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(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)


Xunzi (SHEWN-tsih) was born in the state of Zhou and may have studied in Lu. He visited Qin, became senior resident at the Jixia establishment in Qi in his fifties, and left in 254 b.c.e. to become director of territory, including former Lu, newly conquered by Chu. This position, combining administrative authority with a secure intellectual base, he held until 238 b.c.e., when the death of the Chu king destroyed his patron and ended his tenure. The writings gathered under his name, Xunzi (compiled c. 285-c. 255 b.c.e.; The Works of Hsuntze, 1928; commonly known as Xunzi), were produced over his long career by himself or close associates.

Unlike Mencius, Xunzi is a text-based rather than a tradition-based Confucian; he contributed to fixing the classical text canon. He attacked the Mencian view of human nature as tending inherently toward good and relied on education and ritual to overcome its evil tendencies. He rejected the Mencian rulership models drawn from remote and simple antiquity, preferring more relevant “later kings.”


Xunzi is the bridge between early Confucianism and imperial Legalism. Li Si, the chief architect of Qin totalitarianism, was his student.

Further Reading:

Cua, A. S. Ethical Argumentation: A Study in Hsün Tzu’s Moral Epistemology. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1985. Contains a detailed and stimulating analysis of Xunzi’s ethical theory and the rationale and argumentative discourse in his philosophy. An in-depth study of an important but rarely touched area of Xunzi’s thought. With a bibliography, notes, and an index.

Goldin, Paul Rakita. Rituals of the Way: The Philosophy of Xunzi. Chicago: Open Court, 1999. Analyzes Xunzi’s thoughts on such typically Confucian topics as human nature, civilization, the relation of the individual to other people, Heaven, and the cosmos, the organization of the state, and the role of language.

Ivanhoe, Philip J. Confucian Moral Self-Cultivation. New York: Peter Lang, 1993. This work provides a very good introduction to important Confucian philosophers such as Confucius, Mencius, and Xunzi.

Ivanhoe, Philip J. Chinese Language, Thought, and Culture: Nivison and His Critics. La Salle, Ill.: Open Court, 1996. A collection of articles in honor of Nivison. Includes the articles “A Villain in the Xunzi” by Donald J. Munro and “Xunzi on Moral Motivation” by David B. Wong. Also includes a biography and an introduction.

Kline, T. C., III, and Philip J. Ivanhoe, eds. Virtue, Morality, and Agency in the Xunzi. Indianapolis, Ind.: Hackett, 2000. A collection of eleven essays on various aspects of Xunzi’s Confucianism, both studying his own work and comparing it with that of other Confucian theorists.

Koller, John M., and Patricia Joyce Koller. Asian Philosophies . 3d ed. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1998. A general introduction to Asian philosophy. Contains a brief section on Xunzi’s philosophy within a chapter on the main concepts in Confucianism. Good for...

(The entire section is 705 words.)