Zhu Xi

Zhu Xi
Zhu Xi
BornOctober 18, 1130
DiedApril 23, 1200(1200-04-23) (aged 69)
Other namesCourtesy title: 元晦 Yuánhuì
Alias (号): 晦庵 Huì Àn
RegionChinese philosophy
SchoolConfucianism, Neo-Confucianism
Zhu Xi
Zhu Xi (Chinese characters).svg
"Zhu Xi" in regular Chinese characters
Alternative Chinese name
Literal meaning"Master Zhu"
Statue of Zhu xi at the White Deer Grotto Academy in Lushan Mountain

Zhu Xi ([ʈʂú ɕí]; Chinese: 朱熹; October 18, 1130 – April 23, 1200), also known by his courtesy name Yuanhui (or Zhonghui), and self-titled Hui'an, was a Chinese historian, philosopher, politician, and writer of the Song dynasty. He was a Confucian scholar who founded what later became known as the "learning of principle" or "rationalist" school (lixue 理學) and was the most influential Neo-Confucian in China. His contributions to Chinese philosophy including his editing of and commentaries to the Four Books, which later formed the curriculum of the civil service exam in Imperial China from 1313 to 1905; and his emphasis on the process of the "investigation of things" (gewu 格物) and meditation as a method for self cultivation. He has been described by scholar Edward Slingerland as the second most influential thinker in Chinese history, after Confucius himself.[1]

He was a scholar with a wide learning in the classics, commentaries, histories and other writings of his predecessors. In his lifetime he was able to serve multiple times as an government official,[2] although he avoided public office for most of his adult life.[1] He also wrote, compiled and edited almost a hundred books and corresponded with dozens of other scholars. He acted as a teacher to groups of students, many who chose to study under him for years. He built upon the teachings of the Cheng brothers and others; and further developed their metaphysical theories in regards to principle (li 理) and vital force (qi 氣). His followers recorded thousands of his conversations in writing.[2]


Zhu Xi, whose family originated in Wuyuan County, Huizhou (in modern Jiangxi province), was born in Fujian, where his father worked as the subprefectural sheriff. After his father was forced from office due to his opposition to the government appeasement policy towards the Jurchen in 1140, Zhu Xi received instruction from his father at home. Many anecdotes attest that he was a highly precocious child. It was recorded that at age five he ventured to ask what lay beyond Heaven, and by eight he understood the significance of the Classic of Filiality (Xiaojing). As a youth, he was inspired by Mencius’ proposition that all people could become a sage.[3] Upon his father's death in 1143, he studied with his father's friends Hu Xian, Liu Zihui, and Liu Mianzhi. In 1148, at the age of 19, Zhu Xi passed the Imperial Examination and became a presented scholar. Zhu Xi's first official dispatch position was as Subprefectural Registrar of Tong'an (同安縣主簿), which he served from 1153 - 1156. From 1153 he began to study under Li Tong, who followed the Neo-Confucian tradition of Cheng Hao and Cheng Yi, and formally became his student in 1160.

In 1179, after not serving in an official capacity since 1156, Zhu Xi was appointed Prefect of Nankang Military District (南康軍), where he revived White Deer Grotto Academy.[4] and got demoted three years later for attacking the incompetency and corruption of some influential officials. There were several instances of receiving an appointment and subsequently being demoted. Upon dismissal from his last appointment, he was accused of numerous crimes and a petition was made for his execution. Much of this opposition was headed by Han Tuozhou, the Prime Minister, who was a political rival of Zhu's.[5][6] Even though his teachings had been severely attacked by establishment figures, almost a thousand brave people attended his funeral.[7] After the death of Han Tuozhou, Zhu's successor Zhen Dexiu, together with Wei Liaoweng, made Zhu's branch of Neo-Confucianism the dominant philosophy at the Song Court.[8][9]

In 1208, eight years after his death, Emperor Ningzong of Song rehabilitated Zhu Xi and honored him with the posthumous name of Wen Gong (文公), meaning “Venerable gentleman of culture”.[10] Around 1228, Emperor Lizong of Song honored him with the posthumous noble title Duke of (State) Hui (徽國公).[11] In 1241, a memorial tablet to Zhu Xi was placed in the Confucian Temple at Qufu,[12] thereby elevating him to Confucian sainthood. Today, Zhu Xi is venerated as one of the "Twelve Philosophers" (十二哲) of Confucianism.[13] Modern Sinologists and Chinese often refer to him as Zhu Wen Kung (朱文公) in lieu of his name.