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Chang Tsai or Zhang Zai (Chinese: 張載/长载; pinyin: Zhāng Zǎi; Wade-Giles: Chang Tsai Chang Heng-ch'ü. 1020-1077) was a Chinese Neo-Confucian moral philosopher and cosmologist of the Song dynasty, who is credited with creating a metaphysical foundation for Neo-Confucianism. Zhang taught that everything in the universe was comprised of a single fundamental substance, qi (ch'i), material force. In its dispersed, rarefied state, qi was invisible and insubstantial, but when it condensed into a solid or liquid, it took on new properties. All material things, living and inanimate were composed of qi, so that everything had the same essence. The one essential virtue, ren (jen, benevolence, humanity) manifested itself variously in human relationships, becoming filial piety towards parents, respect towards elder siblings, and benevolence towards those less fortunate. Moral cultivation lay in striving to fulfill one’s duty as a member of society and of the universe.
Zhang’s thought influenced important later Neo-Confucian thinkers, including the brothers Ch'eng Hao (1032–1085) and Ch'eng I (1033–1107), Zhu Xi (1130–1200), and Wang Fu-chih (1619–1692). His differentiation between original nature and physical nature became a key concept for the Cheng brothers and Zhu Xi, who honored Zhang as one of the founders of the Study of the Way. 
Zhang Zai (also known as Zhang Hengqu after the town where he was raised and later did much of his teaching) was born in 1020, the son of a magistrate. He was interested in a military career, but the prominent politician and literary figure, Fan Zhongyan ( 范仲淹), was impressed with the boy’s abilities and recommended that he study the Confucian texts. Zhang, like many philosophers of the Song dynasty, was at first dissatisfied with Confucian thought, and spent several years studying Daoism and Buddhism. After concluding that these systems did not offer a satisfactory solution to the questions of life, he returned to the Confucian texts.
According to tradition, around 1056 Zhang sat on a tiger skin in the capital and lectured on the Classic of Changes (I Ching). After passing the highest level of the civil service examinations, he held a series of minor government posts. 
Wáng Ānshí (Chinese: 王安石; Wade-Giles: Wang An-shih) was a Chinese economist, statesman, and poet of the Song Dynasty who came to power in 1069 as Chancellor and attempted to institute some controversial reforms, called the New Policies (xin fa 新法). Wang believed that the state was responsible for providing its citizens with the essentials for a decent living standard. His reforms were classified into three groups: 1) state finance and trade, 2) defense and social order, and 3) education and improving of governance. Wang had the allegiance of such prominent court figures as Shen Kuo, but conservative imperial scholar-officials such as Chancellor Sima Guang, Su Dongpo and Ouyang Xiu bitterly opposed his reforms on the grounds of tradition. They believed Wang's reforms were against the moral fundamentals of the Two Emperors and would therefore prevent the Song from experiencing the prosperity and peace of the ancients. A renewal of foreign conflicts seemed to reinforce their fears. Wang Anshi was even temporarily removed from power and imprisoned in 1075.
In 1069 Zhang was given a position in the capital, but soon afterward mounted opposition to the New Policies, and entered into conflict with Wang Anshi. He retired and returned to Hengqu, where he spent his time studying, teaching, and promulgating his own philosophical ideas. In 1076 he completed his most important work, Correcting Ignorance, and presented it to his disciples. "Western Inscription" was originally part of this longer work.
In 1076 he was summoned back to the capital and again given an important position. In the winter of 1076, however, he became ill and resigned again, to convalesce at home. He died on the road in 1077. Zhang was awarded a posthumous title in 1220 and enshrined in the Confucian temple in 1241.
Most of Zhang’s writings have been lost. Zhu Xi collected selections of Zhang’s writings in his anthology of Song scholarship, Reflections on Things at Hand. His most important surviving works are his commentary on the Changes and Correcting Ignorance (Zheng Meng, “Correct Discipline for Beginners”) . Zheng Meng is divided into seventeen chapters: 1) "The Great Harmony," 2) "The Triad and Dyad," 3) "The Dao of Heaven," 4) "The Divine Character," 5) "Animals," 6) "Truth and Enlightenment," 7) "Largeness of Mind," 8) "The Golden Mean and the Right," 9) "The Highest Development," 10) "Originality," 11) "Thirty Years of Age," 12) "The Virtuous," 13) "Government," 14) "The Book of Changes," 15) "Music," 16) "The Sacrificial Ceremony to Heaven," and 17) "The Principles of Qian." Two additional treatises were separated from the seventeenth chapter, and were titled "The Western Inscription" and "The Eastern Inscription" 
Zhang Zai's metaphysics was derived from the Classic of Changes (I Ching), especially from the commentary, "Appended Remarks," traditionally attributed to Confucius. Zhang taught that everything in the universe was comprised of a single fundamental substance, qi (ch’i). All things that existed were manifestations of qi, including matter and the forces that governed interactions between matter, yin and yang. In its dispersed, rarefied state, qi was invisible and insubstantial, but when it condensed into a solid or liquid, it took on new properties. All material things, living and inanimate were composed of qi, so that everything had the same essence.
Zhang believed that qi was never created or destroyed, but went through a continuous process of condensation and dispersion. He compared qi to water, which is till the same substance whether it is in a liquid form or frozen into ice. Condensation was the yin force of qi, and dispersion was the yang force. Both yin and yang were necessary in order for the Supreme Ultimate (ultimate reality) to manifest itself. Zhang referred to qi in its wholly dispersed state as the Great Vacuity (tai xu), a term he adopted from the Zhuangzi. Though qiin this form had no material substance, it still existed, in contrast to the Buddhist concept of emptiness. Zhang argued that everything that is real is composed of qi; since qi always changes, anything real must change. Non-existence was not a separate reality, but part of the cycle of change. The Great Vacuity always existed, but the particular qi dispersed into the Great Vacuity at any moment was different from the moment before, allowing Zhang to assert both that qi always changes and the Great Vacuity always remains. Zhang did not believe that the universe had been created from nothing, an idea he attributed to both Buddhists and Daoists.
What appeared to be cycles of creation and destruction were the never-ending condensation and dispersion of qi. These processes of condensation and dispersion did not have an outside cause, but were part of the essential nature of qi. Zhang rejected any idea of an anthropomorphic God or Heaven directing the universe. He reinterpreted the workings of ghosts and spirits in the I Ching as the naturally occurring extensions and recessions of qi from and back to the Great Vacuity. 
Zhang Zai influenced important later Neo-Confucian thinkers, including the brothers Ch'eng Hao (1032–1085) and Ch'eng I (1033–1107), who were his cousins and who were taught by him. Zhu Xi (1130–1200) adopted his theory of mind, and Wang Fu-chih (1619–1692) developed his philosophy into a major Chinese philosophical system. The Cheng brothers and Zhu Xi further developed the concept of li (principle, or pattern), a transcendental universe existing outside of qi and giving it form. Zhang denied the existence of anything outside of qi, and used “li” to refer to the actions of condensing and dispersing qi, and to the moral patterns which should be followed by society. The principle (li) of change was an essential nature of qi, causing continuous fusion and diffusion, expansion and contraction, attraction and repulsion, floating and sinking, rising and falling, integration and disintegration.
Zhang explained the existence of imperfections in human nature by referring to an “original nature” or “essential nature” which he apparently identified with the undifferentiated qi of the Great Vacuity. This original nature existed in unchanging perfection, but when it became embodied in the condensed qi of the material world, which is subject to death and decay, it became physical nature. Human nature and the physical world were qi (material force), manifested in the diversity and multiplicity of human beings and physical things. By following the Way of Heaven, it was possible to comprehend both the unity of material force and the multiplicity of its manifestations. In the brief essay "Western Inscription," he propounded the idea of being one in body and heart with all things.
All people are my brothers and sisters, and all things are my companions. (Zhang Zai, The Western Inscription) 
His differentiation between original nature and physical nature became a key concept with the Cheng brothers and Zhu Xi. who honored Zhang as one of the founders of the Study of the Way. 
According to Zhang Zai, human nature and destiny were caused by material force, but material force could be overcome and dominated by moral character (Correcting Ignorance, Chapter 2, section 43). The one essential virtue, ren (jen, benevolence, humanity) manifested itself variously in human relationships, becoming filial piety towards parents, respect towards elder siblings, charity towards those less fortunate. Moral cultivation lay in striving to fulfill one’s duty as a member of society and of the universe. Virtue could overcome material force and determine destiny. Zhang Zai spoke of sincerity (cheng) as a state of being in unity with the Way, a state which could not be achieved by following selfish desire.
All links retrieved May 3, 2013.
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