Xunzi — Controversial Philosopher of Confucianism in Chinese Culture

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 of Scholar Xunzi

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, Xunzi had been studying, teaching, and working in States Zhao, Qi, Chu, and Qin; and in his late years, Xunzi settled in the State Chu. 

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

Xunzi highly respected Confucius and claimed himself a Confucianist. However, he was frequently questioned and criticized by other Confucianists 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, and three of them were quite famous, powerful, 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 even attacked by other Confucianists. 

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

Click to Read Book of Philosopher Han Fei

Xunzi’s 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 established 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, had assisted Emperor Liu Bang in establishing the Han Dynasty (202 BC — 220 AD) and was then promoted as the prime minister of the new empire. 

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

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

 

Main ideas of Xunzi

 

Xunzi had inherited some of Confucius’ ideologies, but, indeed, 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 behaviors, which made education quite 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)

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

Sacrifice ceremonies and memorial rites are not concerning people’s wellbeing. 

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

The moral is essential and fundamental in society, but the law is necessary as well. 

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 learned will be guiding their behaviors. 

Click to Read More Ideas of Philosopher Xunzi