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Making Sense of the Master

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Wang Bo’s “Localization” of Neo-Confucianism in the Late Southern Song

image of T'oung Pao

Zhu Xi’s Neo-Confucianism contained the seeds of a tension with the spreading localist tendencies of the Southern Song. How, then, did it make its way into the minds of local elites? By examining the thought of Wang Bo (1197-1274), this article shows the ways in which Zhu Xi’s Neo-Confucianism was interpreted in and reconciled with local contexts—how it was “localized.” First, Wang understood Zhu Xi’s major texts with the literary and historical sensitivity of Wuzhou scholarship, eventually challenging their ultimate authority through using his own local tradition. Second, he called into question the viability of Zhu’s local economic activism, thus speaking for the general economic interests of non-official, local elites like himself. Wang Bo’s “localized” Neo-Confucianism may have been a significant lapse from Zhu’s doctrine, but it was precisely such lapses that expanded its scope, making it possible for many more thinkers at the time to embrace it.
 Le néo-confucianisme de Zhu Xi contenait en germe une tension avec les tendances localistes qui se répandaient sous les Song du Sud. Comment dès lors ­parvint-il à s’imposer aux esprits parmi les élites locales? En examinant la pensée de Wang Bo (1197-1274), cet article met en évidence les différentes façons dont le néo-confucianisme de Zhu Xi a été interprété dans des contextes locaux et ­comment il a pu être réconcilié avec eux — comment il a été “localisé”. Pour com­mencer, Wang, qui comprenait les principaux textes de Zhu Xi à travers la sensibilité littéraire et historique de l’école de Wuzhou, finit par en contester l’autorité ultime en se basant sur sa propre tradition locale. Il mit par ailleurs en doute la viabilité des formes d’activisme économique local préconisées par Zhu Xi, en quoi il parlait au nom des intérêts économiques généraux de l’élite locale non bureaucratique dont il était un représentant. Si le néo-confucianisme “local” de Wang Bo a pu s’écarter significativement de la doctrine de Zhu Xi, ce sont précisément de tels écarts qui ont élargi la portée de celle-ci, permettant à l’époque à un nombre beaucoup plus grand de penseurs d’y adhérer. 

Affiliations: 1: Rutgers University


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