Fun Facts about Chinese Culture and History

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Zhu Xi - Reformer of Confucianism in Chinese Culture

Zhu Xi (1130 — 1200), honorific name as Yuan Hui, also respected as Zhu Zi, was an exceptional reformer of Confucianism in the history of China.


He absorbed concepts from other philosophical schools and formed his new ideology, the Theory of Li, which was the most influential doctrine in Chinese culture for the next 700 years.


However, as a great philosopher, scientist, poet, and an exceptional educationist with large numbers of disciples, his ending was quite tragic. 

Well Educated Genius and Intelligent Minister Zhu Xi

Born into an offcial's family, Zhu Xi was sent to school when he was a toddler, where he showed his exceptional talent and great curiosity about everything.


After his father passed away young, Zhu Xi was educated by a group of his father’s intelligent and knowledgeable friends. Until he gained a good score in the Imperial Examination when he was 18, and was assigned some political positions soon. 

Since Zhu Xi was born, his empire, the Song Dynasty, already had their two emperors Zhao Ji and Zhao Huan captured, and half of their territory occupied, by nomadic regime Jin.


Afterwards, many people were dying to revenge and take their lost realm and dignity back. 

Resigning From Politics to Continue Learning

After years of working in different places in China, Zhu Xi found that many people, both ruling class and civilian, were believers of Buddhism or Taoism Religion.


Many of their superstitious activities, in Zhu Xi’s opinion, were waste of money and time, as well as being huge obstacles of his empire’s getting stronger and revenging. 

Therefore, when his term of office completed, he didn’t take other occupations in politics.


Instead, he respected a famous intellectual as his master. In the meanwhile, he also dedicated to teaching and writing. 

Completion of the Theory of Li 

Few years later, when Zhu Xi was 32 years old, Emperor Zhao Shen ascended to the throne and asked for governance advices nationwide.


Zhu Xi then wrote an impressive article, which gave him an opportunity to present his ideology to the emperor in person.


Zhu Xi then suggested the emperor to suppress the superstitious activities and to fight back bravely with the nomadic regime Jin. But the doves in the government had more advantages over the new emperor, and Zhu Xi’s advices were abandoned. 

Zhu Xi rejected the offer of teaching in the imperial school, and went back to teach and write in his hometown. 


His entire ideology was completed during this period, when he also used his influence established an efficient system to help victims of natural calamity. 

Zhu Xi As An Excellent Governor and His Contribution

When Zhu Xi was 48, he again was assigned a political position which, this time, allowed him to govern a city.


As expected, he did a good job establishing an influential education system, building schools, constructing irrigation projects, and defeating natural disasters.


In the next decade, Zhu Xi got promoted for several times and made great contributiong in protecting civilians’ interest, opening up of many private colleges, and solving severe problems for the government.

Promoted As Emperor's Teacher and Defamed As A Prude

Until Zhu Xi was 64, he was assigned to teach the new emperor. 

However, his theory displeased the new emperor; moreover, the minister who respected and introduced Zhu Xi to the new emperor failed in a political conflict soon.


So, Zhu Xi was forced to leave only half a month later.


Afterwards, that minister’s political enemy Han gained the new emperor’s trust and became quite powerful.


Han’s followers then defamed Zhu Xi’s reputation, claimed that his Theory of Li was hypocritical, and arrested many of Zhu’s powerful students. 

Diligent Writing Under Wide Criticism and Slander

In Zhu Xi's last few years, he lived with accusations of “incest, hypocrite, infidelity, and corruption”, while hundreds of his excellent students were imprisoned or got banished far away.


But he kept writing diligently until his last day, hoping his ideology could be appreciated and inherited someday.


After he passed away old and sick, thousands of his students and believers travelled long distance to see him off. 

Dissemination and Great Influence of Zhu Xi's Theory of Li

Eight years after Zhu Xi’s departure, his name and ideology was redressed by the next emperor.


Since then, his Theory of Li was highly respected by the following monarchs in the history of China, until the last feudal kingdom perished. 


Main ideas of Zhu Xi 

  • Li is the pattern and law of everything, Qi is the element of everything. The whole of the universe is constituted of Li and Qi together. 

Heaven, earth, human being, and every object have its own Li and Qi. 

  • Qi, the element of everything, could be divided into Yin and Yang and the Five Elements (metal, wood, water, fire and earth). They are visible and moving constantly; therefore, static is relative. 

  • Li of human is identical, while Qi of human is different. This determines that people can born good or bad, and explains the diverse humanities.

  • To learn and understand the Li of Heaven and Moral is the most important aspect of every human being. Afterwards, people should adjust their behaviors and desires, to follow the Li of Heaven. 

Reasonable needs are the Li of Heaven, like eating food and getting married, which human should follow.

Unreasoning desires are improper lusts, like fancy feast and lech, which people should restrain and eliminate. 

  • Learning process should be divided into two stages, each of which should have explicit rules and textbooks.


The first stage is for students from 8 to 15 years old, in which they need to be taught with basic knowledge, and to form fundamental moral standards. 

People over 15 years old could enter the second stage to learn and research the Li of everything, in which self study and communication with others is highly recommended. 

  • Since everything has its own Li and Qi, Zhu Xi had studied and researched many objects, trying to figure out their special Li and Qi.


Therefore, he achieved exceptionally in geology, astronomy, medicine, agriculture and biology.