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Study on Dong Zhongshu’s Political Philosophy

Author: ZhangWenYing
Tutor: SunXiaoChun
School: Jilin University
Course: Political Theory
Keywords: Dong Zhongshu political philosophy Tiandao the principle of man
CLC: B234.5
Type: PhD thesis
Year: 2008
Downloads: 544
Quote: 1
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The coming into being of political philosophy is inseparable with the specific social and historical environment. Political philosophy isn’t a simple narration that a thinker did about the reality, but is the result that the thinker reflected initiatively on the political reality. Dong Zhongshu lived in the early Western Han Dynasty. The Western Han Dynasty was faced with many problems as another centralized autocratic political dynasty established after tyrannical Qin Dynasty. The problems embodied mainly the conflict between the central imperial power and the vassal power, the social contradictions produced by the government model and how to reselect the guiding ideology for the country with the strength increasing. Various schools of thoughts began to restore in the thinking and culture field as a result of the former rulers of Han Dynasty’s free and unstrained policies on academic development. These schools of thoughts excluded, struggled, absorbed or integrated with each other. Huai Nan Zhi was one of the examples that formed on the basis of Taoism and other schools of thought. And the theory system in this book objectively offered an excellent reference substance for the building of Dong Zhongshu’s Confucianism which including yin and yang, Fa and Tao. While other Confucianism like Lu Gu and Jia Yi at that time rethought the lesson of Qin’s decay and paid more attention to political reality which were different from Confucian moral idealism in Pre-Qin Dynasty. Even though their theories were not so thorough, they contained the key point of the society and politics at that time. All these theories provided many useful resources for Dong Zhongshu’s reform in Confucianism. All in all, the demands of real politics and the development of Confucianism itself made it possible for Dong Zhongshu to reconstruct Confucianism system and to combine Confucianism and politics. Dong Zhongshu had study Gongyang Commentary on Spring and Autumn Annals when he was a child. Dong Zhongshu integrated the thoughts of Tao and Fa and built up a philosophy system which was the coherence of Tian and man on the basis of the yin and yang and the five elements. This system was the basis of his ethical and political theory and made it possible into reality.In the opinion of thinkers in ancient China, the relationship between man and nature were not the core that the relationship between Tian and man discussed. It was essentially the people as the main body of political life sought for the ultimate moral support of realistic politics. The coherence of Tian and man of Dong Zhongshu was the start of his political philosophy. Every part of his ethical and political theory had a logical connection with the review of Tian and man thought. His theory of the coherence of Tian and man not only contained his theory of the corresponding mutuality between Tian and man, but also the pursuing of metaphysical Tian. Dong Zhongshu stood out“Tian”as well as obscure“Yuan”when he sought for the ultimate reason of world.“Tian”was the very ultimate reason. Dong Zhongshu’s philosophy was Tian philosophy. The air of the yin and yang and the five elements were the basis that Tian circulated.“Air”was not only a material thing but also a mystic and personality thing, so“Tian”had three forms, which were the inevitable Tian, the natural Tian and the dominating Tian. Apparently,“Tian”was a paradoxical mixture. In fact there were organic links existed in the triple meaning of Dong Zhongshu’s Tian. In Dong Zhongshu’s opinion, Tian was the ultimate metaphysical existence that he realized. He constructed the metaphysical Tian in order to understand the metaphysical moral principle and the universal principle of political life. Owing to his absence of logistic thinking, he only could make the natural Tian mystify and personality, and then be“the dominating Tian”which expressed his pursuit for universal principle. Therefore, we could regard“mystic metaphysic”as a segment during the course that Confucian Tian would become philosophic gradually. The aim of metaphysical Tian didn’t demonstrate its absoluteness but gave an ultimate moral support for Confucian ethical and political theory. Through theory of corresponding mutuality between Tian and man Dong Zhongshu had Tiandao return to the doctrine of man. He believed that Tian and man were congeneric. In accordance with the principle of“the same kind and responded each other between Tian and man”he believed that“Tian and man are similar”, and then Tian and man could communicate and correspond. So we could draw conclusions that“Tiandao”and“people affairs”were uniform and“Tian” could be grasped. Therefore, people grasped“Tian”in their own rational and would also be able to explore the law that the realistic political life depended on.“Tian”of Dong Zhongshu gave a metaphysical foundation for the rationality of grand unified absolute monarchy, the kingcraft of“the benevolence rule is major but the penalty rule is minor”and the ethical pattern of“the three cardinal guides and the five constant virtues”. We could see his efforts that he did in order to restore the kingly way of Pre-Qin Confucianism on the basis of integration of yin and yang, Tao, Legalist thinking.The human nature theory was the logical beginning of Pre-Qin Confucian political philosophy, who inferred“what is the supposed political life”from the point of how to define the value of human nature’s alignment. But Dong zhongshu believed the human nature theory not only was the important part of his political philosophy, but also was closely related with his philosophy of Tian and man. This was related with the construction way of Dong zhongshu’s political philosophy, in which“Tian”had the nature of ultimate ontology, so we could say that it based on the establishment of“Tian”in order to elaborate all his political philosophy. Therefore, concerning the human nature theory, on one hand, he brought human affection and nature into the philosophy of Tian and man and put forward the proposition of“the nature is fine and the feeling is bad”and the early form of the theory of“three classes of human nature”. On the other hand, he thought emperor had the nature of obeying providence and being good to the nations. The bringing up of“the nature is fine and the feeling is bad”and“the nature of most people”not only clearly distinguished Dong zhongshu’s human nature theory from Pre-Qin Confucian political philosophy and initially solved the leaving problem of Meng and Xun’s human nature theory, but also offered theoretical foundation to the kingly way which was the ultimate political ending of his human nature theory. Dong zhongshu’s definition of“the nature of most people”gave the promise that it was possible for everyone to be good, but this would not bring out the appearance of“everyone is equal”. Because the ultimate purpose of Dong Zhongshu proposing“the nature of most people”was to offer theoretical basis to King’s Pre-Qin’s Confucian political philosophy to the people. So we could say that Dong zhongshu’s“principle of three classes of human nature”gave foundation from the point of human nature theory to the existence of arbitrary kings. In one word, Dong zhongshu’s human nature theory was based on his philosophy of Tian and man, and integrated with his ethics and politics theory.The fundamental purpose of Dong Zhongshu’s Tian and man philosophy was providing the ultimate evidence for his ethic and political theory, which was combined Confucianism with politics finally. He believed that the character of Tiandao was“Yi”.“Yi”was made up of two sides and one must obey the other. The law could be found in the relationship among the Tian, the emperor and the masses, by which the emperor obeyed the Tian and the masses obeyed the emperor. Whether Dong Zhongshu emphasizing the emperor’s authority or restricting the emperor’s power both maintained the emperor’s power well running and consolidated and strengthened the unified system of absolute monarchy. The principle of“Yi”in culture fields was“rejection the schools except Confucianism and maintenance of Confucianism as the sole official ideology”. He believed that too many ideologies threaten the rule of absolute monarchy. He suggested that Confucianism should be the only ideology to run the empire, which was taken by Wudi emperor in Han Dynasty and carried out from then on.The thought of virtue rule built up by Confucianism in Pre-Qin era was inherited by Confucianism after them. One of them was Dong Zhongshu. He still defined the nature of politics from the prospective of moral. But the moral idealism of the Pre-Qin Confucianism was out of date. Dong Zhongshu absorbed the thinking resource of the other schools and reconstructed the thought of virtue rule. He systematized the thought of virtue rule, which became the predominating thought and managing mode in ancient China finally. Dong Zhongshu raised his reform theory at first. In his opinion, Han Dynasty should reform after Qin Dynasty. The major purpose of reform was converting the penal rule to the virtue rule.“Yi”was“Tian affirmed yang, but negated yin”, which demonstrated his ideal of“the benevolence rule is major but the penalty rule is minor”. Although penalty was the necessary kingcraft, education was the fundamentality of virtue rule and the people of traditional thought and the wise people were the important parts of the virtue rule.The principle of“Yi”embodied in handling human relations, which was the theory of“three cardinal guides”. Pre-Qin Confucianism about handling the human relations was mutual, but Dong Zhongshu had an obvious“legalist inclination”character, that was to say minister, son, wife must obey absolutely emperor, father, husband. In the same time Dong Zhongshu believed that“loyal”was more important than“filial”, which indicated the tendency of making ethics politicized.“The five elements”of Tian assigned“five constant virtues”, which maintained“three cardinal guides”as five moral disciplines. Since“five constant virtues”follow“five elements”of Tian, emperors should obey it. Whether“five constant virtues”or“three cardinal guides”both embodied the pursuit of order. Confucianism and Legalist both attached importance to order in political life, but the handling style was apparently different. Legalist kept order through violent and cruel laws, but Dong Zhongshu dealt the human relations with political virtue, which realized interaction between politics and ethics.Dong Zhongshu’s political philosophy had not only established the academic characteristic of Han Dynasty, moreover compared with Pre-Qin Confucianism political philosophy, it had made a very big transformation. The Confucianism transformed after Dong Zhongshu drew close to the political reality even more. What Dong Zhongshu transformed Confucianism mainly was that he leads the philosophy of Tian based on the yin and yang and the five elements to the explanation of“Spring and Autumn Annals”. The way how Dong Zhongshu explained the Confucian Classics not only caused his ideology more philosophic, and had established the dominant status of Confucianism six-art. Henceforth, the thinker started to seek the basic principle which the social politics life must follow from the Confucianism classics, and Confucianism development also really entered into the times that the Confucian Classics existed from the times that the Schools existed. It was only this development of Pre-Qin Confucianism that made it politicization authentically. He not only had provided the explanation of general unity since Qin and Han Dynasty in the realistic aspect and made the Confucian thoughts as the sole official ideology, but had affected the nearly entire despotism process after Han Dynasty at political culture level. On this spot, Confucianism politicized by Dong Zhongshu was likely one kind of the school catering for emperors. But Dong Zhongshu’s political philosophy was not cater to the realistic politics constantly, at the same time he proved the rationality of grand unified absolute monarchy, and also maintained an attitude of critique, alienation to the realistic politics. His political philosophy had not given up the humanism spirit which Pre-Qin Confucianism insisted. In a way, the reason that Confucianism became the Chinese tradition mainstream political philosophy, not only was that it could be able to cater to the need of the realistic politics much more, but was that the final direction of the intrinsic humanism spirit of Confucianism was to the kindheartedness of social and political life, it had met the psychological need of entire society most thoroughly on this spot.The philosophy of Tian constructed by Dong Zhongshu provided an inevitability showing for the worthiness idea and the kingly way politics ideal that the Confucianism sparkplug at metaphysical level, which caused Confucian ethics political thinking more philosophic. But when he personated Tian and gave it characteristic of personification, he had already separated from metaphysics level actually, which manifested Dong Zhongshu’s logical proof to the coherence of Tian and man was not wise. Dong Zhongshu endowed Tian with the character of supreme god, and charged emperor by the condemning of Tian, his original intention was to give some kind of limit to emperor’s authority, but its result was actually very different with his original intention. The nearly vulgar theory could not play extremely major role in limiting the emperor’s power in the realistic politics, instead caused the mysticism of the Confucian Classics, and the prosperous of mysticism-Classics had represented the ossification and decline of Confucianism in Han Dynasty.

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CLC: > Philosophy, religion > Chinese Philosophy > Philosophy of the Han Dynasty ( 206 BC to 220 AD) > Zhongshu ( BC 179 ~ 104 years)
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