|| (Ch: 王文成公 ;|
Py: Wang Wenchenggong)
|| (Ch: 阳明子, |
|| Py: Yángmíngzǐ, or fr. |
| Romanised as "Wang Yangming".
(1472–1529) was a Ming Chinese idealist Neo-Confucian
philosopher, official, educationist, calligraphist and general. After Zhu Xi
, he is commonly regarded as the most important Neo-Confucian thinker, with interpretations of Confucianism
that denied the rationalist dualism
of the orthodox philosophy
of Zhu Xi. He was known as Yangming Xiansheng
or Yangming Zi
(both mean "Brilliant Master Yangming") in literary circles.
Life and times
Born Wang Shouren
(守仁) in Yuyao
, Zhejiang Province
, his courtesy name
(伯安). His father was an earl and a minister of civil personnel. He earned the "recommended person" degree
in 1492 and the "presented scholar" degree in 1499. He served as an executive assistant in various government departments until being banished for offending a eunuch in 1506. However, his professional career was later ensured when he became the Governor of Jiangxi
Wang became a successful general and was known for the strict discipline he imposed on his troops, repressing several rebellions. In 1519 AD, while being governor of Jiangxi province, he repressed the uprising of Prince Zhu Chen-hao, and made one of the earliest references in using the fo-lang-ji in battle, a breech loading culverin cannon imported from the newly-arrived Portuguese venturers to China. While governor of Jiangxi he also built schools, rehabilitated the rebels, and reconstructed what was lost by the enemy during the revolt. Though he was made an earl, he was ostracized for opposing Zhu Xi.
Thirty-eight years after his death, he was given the titles Marquis and Completion of Culture. In 1584 he was offered sacrifice in the Confucian Temple, the highest honour for a scholar.
Wang was the leading figure in the Neo-Confucian School of Mind
, founded by Lu Jiuyuan
of Southern Song
. This school championed an interpretation of Mencius
(a Classical Confucian who became the focus of later interpretation) that unified knowledge
. Their rival school, the School of Principle
(Li) treated gaining knowledge as a kind of preparation or cultivation that, when completed, could guide action.
Out of Cheng-Zhu's Neo-Confucianism
that was mainstream at the time, Wang Yangming developed the idea of innate knowing
, arguing that every person knows from birth the difference between good
. Such knowledge is intuitive
and not rational
. These revolutionizing ideas of Wang Yangming would later inspire prominent Japanese thinkers like Motoori Norinaga
, who argued that because of the Shinto
deities, Japanese people alone had the intuitive ability to distinguish good and evil without complex rationalization. His school of thought (Ōyōmei-gaku
in Japanese, Ō
stands for the surname "Wang", yōmei
stands for "Yangming", gaku
means "school of learning") also greatly influenced the Japanese samurai
Knowledge as action
Wang's rejection of the investigation of knowledge comes from the fact that at the time the traditional view of Chinese thought was that once a person gained knowledge, they had a duty to put that knowledge into action. This presupposed two possibilities:
- That one can have knowledge without/prior to corresponding action.
- That one can know what is the proper action, but still fail to act.
Wang rejected both of these which allowed him to develop his philosophy of action. Wang believed that
only through simultaneous action could one gain knowledge and denied all other ways of gaining it. To him, there was no way to use knowledge after gaining it because he believed that knowledge and action were unified as one. Any knowledge that had been gained then put into action was considered delusion or false.
Mind and the world
He held that objects do not exist entirely apart from the mind
because the mind shapes them. He believed that it is not the world that shapes the mind, but the mind that gives reason
to the world. Therefore, the mind alone is the source of all reason. He understood this to be an inner light, an innate moral goodness and understanding of what is good. This is similar to the thinking of the Greek philosopher Socrates
, who argued that knowledge is virtue.
In order to eliminate selfish desires that cloud the mind’s understanding of goodness, one can practice his type of meditation often called "tranquil repose" or "sitting still" (靜坐 py jìngzùo). This is similar to the practice of Chan (Zen) meditation in Buddhism.
- Wang Shouren is regarded one of the four greatest masters of Confucianism in history along with Confucius, Mencius and Zhu Xi (孔孟朱王).
- Wang Yangming found Yaojiang School (Chinese: 姚江學派) or Yangming School of Mind (Chinese: 心學), which became one of the dominant confucianism schools in the mid, late Ming period and Qing period China. The typical figures came from this school after Wang were Wang Ji (王龍溪), Qian Dehong (錢德洪), Wang Gen (王艮), Huang Zongxi (黃宗羲), Li Zhuowu (李卓吾) and Liu Zongzhou (劉宗周). Wang Gen formed Taizhou School (泰州學派), which went to leftism of Wang Yangming's thought. During late Ming period, Wang Yangming's thought was derived a lot in China and became a kind of popular learning.
- The Japanese Admiral of the Russo-Japanese War, Togo Heihachiro, was influenced by Wang, and made a stamp which read, "One's whole life followed the example of Yangming" (一生低首拜陽明). In Japan, many scholars and politicians (this group of people is named in Japanese as: Category:陽明学者) came from Wang Yangming's school (Ōyōmei-gaku) in history, including Kumazawa Banzan (熊沢蕃山), Saigō Takamori (西郷隆盛), Takasugi Shinsaku (高杉晋作) and Toju Nakae (中江藤樹). Toju Nakae is regarded as the founder of Japanese Ōyōmei-gaku.
- Chiang Kai-shek named a national attraction in Taiwan, Yangmingshan, after Wang.
- Chan, Wing-tsit (translated and compiled). A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1963.
- Needham, Joseph (1986). Science and Civilization in China: Volume 5, Part 7. Taipei: Caves Books, Ltd.
- Antonio S. Cua (1982). The Unity of Knowledge and Action: A Study in Wang Yang-ming's Moral Psychology. University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 0-8248-0786-3.
- Wang Yang Ming in the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy