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Xunzi — Controversial Philosopher of Confucianism

Xun Kuang (313 BC — 238 BC), also named Xun Qing, respected as Xunzi or Hsun Tzu, was a great philosopher, litterateur, and educator in Chinese culture.

Xun Zi and his students

Simple and Honorable Life Experiences

Xunzi was born into a noble family of the State Zhao, a powerful kingdom during the Warring States Period (403 BC — 221 BC). 

As a talented, famous scholar, he studied, taught, and worked in the States of Zhao, Qi, Chu, and Qin; and in his later years, he settled in the State of Chu. 

Most of his brilliant articles were organized in a book named Xunzi which has his philosophical ideas presented. 

Xunzi highly respected Confucius and claimed himself a Confucianist.


However, other Confucianists frequently questioned and criticized him because of his famous non-Confucianism students. 

Exquisite Lacquerware (Dou) Food Container of the State Chu

Exquisite Lacquerware (Dou) Food Container of the State Chu — Hubei, Jingzhou Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Exceptional, Influential Students of Confucianist Xunzi

Xunzi had five students according to documented history; three of them were pretty famous, influential, and had been trusted by some exceptional emperors in the history of China.

However, none of them had implemented the ideology of Confucianism.

Therefore, as their teacher, Xunzi and his ideas have long been isolated or attacked by other Confucianists. 

His most talented apprentice was Han Fei (about 280 BC — 233 BC), one of the most important grandmasters of Legalism

His other intelligent apprentice Li Si (284 BC — 208 BC), the most powerful prime minister of the State Qin, was another influential grandmaster of Legalism. 

Li Si assisted Emperor Qin Shi Huang in establishing the first unified and centralized feudal autocracy kingdom, the Qin Dynasty (221 BC — 207 BC), and set a series of policies that strictly followed the Legalism ideology.

Part of Li Si's Calligraphy Work that Carved on A stone, Writing in the Unified Characters (Qin Zhuan) in the Qin Dynasty

Part of Li Si's Calligraphy Work that Carved on A stone, About the Establishment and Accomplishment of the Qin Dynasty — National Museum of China

Zhang Cang (256 BC — 152 BC), the third apprentice of Xunzi, assisted Emperor Liu Bang in establishing the Han Dynasty (202 BC — 220 AD) and was then promoted to the prime minister of the new empire.

However, emperors of the early Han Dynasty respected and implemented Taoism as the dominant ideology. 

Despite having established royal etiquettes that Confucianism advocates and eliminated some cruel penalties, Zhang Cang himself was more of a great scientist who compiled The Nine Chapters on the Mathematical Art and formulated an advanced calendar. 

Main Beliefs of Xunzi


Xunzi had inherited some of Confucius’ ideologies, but he also developed and concluded other different concepts of his own. 


  • People were born bad with natural desires; if their desires cannot be satisfied, they may do something inappropriate to fulfill that. 

Therefore, humans need to be taught morality and good behavior, making education necessary and important. 

Kindness is the result of acquired cultivation and effort, not instinct.  

  • Human behaviors are separate from the law of nature or the will of heaven. 

The changing of the natural phenomenon is not in correspondence with people’s activities nor representative of fortune. 

  • Human beings can use or influence nature and the surrounding environment, but they should obey the basic laws of nature. 

Bronze Gear of the Warring States Period

Bronze Gear of the Warring States Period — Luoyang Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

  • Deities or ghost doesn’t exist, and superstition activities should be abandoned. 

Sacrifice ceremonies and memorial rites are not concerning people’s well-being. 

  • An appropriate combination and balance of etiquette and the law is the key aspect of the governance of a kingdom. 

Moral is essential and fundamental in society, but the law is also necessary. 

The law evolves out of and guarantees the implementation of morality and etiquette.

  • Behavior is the resource and purpose of learning knowledge. 

Human knowledge is the reflection of reality because people learn from practice. 

In the meantime, everything they learn will guide their behaviors. 

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