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Summary Zhou Dunyi (Chou Tun-I 周敦頤, 1017-1073) is standardly regarded as the originator of Neo-Confucianism, but his thought stirred up much controversy in the history of Chinese philosophy. Many philosophers and scholars accused him as being a closet Daoist, in that his short treatise on the Taiji Diagram seems to be a clone of a Daoist Taiji diagram and his allusion to the Boundless (wuji 無極) has often taken to be in reference to nonbeing (wu無) in Daoist philosophy. There are hundreds of debates and articles written in Chinese on this diagram, both from the perspective of intellectual history and from the angle of philosophical analysis. 
Key works In English, Wang 2005 gives a good summary of the controversy and offers a credible explanation of this particular diagram, while Gu 2003 takes the issue to a broader context to reconstruct the diagram as a “mega-sign” in Chinese philosophy.
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Gu 2003 takes a Peircean approach (separating the signifier and the signified) to reconstruct the Taiji Diagram as a sign of representation, and further reconstruct the Chinese sign system of Taiji and Dao. It is a rich paper that can help Western readers understand why Zhou’s brief analysis of the Diagram matters so much in the history of Chinese philosophy.

Wang 2005 deals with the various interpretations of Zhou Dunyi’s Diagram of the Supreme Ultimate Explained (taijitu shuo). It is a good introduction to the historical controversy surrounding Zhou’s usage of the term “wuji,” as it carries a Daoist connotation.

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  1. Ming Dong Gu (2003). The Taiji Diagram: A Meta-Sign in Chinese Thought. Journal of Chinese Philosophy 30 (2):195–218.
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  2. Youngmin Kim (2008). Cosmogony as Political Philosophy. Philosophy East and West 58 (1):108-125.
    : This essay examines the Diagram of the Supreme Ultimate and its shifting interpretations—those of Zhu Xi (1130–1200) and Wang Tingxiang (1474–1544) in particular—and by doing so explores the significance of ‘‘cosmogony’’ in the Confucian tradition and its significance for the change of political philosophy from the Song dynasty through the Ming. First, through a close reading of Zhu Xi’s commentaries on the Diagram, it is argued that they should be interpreted primarily as a statement of political philosophy rather than (...)
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  3. JeeLoo Liu (2005). The Status of Cosmic Principle (Li) in Neo-Confucian Metaphysics. Journal of Chinese Philosophy 32 (3):391-407.
    In this paper, I attempt to make use of Western metaphysical taxonomy to explicate the cosmological variances in Chinese philosophical schools, especially with regard to the debates among the Neo-Confucian thinkers. While I do not presume that Chinese philosophers dealt with the same Western issues, I do believe that a comparative study of this nature can point to a new direction of thinking concerning the metaphysical debates in Neo-Confucianism. This paper is divided into three parts. In Part I, I employ (...)
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  4. Galia Patt-Shamir (2004). Moral World, Ethical Terminology: The Moral Significance of Metaphysical Terms in Zhou Dunyi and Zhu XI. Journal of Chinese Philosophy 31 (3):349–362.
  5. Robin Wang (2005). Zhou Dunyi's Diagram of the Supreme Ultimate Explained (Taijitu Shuo) : A Construction of the Confucian Metaphysics. Journal of the History of Ideas 66 (3):307-323.
  6. Xianglong Zhang (2006). Flowing Within the Text: A Discussion on He Lin's Explanation of Zhu XI's Method of Intuition. Frontiers of Philosophy in China 1 (1):60-65.
    The author examines He Lin's interpretation of Zhu Xi's method of intuition from a phenomenological-hermeneutical perspective and by exposing Zhu's philosophical presuppositions. In contrast with Lu Xiangshan's intuitive method, Zhu Xi's method of reading classics advocates "emptying your heart and flowing with the text" and, in this spirit, explains the celebrated "exhaustive investigation on the principles of things (ge wu qiong li)." "Text," according to Zhu, is therefore not an object in ordinary sense but a "contextual region" or "sensible pattern" (...)
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