Mencius (mĕnˈshəs) [key], Mandarin Meng-tzu, 371?–288? B.C., Chinese Confucian philosopher. The principal source for Mencius' life is his own writings. He was born in the ancient state of Ch'ao, in modern Shandong prov. He lost his father as a child and was reared by his mother, who, in Chinese folklore, is synonymous with maternal devotion. Appalled at the anarchic condition of society, he traveled through several petty states urging the rulers to practice the doctrines of Confucius. Central to the philosophy of Mencius was the belief that man is by nature good. His innate moral sense can be developed by cultivation or perverted by an unfavorable environment. The duty of the ruler is to ensure the prosperous livelihood of his subjects. He should particularly eschew warfare except for defense. If the ruler's conduct reduces his subjects to penury and self-seeking, he must be deposed. Many of the specific reforms in landholding and other economic relations that Mencius proposed are difficult to understand from the sole text of his works, The Book of Mencius, which is one of the Shih Shu [four books] (see Chinese literature). Not until the late 11th cent. A.D. was Mencius regarded with veneration. Since then his image has been placed in temples dedicated to Confucius, and his work is considered second only to that of Confucius. The complete text of Mencius was translated by James Legge (1861; 2d ed. 1895, repr. 1970), L. A. Lyall (1935), Lionel Giles (1942), and D. C. Lau (1970). Excerpts were translated by Arthur Waley in Three Ways of Thought in Ancient China (1939).

See A. F. Verwilghen, Mencius: The Man and His Ideas (1967); F. C. Wei, The Political Principles of Mencius (1977).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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