Mencius 孟子

The successor and innovator Overview

Chinese Name: 孟子

English Name: Mencius; Mengzi; Meng Tzu

Other Names: Meng Ke 孟轲:Meng Zi yu 孟子舆

Born: 372BC

Died: 289BC


Mencius inherited Confucius‘ ideology and developed it further. 继承孔子思想,进一步发展儒家学说

Form the basis of Mencius 为《孟子》打下基础

Mencius 孟子
Mencius 孟子

Brief Biography of Mencius

Mencius was a Chinese Confucian philosopher who has often been described as the “Second Sage亚圣”, that is, after only Confucius himself. He is part of Confucius’ fourth generation of disciples. Mencius inherited Confucius’ ideology and developed it further. Living during the Warring States period, he is said to have spent much of his life traveling around the states offering counsel to different rulers. Conversations with these rulers form the basis of the Mencius, which would later be considered as a Confucian classic.

Mencius is the descendants of Meng sun, a noble of the state of Lu(鲁). After the decline of Meng sun, one of them moved from Lu to Zou, which is the ancestor of Mencius.

Mencius led his disciples to travel around the world before he was about 45 years old. Mencius went to the state of Qi for the first time. Mencius publicized his idea, did not get the ruler’s adoption, sad to leave.

In 329 BC, Mencius went to the state of song, and the king of the state of song adopted Mencius’ advice.

In 320 BC, Mencius went to the state of Wei. The king of Wei felt that Mencius’ theory was empty. Mencius was not valued in the state of Wei.

Finally, Mencius decided not to go out lobbying, in his sixties when Mencius decided to return to his hometown, never to travel.

Mencius life experience, also very much like Confucius, living a long-term private lecture life, after middle age with political aspirations, with students to travel around the world. He was also entertained by powerful people everywhere. Wherever he went, he was free to criticize the monarch. His political views were not accepted. Mencius returned to his hometown in his later years and engaged in education and writing.

Mencius’s mother moves three times 孟母三迁

Mencius’s mother is often held up as an exemplary female figure in Chinese culture. One of the most famous traditional Chinese four-character idioms is  Mencius’s mother moves three times(孟母三迁).

This saying refers to the legend that Mencius’s mother moved houses three times before finding a location that she felt was suitable for the child’s upbringing. As an expression, the idiom refers to the importance of finding the proper environment for raising children.

Mencius’s father died when Mencius was very young. His mother Zhǎng (机) or Meng Mu raised her son alone. They were very poor. At first, they lived by a cemetery, where the mother found her son imitating the paid mourners in funeral processions. Therefore, the mother decided to move. The next house was near a market in the town. There the boy began to imitate the cries of merchants. So the mother moved to a house next to a school. Inspired by the scholars and students, Mencius began to study. His mother decided to remain, and Mencius became a scholar.

Mencius 孟子
Mencius 孟子

Mencius’s discussion on human nature

Mencius expounds on the concept that humanity is naturally righteous and humane. It is the influence of society that causes bad moral character. Mencius describes this in the context of educating rulers and citizens about the nature of man. “He who exerts his mind to the utmost knows his nature” and “the way of learning is none other than finding the lost mind.”

Mencius’s interpretation of Confucianism has generally been considered the orthodox version by subsequent Chinese philosophers, especially by the Neo-Confucians of the Song dynasty. Mencius’s disciples included a large number of feudal lords, and he is said to have been more influential than Confucius had been.

Human nature has an innate tendency towards goodness, but moral rightness cannot be instructed down to the last detail. This is why merely external controls always fail in improving society. True improvement results from educational cultivation in favorable environments. Likewise, bad environments tend to corrupt the human will.

This, however, is not proof of innate evil because a clear-thinking person would avoid causing harm to others. This position of Mencius puts him between Confucians such as Xunzi who thought people were innately bad, and Taoists who believed humans did not need cultivation, they just needed to accept their innate, natural, and effortless goodness. The four beginnings sprouts could grow and develop, or they could fail. In this way, Mencius synthesized integral parts of Taoism into Confucianism. The individual effort was needed to cultivate oneself, but one’s natural tendencies were good, to begin with. The object of education is the cultivation of benevolence, otherwise known as Ren.


The Mencius (also spelled Mengzi or Meng-Tzu), a book of his conversations with kings of the time, is one of the Four Books that Zhu Xi grouped as the core of orthodox Neo-Confucian thought. In contrast to the sayings of Confucius, which are short and self-contained, the Mencius consists of long dialogues, including arguments, with extensive prose.

Mencius 孟子
Mencius 孟子

It was generally neglected by the Jesuit missionaries who first translated the Confucian canon into Latin and other European languages, as they felt that the Neo-Confucian school largely consisted of Buddhist and Taoist contamination of Confucianism. 

Matteo Ricci also particularly disliked what they had believed to be condemnation of celibacy as unfilial, which is rather a mistranslation of a similar word referring more to aspects of personality. François Noël, who felt that Zhu’s ideas represented a natural and native development of Confucius’s thought, was the first to publish a full edition of the Mencius at Prague in 1711; as the Chinese rites controversy had been recently decided against the Jesuits, however, his edition attained little influence outside central and eastern Europe.

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