Chung-yung (Zhongyong)
Text & Context

Traditional scholars, including the classicist K’ung Ying-ta (574-648) and the philosopher Chu Hsi [Zhu Xi] (1130-1200), accepted the historian Ssu-ma Ch’ien’s (145-86 B.C.) account that Confucius’ grandson Tzu-ssu [Zisi] (492-431 B.C.) was the author. From the beginning of the Ch’ing period (1644-1912), however, textual analysts began to question this; the majority believed that the work was probably compiled during the Warring States period (403-222 B.C.).  Some insisted that Chung-yung should be dated around 200 B.C., after the Ch’in unification. [C&C, 12]

On the issue of authorship, I tend to accept the view that the text was not composed by a single author for a definite purpose but is the result of a cumulative effort of many scholars over a long stretch of time. The claim that Chung-yung is probably of composite authorship can be substantiated by the fact that, in terms of its content, the text can be divided into three distinct parts: the first nineteen chapters deal mainly with the character and duties of the chün-tzu [junzi] (gentleman, superior man, [noble person,] and in this study “profound person”); the twentieth chapter, especially its first fifteen sections, deals mainly with the idea of cheng (politics), including the moral responsibilities and the ideal institutions of the sage-kings; and the last thirteen chapters deal mainly with the metaphysical concept of ch’eng [cheng] (sincerity, reality, and truth). However, although I am not convinced that one of its authors was indeed the grandson of Confucius, Tzu-ssu (K’ung Chi, 491-431 B.C.), I would assume that the work was written in the school of Tzu-ssu and therefore is compatible in spirit with the Mencian tradition. Of course, by accepting Chung-yung as a work in the school of Tzu-ssu, I do not suggest that it necessarily predates the Book of Mencius. I would only maintain that the text as a whole is a coherent statement about humanity rather than a collection of unrelated proverbs. Therefore, my position is that, notwithstanding its composite authorship, Chung-yung can be analyzed as an integrated series of reflections on personality, society, and metaphysics. [C&C, 17]
Professor Hoffert’s Two Cents
Chapter 1 should be regarded as a ‘preface’ that was written by the author of the ‘metaphysical’ chapters that deal with cheng (sincerity); however, while Tu Weiming suggests that the material in this group begins with Chapter 21, I would argue that it should include the material at the end of Chapter 20, where the focus suddenly shifts to the concept of ‘sincerity.’

The Mencian Context
The “Interiority” of Human Nature
2A6 ... The mind of commiseration is the beginning of humanity; the mind of shame and dislike is the beginning of righteousness; the mind of civility and courtesy is the beginning of ritual; the mind that distinguishes between right and wrong is the beginning of wisdom. People have these four beginnings just as they have their four limbs. People have these four, and when they say they are incapable of them, they are only stealing from themselves, and when they say their ruler is incapable of them, they are stealing from the ruler. If those people with these four beginnings within themselves know how to develop and fulfill them, they will be as fires beginning to burn or springs beginning to flow. Completely fulfilling these four allows them to embrace everything within the four seas, but if they cannot they will barely be able to care for their own parents. [CRAS, 57-58]


Significance of the Text
Chu Hsi [Zhu Xi] was instrumental in bringing into prominence by selecting it, together with the Great Learning (another chapter from the Book of Rites), the Analects, and the Book of Mencius, to form the Four Books. Because they were the basis for the civil service examinations, the Four Books surpassed the Five Classics from 1313 to 1905 in exercising influence on the educated elite in imperial China. [C&C, 13] 

What Heaven imparts to man is called human nature. To follow human nature is called the Way. Cultivating the Way is called teaching. The Way cannot be separated from us for a moment. What can be separated from us is not the Way. Therefore the profound person [junzi] is cautious over what he does not see and apprehensive over what he does not hear. There is nothing more visible than what is hidden and nothing more manifest than what is subtle. Therefore the profound person is watchful over himself when he is alone. Before the feelings of pleasure, anger, sorrow, and joy are aroused it is called centrality. When the feelings are aroused and each and all attain due measure and degree, it is called harmony. Centrality is the great foundation of the world, and harmony is its universal path. To cultivate centrality and harmony with thoroughness is the way to bring heaven and earth to their proper place and all things their proper nourishment. [C&C, 6 (Zhongyong, 1:1-5)]
  • What is the “Way” referred to in the opening lines ... and how does this take us beyond the more purely “humanistic” vision of Confucius and Xunzi?
On the one hand, Chung-yung asserts that human nature is imparted by Heaven, thus affirming the ancient Chinese belief in a purposive and caring Heaven as the ultimate arbiter of human affairs. On the other, Chung-yung also insists that teaching involves nothing but self-realization and that it is through the understanding of things at hand that Heaven’s true intentions are manifested, thus affirming another ancient Chinese belief that “man can make the Way great,” but that “the Way cannot make man great.”
The human way is therefore neither theocentric nor anthropocentric. Rather, it points to the mutuality of Heaven and man. By insisting upon a continuous interaction between them, the human way necessitates a transcendent anchorage for the existence of man and an immanent confirmation for the course of Heaven. Underlying this approach is the experience of what Eliade calls “anthropocosmic” unity, the source of all the ethicoreligious symbolism in Chung-yung. [C&C, 9]
  • How does this “anthropocosmic” vision differ from those that may be described as either “theocentric” or “anthropocentric”?
“Centrality & Harmony”
Centrality, then, is that state of mind wherein one is absolutely unperturbed by outside forces. But it is more than a psychological concept of equilibrium since it is not so much an achieved ideal as a given reality. According to an ancient tradition, certainly antedating the composition of Chung-yung, man is that being which embodies the centrality of heaven and earth. Accordingly, man becomes united with heaven and earth by the centrality inherent in each human being. In a strict sense, centrality signifies an ontological condition rather than a mental state of quiescence. And it is only to that inner self, “before the feelings of pleasure, anger, sorrow, and joy are aroused,” that the term centrality can be adequately applied. Harmony, on the other hand, symbolizes an actual human achievement when the aroused feelings “each and all attain due measure and degree.” Harmony so conceived is necessarily a mirror image of centrality. We can think of centrality as the ultimate ground of existence: “the great foundation of the world,” and harmony as its unfolding process of self-expression: “it’s universal path.” [C&C, 20]
  • Frederick Streng defines religion as “a means to ultimate transformation.” Does this new emphasis on an “ultimate ground of existence” through which we can transform both ourselves and the entire world move us into the realm of “religion”?
“Self-watchfulness when alone” (shen-tu 慎獨) may simply suggest a kind of unremitting vigilance. This may lead to the common impression that because a person is overly concerned about his inner feelings, he can become oblivious of external situations. The dichotomy of subject and object makes it rather obvious to us that “self-watchfulness when alone” is a private, subjective act which, on the surface at least, does not seem to have any relevance to the objective world out there. This mode of thought, however, is quite alien to the perception of the self in Chung-yung. “Self-watchfulness,” as a recommended spiritual discipline in Chung-yung, is personal but not subjectivistic.
The assumption is that when a person is perceptive of the subtle manifestations of his inner feelings, he is, at the same time, particularly sensitive to the world out there. Indeed, “self-watchfulness,” according to this view, opens one’s mind and heart to the outside. ... His ability to have such clear-sightedness is not because he is by chance endowed with some unusual power of apprehension. Rather, it is through his continuous effort of critical self-examination that he becomes perceptive of the subtle manifestation of his inner feelings. [C&C, 26-7]
  • How does the reference to “subtle manifestations” of one’s inner feelings relate to Mencius’ claim that each of us possesses the “four beginnings”?
  • How might this be connected to the “centrality” that the Chung-yung says exists “before the feelings of pleasure, anger, sorrow, and joy are aroused”?
The Dao of the Junzi
The fact that the way of the profound person can, on the one hand, be manifested in the lives of ordinary people and, on the other, be hidden from the sages is verifiable by common experience. We all, to a certain extent, practice the ordinary virtues of serving our parents, taking care of our children, or helping our friends. Few do all these things regularly and conscientiously. Still fewer try to integrate their daily lives with their quests for self-knowledge. It is indeed rare to find those who act to establish long-lasting values by giving a general structure of meaning to their everyday activities. And it is almost impossible to imagine that a single person, by a strenuous process of self-realization in the context of ordinary human-relatedness, can creatively transform the existing world and formulate an ultimate order of existence which is powerful and pervasive enough to become a defining characteristic of human heritage. [C&C, 32]

There is no compelling reason why [the profound person] must dictate rules for [others] to follow. If they have no intention of pursuing the Way, coercive rules are virtually useless. What he can and should do is to set an example and to exert his moral influence through exemplary teaching. [C&C, 35]