The Confucian Canon’s Pivotal and Problematic Middle Era: Reflecting on the Northern Song Masters and Zhu Xi

Hui Yin, Hoyt Tillman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Zhu Xi’s(1130–1200) interpretations systematized the Five Classics; moreover, he elevated the “Four Books” to such a supra-canonical status that these texts along with his commentaries became the core curriculum for civil service examinations from the early 13th century to the 20th century. Inquiring into what was the essential and unique Song (960–1279) character of Classical scholarship, we will highlight the canonical Ritual Classics because these texts were crucial for centuries, especially during the Han (206 BCE–CE 220) through Tang (618–906) dynasties. We show how Zhu updated ritual practices by focusing on the Yili (Book of Etiquette and Ceremonies) as the crucial Classic for guidelines on etiquette, and also rebalanced the relation between rituals and moral “principles.” We will explore how Zhu’s systematization of moral principles and ritual did not fully resolve tensions from his major 11th-century philosophical predecessors regarding principles and ritual, as well as the Four Books and the Five Classics. Even if Dai Zhen’s (1724–1777) criticism of Zhu was somewhat misplaced or overstated, tensions within Zhu’s views provide us a basis for understanding Dai’s attacks and ambivalence among Qing (1644–1911) and 20th-century scholars toward Zhu Xi’s philosophy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)95-105
Number of pages11
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2015



  • Confucian Canon
  • Dai Zhen
  • Principle
  • Ritual
  • Zhu Xi

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy

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