Zhu Xi's Military Thought

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Zhu Xi's Military Thought

Type: Research master thesis
Title: Zhu Xi's Military Thought
Author: Smorenburg, Joep
Issue Date: 2017-08-31
Keywords: Zhu Xi
Southern Song
Abstract: Despite the exalted status of Southern Song (1127-1279) scholar Zhu Xi (1130-1200) in the contemporary body of research, relatively little effort has been dedicated to understanding his views on military affairs and policy. Furthermore, analyses of his military policy recommendations and assessments of his participation in the debate on the Jin-Song conflict have not yet benefited from a thorough comparison with his more “philosophical” works, most importantly the Four Books and his later statements collected in the Thematic Discourses. This paper seeks to both expand and nuance the current understanding of Zhu Xi’s military thought by taking into account a broader array of historical sources, ranging from the foundational Four Books to his private letters and assorted sayings. The structure of the present paper is divided into two main parts. In the first part, I shall examine several general discussions on topics of warfare as they occur in the Four Books, basing myself primarily on Zhu Xi’s commentaries and his collected statements on its topics. The aim of this section is to establish the importance of military policy within Zhu Xi’s political thought, serving analogously to the institution of legal punishment as a functional expression or “tip” of the “root” of moral government. “Barbarians”, as physiologically and, by extension, morally deficient creatures, constituted a special object of military action. Lastly, while military conduct should always depart from an understanding of Principle as the determinant of “things as they should be”, practical and strategic considerations remained a legitimate and indeed necessary topic of inquiry. In the second part of the paper, based on the historical and philosophical framework reconstructed previously, I aim to reexamine Zhu Xi’s public and private writings concerning specifically the issue of Jin-Song relations. Three topics prove to be of particular relevance. Firstly, addressing recent claims that Zhu Xi supposedly abandoned the revanchist cause later in life, I will argue that his gradual reconceptualization of the state and its sovereign as the primary foci of revanchist sentiment enabled him to maintain this cause unabatedly. Secondly, through a reassessment of his early private and political writings I will address claims of Zhu’s supposed “hawkish” attitude towards the conflict, instead arguing that his acute perception of Song military weakness informed his consistently defensive and preparatory stance. Lastly, building on recent suggestions that Zhu had argued chiefly for a process of “moral rearmament” as the basis for military reconquest, I will examine his practical and concrete policy suggestions. Throughout, I shall emphasize possible loci of interaction and interdependence between Zhu’s political and philosophical writings, ultimately arguing that the two are inextricably related.
Supervisor: Els, Paul van
Faculty: Faculty of Humanities
Department: Asian Studies (Research master)
ECTS Credits: 25
Handle: http://hdl.handle.net/1887/51987

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