The Political Significance of Wang Gen's Theory of ‘Making the Self Secure'

Vol. 38 No. 2   6/2008    


The Political Significance of Wang Gen's Theory of ‘Making the Self Secure'


Wen-li Ren









Key words

Wang Gen, Taizhou School, making the self secure, clear wisdom and self-preservation, social involvement or retiring from public life


  The aim of this paper is to discuss Wang Gen's theory of "making the self secure," or "self-preservation." Wang's theory of "making the self

secure" represents a reconsideration of the Confucian theory of performing Tao" and of the relationship between emperor and officials in the mid-late Ming Dynasty, when autocratic monarchy was being strengthened. The key to understanding this theory lies in the basic principle of "becoming an official or retiring from public life; "that is,advancing or retreating." On the one hand, Wang maintains that Confucian scholars must first make themselves secure. Of those who are secure, only those who can influence the will of the emperor may become officials and perform Tao. Wang accepts the principle of "becoming an official for the sake of salary," moving duty and obligation from the moral realm to the professional realm. On the other hand, even if there is no possibility for a scholar to “obtain the support of the emperor to perform Tao, "Wang Gen does not require it as a prerequisite for "performing Tao." Instead, one can follow the Confucian ideal of self-cultivation and study to “perform Tao and be involved in the world. "This way of thinking represents the self-reorientation of Ming intellectuals with respect to their socio-political role in the mid-late Ming Dynasty. In this way, "Wang Gen opens up a new way in which the younger Confucian scholars of the Taizhou School can develop themselves.



Author: Wen-li Ren
Genre: Article