This is a book for anyone who would like an introduction to Neo-Confucian philosophy. Most of our readers will have little or no background in Neo-Confucianism or in the last millennium of Chinese history; many will also be unfamiliar with the sources from which Neo-Confucianism emerged, such as classical-era Confucianism, Chinese Buddhism, and the great social transformation of China around the year 1000 ce . Do not worry. This Introduction is designed to help all readers get oriented, and the eight topical chapters that follow assume only that you have a basic familiarity with this Introduction. In writing the book as we have, we have of course made a series of decisions about its scope and approach, and the purpose of section 1 of the Introduction is to explain our thinking. The three key terms in our book's title help to organize what we discuss. In section 2, we turn to the background needed to make sense of the rest of the book.
1 This book
"Neo-Confucianism" is not a translation of any word that the individuals we are calling Neo-Confucians ever used to refer to themselves. We use "Neo-Confucianism" to capture the broad renaissance of Confucian thinking that emerges in the Song dynasty (960-1279) and which becomes central to Chinese and much of East Asian culture over the following eight centuries. The central reason for eschewing a native term to label this phenomenon is that no single Chinese term corresponds to the whole sweep of intellectual activity that we discuss in this book. Admittedly, we will have to be careful that the vagueness of "Neo-Confucianism" does not lead us into historical inaccuracies or the sense that all "Neo-Confucians" agreed with one another. 1 In a work such as this, which spans multiple centuries and dynasties, it remains the case that native terms are inadequate to call attention to all the continuities and also the differences that we believe are important.
Within Neo-Confucianism, we also recognize a narrower, though still quite diverse, category that we call "Daoxue" - a native term that can be translated as "Learning of the Way." This term emerges early in the Song to refer to an emphasis on the moral Way instead of on literary attainments and soon becomes a label used by the brothers C heng Hao and C heng Yi and the many subsequent philosophers who saw themselves as developing the Cheng brothers' ideas. 2 The scope of the movement and of the label narrows in the thirteenth and later centuries, though, such that many Ming dynasty thinkers who share a great deal with earlier Daoxue come to reject the label. 3 In this book, we use "Daoxue" in essentially the way that twelfth-century Chinese used it, except that we extend their inclusive sense of Daoxue ideas forward into later centuries, instead of restricting it to a narrow kind of orthodoxy centered on the teachings of Z hu Xi, as happened historically. 4 We are therefore comfortable referring to many Ming dynasty Confucians as Daoxue thinkers who themselves would have rejected such a label. Importantly, though, throughout our era there are individuals who count as Neo-Confucians but not as adherents of Daoxue. These critics of Daoxue orientations - people like S u Shi, W ang Tingxiang, and D ai Zhen - form important parts of Neo-Confucian discourse.
As we will emphasize throughout the book, Daoxue thinkers often disagreed with one another. We find the ways in which these differences have been marked in the past, such as different scholarly genealogies, regional identities, and ideas of "orthodoxy," to be of limited use for our purposes. This is important data for intellectual historians, and can often help us understand particular texts or statements, but is less central to the idea-driv