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Taijitu shuo 太極圖說 Adler, Joseph


Zhou Dunyi 周敦頤 (1017-1073) has, since the late 12th century, been considered the "founding father" of the Song dynasty revival of Confucianism, which in the West has been called "Neo-Confucianism." Curiously, though, it took over a century for him to acquire that status, which was conferred on him primarily by Zhu Xi 朱熹 (1130-1200), the chief architect of the Cheng-Zhu school of Confucianism (named after Zhu and his predecessor Cheng Yi 程頤 [1033-1107]). Although Zhou Dunyi was fairly obscure during his lifetime and had very few students to pass on his teachings, Zhu Xi found Zhou's concept of taiji 太極 (Supreme Polarity or Supreme Ultimate) useful in linking together the metaphysical and cosmological dimensions of his (Zhu's) system of thought and practice (see Adler, Reconstructing the Confucian Dao: Zhu Xi's Appropriation of Zhou Dunyi). Thus, ever since the end of the 12th century, histories of Neo-Confucianism, in both East Asia and the West, have begun with Zhou Dunyi. Zhou Dunyi's Taijitu shuo 太極圖說, or Discussion of the Taiji Diagram, accompanied by the diagram itself, is his most famous and influential work. The diagram was attributed to a 10th-century Daoist adept, Chen Tuan 陳摶 (d. 989). According to Zhu Zhen 朱震 (1072-1138) it was passed down to Zhou Dunyi through two generations of Chen Tuan's students – a transmission that has never been confirmed. In Daoist circles the Diagram seems to have been read from the bottom up as a guide to inner contemplation of the Dao within the human body, with phrases from the Xici 繫辭 (Appended Remarks) or Dazhuan 大傳 (Great Treatise) appendix of the Yijing 易 經 (Scripture of Change) labeling the various stages. Zhou Dunyi, in his "Discussion," read the Diagram from the top down as a cosmogonical representation, from an undifferentiated unity to the interaction of yin 陰 and yang 陽, to further differentiation into the Five Phases (wuxing 五行), and ultimately to the myriad things. The second half of the Discussion presents the Confucian sage as the culmination of this cosmological process. Under the influence of Zhu Xi and his many students and followers, the Diagram and Discussion became the basis of Neo-Confucian cosmology, and Zhou Dunyi became universally accepted as the first Confucian sage of the Song dynasty; in fact the first true sage since Mencius in the 4th century BCE. The Diagram and Discussion are also found in the Daozang 道藏, or Daoist Canon.

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