian concepts, texts, masters, and so forth. This arrangement is modeled after the arrangement of Zhu 1986 (Classified Conversations of Master Zhu). The selections are drawn from Zhu 1985 and Zhu 1986. This text is regarded as an essential compendium and often referred to in the scholarship, as in Bruce 1922. This compendium is to be distinguished from a larger twenty-seven-volume set that shares the same title (Zhu 2010).
Wittenborn, Allen. Further Reflections on Things at Hand: A Chu Hsi Reader. Washington, DC: University Press of America, 1991.
Annotated collection of passages from Zhu Xi’s dialogues and writings on the main concepts of the Northern Song Neo-Confucian masters that Zhu Xi had anthologized in Zhu and Lü 1991, This text is best read together with Chan 1967.
Zhu Xi 朱熹, ed. Sishu zhangju jizhu (四書章句集註). Beijing: Zhonghua Shuju, 1983.
Zhu edited four essential early or classical Confucian classics, the Analects (Lunyu) of Confucius, Mencius, Great Learning, and Doctrine of the Mean. This text made these classics accessible to many people, rich and poor, to study the essentials of early Confucianism, and it later served as the basis for the Chinese imperial examination system in late imperial China. Every serious student of Chinese philosophy and Confucianism in general, as well as of Zhu Xi in particular, should study this text.
Zhu Xi 朱熹. Hui'an xiansheng Zhu wengong wenji (晦庵先生朱文公文集). Taibei: Dahua Shuju Chubanshe, 1985.
Comprehensive collection of Zhu’s writings, including tracts, essays, correspondence, introductions, postscripts, poems, etc. The tracts, essays, and letters often offer insight into his philosophical thought. His early poems are regarded as a window to his intellectual stance and development in youth.
Zhu Xi 朱熹. Zhuzi yulei (朱子語類). Taibei: Zhonghua Shuju Chubanshe, 1986.
Zhu Xi’s dialogues with students, scholars, and friends on basic Confucian and Neo-Confucian concepts, the Confucian classics, the early Confucian masters, Neo-Confucian masters, Buddhism, Daoism, and so forth. This text contains Zhu’s most in-depth reflections. Indispensable for advanced scholars and researchers.
Zhu Xi 朱熹. Zhuzi quanshu (朱子全書). 27 vols. Edited by Zhu Jieren 朱傑人, Yan Zuozhi 嚴佐之, and Liu Yongxiang 劉永翔. Shanghai: Shanghai Guji Chubanshe, 2010.
A newly edited, punctuated, typeset, and truly complete collection of Zhu’s dialogues, essays, poems, correspondence, etc. To be distinguished from the two-volume compendium with the same title, Li 1977, compiled in the Qing dynasty.
Zhu Xi 朱熹, and Lü Zuqian 呂祖謙, comp. Jinsilu jijie (近思錄集解). Edited by Zhang Boxing 張伯行. Taibei: Shijie Shuju, 1991.
Zhu Xi and his collaborator Lü Zuqian selected the essential texts and passages from the works of the seminal Northern Song Neo-Confucian masters to form a topical anthology of their teachings.
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