Dong Zhongshu 董仲舒

An ethicist who founded three cardinal principles and five virtues


Chinese Name: 董仲舒

English Name: Dong Zhongshu

Other Names: Dong Zi 董子, Dong Fuzi 董夫子, Dong Sheng 董生

Born: 179 BC

Died: 104 BC


All schools of thought should be deposed and Confucianism should be respected only 罢黜百家,独尊儒术

Main Works:

Tian Ren San Ce 《天人三策》

Shi Bu Yu Fu 《士不遇赋》

Chun Qiu Fan Lu 《春秋繁露》

Dong Zhongshu 董仲舒
Dong Zhongshu 董仲舒

Brief Biography of Dong Zhongshu

Dong Zhongshu was a philosopher in the Western Han 西汉.

Dong Zhongshu (179-104 BC) was a native of Guangchuan 广川 (Dongguzhuang Village 董故庄村, Guangchuan 广川, Jing County 景县, Hebei Province 河北省). During the reign of Emperor Jing of the Han Dynasty, he was a doctor to teach Spring and Autumn of Rams 公羊春秋. In the first year of Yuanguang 元光 (134 BC), Emperor Wu of the Han 汉武帝 issued an edict asking for a general plan for governing the country. Dong Zhongshu combined Confucianism with the social needs at that time in his famous “Strategies for Employing Talents 举贤良对策”, absorbed the theories of other schools, and created a new ideological system with Confucianism as the core, which was deeply appreciated by Emperor Wu of the Han.

The theory of “great unity” and the proposition that “all those who are not in the six arts or the art of Confucius should reject their ways and not make progress together” and that “all schools of thought should be deposed and Confucianism should be respected only” were adopted by Emperor Wu of the Han, which made Confucianism the orthodox thought of Chinese society and had an impact for more than 2000 years. His study centered on the Confucian patriarchal ideology, mixed with the theory of yin, yang, and five elements, and integrated the divine power, monarchical power, patriarchal power, and husband’s power to form a monarchical theology system.

Dong Zhongshu 董仲舒
The statue of Dong Zhongshu 董仲舒塑像

He put forward such important Confucian theories as the interaction between man and nature, the three cardinal principles, and the five virtues. After that, Dong Zhongshu served as the Minister of State of Liu Fei, the King of Jiangdu 江都王, for 10 years; In the fourth year of Yuanshuo 元朔 (125 BC), he served as the minister of Liu Duan, the king of Jiaoxi 胶西王. Four years later, he resigned and went home to write books. After that, whenever the imperial court deliberated on important matters, the emperor would order envoys and Ting Wei to go to Dong’s house to ask for his suggestions, indicating that Dong Zhongshu was still respected by Emperor Wu of Han.

Dong Zhongshu lived through three dynasties. He died of illness in 104 BC at the age of 75. After his death, he was favored by Emperor Wu and buried in Chang’an 长安 Xiama Mausoleum.

Dong Zhongshu has written many books, including more than 100 articles, Ci 词, and Fu 赋, which have been handed down from generation to generation. There are still articles compiled by Tian Ren San Ce 《天人三策》, Shi Bu Yu Fu 《士不遇赋》, Chun Qiu Fan Lu 《春秋繁露》, and two volumes in Yan Kejun 严可均’s Quan Han Wen 《全汉文》.

Personal Life and Major Contributions

Eager to learn at an early age

Dong Zhongshu’s hometown, Dadongguzhuang Village in Guangchuan, is located in the southeast of Hengshui 衡水, adjacent to Qi and Lu, bordering Yanzhao in the north and Sanjin in the west. In the first year of the Qianyuan reign of Emperor Wen of the Han, Dong Zhongshu was born into a large landlord-class family with a large collection of books.

Dong Zhongshu 董仲舒
Chun Qiu Fan Lu 《春秋繁露》

Teach Confucianism

At the age of 30, Dong Zhongshu began to enroll a large number of students and give lectures carefully. He lectures and hangs a curtain in the classroom. He talks inside the curtain and students listen outside the curtain. At the same time, he often asked his favorite students, such as Lv Bushu 吕步舒, to teach them.

Dong Zhongshu 董仲舒
Confucius 孔子

In this way, many people have learned from him for many years, and have not even met him. Through his lectures, Dong Zhongshu trained a group of talents for the Han Dynasty. Later, some of his students became ministers of the vassal kingdoms and some became senior officials. As Dong Zhongshu recruited many students and publicized the Confucian classics, his reputation was also growing. He became a doctor during the reign of Emperor Jing of Han and was in charge of teaching Confucian classics.

Three Questions of Nature and Man

After Emperor Wu of Han 汉武帝 succeeded to the throne, he asked people from all over the country to recommend people who were virtuous and good in literature. Dong Zhongshu was elected to participate in the interrogation. Emperor Wu of Han asked Dong Zhongshu three times in succession. The basic content was the relationship between nature and man, so it was called the “three policies of nature and man”. For the first time, Emperor Wu of Han asked about the fundamental principle of consolidating the rule. For the second time, Emperor Wu asked about the political skills of governing the country. For the third time, Emperor Wu asked about the interaction between nature and man.

Dong Zhongshu 董仲舒
Emperor Wu of Han 汉武帝

In his countermeasures, Dong Zhongshu elaborated on the interaction between nature and man, discussed the relationship between theocracy and monarchy, and put forward the proposal of “ousting all schools of thought and respecting Confucianism only”.

Video: Chinese Historical and Cultural Figures–Dong Zhongshu

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