Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 87.djvu/88

This page has been validated.

ily. The method which was devised to secure accurate information for this purpose caused great confusion and misery.

On the whole, Wang An-shih's attempted rationalization and socialization of conduct was not successful. He was unwise in some of his efforts, and was vigorously opposed by Sz-ma Kwan and other prominent officials at the time. Nevertheless, certain permanent benefits from his reforms came down to later generations, and, what is more, his effort remains as one of the outstanding attempts to break the shackles of custom.

A second great moral reformer who broke with custom was Wang Yang-ming, or Wang Shou-jen. He inculcated doctrines which have had a profound effect upon the Japanese during the past one hundred years, and which are to-day wielding a great influence upon the Chinese mind.

The date of Wang's life is approximately 1472-1528.[1] As compared with contemporary European history, he lived in the period of the great maritime discoveries and at the beginning of the Reformation. He was fearlessly propounding his views in China shortly before Giordano Bruno, after a life of restless wandering in search of truth, suffered martyrdom for his philosophic exposition of the universe, and about a century previous to Hobbes, Descartes and Spinoza.

The most important thing about his philosophy is that it does not unreservedly advocate the interpretation given to the classics by former scholars, but insists on a rationalization which gives room for progressive adjustment. For him, human life, both in the race and in the individual, was a developing thing. He insisted that the highest values of life are realized only through development, and that apart from development life must prove a miserable failure. That he failed to approach the problem from the modern scientific view does not detract from the fact that he actually got a glimpse of the developmental character of human institutions, and that such a standpoint will invariably result in moral progress if thoroughly assimilated.

The one sentence, "My nature is sufficient," gives the foundation upon which the whole structure of his philosophy and ethics rests. Man's mind holds the key to all the problems of the universe. Nature—experience, we would probably say—is the stuff out of which the universe is made. This nature may be viewed from different aspects, but in whatever way it is approached, it is just this one nature.

Referring to its form and substance, it is Heaven; considered as ruler or lord, it is Shangti (God); viewed as functioning, it is fate; as given to men, it is disposition; and as controlling the person it is mind; manifested by mind it is called filial piety when it meets parents, and loyalty when it meets the prince. Proceeding from this on, it is inexhaustible, but it is all one nature.[2]
  1. Vide Monist, Vol. XXIV., No. 1, p. 17 ff.
  2. Wang Yang-ming, "Philosophy," Book I., p. 23. This reference is to the Chinese edition published by the Commercial Press, Shanghai.