Wang Chong 王充

The first materialist thinker who questioned Confucius


Chinese Name: 王充

English Name: Wang Chong

Other Names: Wang Zhongren 王仲任

Born: 27 A.D.

Died: about 97 A.D.


Enrich and develop the materialistic monism of qi, create the theory of vitality and naturalness, and advocate critical thinking 丰富和发展唯物主义气一元论,开创元气自然论,倡导批评思想

Criticism of teleology, idealistic transcendentalism and various secular superstitions 批判天人感应神学目的论、唯心主义先验论及各种世俗迷信思想

Main Works:

Lun Heng 《论衡》

Wang Chong 王充
Wang Chong 王充

Brief Biography of Wang Chong

Wang Chong was a thinker and literary critic in the Eastern Han Dynasty 东汉.

Wang Chong (27 A.D. – about 97 A.D.), courtesy name Zhongren 仲任, was born in Shangyu 上虞, Kuaiji 会稽 (now Shaoxing 绍兴, Zhejiang 浙江). Wang Chong was born into a “solitary family”. He was smart and eager to learn, read widely, and was good at debating. Later, he left his hometown to study at the Imperial College in Luoyang 洛阳, the capital, and learned from Ban Biao 班彪. He often travels to Luoyang City to study hard, memorize hard, read aloud, and visit hundreds of schools.

He is not greedy for wealth or high officials. He once worked as a minor official in the prefecture but was demoted because his political views were incompatible with his superiors. He returned home after being dismissed from office and devoted himself to writing. In his later years, Emperor Zhang of Han 汉章帝 issued an edict to send buses for conscription, but he refused. During the reign of Yongyuan 永元 of Emperor Zhang of Han, he died at home.

Wang Chong 王充
Lun Heng 《论衡》

Wang Chong is an important inheritor and developer of Taoism in the Han Dynasty. His thought takes the natural inaction of Taoism as the argument purpose, takes “Tian 天” as the highest category of the Taoist concept of heaven, and takes “Qi 气” as the core category, forming a huge generation mode of the universe, which is in opposition to the theory of heaven man interaction. In advocating natural life and death, advocating thin burial, and rebelling against deified Confucianism, he demonstrated the characteristics of Taoism and made up for the defects of Taoism’s empty theory by verifying the speech with facts.

Although his thought belongs to Taoism, it is strictly different from the thought of Laozi and Zhuangzi in the pre-Qin Dynasty. Although he is the advocate of Taoism in the Han Dynasty, it is different from the “learning of Huang and Lao” advocated by the early Han Dynasty and the popular Taoism in the late Western Han Dynasty.

Lun Heng 论衡, the representative work of Wang Chong, has 85 articles and more than 200000 words. It analyzes the similarities and differences of everything and explains people’s doubts. It is an important ideological work in Chinese history.

Personal Life and Major Contributions

Eager to learn at an early age

In the eighth year of Jianwu 建武 (AD 32), when Wang Chong was six years old, his parents teach him reading and writing at home. He has an adult style then.

In the tenth year of Jianwu (AD 34), Wang Chong entered the library to study. Among the more than 100 people in the library, he was the only one who made no mistakes, and his calligraphy was improving day by day.

Wang Chong 王充
Analects of Confucius 《论语》

In the 11th year of Jianwu (AD 35), Wang Chong finished the literacy course and left the teacher who taught writing to learn the Analects of Confucius 《论语》 and Shangshu 《尚书》. He can recite 1000 words every day.

In the 13th year of Jianwu (AD 37), Wang Chong’s father died when he was eleven years old.

In the 20th year of Jianwu (AD 44), Wang Chong saw Ban Biao 班彪, a Fufeng man. At that time, Ban Gu 班固, the son of Ban Biao, was thirteen years old. Wang Chong stroked his back and said to Ban Biao, “This son must remember the Han Dynasty.”

Studying at Imperial College

In the 24th year of Jianwu (AD 48), Wang Chong served as the leader of Shangyu County and the leader of Duwei Mansion. He left because he disagreed with his superiors many times. Because he retired and lived in leisure, his old friends left, so he wrote twelve chapters of Jiyu Jieyi 《讥俗节义》. He also thought about the government affairs of the people, so he created the book “Government Affairs 政务”.

Wang Chong 王充
Ban Gu 班固

After the thirtieth year of Jianwu (AD 54), Wang Chong went to the capital Luo Yang 雒阳 to learn from Ban Biao 班彪 at Imperial College. He has read extensively but is not confined to paragraphs and sentences. Because his family is poor and has no books, he often goes to Luoyang City to read in the shops. He is familiar with the theories of many schools.

His philosophical thought

Wang Chong was an outstanding materialist thinker and educator in the Eastern Han Dynasty, and was known as a “fighting atheist”. His thoughts include natural vitality, atheism, cognitive theory, historical view, theory of human nature, theory of destiny, etc.

“The theory of vitality and nature” is the core of Wang Chong’s ideological system, which is mainly composed of two elements: vitality and nature.

Wang Chong 王充
The statue of Wang Chong 王充塑像

A basic point of Wang Chong’s thought is to emphasize the materiality of the world. Wang Chong’s atheism embodies his materialism.

Wang Chong’s epistemology denied that sages were born knowing everything, and emphasized that people can gain knowledge through their own cognition, understand the world around them, and even rely on the power generated by “knowledge” to increase their knowledge and stabilize society.

Video: Wang Chong Everything Philosophers

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