The Practical Significance of Cheng Yi’s Concept of “Yi and Li”: Interpreting “Cultivation of Qi and Accumulation of Yi” from the Perspective of the Heaven-Man Relationship

Author:Chung-Hsiu Huang

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Zhu Xi, remarkably,  approved  of  Cheng Yi’s  saying,  “it is considered not benevolent (仁, “ren”)  if one does not acknowledge justice (義, “yi”) and  reason  (理,  “li”).”The  purpose  of  this  paper  is  to  understand  their agreement by explicating the deeper meaning of Cheng Yi’s concept of “yi and li” by reflecting on the practical aspects of this concept. Why is it not considered benevolent if one did not acknowledge yi and li?  What sort of yi and  li  relates  to  ren?  And  finally,  in  their  relation  to ren, how do yi and li relate to one another to be morally significant?

This paper will first interpret the notion of yi in Confucius and Mencius to clarify its relation to ren. Then, on this basis, it will examine the sayings of Cheng Yi’s neo-Confucian comtemporaries, in particular, the arguments of Zhou  Dun-Yi,  Zhang Zai, Cheng  Hao, and  Cheng  Yi’s  other  teachers and friends. The purpose is to clarify, in the larger context of the development of neo-Confucianism, what Cheng Yi inherited from Pre-Qin thought on ren and yi, and what he transformed and elaborated.After  the  above  preparation,  this  paper  will  discuss  Cheng  Yi’s interpretation  of  Mencius’  “cultivation  of  qi ( 氣 ,“energy” )   and  the accumulation  of  yi”  because  the  peculiarity  of  Cheng  Yi’s  theory  of  the Heaven-Man relationship comes to light in that interpretation. In other words, although Cheng Yi emphasized one principle with many manifestations which influenced  the  development  of  Zhu  Xi’s  doctrine  of  li  and  qi,  from  the perspective  of  cosmology,  Cheng  Yi’s  framework,  like  Zhou  Dun-Yi and Zhang Zai, also contains the potential of thinking Heaven as benevolent and humans as having the character of yi (i.e. the idea in Guanzi). Section four thus

entertains this possibility and explores how Cheng Yi’s concept of “yi and li”can be articulated in terms of actualizing an individual principle of yi on earth with the universal principle of ren in Heaven in the background.The  results  of  this  study  can  address  Wei  Zheng-Tong’s  critique  that Cheng  Hao’s  doctrine  of  benevolence,  in  cancelling  the  subject-object relationship, neglects the practical question of when to sacrifice one’s life for the sake of yi. At the same time, “yi and li” in Cheng Yi crucially supplements and  strengthens  the  understanding  of  how  Cheng  Hao’s  doctrine  of  ren is effective as moral practice. This result provides the pivotal link that shows the systematic coherence of the samadhi skills “zhong-zheng(中正,“moderation”), ren, and yi.”

Keywords: ren、sincerity、the Heaven-Man relationship、Yi、zhong-zheng