Huang Zongxi (1610–1695)

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Huang Zongxi, also known as Huang Lizhou, was the most important figure during the transitional period from the late Ming to the early Qing dynasty. He was the last in line as a Sung-Ming neo-Confucian philosopher, and was also an intellectual historian who studied in depth the whole Sung-Ming neo-Confucian Movement. Huang was the disciple of Liu Zongzhou (15781645), and compiled the influential Mingru xue'an (Cases in Ming Confucianism) according to the guidelines he learned from his teacher.

The dominant trend of philosophy in the Ming dynasty was Wang Yangming's (14721529) xinxue (learning of mind). It was in sharp contrast to Zhu Xi's (11301200) lixue (learning of principle), which had been the dominant neo-Confucian philosophy as well as state ideology since the Yüan dynasty, because Zhu's Commentaries to the Four Books had been adopted as the basis for civil service examinations since 1313. Zhu had taught a dualism of li (principle) and qi (material or vital force); xin (mind-heart), for Zhu, consisted of the subtlest kind of qi that encompasses li (principles). Wang felt that Zhu's dualism was detrimental to self-discipline. Instead Wang taught a monism that identified xin with li.

Liu was in sympathy with Wang, but when Wang put too much emphasis on liangzhi (innate knowledge of the good), some of his followers claimed that sages are all over the street. In order to remedy the situation, Liu shifted the emphasis to chengyi (sincerity of the will) and shendu (vigilance in solitude). Huang inherited his teacher's monistic outlook, and went further, claiming that li is but the li of qi, and that there is no benti (substance) aside from gongfu (discipline). Such a tendency inadvertently led to a radical naturalistic interpretation of monism, which abandons the transcendent aspect of neo-Confucian philosophy altogether, thus causing a paradigm shift in early Qing philosophy.

Although Huang had firm convictions of his own, he chose not to write on his philosophy; instead, he worked hard to compile case studies. Because Wang Yangming taught different things in different places and periods, Huang took pains to study the different branches of philosophy under the school, devising a scheme to cover them all (although he did not neglect the other schools of philosophy). With its breadth and depth, Huang's Mingrue xue'an was unprecedented. It became so dominant, in fact, that when it was published it was taken as the only doorway through which one should study Ming Confucianism. Huang had also planned to provide case studies in Sung-Yüan Confucianism, but he never completed the task; the study was finally put together by Quan Zuwang (17051755).

Huang was also an expert on textual studies of the Classics. A case in point was his study of Yijing (Book of changes). He and his brother argued that the diagrams attached to this classic, which had been around since the Sung dynasty, were spurious. Huang's influence was contagious; Yan Rouju (16361704), who claimed Huang as his mentor, produced a critical study that showed the Book of History in ancient script was spurious. It is well known that Zhu Xi had established the orthodox line of transmission of the Way by quoting from the alleged fabricated document. With Yan's study, the foundation of Zhu's claim was now apparently undermined. Again, inadvertently, Huang appeared to have helped Qing Confucianism undergo a paradigm shift from philosophy to philology.

When the Ming dynasty was overthrown by the Manchus, Huang reflected deeply on politics and wrote the Mingyi daifang lu (Waiting for the dawn: A plan for the prince). He felt that since the establishment of the dynasties the rulers had taken the country as their private property, thus causing much misfortune. Huang urged a return to the ancient time when sage-emperors served the country and the people without selfish desires. (Although the Mingyi daifang lu has nothing to do with democracy in the West. Huang's book was used as propaganda against the Qing regime, inadvertently propelling the intellectuals to hope for a republican government of, for, and by the people.) The last dynasty was overthrown in 1912.

See also Chinese Philosophy: Confucianism.


Elman, Benjamin, A. From Philosophy to Philology. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1984.

Huang Zongxi. Mingru xue'an [Cases in Ming Confucianism]. Selected translation in The Records of Ming Scholars, edited by Julia Ching. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1987.

Huang Zongxi. Mingyi daifang lu. Translated with an introduction by William Theodore de Bary as Waiting for the Dawn: A Plan for the Prince. New York: Columbia University Press, 1993.

Liu Shu-hsien. Essentials of Contemporary Neo-Confucian Philosophy. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2003.

Liu Shu-hsien. Understanding Confucian Philosophy: Classical and Sung-Ming. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1998.

Shu-hsien Liu (2005)