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Tsing Hua Journal of Chinese Studies
ISSN 0577-9170; DOI 10.6503/THJCS


On the Adoption of the Daoist Term Neisheng Waiwang 內聖外王 in Confucian Studies

Vol. 41 No. 4   06/2011    


On the Adoption of the Daoist Term Neisheng Waiwang 內聖外王 in Confucian Studies


Mei, Kuang









Key words

neisheng waiwang 內聖外王, Zhu Xi朱熹, lixue理學, ruxue儒學, daotong道統, daoxue道學, Yu Ying-shih余英時


     The phrase neisheng waiwang 內聖外王 (a sage in the inner sphere, a king in the outer sphere) appears in the pre-Qin Daoist classic Zhuangzi. The term emerged as a panegyric in the Northern Song Dynasty, beginning with the Confucian philosopher Cheng Hao 程顥, who used it to comment on the accomplishments of his fellow philosopher Shao Yong 邵雍 during their first meeting. This anecdote captured the attention of the literati, and soon the phrase became an exaggerated form of flattery in their circles. With the help of Confucian scholar-officials in the early Qing Dynasty, it became a term used exclusively for the emperor, especially the Manchu rulers Kangxi 康熙 and Qianlong 乾隆, who strove to live up to the image of the sage-king without losing their tyrannical grip on their governance. This moralization of absolute power was a great political triumph for Confucian philosophers; ironically, it was to their detriment, for why would a world with a sage ruler need moral idealists, whose traditional role in the political arena had always been to counteract power with morality? Consequently, philosophy in the mid-Qing period lost its vitality and yielded its place to such studies as evidential research.
    A revival of the dictum in Confucian philosophical discourse occurred with the rise of the New-Confucian Movement in modern times. Xiong Shili
熊十力, its most influential founder, proclaimed that the Way of Confucius was precisely neisheng waiwang, and based on this premise, presented a distorted interpretation of the Confucian classics and their exegetical tradition. Despite the fact that Xiong’s opinionated views were rejected by many, he is nevertheless revered as an original thinker among New-Confucian scholars, and his assertion that neisheng waiwang is a Confucian dictum is widely shared and given various interpretative extensions. In this way, the introduction of this term into Confucian studies had deleterious results for our understanding of Confucianism. It is against this background that this paper offers an analysis of the thrust of the ideas in Yu Ying-shih 余英時’s study of Song Neo-Confucianism. Like Xiong Shili, Yu is strategically-minded. He unquestioningly accepts Xiong’s disputable assertion that neisheng waiwang was a Confucian dictum. But instead of using this assertion, as Xiong did, to blame Neo-Confucian philosophers for what they did not accomplish, he turns on New-Confucian scholars, accusing them of lopsided scholarship. In Yu’s view, these scholars are preoccupied with NeoConfucian thought, which belongs to the inner sphere, and overlook the fact that Confucians in history were always concerned with politics.
    The assumption that neisheng waiwang is a Confucian dictum turns out to be unfounded. Taking this false assumption as a premise, logically speaking nothing follows. Yu has drawn a variety of conclusions from this premise, but they amount to simply another distortion of Neo-Confucianism. The discussion in this paper focuses on two issues: the supposedly different status of lixue 
理學 and ruxue 儒學, and Yu’s new interpretation of daotong 道統 and daoxue 道學. These demonstrate the extent to which basic Confucian ideas and the meaning of passages from texts and commentaries can be twisted to fit a particular theory.



Author: Mei, Kuang
Genre: Article
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