Chinese Philosophy

Edited by JeeLoo Liu (California State University, Fullerton)
About this topic
Summary Chinese philosophy is built on the metaphysical assumption that qi (traditionally translated as “material force” or “vital energy”) pervades the Universe and all things are composed of qi. This ontology leads to a conception of the world as an organic whole, in which everything is interconnected – from nature to the human world, from inorganic objects to sensible things. Chinese philosophers had a purely this-worldly concern; their goal was to improve on the world given. Originated in the primitive form of nature worship, ancient Chinese developed a sense of admiration and affection towards the natural world around them. This religious spirit prompted a philosophical pursuit of the order of the universe and the ontological foundation for all existence. Ancient Chinese thinkers had an intense desire to find the best way to make the right political decisions, to alleviate social problems, and to properly conduct themselves. Sociopolitical philosophy and ethics are thus the two core areas in Chinese philosophy. At the same time, since social structure, political polity and human conduct should all cohere with the cosmic order, Chinese philosophy is fundamentally rooted in its cosmology. This cosmology is manifested mostly in the philosophy of the Yijing. Chinese cosmology is built on the belief that there is a cosmic order or cosmic pattern, which serves not only as the source for all existence, but also as the governing rule for all cosmic developments. This pattern was commonly referred to as ‘Dao’ by ancient philosophers. The pursuit ofDao would become an ultimate goal shared by all Chinese philosophers. Under the holistic cosmic picture, the cosmic order also governs human affairs. Consequently, Dao takes on a normative connotation: it signifies the right way for human affairs and the normative principle for human conduct. In this sense, Daostands for the highest moral precept for human beings. There are three main branches in Chinese philosophy – Confucianism, Daoism and Buddhism. Each school has its distinct answer to the quest of ultimate reality and the roles humans should play in this world. To educate others what constitutes virtue and to inspire others to act in accordance with Dao, was thus the self-assigned mission for most Chinese philosophers.
Key works The first systematic introduction to Chinese philosophy is the two-volume set Fung Yu-lan 1997, first published in the 1930s. This book is arguably the most influential introduction to the history of Chinese philosophy, even though some of Fung’s analyses are often contested by contemporary Chinese scholars. The two-volume set has been translated into English by Derk Bodde (Feng 1983). A condensed and more accessible version of Fung’s History is also translated by Derk Bodde (Feng 1948). Among Chinese scholars, Lao 2005’s thee-volume (in four books) set is widely respected and frequently consulted. A more recent and analytic introduction to Chinese philosophy is Liu 2006. This book does not cover the history of Chinese philosophy beyond Chinese Buddhism, however. Mou 2008 has a more comprehensive coverage of all eras in the history of Chinese philosophy, but at the cost of sacrificing philosophical details. For readers who cannot read primary Chinese texts, Chan 1963 is a good source of representative selections of Chinese philosophical works.

Chan 1963 provides a comprehensive coverage and fairly representative selections of all major philosophers or philosophical schools in Chinese history. The editor provides succinct introductions for each selection. It is a must-have sourcebook for scholars who can read only English, even though the old-fashioned Wade-Giles spelling of Chinese names in this book could create confusion for beginners.  

Feng 1983 provides a comprehensive coverage of various schools in the history of Chinese philosophy. At times, the introduction is packed with quotes, with little analysis. It is nonetheless an authoritative introduction to this date.

Feng 1948 is not just an abridgment of Feng 1983. Fung wrote this short history with the aim to give a complete picture of Chinese philosophical history in a nutshell. This book is far more accessible and interesting than Feng 1983. Originally published in New York: Macmillan, 1948.

Lao Ssu-Kwang勞思光, Xinbian Zhongguo Zhexue Shi新編中國哲學史. 3 volumes. Guangxi, China: Guanxi shifandaxue chubanshe, 2005.

There is no English translation of this three-volume set. This is a revised version of Lao’s famed History of Chinese Philosophy (Zhongguo zhexue shi 中國哲學史), originally published in Hong Kong: Youlian chubanshe, 1968. Lao’s History provides detailed logical analysis of the philosophical problems and theories of all the schools covered in this book. It is widely referred to by Chinese scholars.

Liu 2006 provides an up-to-date introduction to Chinese philosophy in the analytic style. In its analysis of primary texts, it also reflects topics and discourses on Chinese philosophy in contemporary scholarship in English. The scope of this book covers classical philosophical schools and four major schools in Chinese Buddhism.

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    In the development of philosophy and science, there is a phenomenon that has been noted previously and is still occurring, namely, that philosophy is continuously withdrawing from domains that it formerly occupied, and that natural science is moving into these areas one after the other.
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  12. The Significance of Toegye's Theory on “Manifestation of Principle”.Jaeho Ahn - 2014 - Journal of Chinese Philosophy 41 (1-2):114-129.
    This article aims to critique the recent claim raised in Korea that Toegye's theory on lifa 理發 “negates the activity of li.” In my view, although the idea of lifa is not clearly presented by Zhu Xi and even contradicts his conception of “non-action of li,” it recovers fundamental Confucian principle and reaffirms valuable attributes of humanity. Toegye's notion of lifa establishes the ground for distinguishing humans from animals by emphasizing the subjective spontaneity and activity of moral rationality. To expound (...)
  13. Modern Intellectual Readings of the Kharijites (Review).Shabbir Ahsen - 2010 - Philosophy East and West 60 (2):pp. 310-312.
  14. Wei-Na-Ssu Chih Pien Yen Li Hsing Yü Kan Hsing Lun Wen Chi.Mei-li Ts ai - 1995
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    Wang Shouren affirmed that "the teachings of the sages are nothing but the teaching of mind" . He believed that Lu Jiuyuan, in proposing the formulation that the mind equals principle, continued the legacy of the teaching of the mind that had begun in China with the teaching of Yao, Shun, and Yu and which was exemplified in the saying "The human mind is always in peril; the mind of the natural Way is always hidden; emphasize essentiality, emphasize unity; maintain (...)
  18. On Zhu Xi'S Metaphysical Theory of "Investigating Things" [Gewu].Deng Aimin - 1983 - Contemporary Chinese Thought 14 (3):35-96.
    In order to establish his "school of principle" system of thought, which was founded on objective idealism, Zhu Xi proposed a theory of "investigating things and exhausting principles" [gewu qiongli]. This became the epistemological foundation for his system of thought. This epistemology formed an organic whole with his world view. On the one hand, his "theory-of-investigating-things" epistemology opened up pathways for his system of objective idealism; on the other hand, his "school-of-principle" system formed the theoretical foundation for his epistemology of (...)
  19. New Qing History and the Problem of “Chinese Empire”—Another Impact and Response?Li Aiyong - 2016 - Contemporary Chinese Thought 47 (1):13-29.
    EDITOR’ ABSTRACTLi Aiyong starts from a thorough analysis of the academic background, theories, and approaches of New Qing History. This suggests that its emergence in North America and the controversy it continues to cause in China have to be understood within the respective academic traditions and cultural environments and calls on Chinese academia to actively impact the writing of Qing history overseas.
  20. Chuang Tzu's Incorporation of the Kuang Tzu's Argument on "The Practice of Mind".Kiyoshi Akatsuka, Jialin Hong & Sato - 2006 - Philosophy and Culture 33 (7):3-28.
    According to this study for the prototype of Taoism, in his opinion "on the tube • intention" of the "original by" some of the oldest Taoist literature. This article is from the "Zhuangzi" and "pipe" four comparative study in an attempt to permit into their theory. This article points out, "Chuang Tzu • Inner Chapters" of the of "Shinsaibashi Fables" and "Paodingjieniu fable", apparently inherited systems are different types of fables. The "Zhuangzi" book and "Shinsaibashi Fables" Fables and related include: (...)
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  27. Different Paths, Same Mountain: Daoism, Ecology and the New Paradigm of Science.Anthony Alexander - unknown
    Western physics in the 18th century was fundamental in establishing basic concepts in the study of economics. However, this form of physics has now been comprehensively displaced by progress within Western science, notably the rise of the new paradigm of science formalised as systems theory. This utilises new mathematical techniques incorporating Newtonian science within a far larger field of understanding that also includes the complex, unpredicateble and fluid aspects of the real world. However, the institutions of the modern world, especially (...)
  28. The Last Confucian Liang Shu-Ming and the Chinese Dilemma of Modernity.Guy Alitto - 1979
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    Sage knowledge knows the evolution of circumstances from an early point, when tendencies may be inconspicuously, “effortlessly” diverted. This knowledge is expressed, not “represented,” being an intensive quality of action rather than of belief, proposition, or theory, and its effortlessness is not a matter of effort versus no effort, but of the intensity with which effort tends to vanish. The value of such knowledge and the explanation of its accomplishment in terms of perceiving incipience or “really seeing the little things” (...)
  32. Vanishing Into Things: Knowledge in Chinese Tradition.Barry Allen - 2015 - Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
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    The now-global phenomenon of Asian martial arts traces back to something that began in China. The idea the Chinese communicated was the dual cultivation of the spiritual and the martial, each perfected in the other, with the proof of perfection being an effortless mastery of violence. I look at one phase of the interaction between Asian martial arts and Chinese thought, with a reading of the Zhuangzi 莊子 and the Daodejing 道德經 from a martial arts perspective. I do not claim (...)
  34. The Cloud of Knowing Blurring the Difference with China.Barry Allen - 2011 - Common Knowledge 17 (3):450-532.
    In this monograph-length article, which inaugurates a multipart symposium titled “Fuzzy Studies,” the significance and virtues of blur are investigated through the whole history of Chinese intellectual tradition. In the Western tradition, the blur of becoming seems to disqualify an object for knowledge; nothing can be an object of knowledge until the blur is resolved and clarity attained. Chinese tradition offers suggestive examples of the thought that blur, so far from being incompatible with knowledge, might be its condition of possibility (...)
  35. The Evolution of Chinese Tz'u Poetry: From Late T'ang to Northern Sung.Joseph R. Allen, Kang-I. Sun Chang & Tz'U. - 1983 - Journal of the American Oriental Society 103 (4):801.
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    This special issue of Philosophy East and West is dedicated to the inaugural meeting of the World Consortium for Research in Confucian Cultures, convened at the University of Hawai‘i and the East-West Center, October 8-12, 2014, on the theme “Confucian Values in a Changing World Cultural Order,” to explore the contributions of Confucian thought to world culture. The conference brought together leading scholars from partner institutions around the world to explore critically the meaning and value of Confucian culture in the (...)
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