An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Zhongyong 中庸

Jul 24, 2010 © Ulrich Theobald

Zhongyong 中庸, "Doctrine of the Mean", is a Confucian Classic and part of the Four Books (Sishu 四書). It is actually a chapter of the ritual classic Liji 禮記, was extracted from this book and treated as a separate book from the Song period 宋 (960-1279) on. There are several opinions about the authorship of the Zhongyong. It is traditionally attributed to Zisi 子思 (Kong Ji 孔伋), a grandson of Confucius. Cui Shu 崔述 (1740-1816) doubted this because of linguistic evidence. The text seems, as modern authors also stress, at least partially to have been compiled during the Former Han period 前漢 (206 BCE-8 CE).

The concept of "the mean" is a core idea of Confucianism. It says that in all activities and thoughts one had to adhere to moderation. This would result in harmony in action, and eventually in a harmonious society. Pure harmony without wandering from the central tone (an image from the field of music), and standing in the centre without leaning towards one side would keep all social positions stable. A man in a high position must not be arrogant, otherwise the people would rebel. Simple-minded persons in high position must not think of their own profit, otherwise the social structures would be disrupted.

Wisdom (zhi 智), kindheartedness (ren 仁) and courage (yong 勇) were thre three virtues of the mean way that would keep stable all social relations. The cultivation of the self, the regulation of society and the government of a whole state all depended on the adequate behaviour of each member of society. All of them had to be geared to the mean and the centre.

A very important aspect treated in the Zhongyong is sincerity (cheng 誠). Sincerity was the actual nature of Heaven that was transmitted to all beings. It was the root of human behaviour, and without sincerity there was no man. Man had to seek for the good through self-cultivation, and he had to keep it in his heart so that sincerity automatically found its way into the centre of all his deeds and thoughts so that no further strains were necessary to bring it about. The man who clung to the mean learned in all broadness, questioned with caution, was careful in his thoughts, discussed clearly, and acted faithfully. The rulers of antiquity achieved the mean way and the utmost clarity by following a virtuous path of life and caring for learning more and deeply. Learning thus became a fundamental requirement of Confucian education.

Heaven and spirits were, in the eyes of the Confucians, helpful instruments for a ruler or everyday person by indicating them through omens or other means that they were on the right way or not.

Quotation 1. Examples from the Zhongyong
天命之謂性,率性之謂道,修道之謂教。道也者,不可須臾離也;可離非道也。是故君子戒慎乎其所不睹,恐懼乎其所不聞。莫見乎隱,莫顯乎微,故君子慎其獨也。喜怒哀樂之未發謂之中。發而皆中節謂之和。中也者,天下之大本也。和也者,天下之達道也。致中和,天地位焉。萬物育焉。 What Heaven has conferred is called the Nature (xing 性); an accordance with this nature is called the Path (dao 道) of duty; the regulation of this path is called Instruction (jiao 教). The path may not be left for an instant. If it could be left, it would not be the path. On this account, the superior man does not wait till he sees things, to be cautious, nor till he hears things, to be apprehensive. There is nothing more visible than what is secret, and nothing more manifest than what is minute. Therefore the superior man is watchful over himself, when he is alone. While there are no stirrings of pleasure, anger, sorrow, or joy, the mind may be said to be in the state of Equilibrium (zhong 中). When those feelings have been stirred, and they act in their due degree, there ensues what may be called the state of Harmony (he 和). This Equilibrium is the great root from which grow all the human actings in the world, and this Harmony is the universal path which they all should pursue. Let the states of equilibrium and harmony exist in perfection, and a happy order will prevail throughout heaven and earth, and all things will be nourished and flourish.
君子之道四,丘未能一焉:所求乎子,以事父未能也;所求乎臣,以事君未能也;所求乎弟,以事兄未能也;所求乎朋友,先施之未能也。庸德之行,庸言之謹;有所不足,不敢不勉;有餘,不敢盡。言顧行,行顧言,君子胡不慥慥爾!」 In the way of the superior man there are four things, to not one of which have I as yet attained.-To serve my father, as I would require my son to serve me: to this I have not attained; to serve my prince as I would require my minister to serve me: to this I have not attained; to serve my elder brother as I would require my younger brother to serve me: to this I have not attained; to set the example in behaving to a friend, as I would require him to behave to me: to this I have not attained. Earnest in practicing the ordinary virtues, and careful in speaking about them, if, in his practice, he has anything defective, the superior man dares not but exert himself; and if, in his words, he has any excess, he dares not allow himself such license. Thus his words have respect to his actions, and his actions have respect to his words; is it not just an entire sincerity which marks the superior man?
君子素其位而行,不願乎其外。素富貴,行乎富貴。素貧賤,行乎貧賤。素夷狄,行乎夷狄。素患難,行乎患難。君子無入而不自得焉。在上位不陵下;在下位不援上。正己而不求於人,則無怨;上不怨天,下不尤人。故君子居易以俟命,小人行險以徼幸。 The superior man does what is proper to the station in which he is; he does not desire to go beyond this. In a position of wealth and honor, he does what is proper to a position of wealth and honor. In a poor and low position, he does what is proper to a poor and low position. Situated among barbarous tribes, he does what is proper to a situation among barbarous tribes. In a position of sorrow and difficulty, he does what is proper to a position of sorrow and difficulty. The superior man can find himself in no situation in which he is not himself. In a high situation, he does not treat with contempt his inferiors. In a low situation, he does not court the favor of his superiors. He rectifies himself, and seeks for nothing from others, so that he has no dissatisfactions. He does not murmur against Heaven, nor grumble against men. Thus it is that the superior man is quiet and calm, waiting for the appointments of Heaven, while the mean man walks in dangerous paths, looking for lucky occurrences.
Legge 1893: 383-385.
Shen Fu'en 潘富恩 (1987), "Zhongyong 中庸", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Zhexue 哲學 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), Vol. 2, 1229-1230.
Chen Tao 陳濤 (1993). "Zhongyong 中庸", in Shi Quanchang 石泉長, ed., Zhonghua baike yaolan 中華百科要覽 (Shenyang: Liaoning renmin chubanshe), 410.
Chen Ying 陳瑛, Xu Qixian 許啟賢, ed. (1989). Zhongguo lunli da cidian 中國倫理大辭典 (Shenyang: Liaoning renmin chubanshe), 97.
Ding Shiliang 丁世良 (1996). "Zhongyong 中庸", in Feng Kezheng 馮克正, Fu Qingsheng 傅慶升, ed., Zhuzi baijia da cidian 諸子百家大辭典 (Shenyang: Liaoning renmin chubanshe), 313.
Gu Baotian 顧寶田 (1993). "Zhongyong 中庸", in Shi Quanchang 石泉長, ed., Zhonghua baike yaolan 中華百科要覽 (Shenyang: Liaoning renmin chubanshe), 390.
Jiaoyu da cidian bianzuan weiyuanhui 《教育大辭典》編纂委員會, ed. (1991). Jiaoyu da cidian 教育大辭典, Vol. 8, Zhongguo gudai jiaoyu shi 中國古代教育史 (Shanghai: Shanghai jiaoyu chubanshe), Vol. 1, 222.
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Li Xiangjun 李祥俊 (1997). "Zhongyong 中庸", in Pang Pu 龐樸, ed., Zhongguo ruxue 中國儒學 (Shanghai: Dongfang chuban zhongxin), Vol. 4, 216.
Liu Wenying 劉文英, ed. (1987). Zhexue baike xiao cidian 哲學百科小辭典 (Lanzhou: Gansu renmin chubanshe), 642.
Tan Guangguang 覃光廣, Feng Li 馮利, Chen Pu 陳樸, ed. (1988). Wenhuaxue cidian 文化學辭典 (Beijing: Zhongyang minzu xueyuan chubanshe), 81.
Wang Shiwei 王士偉 (1988). "Zhongyong 中庸", in Zhao Jihui 趙吉惠, Guo Hou'an 郭厚安, ed., Zhongguo ruxue cidian 中國儒學辭典 (Shenyang: Liaoning renmin chubanshe), 604.
Xu Xinghai 徐興海, Liu Jianli 劉建麗, ed. (2000). Rujia wenhua cidian 儒家文化辭典 (Zhengzhou: Zhongzhou guji chubanshe), 82.
Wang Xiangqun 王向群 (1992). "Zhongyong 中庸", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Zhengzhixue 政治學 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), 603.
Zhu Feng 朱鋒 (1992). "Zhongyong 中庸", in Zhou Gucheng 周谷城, ed., Zhongguo xueshu mingzhu tiyao 中國學術名著提要, Zhexue 哲學卷 (Shanghai: Fudan daxue chubanshe), 119.

Gardner, Daniel K. (2006). The Four Books: The Basic Teachings of the Later Confucian Tradition /Indianapolis/Cambridge: Hackett).
Johnston, Ian, and Wang Ping, trans. (2012) Daxue and Zhongyong: Bilingual Edition (Hong Kong: Chinese University Press).
Legge, James (1893), The Chinese Classics, Vol. 1, Confucian Analects, the Great Learning, and the Doctrine of the Mean (Oxford: Clarendon).

Further reading:
An, Yanming (2003). "Zhongyong (Chung yung): The Doctrine of the Mean", in Antonio S. Cua, ed., Encyclopedia of Chinese Philosophy (New York/London: Routledge), 888-891.
Cheung, Tak-sing (2003). "On Zhongyong Rationality: The Confucian Doctrine of the Mean as a Missing Link between Instrumental Rationality and Communicative Rationality", Asian Journal of Social Science, 31/1, 107-127.
Dass, Nirmal (2013). "Zhongyong (Doctrine of the Mean)", in Zha, Qiang, ed., Education in China: Educational History, Models, and Initiatives (Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire), 68-70.
Lee, Junghwan (2012). "Jiaohua, Transcendental Unity, and Morality in Ordinariness: Paradigm Shifts in the Song Dynasty Interpretation of the Zhongyong", Journal of Song-Yuan Studies, 42: 151-233.
Li, Chenyang (2004). "Zhongyong as Grand Harmony: An Alternative Reading to Ames and Hall's Focusing the Familiar", Dao: A Journal of Comparative Philosophy, 3/2: 173-188.
Littlejohn, Ronnie (2004). "The Giant Forge and the Great Ironsmith: Revisiting the Implications of the wu xing Physics of the Zhongyong", Dao: A Journal of Comparative Philosophy, 3/2: 205-215.
Pang Pu, Crawford, William (2009). "The Doctrine of the Mean (Zhongyong) and Division into Three", Contemporary Chinese Thought, 40/4: 10-23.
Plaks, Andrew (2003). "Zhongyong (The Mean in Common Practice)", in: Yao Xinzhong, ed., RoutledgeCurzon Encyclopedia of Confucianism (London/New York: RoutledgeCurzon), 830-832.
Plaks, Andrew H. (2014). "The Daxue (Great Learning) and the Zhongyong (Doctrine of the Mean)", in Vincent Shen, ed., Dao Companion to Classical Confucian Philosophy (Dordrecht/New York: Springer), 139-152.
Sim, May (2004). "Harmony and the Mean in the Nicomachean Ethics and the Zhongyong", Dao: A Journal of Comparative Philosophy, 3/2: 253-280.
Sivin, Nathan (2004). "On Some Dimensions of the Zhongyong", Dao: A Journal of Comparative Philosophy 3/2: 167-172.
Stichler, Richard N. (2004). "Interpreting the Zhongyong: Was Confucius a Sophist or an Aristotelian?", Dao: A Journal of Comparative Philosophy, 3/2: 235-251.
Thompson, Kirill O. (2010). "Zhu Xi's Transformation of the Zhongyong", in East Asian Confucianisms: Interactions and Innovations: Proceedings of the Conference of May 1-2, 2009, Sponsored by Rutgers University, National Taiwan University and Jilin University (New Brunswick, NJ: Confucius Institute at Rutgers University), 87-105.
Van Norden, Bryan W. (2013). "Few are able to appreciate the flavours": Translating the Daxue and Zhongyong", Zhongguo wenhua yanjiu suo xuebao/Journal of Chinese Studies, 56: 295-314.
Wan, Sze-kar (2008). "The Viability of Confucian Transcendence: Grappling with Tu Weiming's Interpretation of the Zhongyong", Dao: A Journal of Comparative Philosophy, 7/4: 407-421.
Wen, Haiming (2004). "From Substance Language to Vocabularies of Process and Change: Translations of Key Philosophical terms in the Zhongyong", Dao: A Journal of Comparative Philosophy, 3/2: 217-233.