The Legal Philosophy of Zhu Xi (1130-1200) and Neo-Confucianism's Possible Contributions to Modern Chinese Legal Reform

Norman P. Ho

Netherlands China Law Centre; Morrison & Foerster (Hong Kong)

Tsinghua China Law Review, Vol. III, No. 2 (2011)

A vast literature exists on Zhu Xi’s metaphysical and political philosophy; however, his status and views as a legal thinker have not garnered much scholarly attention. Most broadly, this Article argues that Zhu Xi made important contributions to the development of Chinese legal philosophy – by intertwining law closely with both morality and his metaphysical views on li (principle), Zhu Xi further empowered law and elevated its importance in Chinese society. This Article will first lay out and analyze Zhu Xi’s legal philosophy (focusing especially on his view on punishments), situating it within his broader metaphysical philosophy. Then, Zhu Xi’s legal thought in practice, particularly his views on some cases during his time and also his career as a local official, will be examined. Attention will also be given to his community compacts, which the paper argues should be viewed as quasi-legal institutions that supplemented and buttressed the formal legal system. Through this discussion of Zhu Xi’s legal thought in practice, this Article hopes to show that there was consistency between Zhu Xi’s legal philosophy in both theory and practice. Finally, this Article will briefly argue for the relevance of Zhu Xi’s legal thought today in China’s program of legal reform. Ultimately, Zhu Xi can be viewed as a model legal thinker for China who offered a complete, total vision of the place of law in society. Zhu Xi’s views on law challenge continued notions that Confucianism is incompatible with a modern rule of law system, and also further emphasizes the deep engagement Neo-Confucians historically wanted to have with actual policy-making and society.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 48

Keywords: China, Chinese law, Chinese legal history, legal philosophy, Confucianism

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Date posted: July 18, 2012  

Suggested Citation

Ho, Norman P., The Legal Philosophy of Zhu Xi (1130-1200) and Neo-Confucianism's Possible Contributions to Modern Chinese Legal Reform. Tsinghua China Law Review, Vol. III, No. 2 (2011). Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2109818

Contact Information

Norman P. Ho (Contact Author)
Netherlands China Law Centre ( email )
University of Amsterdam - Faculty of Law
Morrison & Foerster (Hong Kong) ( email )
Hong Kong
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