Zhu Xi’s Hermeneutics

  • On-cho NgEmail author
Part of the Dao Companions to Chinese Philosophy book series (DCCP, volume 13)


Penning an essay on Zhu Xi’s thoughts in terms of hermeneutics implies a comparative agenda and perspective. While constructing the rationale and practice of Zhu’s exegesis of the classics by appealing to Western philosophies of reading, touching on such hermeneutic issues as original meaning, contemporary appropriation, authorial intent, and readerly contingency, I hope to throw into relief the cross-cultural consonance and dissonance discernible in the acts of interpretation. The aim is to shed some light on the attendant counterpoint engendered by divergent cultural assumptions, contrasting religio-philosophical values, varying epistemological stances, and different ontological conceptions of canonicity, authorship, and readership. To address comparatively reading matters East and West via Zhu Xi’s commentarial efforts, and to claim that reading is a universal imperative, is to posit that between commensurability and contravention, common paths of reading toward a deeper understanding of our diverse textual testaments may be paved. At the same time, I affirm the deeply ingrained contextual variances that inform our very own presentist hermeneutics of the projects of reading and interpreting. In studying Zhu’s readings of the Chinese classic, I am entering, as it were, an interpretive war zone between empirically recovering what he says and theoretically creating from it a twenty-first century account of his hermeneutic moves. The zone begins with the comparative and Confucian contexts in which we may properly locate Zhu’s exegetical endeavor and lucubration, followed by the lineaments of his hermeneutics as regards fundamental assumptions, strategies, and processes, while offering a few examples of his exegesis as illustrations. In the end, I argue that Zhu sees the reading of the classics as a charismatic and religious act, wherein the reader penetrates the minds of their sagely authors, thereby apprehending the universal truths vouchsafed by them. It is charismatic because the sagacious reader is endowed with the special gift to divine the minds of the sages; it is religious because the act of reading is entirely and ultimately committed to apprehending eternal truths that transcend the confines of time and space.


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Asian StudiesPennsylvania State UniversityUniversity ParkUSA

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