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Neo-Confucianism Essay

Throughout China’s history, the philosophy bestowed by Confucius has provided a life structure for the people of China. The works of this great philosopher have managed to entwine with the people, and has survived the countless rise and fall of multiple dynasties. This is not to say the acceptance of the philosophies has been stagnant. On the contrary, along the way the Confusion philosophies have been shaped, molded and influenced by other religions and thought processes, which have imposed an impact on the overall beliefs and dictates of Confucianism.

The creation of this combination of ideas and religions as it built upon the Confucian base is known as neo-Confucianism. Although most of neo-Confucianism is derived from the original works of Confucius, there are a couple aspects that changed with the influences of time as well as the teachings of Buddhism and Daoism. Starting around the 600th century, the civil service exam was introduced in China, the exam revolutionized the structure of government in china forever. Then, in the 11th century, a focus on morality and human nature emerged as prominent attributes, and this focus also had a powerful impact on cultural behaviors.

Finally, all of these forces collected and merged, and a century later, the idea of vital force influenced the emergence of neo-Confucianism. Around the beginning of the 700th century, the government started to base the hiring of their officials from the results of taking an exam known as the Civil Service exam. The test focused on the beliefs and knowledge of the individuals in the official religion, Confucianism because it was believed that a successful government must be ruled according to Confusion ideas.

In order for an applicant to be accepted into an official government position and rank, they had to pass the test. The people who were able to pass these exams were known as scholar-gentry and they held all the positions in the bureaucracy. The civil service exam was offered to any male of any age and there was no limit on the amount of times an applicant could attempt to pass the test. The test provided a newly founded way for commoners and aristocrats advance in social class.

During the life of Confucius, social mobility was severely restricted and therefor much of his philosophy was reflected stratified society and limited social mobility. With this new exam and the requirement of getting a passing grade, the government in china was changed forever because social movement was know obtainable. No longer could a father pass down his power to his son. Under the civil service exam the descendent would have to take the exam and earn his own credentials. This test created a meritocracy, which ushered in a whole new philosophy and government.

This meritocracy was the result of the neo-Confucian way of thinking. During the eleventh century, a philosopher named Chang Yi contributed the idea of li to neo-Confucian philosophy. Chang Yi believed that there was a force in nature known as li and this force affected human morality. His overall philosophic idea became known as the True Way, and it proposed an explanation of how to sustain social and cosmic order. Li was meant to suggest the “proper” way for the followers of neo-Confucianism to live.

The philosophy propounded that everyone has a proper moral path or has li embedded within them. Subsequently, in the beginning of the 1200s, a partner abstraction to li was formed known as qi. This (qi) represented a force in nature that dealt with abstracting ones “proper” path. The founder of this idea was Zhu Xi; he believed that in order for one to be balanced with perfect morality, they must work on their qi or sins, as it is known in the Western world. Zhu Xi believed that one could work on their perfect harmony with the world by equalizing their qi with meditation.

According to Zhu Xi, the forces of li causes qi to move and change in the physical world, resulting in the division of the world into the two energy modes (ying and yang). Zhu Xi’s concepts borrowed from the more spiritual religions of Daoism and Buddhism. With the revelation of the forces of li and qi, the focus on cultivating the entire self rather than just moral or intellectual self. Neo-Confucianism began to concentrate more on the inherent self-worth through spirituality and physicality.

Throughout this process and time, the works of Confucius were always the foundation of further thought. Thus, we can see that the works and teachings of Confucius have influenced Chinese’s society for many centuries. Chinese government and social rank were always defined by the philosophy of Confucius. Only until Buddhism and Daoism were spread and provided an emerging emphasis to the masses of the civilization, did the original teachings by Confucianism change. With the merging of all of these ideas and practices, Confucianism morphed into a new philosophy and way of life.

Starting in the early 600s the introduction of the civil exam lead the Chinese government to be restructured indefinitely. By taking the exam, ordinary civilians’ now had a chance to contend for a spot of higher ranking within the government. Following that, in the eleventh century, Chang Yi’s adaptations to Confucius’s original ideas lead to the birth of the concept of Li or the ultimate human nature. Closely shadowing Yi’s new concept, in the twelfth century, Zhu Xi’s concept of qi changed the way neo-Confucian followers practiced morality and idea of the proper path in life.

Although the creation, flow and modification of the ideas and philosophy of Confucius continued to spread and grow throughout the course of time, the philosophy transformed itself into a combination of many different religions and ideas. Due to the strict and fundamental influence that neo-Confucianism had on Chinese leaders, the new ideas of the religion and philosophic value shaped the Chinese culture, way of life and structure of government in a profound way much like the original teachings of Confucius had in the past.

Only with this new religion, its followers had more freedom and an open-minded approach to life. Castor, George. “Confucianism: The Old and New. ” Hubpages. N. p. , 23 2012. Web. 20 Nov 2012. <http://georgecastor. hubpages. com/hub/Confucianism-The-Old-and-New>. Smitha, Frank E.. “The Neo-Confucian, Zhu Xi. ” Macrohistory and World Report. N. p.. Web. 20 Nov 2012. <http://www. fsmitha. com/h3/phil-asia02. htm>. Spielvogel, J. (2005). Glencoe world history. In World History. New York, New York: McGraw Hill Companies.


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