The rise of the Tao-hsüeh confucian fellowship in Southern Sung

Hoyt Tillman

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

2 Scopus citations


In the wake of the Jurchen conquest of the Northern Sung (960-1127) in 1127, Chinese literati lived in a politically divided and culturally dislocated world. The loss of the cultural heartland of North China and the failure of many scholar-officials (shih-ta-fu) to remain loyal to the dynasty raised doubts about the state of literati customs and Confucian values. Responding to this political and cultural crisis, Confucian intellectuals defended their literary culture and Tao (Way) in the belief that regeneration of Confucian values would empower them to restore order and expel the alien conquerors. As Hu Hung (1106-61) observed about foreign invasions, "When the Central Plain (Chung-yüan) was without the Tao of the Central Plain, the barbarians entered; when it restored the Tao of the Central Plain, the barbarians returned to their territory." Hu Yüan (993-1057), the first major Sung Confucian thinker, had reportedly distinguished three levels of what was meant by the Tao: t’i (essence or substance of all things); wen (literary and cultural expression, including the Classics, histories, and belles-lettres); and yung (function in governance). These three levels provide modes for analyzing Confucian discourse: what in the West would be called speculative philosophy (Chinese reasoning about a nonempirical level of primary principles), cultural values, and comment on policies. Debates took place among scholars about whose interpretation of the Tao was correct and what reconstruction of the tradition should serve as the standard for building a Confucian society.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge History of China Volume 5: Sung China, 960-1279 AD, Part 2
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages64
ISBN (Print)9781139193061, 9780521243308
StatePublished - Jan 1 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities


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