Tung Chung-shu or Dong Zhongshu (Chinese: 董仲舒; pinyin: Dŏng Zhòngshū; Dong Zhongshu; ca. 195 B.C.E.–ca. 115 B.C.E.) was a Han Dynasty scholar who is traditionally associated with the establishment of Confucianism as the official ideology of the Chinese imperial state in 136 B.C.E., and the basis of official political philosophy, a status which it maintained for 2,000 years.
A scholar well-versed in Chinese literature, Tung Chungshu influenced the Emperor Han Wu-ti and held official posts in the provinces. Tung's writings are preserved in the Standard History of the Western Han Dynasty (Han-shu) and in a collection of essays entitled Ch'un-Ch'iu fan-lu, or Luxurious Gems of the Spring and Autumn Annals. Tung Chungshu's philosophy merged Confucianism with elements of Daoism, yin-yang cosmology, Mohism, Legalism, shamanism, and geomancy. He believed that Confucius, by studying the events of past history, had come to understand the relationship between man and heaven and was therefore able to interpret omens and portents. The central theme of Tung Chung-shu's political thought was the interaction between heaven (t’ien) and human beings. The emperor was regarded as heaven’s ambassador on earth, and calamities and natural disasters such as floods and drought were signs that the emperor’s personal conduct was at fault. The duty of the emperor was to preserve harmony between yang and yin. Confucian scholars occupied an important role in government, interpreting the meaning of events and omens, and maintaining a check on the activities of the ruler. Several of Tung Chung-shu's proposals were adopted by the Han government, including the establishment of an imperial university, and the requirement that nobles and governors to annually recommend talented men with good moral character for appointment to official positions. These institutions gave rise to the system of civil service examinations as a means of entering the government bureaucracy.
Tung Chung-shu was born in Guangchuan (in modern Hebei), China, probably around 195 B.C.E.. He is said to have so extraordinarily dedicated to learning that for three years he did not even glance at the garden in front of him. Tung entered the imperial service during the reign of the Emperor Jing of Han and rose to high office under the Emperor Wu of Han (c. 140–87 B.C.E.). Emperor Wu ( 汉武帝, 漢武帝), the seventh emperor of the Han Dynasty and one of the greatest emperors in Chinese history, vastly expanded his terriorial domain and organized a strong and centralized Confucian state. As a chief minister, Tung was responsible for the dismissal of all non-Confucian scholars from the government. He proposed Confucianism as the unifying ideology of the Han empire, and initiated the establishment of an imperial college (t'ai-hsüeh) to train promising students. He also required nobles and governors to annually recommend talented men with good moral character for appointment to official positions. These institutions resulted in the development of civil-service examinations as the means of recruitment into the bureaucracy, allowing men of humble birth who had ability the possibility of rising to positions of power and influence.
Tung's relationship with the emperor was uneasy. At one point he was thrown into prison and nearly executed for writings that were considered seditious, and he may have cosmologically predicted the overthrow of the Han Dynasty and its replacement by a Confucian sage, the first appearance of a theme that would later sweep Wang Mang to the imperial throne.
Tung's “Ch'un-ch'iu fan-lu” (“Luxuriant Dew of the Spring and Autumn Annals”), an interpretation of the Confucian Classic “Spring and Autumn Annals” (Ch'un-ch'iu), is one of the most important philosophical works of the Han period. The “Spring and Autumn Annals” (春秋) was an official chronicle of the events in Confucius' native state of Lu between 722 B.C.E. and 481 B.C.E., supposed to have been edited by Confucius. Confucius advocated the study of past events as the best way of learning what principles to apply in the present situation. Tung emphasized the importance of the Spring and Autumn Annals as a source for both political and metaphysical ideas, following the tradition of the Gongyang Commentary in seeking hidden meanings from its text. He believed that Confucius recorded events in such a way as to exercise judgment on them, and that he established principles of government for future dynasties. According to Tung, Confucius understood the relationships between man and nature and was therefore able to interpret omens and portents.
The 82 chapters of the Luxuriant Dew of the Spring and Autumn Annals bears marks of multiple authorship. Its authenticity has been called into question by premodern Chinese literati (Zhu Xi, Cheng Yanzuo) and researchers in Taiwan (Dai Junren), Japan (Keimatsu Mitsuo, Tanaka Masami), and the West. Scholars now reject as later additions all the passages that discuss the “five elements” (五行, wood, fire, earth, metal and water). Much of the rest of the work is questionable as well. It seems safest to regard it as a collection of unrelated or loosely related chapters and shorter works, most more or less connected to the Gongyang Commentary and its school, written by a number of different persons at different times throughout the Former Han and into the first half of the Later Han.
Other important sources for Tung’s life and thought include his poem,"The Scholar's Frustration," his biography included in the Book of Han, his Yin-Yang and stimulus-response theorizing noted at various places in the Book of Han "Treatise on the Five Elements," and the fragments of his legal discussions.
The Luxuriant Dew of the Spring and Autumn Annals was instrumental in developing a characteristically Han interpretation of Confucianism. Though Tung proposed the elimination of all non-Confucian scholars from the government, he drew elements of his philosophy from Daoism, yin-yang cosmology, Mohism, Legalism, shamanism, and geomancy. His writings on the ideal of non-active leadership, probably produced while he was in the service of the Emperor Ching, suggest that he was deeply aware of Daoist ideals.
Tung Chung-shu believed that earth, heaven and man have complementary roles in the universe, and that in an ideal state they work together in harmony. Heaven desires the welfare of mankind, man is endowed with a natural tendency to obey the dictates of heaven, and the earth provides nourishment in response to man’s cultivation.
The central theme of Tung Chung-shu's political thought was the interaction between heaven (t’ien) and human beings. The emperor was regarded as heaven’s ambassador on earth, and calamities and natural disasters such as floods and drought were signs that the emperor’s personal conduct was at fault.
Dong Zhongshu's thought integrated Yin Yang cosmology into a Confucian ethical framework. The duty of the ruler was to preserve harmony between yang (light, positive, male) and yin (dark, negative, female) elements. He must prevent disturbances by educating and caring for his people. A ruler could reform governmental and social institutions when necessary, but could not alter or destroy the basic moral principles of heaven. Confucian scholars occupied an important role in government, interpreting the meaning of events and omens, and maintaining a check on the activities of the ruler, “rectifying rightness without scheming for profit; enlightening his Way without calculating efficaciousness.”
Tung’s philosophy provided a theological justification for regarding the emperor as the “Son of Heaven,” and his theory of the responsiveness of Heaven to the acts of man gave Confucian scholars a higher law by which they could evaluate the conduct of a ruler.
Confucian ethics had a tremendous effect on government, education, and Chinese society. Toward the end of the Han dynasty, as many as 30,000 students attended the Imperial university which had been founded by Tung Chung-shu. All public schools in China offered regular sacrifices to Confucius, and he came to be perceived as the patron saint of education. Eventually, a Confucian temple was built in every one of China’s two thousand counties. Confucian ethics and governmental organization spread to Korea and Japan.
Tung Chung-shu’s world view was not universally accepted by Han Confucian scholars. Before the fall of the Western Han dynasty, a movement known as the “Old Text” school, which favored a more rational and moralistic approach, had arisen. The Fa-yen (“Model Sayings”), a collection of moralistic aphorisms by Yang Hsiung (c. 53 B.C.E.–18 B.C.E.) and a cosmological speculation, the T'ai-hsüan ching (“Classic of the Supremely Profound Principle”) presented an alternative world view. Based on what were said to be authentic classical texts allegedly rediscovered during the Han period and written in an “old” script dating from before the Ch'in unification, this view was widely accepted in the Eastern Han (25–220 C.E.).
As the the Imperial university grew and the system of civil examinations expanded in the Eastern Han, the study of the Classics became more refined. Eventually, Confucian scholarship became professionalized and lost its power as a vital intellectual force.
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