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The Doctrine of the Mean

Note: also known as Zhongyong.

Zhongyong, ( Chinese: `Centre' and `Unchangeable' or `Doctrine of the Mean') Wade-Giles romanization Chung-yung, one of four Confucian texts that, when published together in 1190 by the Neo-Confucian philosopher Zhu Xi, became the famous Sishu (``Four Books''). Zhu chose Zhongyong for its metaphysical interest, which had already attracted the attention of Buddhists and earlier Neo-Confucianists. In his preface Zhu attributed authorship of the treatise (which was actually a chapter from Liji, one of the Five Classics of antiquity) to Zisi (Kong Ji), a grandson of Confucius.

Zisi presented Zhongyong as the central theme of Confucian thought. The two Chinese characters zhongyong (often translated `doctrine of the mean') express a Confucian ideal that is so broad and so all-embracing as to encompass virtually every relationship and every activity of human life. In practice, zhongyong means countless things: moderation, rectitude, objectivity, sincerity, honesty, truthfulness, propriety, equilibrium, and lack of prejudice. For example, a friend should be neither too close nor too remote. Neither in grief nor in joy should one be excessive, for unregulated happiness can be as harmful as uncontrolled sorrow. Ideally, one must adhere unswervingly to the mean, or centre course, at all times and in every situation. Such behaviour conforms to the laws of nature, is the distinctive mark of the superior individual, and is the essence of true orthodoxy.

Description taken from Encyclopædia Britannica


  1. Zhong Yong, Chapter 1, translated by R Eno, University of Indiana
  2. Zhong Yong, Chapter 1, translated by James Legge


  1. The Doctrin of the Mean (Chinese), 朱熹(Zhu Xi), 四书章句集注(Si Shu Zhang Ju Ji Zhu), in Chinese.
  2. The Doctrine of the Mean, translated by James Legge, 1861.
  3. The Doctrine of the Mean, translated by A. Charles Muller