Lecture by Professor Zhang Weihong: “The Kungfu Process of Wang Yangming’s Embodied Pre-reflective Conscience”


Invited by the Institute of Advanced Humanistic Studies (IAHS) of PKU, Professor Zhang Weihong, a Visiting Scholar of IAHS and Professor at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Humanities (IASH) of SUN YAT-SEN University, gave a wonderful lecture on “The Kungfu Process of Wang Yangming’s Embodied Pre-reflective Conscience” on Apr. 21, 2017 at Peking University.

Professor Zhang pointed out that Wang Yangming, as a Confucian who achieved “Three Eternities,” provided a feasible path for contemporary people to establish ourselves. Behind all his great achievements was Wang Yangming’s solid and hard kungfu steps in cultivating his heart-mind. To understand Wang Yangming’s teachings such as “the unity of knowing and acting” and “implementing pre-reflective conscience” through Wang Yangming’s life course, one can see that for him, his teachings and his kungfu practice are inseparable. It is necessary to understand Wang Yangming’s teachings through actual practice of cultivation, and it is necessary to understand different levels of his kungfu through his teachings. In this regard, Wang Yangming’s student Wang Longxi offered us comprehensive introductions to the whole process of Wang Yanming’s cultivation of his embodied pre-reflective conscience.

Within the Confucian tradition, the earliest complete description of the process of kungfu cultivation appeared in the Mencius, which can be regarded as a process “from the ordinary to sagehood” or “from low to high” by most later scholars. The discussion about the distinction between junzi (exemplary persons) and petty-minded persons show that junzi cultivate themselves and transform their body and mind. They have internal virtual requirements and put these requirements into serious practical actions. This is how sages are able to be natural all the time while simultaneously do what is appropriate all the time — a complete unity of morality and desire.

Many Wang Yangming scholars have had personal embodied experiences of such cultivation. However, only Wang Longxi was able to give it a systematic theoretical summary. In his Wushuo, Wang Longxi identified three kungfu paths toward such a goal: One is analytical understanding through words, one is experiential understanding through quiet sitting, and one is complete understanding through practice in actual human affairs. According to Wang Longxi, this is the journey that Wang Yangming wentthrough in his kungfu cultivation.

Through detailed articulation, Professor Zhang Weihong clearly explained that Wang Yangming’s teaching is not merely a theoretical construction, but also an actual manifestation of his engaged practices of Confucian cultivation of the body and heart-mind. The doctrine of kungfu is the core of Yangming’s philosophy of heart-mind. Through Wang Longxi’s recap of the process of Wang Yangming’s cultivation, we can see that kungfu is particular to each individual but at the same time contains universalizable deep meanings. The lecture came to a conclusion after Professor Zhang answered many questions from the audience.