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Xun Zi


Xun zi, also know as Xun Kuang or Xun Qing, hailed from the state of Zhao. He was active during 298-238B.C. he traveled to the state Qi twice as a visiting teacher and served on two occasions in Chu as a magistrate of Lanling . While touring Qin, he met with King Zhao whose political system he admired. In his old age, he retired to Chu, where he concentrated on writing.  Xun Zi extant contains his works.

Xun Zi’s concept of nature was a step forward compared to the naïve materialism or atheism initiated during the spring and Autumn Period. He viewed the stars, days, and months, the four seasons, wind and rain, cold and heat, yin and yang as phenomena of change in nature. They were governed by their own rules, without will or aim. Nature could not dispense with winter no matter how much human being were of cold, and land would not shrink no matter how much people want to hurry from one place to another. The laws that governed the motion of nature did not come about because of the existence of a wise king named Yao, they would not disappear because of the rise of a tyrant named Jie. Xun Zi noted that people were afraid of the falling of meteors or the strange sound caused by wind blowing against trees, but these phenomena indicated nothing but some rare changes in the yin-yang equilibrium that governed the normal function of the universe. They were not something to be afraid of. He believed that if people would work harder in agriculture and practice frugality, nature could not make them poor; if people would wear enough clothes, eat properly, and do physical exercise, nature could not make them ill. On the other hand, if people gave up agricultural production and were given to extravagance nature could in no way bring them prosperity. If they did not have enough food or clothes and did not do much physical exercise, nature could not do much about their health. Man, had the capacity of adapting himself to his environment and of making good use of natural laws so as to make everything in the universe serve his own ends. The idea of Xun zi represented the upward movement of a feudal society dominated by landlords; it was different from that of Confucius, Mencius, Zhang Zi Mo ZI and the author Lao zi.

Xun Zi also spoke of benevolence, but he emphasized the importance of rites. He believed that learning should begin with the study of the Book of Odes, the Book History, and other classics; it should end with a study of rites, which marked the apex of the learning process. He carried forwards Confucius’ view on rites, though with some reservation. One the other hand, he realized that the purpose of emphasizing the importance the rites was to maintain the class difference between the rich and the poor, the noble and the humble. On the other hand, he often mentioned law and rites in the same breath and considered them almost synonymous. In particular, he emphasized the importance of law, saying that no country could be governed without it. He explained the origin of rites with the supposition that man was born with evil. Beginning with his birth, man desired material things and sought among them for the satisfaction of such a desire, and fight, in turn, caused social disorder. The need to maintain social order gave rise to rites. Xu zi’s view on rites showed his preference, sometimes, for Legalist ideas. His disciple Han Fei carried the argument further and became an important Legalist.

According to Xun Zi’s theory of innate evil, the good qualities man had were acquired through learning after birth. He held that studying hard would be enable one to change from being foolish to being wise and that who studied most diligently might even become “sage”. Though Xun Zi’s theory was in direct conflict with that of Mencius who maintained that people were born with goodness, both philosophers talked about in the abstract without taking into consideration the factor of class influence. Both were idealist. Nevertheless, Xun Zi explained his theory from the viewpoint of material desire, emphasized learning after one’s birth, and paid particular attention to the influence of environment on man. As a philosopher, he tended towards materialism. He was a progressive in his time. According to him, a major reason of chaos during the Warring states period was “too many schools of thought expressing too many different Ideologies”. To ensure social stability, there should be no more than one school of thought, from which even sages should not differ. By this point of view, he was in favors of thought control under an autocratic feudal government.

 
 

 

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