Doctrine of the Mean

Doctrine of the Mean

The Doctrine of the Mean (Chinese: 中庸; pinyin: zhōng yōng), is both a concept and one of the books of Confucian teachings. The composition of the text is attributed to Zisi (or Kong Ji) the only grandson of Confucius, and it came from a chapter in the Classic of Rites. The term is originally derived from a verse of the Analects which reads:

The Master [Confucius] said, The virtue embodied in the doctrine of the Mean is of the highest order. But it has long been rare among people
— Doctrine of the Mean, 6:26 (Burton Watson tr.)

However, the Analects never expands on what this term means.

The Doctrine of the Mean as a text was adopted into the later Confucian Canon of the Neo-Confucian movement as compiled by Zhu Xi, and delves into great detail the meaning of this term, as well as how to apply it to one's life.


Alternate translations

Alternate translations of the term include:

  • the "Constant Mean" (James, Legge)
  • the "Middle Way" (Simon, Leys)
  • the "Middle Use" (Arthur Waley)
  • the ["Unswerving"] "Unwobbling Pivot" or "Pivot" (Ezra Pound)
  • "Chung Yung" (Ezra Pound)
  • "Focusing the Familiar" (Roger Ames and David Hall)
  • "Centrality and Commonality" (Robert Foster)


The Doctrine of the Mean is a text rich with symbolism and guidance to perfecting oneself. The mean is also described as the ["unswerving pivot" = Ezra Pound] 'unwobbling pivot' or 'chung yung'. Chung means bent neither one way or another, and yung represents unchanging (The Great Digest and Unwobbling Pivot, 1951). In James Legge's translation of the text, the goal of the mean is to maintain balance and harmony from directing the mind to a state of constant equilibrium. The person who follows the mean is on a path of duty and must never leave it. A superior person is cautious, a gentle teacher and shows no contempt for their inferiors. They always do what is natural according to their status in the world. Even common men and women can carry the mean into their practices, as long as they do not exceed their natural order (Internet Sacred Text Archive, 2008).

The Doctrine of the Mean represents moderation, rectitude, objectivity, sincerity, honesty and propriety[1]. The guiding principle is that one should never act in excess. The Doctrine of the Mean is divided into three parts:

  1. The Axis - Confucian Metaphysics
  2. The Process - Politics
  3. The Perfect Word/Sincerity - Ethics (The Great Digest and Unwobbling Pivot, 1951).

Tsze Sze's First Thesis, as stated in "The Great Digest and Unwobbling Pivot" (1951: pp. 99) further describes their connection:

What heaven has disposed and sealed is called the inborn nature. The realization of this nature is called the process. The clarification of this process [the understanding or making intelligible of this process] is called education (Pound's translation (1951)).

In Chinese society

In China prior to the twentieth century the Doctrine of the Mean was integrated into the education system state wide. As well, one of the prerequisites for employment in the imperial government was the study and understanding of the Four Classics, included in this is the Doctrine of the Mean. The imperial state wanted to reinforce the three bonds of society; between the parent and child, husband and wife, and ruler and subject. This was believed to emphasize a peaceful home and an orderly state.

Recently in China, the Neo-Confucians revisited the Classics, because of its strong foundation in the educational system. Using the Doctrine of the Mean has become a useful source for Neo-Confucians due to the similarities in the terminology and expression used by them and found within the text. This is further reinforced by the support from ancient sages and worthies who prefer education systems more closely linked to traditional Confucian thought.

See also


  1. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica (2008). Britannica Encyclopedia. Rosen Pub Group. ISBN 1593392923. 


  • Dowling, Mike. "Dynasty". The Electronic Passport to Chinese History. April 30, 2002. Accessed: 23 October 2008.
  • Gardner, Daniel. "Confucian Commentary and Chinese Intellectual History". The Journal of Asian Studies 57.2 (1998): 397-.
  • Hare, John. "The Chinese Classics". Internet Sacred Text Archive. 2008. Accessed: 27 October 2008.
  • Riegel, Jeffrey. "Confucius". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 2006. Accessed: 23 October 2008.
  • Pound, Ezra (translation and commentary). "The Great Digest & Unwobbling Pivot". New York, New York, USA: New Directions, 1951.
  • Smith, Huston. The World's Religions: Our Great Wisdom Traditions. New York, New York, USA: HarperCollins, 1991.
  • Williams, Edward T. "Ancient China" The Harvard Theological Review vol.9, no.3 (1916): 258-268.
  • Wing-Tsit Chan. "Neo-Confucianism: New Ideas on Old Terminology" Philosophy East and West vol.17, no. 1/4 (1967): 15-35.
  • "Zhongyong". Encyclopædia Britannica, 2008. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Accessed: 27 Oct 2008

External links

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