Confucianism, the Literati, and Chinese Imperial Traditions

History and Sources

What was Meng Zi’s role in the development of Confucian thought?

Meng Zi (also Mencius; 371-289 B.C.E.) was a Chinese philosopher and one of the most important early Confucian thinkers. His philosophy is characterized by its idealism and the assertion that human nature is basically good. Meng Zi was born in Tsou, a small state south of Lu, the home state of Confucius. Almost nothing is known about his early life. Like Confucius, Meng Zi apparently lost his father at an early age, and was raised by his mother. Meng Zi may have studied in one of the Confucian schools established in the Lu area, perhaps the school created by Confucius’s grandson Zu Ssu. Meng Zi was trained as a scholar and teacher and received instruction in the standard Confucian texts such as the Book of Odes (Shi Jing) and the Book of Documents (Shu Jing). Meng Zi’s teachings are preserved in a book titled Meng Zi, a seven-chapter work of anecdotes most likely collected by his disciples. Most of the anecdotes consist of conversations between Meng Zi and his disciples or, occasionally, a ruler. His basic philosophy is an extreme idealism that views human nature as basically good and views evil as only an obfuscation of one’s innate goodness. He placed great emphasis on the necessity that one try to recover his or her original goodness and, through learning, to seek what he called the “lost mind” of benevolence. Meng Zi also believed that if the government fails to maintain benevolent rule and abuses the people, then the people have a right to launch a revolution.


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