Zhang Zai Quotations

Zhang Zai (Chang Tsai) / 1020–1077 / China / Scholar-Official, Philosopher

Man’s Place in Nature

Heaven is my father and Earth is my mother, and even such a small creature as I finds an intimate place in their midst.

Therefore that which fills the universe I regard as my body and that which directs the universe I consider as my nature.

All people are my brothers and sisters, and all things are my companions.

Source: Xi ming [Western Inscription]; translated by Wing-tsit Chan, Sourcebook in Chinese Philosophy (Princeton UP, 1963); p. 497.

Benefit of Learning

The great benefit of learning is to enable one to transform his physical nature himself. Otherwise he will have the defect of studying in order to impress others, in the end will attain no enlightenment, and cannot see the all-embracing depth of the sage.

Daily Activities

In one’s words there should be something to teach others. In one’s activities there should be something to serve as model for others. In the morning something should be done. In the evening something should be realized. At every moment something should be nourished. And in every instant something should be preserved.

Developing One’s Nature

One who can fully develop his nature can also develop the nature of other people and things. He who can fulfill his destiny can also fulfill the destiny of other people and things, for the nature of all men and things follows the Way and the destiny of all men and things is decreed by Heaven.


By “sincerity resulting from enlightenment” is meant to develop one’s nature fully through the investigation of things to the utmost, and by “enlightenment resulting from sincerity” is meant to investigate things to the utmost through fully developing one’s nature.

Great Man’s Nature

One’s nature is the one source of all things and is not one’s own private possession. It is only the great man who is able to know and practice its principle to the utmost. Therefore, when he establishes himself, he will help others to establish themselves. He will share his knowledge with all. He will love universally. When he achieves something, he wants others to achieve the same.

Human Nature

The heavenly endowed nature in man is comparable to the nature of water in ice. It is the same whether the ice freezes or melts. Water’s reflection of light may be much or little, dark or bright, but in receiving the light, it is the same in all cases.

Kinds of Knowledge

Knowledge coming from seeing and hearing is knowledge obtained through contact with things. It is not knowledge obtained through one’s moral nature. Knowledge obtained through one’s moral nature does not originate from seeing or hearing.

Life and Death

Only through fully developing one’s nature can one realize that he possesses nothing in life and loses nothing at death.

Limits of Empirical Science

While material force is integrated, how can one not say that it is temporary? While it is disintegrated, how can one hastily say that it is non-being? For this reason, the sage, having observed phenomena and examined above and below, only claims to know the causes of what is hidden and what is manifest but does not claim to know the causes of being and non-being.

Nature vs. Ability

Nature connotes what one can do by natural endowment. Ability connotes what one can do through his own planning. In fully developing his nature, the great man does not consider the ability endowed by Heaven to be ability but considers man’s planning to be ability.

Peace and Joy

Peace and joy are the beginning of the Way. Because it is peaceful, it can be great, and because it is joyous, it can be lasting. The nature of Heaven and Earth is nothing other than being great and lasting.

Power of the Mind

The mind commands man’s nature and feelings.


When material force is clear, it penetrates; and when it is turbid, it obstructs. When clearness reaches its limit, there is spirit. When spirit concentrates, it penetrates like the breeze going through the holes (of musical instruments), producing tones and carrying them to great distances. This is the evidence of clearness. As if arriving at the destination without the necessity of going there, penetration reaches the highest degree.


He who understands virtue will have a sufficient amount, that is all. He will not allow sensual desires to be a burden to his mind, the small to injure the great, or the secondary to destroy the fundamental.

Source: Zheng meng [Correction of Youthful Ignorance]; translated by Wing-tsit Chan, Sourcebook in Chinese Philosophy (Princeton UP, 1963); pp. 503–517.