Wang Yangming

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  • Born: 1472
  • Died: 1529
  • Other Names: 王守仁 (given name: Wáng Shǒurén)
  • Chinese/Japanese: 陽明 (Wáng Yángmíng / Ou Youmei)

Wang Yangming was the preeminent Confucian scholar of the Ming Dynasty. His teachings included the notion that babies are in possession of full, innate knowledge, and that people drift away from this pure and true understanding as they grow older; Wang advocated, therefore, a freer mode of education, which stimulated and encouraged children's natural enthusiasm and creativity.

Despite his later brilliance, Wang is said to have not spoken his first words until the rather late age of six. His father was a prominent scholar who scored highest on the Chinese imperial examinations in the year he undertook them; Wang himself, by contrast, though he did quite well in school as a youth, only passed the exams on his third try.

Wang enjoyed an official position at Court for a time before being sentenced to flogging and exile after writing a memorial to the emperor defending two officials who had been imprisoned for suggesting the dismissal of certain eunuch officials. While in exile in southwest China, Wang's philosophy developed further. In contrast to the great Song Dynasty Neo-Confucian founder Zhu Xi, who advocated examination of the external world, Wang now advocated inner contemplation. However, he also advocated experimentation and action in the real world; that is, he suggested that the only way to learn something was to try it in reality, in action, and not to merely read about it or think about it in the abstract.


  • Valerie Hansen, The Open Empire, New York: W.W. Norton & Company (2000), 391-92.