one problem i have in teaching chinese philosophy, which i'm doing now, is the lack of good materials in english on neo-confucianism. the translations of figures like chu hsi (1130-1200) and wang yang-ming (1472-1529) are from the early twentieth century, and i'm asserting on the basis of the way they read in english that the translations are inadequate. the interpretive machinery built around these figures by people presenting them to the west, such as fung yu-lan and, especially, wing-tsit chan are ridiculously tendentious and woefully inadequate. so, they want to fit this material into western categories, and they end up calling chu hsi a 'naturalist' and wang yang-ming an 'idealist', which are completely wrong even given their own translations of the texts. also i don't think they have a clear grasp on the use of such terms in western philosophy. also, the idea of fixing these amazingly subtle thinkers in the biggest western categories is really no better than sorting kant and hegel into neo-confucian and buddhist.
chan (whose source book in chinese philosophy is kind of like a heavy-gravitation brick in a course like this) favors chu, and dismisses wang with a casual wave of the hand, saying his followers were degenerates. he draws the line at the apparently entertainable theory that wang caused the downfall of the ming dynasty, though. he dismisses the passage below - one of my favorites in the history of philosophy - as a hilarious superficial mistake. if you were looking for the earliest source of the 'extended mind thesis' or 'externalism' in philosophy of mind, this (in frederick henke's translation (open court, 1916, p.169), slightly and legitimately altered) might be a good candidate. look it up!
Wang Shows that Flowers are Not External to the Mind
The Teacher was taking recreation at Nanchen. One of his friends pointed to the flowers and trees in a cliff and said: 'You say that there is nothing in the world external to the mind. What relation to my mind have these flowers and trees on the high mountains, which blossom and drop of themselves?'
The Teacher said: 'When you cease regarding these flowers, they become quiet with [or cease to be in the same relation to] your mind. When you see them, their colors at once become clear. From this you can know that these flowers are not external to your mind.'
He further said: 'Perception has no structure upon which it depends: it uses the color of all things as its structure. The sense of hearing has no structure upon which it depends: it uses the sounds of things as its structure. The sense of smell has no structure: it uses the odor of things as its structure. The sense of taste has no structure: it uses the taste of things as its structure. The mind has no structure: it uses the sky, the earth, and things as structure.'
alright, now both henke and chan read that as a straightforward declaration of idealism: that all things that exist are mental objects. that is quite the opposite of what it says, which is that the our structures of perception and consciousness are structured by the world rather than vice versa. in 1916 or whatever it may be, there just are no categories in western philosophy for understanding this position. all that shows is how far wrong the western tradition had gone in virtually every development: obsessively focused on the world as representation.