Zhu Xi and the Tai Chi World View

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Zhu Xi and the Tai Chi World View

Postby GrahamB on Mon Jun 20, 2022 12:48 am

I keep reading people talking about how Tai Chi Chuan perfectly expresses all the principles for life - i.e. it's a kind of panacea through which all the problems of life - whether that's your relationships or your work or your home life or your gardening, or whatever - can be "solved".

I think we all (including me) buy into this idea when we first encounter Tai Chi, as it seems to be a collection of simple principles that apply to everything. i.e. we go to far in one direction, we become the opposite.

And of course it is linked back to major philosophical works like Lao Tzu, which adds the necessary gravitas.

However, these days I'm not so sure. Perhaps the Tai Chi World View is too simple, too ordered, too..... Confucian, to really apply to nature, or reality.

It's starting to seem to me that Zhu Xi the "neo Confucian", (who would have just been a regular Confucian in his day) had more to do with the creation of this Tai Chi World View than any other individual. His teachings were very popular in the time when Yang Lu Chan was in Beijing and the Wu brothers were "finding" lost Tai Chi Classics in salt cellars.

Here's a short introduction to his work:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XUMND6OFuRA

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Re: Zhu Xi and the Tai Chi World View

Postby Ian C. Kuzushi on Mon Jun 20, 2022 1:11 am

No, he would not simply have been called a Confucian in his time because that is not a word that existed or exists in Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, or Korean.

Neo Confucianism is a useful term that, while perhaps needing some sort of glossing, is historically and intellectually distinct from the earlier canon and commentaries in both concept and aim.
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Re: Zhu Xi and the Tai Chi World View

Postby GrahamB on Mon Jun 20, 2022 3:04 am

Yes, carelessly worded, you are correct. What would he have been called in his time then?
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Re: Zhu Xi and the Tai Chi World View

Postby origami_itto on Mon Jun 20, 2022 3:16 am

GrahamB wrote:I keep reading people talking about how Tai Chi Chuan perfectly expresses all the principles for life - i.e. it's a kind of panacea through which all the problems of life - whether that's your relationships or your work or your home life or your gardening, or whatever - can be "solved".

I think we all (including me) buy into this idea when we first encounter Tai Chi, as it seems to be a collection of simple principles that apply to everything. i.e. we go to far in one direction, we become the opposite.

And of course it is linked back to major philosophical works like Lao Tzu, which adds the necessary gravitas.

However, these days I'm not so sure. Perhaps the Tai Chi World View is too simple, too ordered, too..... Confucian, to really apply to nature, or reality.

It's starting to seem to me that Zhu Xi the "neo Confucian", (who would have just been a regular Confucian in his day) had more to do with the creation of this Tai Chi World View than any other individual. His teachings were very popular in the time when Yang Lu Chan was in Beijing and the Wu brothers were "finding" lost Tai Chi Classics in salt cellars.

Here's a short introduction to his work:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XUMND6OFuRA



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Re: Zhu Xi and the Tai Chi World View

Postby yeniseri on Mon Jun 20, 2022 8:27 am

This Tai Chi World view appears to have nothing to do with its martial origins but is actually based on (it seems) post Qing rhetoric since taijiquan had become defanged and Tai Chi, the philosophy, reared its
hairless face to occupy its place in revisionist hisotry. It's nice and it fits the direction of movement that allows the many to dream and rationalize its new purpose.
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Re: Zhu Xi and the Tai Chi World View

Postby Ian C. Kuzushi on Mon Jun 20, 2022 9:56 am

GrahamB wrote:Yes, carelessly worded, you are correct. What would he have been called in his time then?


I think contemporary texts referred to him as teacher, and that was even how his later rivals referred to him, if not by name. Ru (scholar: especially scholars following Kongzi's teachings from the Song dynasty onward) was also a term in use and probably the closest thing to "Confucian thinker" there was.

Anyway, I don't have any quibble with your main point as the contemporary understanding of Taiji (and perhaps this was always the case) is very similar to the Neo-Confucian metaphysics I have read.
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Re: Zhu Xi and the Tai Chi World View

Postby wayne hansen on Mon Jun 20, 2022 11:28 am

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Re: Zhu Xi and the Tai Chi World View

Postby Bao on Tue Jun 21, 2022 5:47 am

Not a big fan of that lecture, took some time to listen on it. Good, but he simplify way too much and misses the mark, IMO.

Zhu Xi's big contribution was to re-instate Confucianism as THE state ideology. His view on Confucianism and Man was greatly influenced by Mencius' teachings and his idea that Man is born good, or good by nature. This view was in line with Zhu Xi's ideas on Nature and Principle which he adapted much from Daoism. Thus his approach to Confucianism was "softer" than many thinkers' before him. The view of Man in general society had been very much influenced by Xunzi who also influenced Legalism a great deal. Xunzi's most famous quote is “the nature of man is evil; his goodness is only acquired training.”

So Zhu Xi's school was a softer and more humanistic version of Confucianism, something that appealed to the common people.
(But I believe that in action, in parenting, and in education, many Chinese still follow Xunzi more than Mencius. ;) )


Zhu Xi's contribution to philosophy and concepts is mostly about "Li" - Principle or Reason. But he didn't have much influence on the "Tai Chi" or "Qi" concepts. His took his view on Tai Chi was adopted directly from Zhou yi and his Qi from Zhang Cai.

Ian C. Kuzushi wrote:No, he would not simply have been called a Confucian in his time because that is not a word that existed or exists in Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, or Korean.


Confucianism was called Rujia in Chinese, but Zhu Xi's philosophy, and his branch of Neo-Confucianism, became known as "Li Xue" The School of Reason.

Neo Confucianism is a useful term that, while perhaps needing some sort of glossing, is historically and intellectually distinct from the earlier canon and commentaries in both concept and aim.


Neo confucianism is "Songxue" in Chinese, or "School of the Song [dynasty]" which in fact both precedes and cover the time of "Neo Confucianism". Zhou Yi and Zhang Cai is considered to be two of the first Songxue philosophers, but in Western studies, they are mostly called forerunners, as Neo Confucianism doesn't really start until Zhu Xi.

yeniseri wrote:This Tai Chi World view appears to have nothing to do with its martial origins but is actually based on (it seems) post Qing rhetoric since taijiquan had become defanged and Tai Chi, the philosophy, reared its hairless face to occupy its place in revisionist hisotry. It's nice and it fits the direction of movement that allows the many to dream and rationalize its new purpose.


People tend to think that way nowadays. BUT IMO, what you propose is a not only a simplification, but a fabrication. Even in the Song dynasty, people studied physical exercise and martial arts. They used the concepts of their own time when they wrote about and verbalised what they did. Tai Chi and Qi were common ideas of the literati back in those days. Martial arts is maybe not much influenced directly by Zhu Xi, but by the thinking of that time. Also, the Chinese Martial arts today is greatly and directly influenced by the later scholar Wang Yangming (14th century) who was responsible for the later Neo-Confucian branch of Xin Xue, or the School of Mind.

In the early days of Neo-Confucianism, before that and forwards, people in China were very religious, even the intellectual elit. Buddhist and Taoist teachings were mixed together in physical exercises and in Martial arts. Even Zhu Xi, which is mostly not recognised today, was a very religious person. It s recorded that on one and the same day, he visited a Buddhist Temple to sacrifice to Buddha, visited a Taoist temple to perform rituals, and prayed before a statue of Konfucius at an altar in a Confucian Temple.
... Well, they didn't have internet or Facebook back then, so I guess he had a lot off spare time to kill. ;D

The thoughts and concepts used in Chinese Martial Arts today show a direct connection throughout the centuries to the thoughts of that time. They have changed and the interpretations have continued to change as language changes. But they were certainly not suddenly put into Martial Arts post Qing.
Last edited by Bao on Tue Jun 21, 2022 5:52 am, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: Zhu Xi and the Tai Chi World View

Postby Bob on Tue Jun 21, 2022 6:05 am

Bao's comments are well said and right on target - much appreciated
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Re: Zhu Xi and the Tai Chi World View

Postby Ian C. Kuzushi on Tue Jun 21, 2022 7:16 am

Bao wrote:
Confucianism was called Rujia in Chinese, but Zhu Xi's philosophy, and his branch of Neo-Confucianism, became known as "Li Xue" The School of Reason.


Contemporaneously with early followers of Kongzi, Ru could refer to his followers, or simply to scholars. It did eventually come to be identified more specifically with Confucians, but not until much later and Graham was asking specifically about Zhu Xi's contemporaries. So, unless you can show me some primary sources, I'd say you are missing the mark here.

Neo Confucianism is a useful term that, while perhaps needing some sort of glossing, is historically and intellectually distinct from the earlier canon and commentaries in both concept and aim.


Bao wrote:Neo confucianism is "Songxue" in Chinese, or "School of the Song [dynasty]" which in fact both precedes and cover the time of "Neo Confucianism". Zhou Yi and Zhang Cai is considered to be two of the first Songxue philosophers, but in Western studies, they are mostly called forerunners, as Neo Confucianism doesn't really start until Zhu Xi.


Um, well, I guess that could be considered "some sort of glossing?" But, even online free sources clearly state that Neo-Confucianism started before Zhu Xi, as do dated works like those used as intro textbooks at all the top schools in the West such as W.T De Barry's edited volumes. So, you just are way off here.
Last edited by Ian C. Kuzushi on Tue Jun 21, 2022 7:26 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Zhu Xi and the Tai Chi World View

Postby Bob on Tue Jun 21, 2022 8:55 am

GrahamB wrote: I keep reading people talking about how Tai Chi Chuan perfectly expresses all the principles for life - i.e. it's a kind of panacea through which all the problems of life - whether that's your relationships or your work or your home life or your gardening, or whatever - can be "solved".

I think we all (including me) buy into this idea when we first encounter Tai Chi, as it seems to be a collection of simple principles that apply to everything. i.e. we go to far in one direction, we become the opposite.

And of course it is linked back to major philosophical works like Lao Tzu, which adds the necessary gravitas.

However, these days I'm not so sure. Perhaps the Tai Chi World View is too simple, too ordered, too..... Confucian, to really apply to nature, or reality.

It's starting to seem to me that Zhu Xi the "neo Confucian", (who would have just been a regular Confucian in his day) had more to do with the creation of this Tai Chi World View than any other individual. His teachings were very popular in the time when Yang Lu Chan was in Beijing and the Wu brothers were "finding" lost Tai Chi Classics in salt cellars.


Zhou Dunyi (1017 - 1073) is considered the forerunner of Neo-Confucianism and founder of Daoxue in the Song Dynasty. He published a a "Diagram of the Great Ultimate" (Taijitu) and wrote a concise 256-word philosophical account of it. Zhou's influence set the parameters according to which yinyang theory was assimilated metaphysically and systematically into later Confucian thought and practice. . . Zhou Dunyi declares that the movement and rest of the yinyang interaction generate the five phases (water, fire, wood, metal, and soil) as the five constituents of the myriad things, and, ultimately, human beings. Zhou Dunyi directly and clearly identifies yinyang with dong jing (movement and rest) as critical to the generation of the universe. By characterizing yinyang in terms of the polarity of movement (dong) and rest (jing), or activity and stillness, Zhou Dunyi opens a line of inquiry that remains philosophically promising to this day.

Although later Neo-Confucians, following Zhu Xi, would express critical reservations abut Zhou Dunyi's location of the yinyang dynamic within Taiji itself, he remains the first to explicate these forces in terms of dong and jing. This is one of Zhou Dunyi major philosophical contributions to yinyang theory - As we have seen the concept of yinyang had been employed to construct a justification for the structure of the universe at least since the Yijing. These classics would argue that yinyang is the main forces penetrating all beings in the universe. However, they fall short of disclosing how and in what ways yin and yang performs their functions and undertakings.

There are criticisms of this view and "Following Zhou Dunyi, Zhu Xi identifies yin and yang with his concepts of ti (structure and yong (function)".

Yinyang: The Way of Heaven and Earth in Chinese Thought and Culture, Robin R. Wang, pp. 74-49.
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Re: Zhu Xi and the Tai Chi World View

Postby Bob on Tue Jun 21, 2022 9:10 am

Roger Ames on translations and Confucian Ideas - just source for those who might be interested in his material - I've always found his material to really be useful

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MEkq1NiuUbs

Part 1: A New Look at Chinese Philosophy. Professor Roger Ames



https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N4c2meBp-1k

Roger Ames (University of Hawaiʻi)
“Zoetology:” A New Name for an Old Way of Thinking

The classical Greeks give us a concept of substance that guarantees a permanent and unchanging subject as the substratum for the human experience. This “sub-stance” necessarily persists through change. This substratum or essence includes its purpose for being, and is defining of the “what-it-means-to-be-a-thing-of-this-kind” of any particular thing in setting a closed, exclusive boundary and the strict identity necessary for it to be this, and not that.

In the Yijing or Book of Changes we find a vocabulary that makes explicit cosmological assumptions that are a stark alternative to this substance ontology, and provides the interpretive context for the Confucian canons by locating them within a holistic, organic, and ecological worldview. To provide a meaningful contrast with this fundamental assumption of on or “being” we might borrow the Greek notion of zoe or “life” and create the neologism “zoe-tology” as “the art of living.” This cosmology begins from “living” (sheng 生) itself as the motive force behind change, and gives us a world of boundless “becomings:” not “things” that are, but “events” that are happening, a contrast between an ontological conception of human “beings” and a process conception of what I will call human “becomings.”

Chair: Julian Baggini
This programme was streamed live on Match 17th 2022.


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Re: Zhu Xi and the Tai Chi World View

Postby Bao on Tue Jun 21, 2022 9:16 am

Ian C. Kuzushi wrote:Contemporaneously with early followers of Kongzi, Ru could refer to his followers, or simply to scholars. It did eventually come to be identified more specifically with Confucians, but not until much later and Graham was asking specifically about Zhu Xi's contemporaries. So, unless you can show me some primary sources, I'd say you are missing the mark here.


Fair comment I guess... I didn't really care about what someone asked about, I only filled in what I thought was reasonable to add to the discussion. It wasn't directly addressed to you. It was a very long time since I read about this, so I will check some sources about the use of ru, Song Dynasty terminology and try to get back. I might be mistaken on this.

Um, well, I guess that could be considered "some sort of glossing?" But, even online free sources clearly state that Neo-Confucianism started before Zhu Xi, as do dated works like those used as intro textbooks at all the top schools in the West such as W.T De Barry's edited volumes. So, you just are way off here.


You need to keep things separated. There are three "cosmologists" that influenced Songxue, some Chinese scholars consider them songxue, other call them forerunners. It is true that songxue started before Zhu Xi, didn't use songxue, I wrote Neo-confucianism. I clearly said that I make a difference between songxue and Neo-Confucianism. Yes, I know that not all western scholars do this, they use the term differently and the terminology become confused. If you use "Neo-confucianism" as a translation of Songxue, then that is correct that Neo Confucianism started before Zhuxi. Personally, I don't like to use "Confucianism" in the name before Zhu Xi, because it was Zhu Xi and no one else who re-established Confucianism as a state ideology. So when I said that Neo-Confucianism started with Zhu Xi, I know exactly what I mean. I focused on the "Confucianism" part, but sure, I could have made this more clear. I am very well aware how different scholars use the term. Here I am stating my own view on the subject only and I have my own reasons to not follow every single mainstream author blindly just because they wrote a book. And frankly said, I couldn't care less if you, Barry or anyone else believe that I am way off.
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Re: Zhu Xi and the Tai Chi World View

Postby taiwandeutscher on Wed Jun 22, 2022 2:27 am

Well, neo-confucianism started with the well known 5 grand masters of Song philosophy: Shao Yong, Zhou Dunyi, Cheng Yi, Chen Hao (all in the Yili xuepai, school of meaining and principle) and Zhang Zai (also Yili school, but more correct Qixuepai). There were others very influencial scholars as well ( Li Gou, Qiyang Xiu, Yang Wanli,Lu Jiuyuan, Yang Jian, Xue Jixuan, Ye Shi and Chen Tuan, Liu Mu, Li Zhicai, Zhu Zhen, Cai Yuanding). Zhu Xi was late among them, only famous after his laife time. I have studied most of his writings on the Yijing, so I know his theories well.

But, as a sinologist, I'm rather sure, that they did not have real influence on TJQ as a martial art. That was only name-giving for face, not much more.
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Re: Zhu Xi and the Tai Chi World View

Postby Bhassler on Wed Jun 22, 2022 1:24 pm

I can't speak to the historical context, and I don't think it makes much since to talk about "taijiquan" as a single, generic entity due to the pronounced variations between styles and lineages. As a philosophical construct, however, taiji is a highly accessible, primitive model for understanding complexity. It doesn't offer "solutions" per se, it's just a tool for gaining a more nuanced understanding of the world we live in.
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