Hsün Tzu (Xunzi)

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Hsün Tzu (Xunzi). An important work of early Chinese philosophy attributed to Hsün Tzu or Hsün Ch'ing (b. c.300 BCE). His interpretation of Confucian teaching, which became canonical (to be studied by court officials) during the former Han dynasty (206 BCE–9 CE), remained largely dominant until the rise of the Neo-Confucian movement in the 11th cent.

The book teaches that people are by nature ‘evil’—not in any metaphysical way, but in the practical sense that without proper education people cannot rise to full participation in culture and society. At the root of this doctrine is a distinction between human ‘nature’ (hsing, ‘that which cannot be learned or acquired by effort’) and ‘conscious activity’ (wei, ‘that which can be acquired by learning and brought to completion by effort’, B. Watson tr., p. 158). Hsün Tzu stresses the importance of wei: people are not fully human until they have become imbued with a sense of moral and ritual propriety, and they are not born with that sense but must be taught it.

Hsün Tzu was influenced by the legalist school of his day, which stressed the necessity of law and coercion for maintaining social order.