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Reviewed by:
  • Dao Companion to Classical Confucian Philosophy ed. by Vincent Shen
  • Ronnie Littlejohn (bio)
Dao Companion to Classical Confucian Philosophy. Edited by Vincent Shen. Dordrecht, Heidelberg, New York, London: Springer, 2014. Pp. 1 + 394. Hardcover $151.53, isbn 9048129354. Kindle $139.99, isbn 978-90-481-2935-5.

As is well known, the Dao Companions to Chinese Philosophy series is offered as a comprehensive and up-to-date introduction to various aspects of Chinese philosophy. The series is quite expensive, but should belong at a minimum in all libraries where Chinese studies, Chinese philosophy, and Comparative Philosophy are in the schedule of course offerings. This volume, Dao Companion to Classical Confucian Philosophy, edited by the University of Toronto’s Vincent Shen (Shen Tsing Song) is divided into two general sections: “Historical Background” and “Philosophical Issues.” The span of study is “Classical Confucianism,” demarcated as the period from Confucius (551– 479 b.c.e.) to Xunzi (325–238 b.c.e.), and includes Confucius’ disciple group, his grandson Zisi, Mencius, and Xunzi.

Having this division of the task in hand, the historical section of the collection begins with an introductory essay by Shen on the emergence of “creative humanism” in the Yijing, the author’s principal claim being that the fading of political theology and the rise of creative humanism was the matrix out of which Confucius arose. The second essay, on the philosophy of Confucius, is by Peimin Ni, well known for his other writings on Confucius, including his fine monograph Confucius: Making the Way Great. Ni explores Confucius’ philosophy in a lexical manner, examining the use made of tian 天 (Heaven), ren 仁 (human-heartedness), yi 義 (appropriateness) and li 澧 (ritual propriety), zheng 正 (political philosophy), and xue 學 (learning to be human). Yet Keung Lo does an admirable job recovering both direct and indirect information about the cohort of Confucius’ disciple community members (“family” as Lo calls it), including the inner tensions between them. Specific studies of Yan Hui and Zengzi have merit for collating materials into one place, but there is not much new here. The use of Mi Zijian as an example of an actual Confucian governor, however, will be new data for many, and it is cogently presented. The National University of Taiwan’s Chen-Feng Tsai, perhaps best known for his work in Chinese Buddhism, is also a scholar of Chinese intellectual history more generally, and his essay on Zisi argues that there existed a Zisi-Mencius School, which he associates with the Zhongyong, Wuxing, and Lumugong wen zisi.

Andrew Plaks does a more detailed analysis of the Zhongyong and includes as well the Daxue, joining Lo and Tsai in exploring the often overlooked period of classical Confucianism from Confucius to Mencius. Plaks looks at the textual history, title, structure, argument, and interpretation of each work, the Zhongyong and the Daxue. Wing-cheuk Chan contributes an essay on the philosophical thought of [End Page 278] Mencius. He turns up the magnification of scholarly analysis on three specific issues in the Mengzi: Mencius’ debate with Gaozi; Mencius’ view of the four beginnings (seeds); and Mencius’ political philosophy. The historical section of the collection is brought to a close by Chung-yung Cheng’s essay, which sets as its goal to present a systematized overview of Xunzi’s principal philosophical thoughts. This effort is valuable not only because of Cheng’s range and understanding of Xunzi’s work, but also because the ancient Jixia libationer’s collection is often taken only in its received form as a set of essays having internal and intertextual contradictions or inconsistencies.

The second section of essays is devoted to studies of several issues in the philosophical system of classical Confucianism. Accordingly, these essays reach across the span of the period from Confucius to Xunzi, draw on texts covered in the historical section of the collection, and also sometimes consider criticisms offered by those outside Confucianism during the period. For example, Curie Virag’s essay represents an overview of feeling and emotion (qing 情) in the classical period of Confucianism. She offers a study of Mencius, Xunzi, and the recently unearthed Xing zi ming chu 性-自命出 (Human nature comes from mandate/fate/destiny). This essay makes a...


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pp. 278-280
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