Before “Returning to Tranquility” (guiji): A Study of Nie Bao’s Early Thought

Vol. 50 No. 2  6/2020



Before “Returning to Tranquility” (guiji): A Study of Nie Bao’s Early Thought


Ho Wei-hsuan











Key words

Nie Bao 聶豹, Wang Yangming 王陽明, guiji 歸寂, liangzhi 良知, xiaoti 孝弟


Nie Bao’s 聶豹 theory of returning to tranquility, or guiji 歸寂, was one of several interpretations of Wang Yangming’s 王陽明 concept of liangzhi良知 that emerged after Wang’s death. Most studies of Nie’s learning have focused on this theory, implicitly identifying Nie as a faithful disciple of Wang from the very beginning of his intellectual career. However, Nie was over forty years old when he first met Wang in Zhejiang, and over fifty by the time he postulated his theory of guiji. It is inconceivable that the first half of his life was intellectually vacant. In this article, I investigate Nie’s early thought and intellectual associations. I show that he chose to study not only with Wang Yangming, but also, concurrently, with Cheng Minzheng 程敏政 and Zhan Ruoshi 湛若水, which reveals an open-minded attitude. It also indicates that he engaged with systematic thought before coming into contact with Wang. During his early period, Nie’s intellectual theorizing centered on the concepts of “filial piety and fraternal duty” (xiaoti 孝弟) and “honoring the virtuous nature and following the path of knowledge” (zun dexing dao wenxue 尊德性道問學). In short, the relationship between Nie and Wang may not have been as close as scholars have deemed, and the source of his theory of guiji is probably more complex and varied than formerly recognized.


Author: Ho Wei-hsuan
Genre: Article