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A Synthetic Comprehension of the Way of zhong in Early Confucian Philosophy

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image of Frontiers of Philosophy in China

zhong 中 is a very important philosophical concept in early Confucianism. Both the received ancient Confucian classics and the newly discovered ancient bamboo manuscripts tell us that adhering to the principle of zhong was an important charge that had been transmitted and inherited by early ancient Chinese political leaders from generation to generation. Confucius and his followers adopted the concept of zhong and further developed it into a sophisticated doctrine, which is usually called zhongdao 中道 (the Way of zhong) or zhongyong 中庸. Being a polysemous word, zhong has several different but philosophically related meanings. However, for a long time, people usually understood zhong in the sense of only one of its meanings, and zhongdao or zhongyong has been commonly interpreted as “the doctrine of the mean”. My argument in this paper is that a synthetic interpretation, which includes all the semantic meanings of zhong is necessary in order to acquire a deep and well-rounded comprehension of the philosophical significance of the Way of zhong. The Way of zhong features a dialectal view of the relationship between heaven and human beings, mind and materials, subjective desire and the available objective conditions, self and others, centrality and diversity, and so on. The Way of zhong has become a widely applied philosophical methodology in Confucianism, as well as a political principle and a kind of personal moral merit in early Confucian doctrines. Today, it still has relevance in contemporary Chinese social and cultural contexts.


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