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Today, I met Wang Yangming

By STEPHANIE STONE | China Daily| Updated: 2021-05-25 Print

"I admire him so much!"

"He can be my idol!"

"He is very admirable!"

As a former educator, it surprised me to hear students from Xiuwen No 1 Middle School in Guizhou province gushing, not over a famous celebrity, but instead, over one of China's leading neo-Confucian philosophers, Wang Yangming.

During the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), he had a successful career until he was publicly beaten and exiled to Xiuwen county after angering a corrupt eunuch. In Xiuwen, he survived by living in caves where he refined his philosophy and started teaching. As the birthplace of his enlightenment-which has had a profound impact on Chinese culture-Xiuwen county is dedicated to promoting his philosophy not just in local schools but abroad.

Xiuwen No 1 Middle School has a long history. Wang's philosophy is foundational to the students' education. In grades 7-12, they review his instructions for practical living and make note of their own ambitions. They learn emotional management, self-introspection, critical thinking, cultivate confidence, and learn to reflect on their mistakes.

Liu Liping, head of the education bureau of Xiuwen county, said: "Wang's teachings of setting up ambitions, studying hard, learning from mistakes, and being kind, represent the way for an individual to have enhanced ideology and moral knowledge. It is of great significance to the cultural inheritance and innovation in school education nowadays."

Li Xiaolong, an expert on Wang's ideas, who also serves as chairman of the Federation of Literary and Art Circles of Xiuwen County, introduced me to two of Wang's key ideas-"inner knowing" and "unity of knowledge and action".

As I understand it, "inner knowing of goodness" is the belief that humans are innately good and possess all the knowledge needed to act correctly in any given situation, without having to seek that knowledge externally.

Li elaborated: "The affairs of the universe lie in people's minds and there is no need to seek answers from the outside world. The meaning of affairs in the world relies on your own thinking and introspection. It is how ambitious you are, how splendid the universe will be."

The second principle, "unity of knowledge and action," was the most captivating to me. Wang posited that, since we know how to act, we do act correctly. It is only when selfish human desires interfere that we fail to act in the right way. Remove the selfishness, and we return to our natural state.

Li explained: "The knowledge and action should be combined. The knowledge comes into play when it is used in people's actions and practices. Without action, knowledge is not really acquired."

I have always believed that humans are inherently good, so the teachings of Wang resonated with me. I could see why the students I spoke with thought so highly of this man.

A grade 7 student, Wang Weiyi, praised Wang Yangming because "he devoted himself to contributing to his country and people. He adhered to his own philosophy even in tough conditions and was never defeated by difficulties. That is the reason why I admire him so much".

Classmate, Sun Ruiling, echoed this praise stating, "Wang Yangming is a philosopher who contributed to the thoughts on unity of knowledge and action, which encourages people to set up ambitions and go for it … He is very admirable."

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