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Making a moral point

By Ma Zhenhuan| China Daily| Updated: December 9, 2022 L M S


An aerial view of Wang Yangming's former residence in Yuyao. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Even though more than 500 years have passed, the thoughts of Wang Yangming (1472-1529), one of China's leading neo-Confucian philosophers, still live on and exert a profound influence on Chinese people.

Wang was also a calligrapher, military general, politician and writer.

Neo-Confucianism is the revival of the philosophical, social and ethical thoughts of Confucius. Wang is best known for his doctrine of the "unity of knowing and acting". It states that knowledge and action should be combined, and that one can acquire knowledge through actions.

In his principles, the "knowledge "refers to liangzhi (innate knowing), the capacity for moral judgement, rather than factual knowledge.

Wang held the idea that everyone knows, from birth, the difference between right and wrong. He claimed that such knowledge is intuitive and not acquired by learning.

Wang trusted in the power of "innate knowing" and believed that there is a sage in everyone, and that it is easy to be a "fully moral agent", because all we need to do is to get rid of selfish human desires. That way, the good will be perceived and evil will be removed.

To commemorate the 550th anniversary of the ancient philosopher's birthday, the World Yangming Philosophy Conference was held in Yuyao and Shaoxing in East China's Zhejiang province in late November.


Slogans promoting the "Moral Bank" are seen at the entrance of Shaojiaqiu village. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Revolving around two themes — "cultural resonance in a community with a shared future for mankind "and "Yangming philosophy and common prosperity" — researchers from different disciplines and backgrounds discussed the theories and practices of Wang's philosophy during the conference.

Li Guoqiang, associate dean of Chinese Academy of History, highlighted the application of Wang's thoughts to China's modernization.

He suggested thoughts, such as "innate knowing" and the "unity of knowing and acting", be connected to theories of Marxism, which will be developed into a strong workforce for the modernization drive.

Yang Guorong, president of China Philosophy History Association, stressed the similarities between Wang's thoughts and the idea of common prosperity.

"We can tell from Wang's principles that they intend to make people aware of their responsibilities to society, which reflects the idea of common development," said Yang. "Common prosperity means striving for all people. The idea behind it could be traced back to traditional Chinese culture, including Confucianism. We can also draw inspiration from thoughts, including the 'unity of knowing and acting' and 'innate knowing', to figure out ways to achieve common prosperity."

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