Cheng Hao (1032–1085)

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Cheng Hao, also called Cheng Mingdao, was cofounder, with his brother Cheng Yi, of the neo-Confucian school of Nature and Principle (li ). He held some minor official posts but devoted most of his life to teaching.

By making principle the foundation of his philosophy and identifying it with the nature of man and things, Cheng Hao and his brother set the pattern for the neo-Confucian philosophical movement known since the eleventh century as the school of Nature and Principle. To Cheng Hao principle was the principle of nature (tian li ), a concept that he evolved himself; it was the natural law. It had all the characteristics of principle as conceived by Cheng Yi, but as the principle of nature it was self-existent and unalterable. Whereas Cheng Yi stressed the doctrine that principle is one but its manifestations are many, Cheng Hao emphasized more strongly the principle of production and reproduction as the chief characteristic of nature. To him the spirit of life was in all things. This creative quality was ren, the highest good. In man, ren becomes humanity, or love, which makes him the moral being he is. It enables him to embrace all things and heaven and earth as one body.

Whatever is produced in man, that is, whatever is inborn in him, is his nature. In its original, tranquil state, human nature is neither good nor evil. The distinction arises when human nature is aroused and manifested in feelings and actions and when these feelings and actions abide by or deviate from the mean. The chief task of moral and spiritual cultivation is to calm one's nature through absolute impartiality and the identification of internal and external life. To achieve this end Cheng Hao advocated sincerity and seriousness.

There can be no denying that Cheng Hao was the more idealistic and his brother the more rationalistic. Cheng Hao more or less concentrated on self-cultivation, whereas his brother advocated both seriousness and learning. Under the influence of Buddhism Cheng Hao also advocated quietism. The two brothers had vastly different temperaments and therefore showed divergent tendencies, but it is not true, as some scholars claim, that one was monistic and the other dualistic.

See also Buddhism; Cheng Yi; Chinese Philosophy: Overview; Chinese Philosophy: Buddhism.


The works of Cheng Hao and his brother Cheng Yi are in Er Cheng quan shu ("The Complete Works of the Two Ch'engs").

Chan, Wing-tsit. A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1963.

Fung Yu-lan. A History of Chinese Philosophy. Translated by Derk Bodde, Vol. II. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1953.

Graham, Angus G. Two Chinese Philosophers, Ch'eng Ming-tao and Ch'eng Yi-ch'uan. London: Lund Humphries, 1958; LaSalle, IL: Open Court Press, 1992.

Graham, Angus C. "What Was New in the Ch'eng-Chu Theory of Human Nature?" In Studies in Chinese Philosophy and Philosophical Literature. Albany: SUNY Press, 1990.

Feng Youlan. "Cheng Hao and Cheng Yi." Chinese Studies in Philosophy 13 (WinSpr 198182): 127182.

Wing-tsit Chan (1967)

Bibliography updated by Huichieh Loy (2005)