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Reviewed by:
  • Returning to Zhu Xi: Emerging Patterns within the Supreme Polarity ed. by David Jones and Jinli He
  • On-cho Ng (bio)
Returning to Zhu Xi: Emerging Patterns within the Supreme Polarity. Edited by David Jones and Jinli He. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2015. Pp. xiii + 357. isbn 978-1-4384-5837-3.

Lest we take Zhu Xi merely as a grand synthesizer who, in the words of Wing-tsit Chan, made "Neo-Confucianism truly Confucian" by countering and assimilating [End Page 321] Buddhist and Daoist influences, this volume urges us to regard him as a profound philosopher who brought metaphysical and cosmological insights to bear on ethical cultivation and social praxis. The twelve essays assembled in Returning to Zhu Xi: Emerging Patterns within the Supreme Polarity, edited by David Jones and Jinli He, examine the manifold aspects of Zhu's philosophy, including its contemporary resonance. The anthology functions on the whole as a general but thoroughly scholarly reference to the wide-ranging thought of Zhu Xi. What distinguishes the present publication is its featuring of works from the Sinophone sphere. Even though many scholars in the West do routinely capitalize upon Chinese-language scholarship and integrate it into their studies on Zhu Xi, the editors must be credited for involving several prominent interpreters who write primarily in Chinese: Zhang Liwen, Chen Lai, Meng Peiyuan, and Peng Guoxiang.

The volume includes two introductions, one by the two editors and another by Roger Ames, the former being a general remark about the provenance and collation of the book, and the latter a concise summation of the concerns and contentions of the essays. There are altogether twelve chapters, subsumed under three parts—"Interpreting with Zhu Xi," "Thinking through Zhu Xi," and "Applying Zhu Xi." I have some difficulty discerning the substantive differences between the first two parts as they both essentially showcase essays that are close readings of the contents, meanings, and significances of the various facets of Zhu Xi's philosophy, while the pieces in the third do form a coherent whole by thematically focusing on the trans-temporal applicability of the twelfth-century thinker in our twenty-first-century intercultural world.

Chapter 1, "Zhu Xi's Metaphysics," by Zhang Liwen, is a competent overview of Zhu's animating philosophical First Principles, analyzed in terms of the dynamic interrelations between li (patterning, order, principle, or norm), qi (vital force or energy), and their varied manifestations as taiji (the supreme polarity), benti (deep structure), xing (human nature), yin-yang, qi (objects), wu (things, affairs), and so on, epitomized by Zhu's central notion of liyi fenshu ("li is one but its instantiations are many").

Chapter 2, "On Translating Taiji," by Joseph Adler, offers a new translation of taiji, which has been inaccurately rendered as "supreme ultimate." He opts for "supreme polarity," which refers at once to the idea of ji as the zenith—being the "ridgepole" of a house—and the demarcating line between the two equal parts of the roof, thereby making sense of the complementarity between the li-qi continuum and the other "polarities" in Zhu's philosophy: xing and qing (feelings/dispositions), heavenly principle (tianli) and human desire (renyu), moral mind (daoxin) and human mind (renxin).

Chen Lai's chapter 3, "Zhu Xi's Confucian Thoughts on the Collected Commentaries of the Zhongyong," delves into Zhu's exegesis of the Zhongyong and, by extension, the Four Books, highlighting his use of this classic to explicate and endorse his own conception and definition of the daotong, that is, the lineage and transmission of the true Confucian Way. Chen shows that Zhu's reading of the Zhongyong was [End Page 322] propelled by his philosophical conviction that human beings are one with the generative and creative forces of the cosmos that cohere and reside in li.

Chapter 4, "Zhu Xi on Scientific and Occult Subjects: Defining and Extending the Boundaries of Confucian Learning," by Yung Sik Kim, addresses the scantly explored topic of Zhu's interest in and pursuit of what may loosely be described as scientific matters, such as calendrical astronomy (li), harmonics (), and geography (dili), as well as pseudo-scientific ones such as the...


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