On the Supremacy of Confucianism and the Periodization of Confucian Classics Learning in the Han Dynasty


  • Yutong LIU Tsinghua University




classics learning, masters learning, the supremacy of Confucianism, the Five Confucian Classics


Wang Baoxuan’s 王葆玹 argument that Emperor Wu of the Han dynasty respected the Five Confucian Classics and tolerated non-Confucian schools because the “supremacy of Confucianism” (獨尊儒術) was not implemented until the reign of Emperor Cheng can be disputed. Additionally, Wang’s premise that masters learning (子學) in the Warring States period was the source of classics learning (經學) in the Western Han dynasty, and the extinction of masters learning during the supremacy of Confucianism led to the decline of classics learning, can also be debated. This paper proposes that with regard to the supremacy of Confucianism, the focus was on the second founding of the Han dynasty, not on the relationship between classics learning and masters learning. Both the Qin dynasty and the Western Han dynasty had masters learning as their guiding ideology, but Emperor Wu found that solely relying on masters learning, which was a collection of ideas by important thinkers, was not sustainable. Instead, the Han dynasty needed to be based on classics learning, which represented the traditional Chinese civilization that was inherited from the three ancient and sacred Chinese dynasties of the Xia, Shang, and Zhou. The supremacy of Confucianism was thus a means of ensuring the continuity and stability of the Han dynasty that was applied by Dong Zhongshu and Emperor Wu.


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18. 01. 2024



Contemporary Confucian Philosophy in Mainland China

How to Cite

LIU, Yutong. 2024. “On the Supremacy of Confucianism and the Periodization of Confucian Classics Learning in the Han Dynasty”. Asian Studies 12 (1): 87-112. https://doi.org/10.4312/as.2024.12.1.87-112.

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