Zhou Dunyi : biography
Zhou Dunyi (1017–1073) (), born Zhou Dunshi (周敦實), courtesy name Maoshu (茂叔), was a Chinese Neo-Confucian philosopher and cosmologist born in present-day Yongzhou during the Song Dynasty. He conceptualized the Neo-Confucian cosmology of the day, explaining the relationship between human conduct and universal forces. In this way, he emphasizes that humans can master their qi ("vital life energy") in order to accord with nature. He was a major influence to Zhu Xi, who was the architect of Neo-Confucianism. Zhou Dunyi was mainly concerned with Taiji (supreme polarity) and Wuji (limitless potential), the yin and yang, and the wu xing (the five phases). He is also venerated and credited in Taoism as the first philosopher to popularize the concept of the taijitu, or "yin-yang symbol".
Zhou Dunyi was born in Yingdao county, Daozhou prefecture, the southern region of Hunan province in 1017. He was born under the name Zhou Dunshi to a scholar-official family. He changed his name to Zhou Dunyi in 1063 to avoid the former personal name of the new emperor, Zhao Zongshi (Emperor Yingzong). After his death he was commonly called Zhou Lianxi (周濂溪), a name he adopted in retirement based on the stream (Lianxi, or Lian Stream) that ran by his retirement home near Mount Lu (Lushan).
His father died when he was fourteen and he was taken in by his uncle Zheng Xiang. He received his first posting in government through his uncle. Although very active in his civil service career he never did achieve a high position or get the "Presented Scholar" degree (jinshi). Some of the positions that he held were district record keeper (1040), magistrate in various districts (1046–1054), prefectural staff supervisor, and professor of the directorate of education and assistant prefect (1061–1064), among others. He resigned from his last post one year before he died. He died in Lushan, Jiangxi province in 1073.
Zhou Dunyi had only two students who made any major contribution to Confucianism: his nephews Cheng Yi and Cheng Hao. The Cheng brothers studied under Zhou Dunyi only for a short time when they were younger. The brothers moved on to establish their own school, the Cheng-Zhu School, which dominated Chinese philosophy for over 700 years. Zhou Dunyi is considered the founding father of that school although there are no references in the Cheng brothers writings to his contributions.
Zhou Dunyi was a major influence on Zhu Xi, who was considered one of the greatest Confucian thinkers since Confucius himself. Zhu Xi was known to have said that Zhou Dunyi was the first great sage and first of the Song Dynasty. Zhu Xi defended Zhou Dunyi on the importance of his concept of Wuji.
Though he never had much influence during his lifetime, he was remembered as warm, humane, and kin with the natural world. Many Confucians believed that he embodied the virtue of "authenticity". He had great insight into the Way of Heaven. The first major popularization of the taijitu symbol is also credited to Zhou Dunyi; this symbol (in an altered form) is now known worldwide as the commonly accepted symbol for the Chinese concepts of yin and yang. There are some stories that say that he did not learn from any teacher but received his information from heaven directly.
- Zhou Dunyi (Chou Tun-i)
- Zhou Maoshu (Chou Mao-shu)
- Zhou Lianxi (Chou Lien-hsi) — posthumous name
- Yuangong — meaning "Duke of Yuan", posthumously honoured in 1200 AD
- Nicknamed "Poor Zen Fellow" by Cheng Yi
The Taijitu of Zhou Dun-yi Taiji Tushuo (太極圖說; "Explanations of the Diagram of the Supreme Ultimate" or "Diagram Explaining the Supreme Ultimate") was placed at the head of the neo-Confucian anthology, Jinsilu (Reflections on things at hand) by Zhu Xi (朱熹) and Lu Zuqian in 1175. He fused Confucian ethics and concepts from the Yijing (The Book of Changes) with Daoist naturalism. He developed a metaphysics based on the idea that "the many are ultimately one and the one is ultimate." This was the first 11th-century Chinese text to argue for the inseparability of metaphysics (or cosmology) and ethics, as well as the first major Chinese text to explore the concept of the taijitu or "yin-yang symbol".
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