Missions and Expansion
Written by: Jeffrey Richey
Second only to Zhu was his Ming dynasty critic, Wang Yangming. Not only did Wang provide a brilliant critique of Zhu's thought, he also was an outstanding general and civil servant, poet, and teacher, thus exemplifying the Confucian ideal of the scholar-official. Wang held that li (cosmic principle), the rationale of the Tao (Way)in human nature, was in the mind-heart of the sincere student who cultivated his own nature in accordance with Confucian traditions. According to Wang, thought and action could be unified if one understood the nature of one's own heart-mind as an expression of li. It is not difficult to see the influence of Chan Buddhism, which also teaches a doctrine of innate spiritual knowledge and which Wang studied as a youth, in Wang's reformulation of Zhu's "Neo-Confucianism."
Between the fall of the Ming dynasty and the rise of the Qing dynasty in 1644 C.E. and the close of China's imperial era in 1911 C.E., the renewed Confucianism developed by Zhu, Wang, and others underwent further refinement and criticism, even as the
tradition continued to grow in Korea and Japan. This reactive period of Confucianism's development was characterized in China by the hanxue (Learning of the Han [Chinese people]) movement, also known as the kaozheng xue (Evidential Learning) movement, on the one hand, and by the rise of popular Confucian morality in Vietnam, Korea, and Japan, where Confucianism continued to develop along lines largely laid out during China's Song, Yuan, and Ming dynasties, on the other hand.
In China, hanxue Confucians rejected a great deal of Song, Yuan, and Ming Confucian thought. Leaders of this movement included Wang Fuzhi (1619-1692 C.E.), Huang Zongxi (1610-1695 C.E.), and Dai Zhen (1723-1777 C.E.). These Qing dynasty scholars castigated what they saw as the needlessly abstract thought of the Song and the equally debilitating subjectivism of Wang's thought in the late Ming as missteps along the Confucian Way. Instead, they emphasized the concrete, objective, and practical value of Confucianism for rulers as well as ordinary people. This emphasis led to the Confucian sponsorship of what might be called empirical research, some of which was inspired by exposure to Western science, although it usually was confined to historical topics.
Hanxue Confucians also argued that much of Song and Ming Confucianism was infected with an unhealthy Buddhist and Taoist mysticism that led to the neglect of Confucianism's traditional application through practical service to self and others, especially in government. They turned away from meditating on the heart-mind's unity with cosmic principle to devote themselves to topics such as the history of taxation and flood control in order to benefit present-day communities and courts directly.