Xunzi Biography


(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...

(The entire section is 705 words.)