Neo-Confucianism is a Far Eastern philosophical current that took off under the Chinese Song dynasty and became the official version of Confucianism from the 14th century until the very beginning of the 20th century, despite competition from the Hanxian current from the Qing dynasty. The canon of the Four Books proposed by Zhu Xi, its main promoter, formed the basis of the imperial examinations. Neo-Confucianism penetrated into Vietnam, Japan and Korea, playing a particularly important role in these last two countries, where it sometimes received an original interpretation.
It is known in China by various names designating its multiple branches at different times, the two main ones being the School of Principle (理學 pin.: Lǐxué) and the School of the Spirit (心 學 pin.: Xinxué). In the 20th century, Feng Youlan 馮友蘭 (1895–1990) created the New School of the Xin Lixue principle.
Neo-Confucian thinkers popularized from the 16th to 17th centuries the taijitu symbol, a representation of the concept of taiji from the Book of Changes, sometimes called in the West “Taoist symbol”.
Neo-Confucianism is the first Confucian current since the Han including a metaphysical system, in various variants. It is a response to the philosophical domination of the Taoists and especially the Buddhists, whose Confucianists considered certain notions and practices as evil and foreign to Chinese society, monasticism in particular, or karma. They wished to reaffirm the preeminence of the Confucian virtues (ren humanity, yi righteousness, li correction, zhi wisdom, xin fidelity, cheng sincerity), and the conformity of the social order they govern with the Way of Heaven. Mencius’s thought that xing human nature is fundamentally good, therefore part of the cosmic order, was put forward. Despite the desire to stand out from Buddhism and Taoism, Neo-Confucian metaphysics were still formed on the basis of existing systems, the influences of these two currents as well as old naturalist concepts (yin and yang, qi, five elements, etc. .) are therefore not absent. These borrowings are sometimes even deliberate, because the Neo-Confucians also recognized qualities in the systems they wanted to counter. Thus Zhu Xi admired the high moral standard of Buddhist monks, and mainstream thinkers often counted Chan or Taoist monks among their friends. “The three teachings are one.” became the Song-era slogan, launched by Confucians who meant that the positive aspects of Buddhism and Taoism were also present in Confucianism.
Unlike the first thinkers of the Xuanxue current (3rd-6th century) who hoped to regenerate the Confucian system by relying heavily on the Book of the Way and of Virtue, the Zhuangzi and the Book of Changes, those of neo-Confucianism sought to stand out clearly Taoism and therefore rejected the first two works, focusing on the last whose commentary was attributed to Confucius. The other texts retained were of course the Analects, but also previously minor texts such as the Mencius, which affirms that human nature is good, as well as the Great Study and the Invariable Middle taken from the Liji.
Although neo-Confucianism really begins under the Song and becomes an important current thanks to Zhu Xi, its philosophers sometimes cite as precursors two personalities of the Tang dynasty, Han Yu (768-824) and Li Ao (772-841).
- Early neo-Confucian thinkers
- Zhou Dunyi 周敦颐 (1017-1073) and Daoxue Way School 道 学; he had the Cheng brothers as disciples for a short time and was recognized by Zhu Xi as a pioneer of the current.
- Shao Yong 邵雍 (1011-1077) and the Icon Numerological School Xiangshuxue 象 数学;
- Zhang Zai 張 載 (1020-1077) and the Breath School Qixue 气 学; Zhu Xi attached great importance to his writings; his influence extended to the Ming with Luo Qinshun 順 (1465-1547) and Wang Fuzhi 王夫之 (1619-1692).
- The Four Schools of the early 11th century
- Wang Anshi 王安石 (1021-1086) and the Duke of Jing School 荊公 學派;
- Sima Guang 司馬 光 (1019-1086) and Wen Master School 溫 公 學派;
- Su Shi 蘇 軾 (1037-1101) and the School of Shu 蜀 學;
- The Cheng brothers, Cheng Hao 程 顥 (1032-1095) and Cheng Yi 程頤 (1033-1107);
- Cheng Hao would later be considered the pioneer of the School of the Spirit, but its direct followers are Hu Wufeng 胡五峰 (1105-1161) and Zhang Shi 張 栻 (1133 -1180), School of Huxiang 湖湘 之 之; Liu Jishan 劉 蕺 山 (1578-1645) is considered the continuator of Hu Wufeng.
- Cheng Yi and the Luoyang School 洛 學; Zhu Xi (1130-1200) will make this branch famous; known as the School of Principle or School of Cheng and Zhu, it will be the main branch of neo-Confucianism until the 16th century.
- Lu Jiuyuan 陸九淵 (1119-1192) will be taken up by Wang Yangming and the School of the Spirit 心 学 or Yangming School 陽明 學, the second main branch of neo-Confucianism.