Li Mengyang, the North-South Divide, and Literati Learning in Ming China 0674970594, 9780674970595

Li Mengyang (1473-1530) was a scholar-official and man of letters who initiated the literary archaist movement that soug

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Li Mengyang, the North-South Divide, and Literati Learning in Ming China
 0674970594, 9780674970595

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Li Mengyang, the North-South Divide, and Literati Learning in Ming China

H arvard -Yenching Institute Monograph Series 104

Li Mengyang, the North-South Divide, and Literati Learning in Ming China Chang Woei Ong

Published by the Harvard University Asia Center and Distributed by Harvard University Press Cambridge (Massachusetts) and London 2016

©  2016 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College Printed in the United States of America The Harvard University Asia Center publishes a monograph series and, in coordination with the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies, the Korea Institute, the Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies, and other faculties and institutes, administers research projects designed to further scholarly understanding of China, Japan, Vietnam, Korea, and other Asian countries. The Center also sponsors projects addressing multidisciplinary and regional issues in Asia. The Harvard-Yenching Institute, founded in 1928, is an independent foundation dedicated to the advancement of higher education in the humanities and social sciences in Asia.  Headquartered on the campus of Harvard University, the Institute provides fellowships for advanced research, training, and graduate studies at Harvard by competitively selected faculty and graduate students from Asia.  The Institute also supports a range of academic activities at its fifty partner universities and research institutes across Asia. At Harvard, the Institute promotes East Asian studies through annual contributions to the HarvardYenching Library and publication of the Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies and the Harvard-Yenching Institute Monograph Series. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Names: Ong, Chang Woei, 1970– author. Title: North-south divide and literati learning in Ming China : Li Mengyang (1473–1530) and his legacy / Chang Woei Ong. Other titles: Harvard-Yenching Institute monograph series ; 104. Description: Cambridge, MA : Published by the Harvard University Asia Center, 2016. | Series: Harvard-Yenching Institute monographs ; 104 | ­Includes bibliographical references and index. Identifiers: LCCN 2016001551 | ISBN 9780674970595 (hardcover : alk. paper) Subjects: LCSH: Li, Mengyang, 1472–1529—Criticism and interpretation. | Chinese literature—Ming dynasty, 1368–1644—History and criticism. | China—Intellectual life—960–1644. Classification: LCC PL2698.L477 Z84 2016 | DDC 895.18/4709—dc23 LC record available at Index by the author   Printed on acid-free paper Last figure below indicates year of this printing 20  19  18  17  16 

To the late Professor Daniel Bryant, a dedicated scholar whom I never met but whose works inform my own


Acknowledgments ix Introduction


part i: historical and intellectual background 1. North and South: Li the Man and His World


2. Taking the Past as a Model in the Song-Ming Period


part ii: understanding the cosmos 3. Patterns of the Cosmos


4. The Human World as Part of the Cosmos


part iii: learning for the state 5. Institutions for Learning


6. The Content of Learning


viii c on t e n t s

part iv: expressing the self 7. Prose


8. Poetry


Conclusion: Toward an Understanding of Li Mengyang’s Legacy










he completion of this book took longer than I had anticipated. After I cleared the tenure bar, administrative duties began to pile up and left me with less time for research. But I cannot complain: over the past few years, I have been fortunate to work with the Deans’ Office of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at the National University of Singapore (NUS), where senior colleagues have ensured that, whenever circumstances allow, I am given as much time as I need for my writing. Special thanks go to Robbie Goh, Paulin Straughan, and Brenda Yeoh for their continuous support and encouragement. The Heads and Deanery Research Support Scheme established by the dean has proven to be particularly helpful in supporting my research. I have also had the privilege of working with colleagues in my academic department whose work and commitment to scholarship and education have always been a source of inspiration, espe­ cially Chan Cheow Thia, Kenneth Dean, Koh Khee Heong, Phua Chiew Pheng, and Xu Lanjun. In addition, I would like to thank the students whom I have taught over the years. They constantly test my patience but have certainly taught me as much as I have taught them. Shaun Choh, in particular, has been extremely helpful as a research assistant. With such wonderful friends and students, teaching and research could not be more pleasurable. Teaching graduate students always reminds me of my Harvard years. All my professors at Harvard shaped my intellectual outlook in one way or another. My former advisor Peter Bol will forever be my role model as a scholar and a teacher. Despite having been away from Cambridge for more than a decade, the

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friendship of my fellow students there in the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, especially Chen Wen-yi, remains a strong source of moral support. And how could I not mention the comradeship of the “Bol school”? The ties that we established, with the master at the center, have helped me to learn directly from so many good scholars in the field. Alexander Akin read the entire manuscript for this book and provided invaluable input that greatly strengthened both the language and argument. I would also like to thank Benjamin Elman, Susan Naquin, and Willard Peterson, who generously shared their insights with me when I visited Princeton University during my sabbatical leave. Leah Zuo Ya extended her assistance throughout my stay at Prince­ton; her kindness and friendship are much appreciated. The collections at the Princeton University Library allowed me to go into greater depth in my research, and Martin Heijdra was very helpful in helping me to locate rare books. Back at home, I would like to express my appreciation to all the librarians of the Chinese Library at NUS. Without their speedy attention to my requests for materials, the writing process would not have gone as smoothly as it did. For the past few years I have worked closely with a group of scholars who share similar interests in Ming-Qing intellectual history. We meet regularly to discuss our work. Special thanks go to Lu Miaw-fen and Peng Guoxiang for bringing the group together. Chang I-hsi, Chu Ping-yi, Peter Ditmanson, Ho Shuyi, Liu Yong, Ngoi Guat Peng, Sato Rentaro, Miura Shuichi, and Simon Wong have provided much useful feedback on my papers during our meetings. Part of chapter 2 in this volume appeared in a chapter I submitted for the collected volume Modern Chinese Religion: SongLiao-Jing Yuan (960–1368 AD), edited by John Lagerwey and Pierre Marsone and published by Brill in 2015. I thank the publisher and the editors for allowing me to reproduce some of the material in this book. Professor Lagerwey’s insight and comments helped me to sharpen my argument.

ac k now l e d g m e n t s xi This is the second time that I have published my research with Harvard University Asia Center. Robert Graham and Kristen Wanner have been extremely helpful throughout the process. I have also benefited tremendously from the comments and critiques from the anonymous readers and members of the publication committee. Lastly, I thank my family. My godchildren Jingxi and Jing­ xuan have brought me so much joy. As for my parents, my sister, Sheau Ling, and my wife, Hwee Ting, no words can express my gratitude toward them, so I will just leave it at that. O. C. W.

Li Mengyang, the North-South Divide, and Literati Learning in Ming China



n about 1580, the English courtier, soldier, and poet Sir Philip Sidney (1554–86) wrote A Defence of Poesie, advocating the superiority of poetry over philosophy and history: The philosopher, therefore, and the historian are they which would win the goal, the one by precept, the other by example; but both, not having both, do both halt. For the philosopher, setting down with thorny arguments the bare rule, is so hard of utterance, and so misty to be conceived, that one that hath no other guide but him shall wade in him until he be old, before he shall find sufficient cause to be honest. For his knowledge standeth so upon the abstract and general, that happy is that man who may understand him, and more happy that can apply what he doth understand. On the other side the historian, wanting the precept, is so tied, not to what should be, but to what is; to the particular truth of things, and not to the general reason of things; that his example draweth no necessary consequence, and therefore a less fruitful doctrine. Now doth the peerless poet perform both; for whatsoever the philosopher saith should be done, he giveth a perfect picture of it, by some one by whom he pre-supposeth it was done, so as he coupleth the general notion with the particular example.1

1. Sidney, A Defence of Poesie, pp. 41–42.

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In the pursuit of knowledge, philosophy deals with universal rules, while history is tied to particular examples of what is rather than what might be; it is poetry that can transcend the limitations of both and bring obscure ideas to light with its imaginative and illuminating potency. Poets are equipped with the ultimate power, the ability to illustrate the universal precepts expounded by the philosopher with particular historical examples, making them truly relevant for humankind. Thus poets rise above not only philosophers and historians but also astronomers, geometricians, arithmeticians, musicians, lawyers, grammarians, rhetoricians, logicians, physicians, and metaphysicians.2 Poetry provides the best instrument for articulating the workings of the universe as they relate to the human world. Sidney’s Defence was written in response to the tract by Stephen Gosson (1554–1624) titled The Schoole of Abuse: Containing a Pleasant Invective against Poets, Pipers, Players, Jesters and Such Like Caterpillers of the Commonwealth. The work, which he had dedicated to Sidney without the latter’s permission, accused poets and dramatists of offering only sensory pleasures to their audiences and failing to motivate them toward fulfillment of their moral duties. Gosson’s attack has been interpreted as deriving from a Puritanical disdain for all forms of fictive literature and art. 3 However, the separation of fictive literature in general, and poetry in particular, from the pursuit of virtue, and Sidney’s powerful rebuttal arguing for the recognition of poetry’s value in human endeavors, were both products of a new intellectual trend in Renaissance Europe. In an era when challenges to the once all-encompassing theology of state religion were intensifying, Renaissance intellectuals sought inspiration from the study of ancient Greece and Rome. The result was a “rediscovery” of the wisdom of antiquity, on the basis of which Renaissance intellectuals articulated new visions of humanism, enthusiastically and 2. Sidney, A Defence of Poesie, pp. 25–26. 3. For a study of Gosson’s The Schoole of Abuse that reexamines his contributions and aims to clarify certain misconceptions about the man and the work, see Kinney, “Stephen Gosson’s Art of Argument,” pp. 41–54.

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critically reconceptualizing and reassessing every branch of human knowledge. Seen in this context, it is not difficult to appreciate that Sidney’s call for recognizing the power of poetry was in fact a plea to reexamine the entire corpus of human knowledge that mattered most to Renaissance intellectuals.4 About half a century earlier, in the territories of the Ming dynasty, the scholar-official and man of letters Li Mengyang 李夢陽 (1473–1530) embarked on a similar attempt to defend poetry against its critics, citing the authority of Confucius: [Confucius said,] “Young man, why don’t you learn poetry?” [This shows that] it is not true to say that Confucius did not value poetry. [Confucius said,] “If one’s word is not well articulated, it will not spread far.” [This shows that] it is not true to say that Confucius did not value prose. But in later ages, it was claimed that prose and poetry are lesser skills. Why? Is it not because [the standard of] today’s prose does not match that of the ancients, and [the standard of] today’s poetry does not match that of the ancients? Senior Grand Secretary Liu, upon learning about people studying these [i.e., poetry and prose], would harshly reprimand them, saying, “Even if one is able to write like Li Bai and Du Fu, he remains a mere inebriate.” Now, were Li Bai and Du Fu mere inebriates? Furthermore, is it true to claim that there was no poet who surpassed Li Bai and Du Fu? There is a proverb about “Not eating for fear of choking.” This is exactly what Liu is doing! “小子何莫學夫詩?”孔子非不貴詩。“言之不文,行而弗遠。”孔子 非不貴文。乃後世謂文詩為末技,何歟?豈今之文非古之文,今之詩 非古之詩歟?閣老劉聞人學此,則大罵曰:“就作到李杜,只是箇 酒徒。”李 杜 果 酒徒 歟?抑李 杜 之 上更無 詩歟?諺曰:“因噎 廢 食” ,劉之謂哉!5 4. For an ambitious attempt to compare and contrast the European and Chinese perceptions of the past and their implications on intellectual life from 1500 to 1800 through an analysis of antiquarianism, seen roughly as equivalent to the “bronze and stone studies” (jinshi xue 金石學) in the Chinese tradition, see the essays in Miller and Louis, Antiquarianism and Intellectual Life. 5. Li Mengyang, “Lunxue xia” 論學下, Kongtong ji (hereafter, KTJ), 66.7a.

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Some in early sixteenth-century China characterized writing poetry as a useless skill, dismissing the greatest poets as drunkards who cared only about appealing to the senses. To fully appreciate Li Mengyang’s defense of the genre, we need to situate it within the context of his career. As evinced by the following statement by Li’s affinal relative Zhu Anxian 朱安𣵿 (n.d.), Li was himself a victim of the senior grand secretary’s prejudice: In the eleventh year of the [Hongzhi reign], Li Mengyang was twenty-seven sui and arrived at the capital after completing his mourning duty. At that time, the great official who held power was a northerner and he did not like Li Mengyang. He said, “If a youngster is not committed to practical affairs, even if he can write poems comparable to those of Li [Bai] and Du [Fu], he is merely an inebriate.” And so he appointed Li Mengyang secretary of the Shandong bureau in the ministry of revenue. 十一年戊午,公二十七嵗,服闋如京師。時執政大臣,北人也,弗善 公。曰:“後生不務實,即詩到李杜,亦酒徒耳。”於是授公戶部山東 司主事。6

The senior grand secretary in question was the northerner Liu Jian 劉健 (1433–1526), whom Li Mengyang met at the capital in 1498 before his official posting. We will return to this episode later, in chapter 1. Meanwhile, we can identify three major issues in the passages quoted. First, Li’s understanding of the development of poetry invokes a vision that could be termed “archaist,” in the sense that it sees the poetry of the contemporary period as less than ideal and looks to the distant past for models. Since the time of Confucius, however, looking to history for inspiration has been so common that to be analytically meaningful, the use of “archaism” in this book will be more specific. I use it to refer to a formalistic approach to reintroducing the essence of ancient writings in contemporary times, based on the belief that it is within 6. Zhu Anxian, “Li Kongtong xiansheng nianbiao” 李空同先生年表, KTJ, appendix 1.3a–15a.

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the form, language, and style of writing, rather than in its content, that we may locate its true value. Second, Liu Jian’s attack on poetry and Li Mengyang’s defense converge in the view that literati learning could be classified into different categories, each with its own essence and expression. Their differences arose because Liu privileged certain forms of learning over others while Li sought to legitimize the categories under attack. Finally, the passages testify to the existence of a belief in Ming times that differences in learning could be understood as manifestations of regional disparities. This study of Li Mengyang will consider the central issues that emerge from his defense of poetry, turning from them to address larger questions about Ming intellectual history. The current textbook treatments of Ming poetry—and prose—generally portray a neat development beginning with the early figures Song Lian 宋濂 (1310–81) and Liu Ji 劉基 (1311–75), whose work was succeeded by the so-called Cabinet style of the grand secretariat and Hanlin academicians. The later development of the “Cabinet” phase saw the ascendency of Li Dongyang 李東陽 (1447– 1516). Although a prominent member of the Cabinet-style writers himself, Li embarked on rectifying the court-centered, overly ornate, and excessively flattering tones of Cabinet writing. He gathered a group of younger writers and formed the Chaling 茶陵 school, named after his hometown. Li Mengyang was initially a protégé of Li Dongyang and joined the Chaling group in his early years, but during the first decade of the 1500s Li Mengyang parted ways with his mentor, initiating, with other members of the so-called Former Seven Masters (Qian qizi 前七子), the first wave of the archaist movement (fugu 復古, literally “restoring the ancient way”). They were best known for rejecting the Neo-­ Confucian Daoxue 道學 (Learning of the Way) approach to wen 文 (literary writing), advocating instead the learning of Qin-Han prose and High Tang poetry. This led to charges that they were encouraging blind imitation of archaic literary forms. In response, a Tang-Song school emerged that advocated learning from the masterpieces of the Tang-Song period, urging aspiring writers to

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look beyond forms and pursue the Way. Its heavy Daoxue flavor drew criticism, however, from leaders of a new wave of the archaist movement, the so-called Later Seven Masters (Hou qizi 後七子). With the coming of the late Ming protocapitalist age, a desire for free-spirited self-expression permeated literati circles, giving rise to a “romantic” twist in literature. The literary theories of the Gong’an 公安 and Jingling 竟陵 schools best represent this late Ming pursuit of individual freedom. Toward the end of the dynasty, however, deep political, social, and cultural crises led scholar-officials to reflect on the unrestrained and idiosyncratic approach to literature in the past decades, mediations that paved the way for the third and final wave of the archaist movement to take center stage, only to be cut short by the Manchu conquest in 1644. This is the standard summary of the period. One of my objectives is to show, however, that such a neat arrangement of schools and trends of literary thought cannot do justice to the complexity of the Ming literary world. To do better, we need to go beyond the Ming period and adopt a long-term perspective, situating Li Mengyang’s quest within the context of intellectual transitions since the Song dynasty (960–1279). While many intellectual and cultural developments in the Ming could certainly be traced to earlier periods of Chinese history, we begin our inquiry with the Song because Li was mainly reacting against Song visions of learning. At the other end, we will conclude our inquiry in the late seventeenth century. As we shall see in the conclusion, that is the period when, on the one hand, leading intellectuals were reassessing the Ming legacy and, on the other hand, the intellectual world was already moving in a new direction that made certain assumptions and concerns shared by fifteenth- and sixteenth-century intel­ lectuals appear marginal and irrelevant. The late Ming–early Qing period is also important because it was the environment that formed the lens through which May Fourth intellectuals in the early twentieth century would read Li Mengyang, employing his largely negative reputation at that time to construct their own antitraditionalist discourse. Leading May Fourth figures, especially Zhou Zuoren 周作人 (1885–1967) and

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Lin Yutang 林語堂 (1895–1976), were unequivocal in championing the new romantic literary trend that they thought had its origin in the late Ming period. Mostly attributed to the Gong’an and Jing­ ling schools, this trend advocated the concept of “innate sensibility” (xingling 性靈) that sought the “liberation of the self” ( gexing jiefang 個性解放) from traditional values that hindered the free expression of personal emotions and aspirations. In the process, Zhou and Lin accepted Gong’an and Jingling criticisms of Li Meng­ yang and the archaist course, charging Li and his admirers with encouraging blind imitation in writing. Although not all during the May Fourth period agreed with Zhou’s and Lin’s affirmative interpretation of a late Ming romantic vision of literature, they never­theless by and large concurred that the archaist movements were backward-looking and deserved to be condemned.7 The May Fourth legacy is still alive today, and it has tainted our understanding of Li Mengyang and the archaist vision. It is not the main objective of this book to “clear the name” of Li Mengyang. Rather, I am more interested in delineating the historical setting within which Li and his peers operated and explaining why certain modes of thought were better received than others. In other words, after comprehensively examining Li’s intellectual scheme, I look into how and why it emerged at a particular historical juncture and how this affected its influence (or lack thereof) afterward, thereby illustrating some of the intellectual transitions that took place from the Song to the Ming. This approach will require us to recognize that Li Mengyang was more than a literary theorist and writer. Although my work is profoundly inspired by studies of Chinese literature, unlike almost all other scholars writing in any language, I will not treat Li solely as a literary figure. As it will become clear, Li was a multi­ dimensional thinker who made serious claims about cosmology, ethics, politics, ritual studies, and history. The fact that these aspects of Li’s thought were largely ignored even during his lifetime should not deter us from asking what he was trying to achieve. 7. Mao Fuguo, Xiandai wenxue shi shang de wan-Ming wenxue sichao lunzheng.

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We need to move beyond the conventional approach of treating Li simply as a writer and a literary critic.8 In fact, why Li has been perceived only as a literary figure is a question that calls for exploration. That being said, I am not suggesting that Li Mengyang did not make distinctions among different branches of knowledge. Instead, as I have just argued, Li explicitly insisted that real distinctions existed and that it was necessary to compartmentalize learning into different categories. Just as during the Renaissance, when a renewed interest in certain classical scholarship signaled the rise of a new understanding and reorganization of knowledge, the emergence of Li’s ideas in the early sixteenth century also hints at a cultural shift in how intellectuals viewed true knowledge.

Unity and Diversity of Learning In his study of the late Ming figure Hu Yinglin 胡應麟 (1551– 1602), Peter Bol observes that Hu was representative of a late Ming trend that departed from the Cheng-Zhu 程朱 Daoxue Neo-Confucian position—named after the Cheng brothers, Cheng Hao 程顥 (1032–85) and Cheng Yi 程頤 (1033–1107), and further developed by Zhu Xi 朱熹 (1130–1200)—which by Ming times had been enshrined as state orthodoxy. The Daoxue vision was one of unity and coherence. It assumed that there existed in the distant past a golden age when there was one single source of 8. The only studies I am aware of that attempt to deal with the different aspects of Li Mengyang’s scholarship are (1) a recent Chinese-language Ph.D. dissertation that unfortunately devotes only one chapter out of eight to the nonliterary aspects of his life; see Guo Ping-an, “Li Mengyang yanjiu” (the dissertation was later published as a book: see also Guo Ping-an, Li Mengyang wenyi sixiangyanjiu); (2) Yang Haibo, Li Mengyang jiqi shige chuangzuo yanjiu, which deals mainly with Li Mengyang’s poetry but does contain a chapter on Li’s nonliterary thought; and (3) Liu Po, Li Mengyang yu Mingdai shitan, which deals primarily with Li’s place in the history of Ming poetry but contains a chapter on Li’s philosophy and political thought.

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authority on learning—an authority that could be revived as a way of solving contemporary problems. This golden age was characterized by a harmonious civilization in which every part was interconnected in a coherent manner. The fact that schools of knowledge had long been divided did not go unnoticed, but Dao­ xue advocates felt that the contemporary situation in which diversity ruled was less than ideal, and could be rectified by introducing a uniform knowledge system derived from the golden age. Bol further argues that the search for unity was common among other leading Song thinkers, even if they disagreed sharply with Daoxue on what was superior about the past. In contrast, late sixteenth-century intellectuals generally did not begin with the assumption of unity and were not interested in explaining how all things in the world were ontologically connected. They appreciated broadness in learning and believed that dividing literati knowledge into different fields was the necessary first step toward establishing continuity with a multifarious past and creating a new order. In the end, the era witnessed an intellectual shift that favored understanding the natural world and human society as they are, rather than how they should be.9 To cite an example, a renewed interest in the teachings of the “hundred schools” (zhuzixue 諸子學) during this period illustrates how late Ming intellectuals envisioned and endorsed the existence of multiple authorities in learning.10 Bol further points out that Hu Yinglin was inspired by his mentor Wang Shizhen 王世貞 (1526–90), leader of the second wave of the Ming archaist movement.11 For our purpose, it is impor­ tant to note that Wang was in turn deeply influenced by Li Mengyang. Thus, since Daoxue was enshrined as state orthodoxy in the early years of the dynasty, it was Li Mengyang’s generation that saw the first major challenge to it and its method of configuring 9. Bol, “Looking to Wang Shizhen.” 10. Wei Zongyu, “Ming-Qing shiqi zhuzixue yanjiu jianlun.” 11. For an important study of Wang Shizhen’s literary theory and practice and how he actually went beyond the narrow definition of archaism, see Hammond, “Beyond Archaism.”

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literati learning. In hindsight, challenges to Daoxue in the early sixteenth century by no means brought it to an end. In fact, it was transformed and emerged with a new way of understanding knowledge and its relations with the cosmos and human nature under Wang Yangming 王陽明 (1472–1529), the great philosopher, statesman, military general, and friend of Li Mengyang. The rise of Wang Yangmingism constitutes the most fascinating story of Ming intellectual history, so much so that an authoritative analyst of Chinese history has claimed that no Ming thinker is worth studying before Wang Yangming.12 Of course, we now know that the early Ming was neither an intellectual vacuum nor a period filled with mindless followers of the orthodox Cheng-Zhu stance.13 Nonetheless, Wang Yangming’s dominance was undeniable. With his new interpretations of central Daoxue concepts, Wang provoked countless intellectuals of later generations, regardless of whether they were in agreement with his ideas or whether they shared his interest in Daoxue philosophy, to rethink the basic assumptions of whatever cultural and intellectual endeavors they were undertaking. The issues that Wang Yangming raised were many and profound, but the fundamental ethical question underlying his philosophy was this: At a time when Daoxue’s prescription for arriving at an ideal world of unity and coherence was becoming less convincing, how could one grasp universal and eternal moral knowledge as a guide to action? The answer, Wang argued, lay in an innate ability within the moral mind of each and every individual to exercise correct judgment. This sort of assertion greatly empowered the individual in the pursuit of morality. It is significant that, though this was never Wang’s intention, his vision of moral self-cultivation became an important source of inspiration for idiosyncratic thinkers such as Li Zhi 李贄 (1527–1602), whom William Theodore de Bary labels as an arch individualist.14 12. Qian Mu, Song-Ming lixue gaishu, p. 254. Contrary to his own assertion, Qian does mention several early Ming figures in the book. 13. Wing-tsit Chan, “The Ch’eng-Chu School of Early Ming.” 14. De Bary, Learning for One’s Self, pp. 203–71.

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Whether we should employ the word “individualism,” a term loaded with culture-specific connotations, is of course open to debate, but de Bary is certainly right to argue that late Ming intel­ lectual culture was characterized by a strong commitment to individualistic expressions in all sorts of intellectual and cultural ventures. Jacob Burckhardt, the nineteenth-century historian, described Renaissance intellectuals as individuals who were not afraid of singularity. One did not fear “being and seeming unlike his neighbors.”15 To a certain degree, late Ming intellectuals exhibited a comparable state of mind. As Pauline Lee has recently argued in the case of Li Zhi, while he was far from celebrating the idea of the atomistic individual severed from others, he nevertheless tremendously valued the diversity of human talent and temperament.16 Indeed, Li Zhi once said to Guan Zhidao 管志道 (1536–1608), However, there is something that I would like to tell you. I hope you will not insist that I reply to your questions concerning scholarship, for once we engage in discussing scholarship, it will inevitably bury all kinds of fun. As human beings, we naturally have some skill that allows us to excel in the world, why is there a need to add this [to the existing package]? Just as Master Kongtong [Li Mengyang] and Master Yangming were of the same generation and born in the same year, one excelled in moral learning and the other in literary writing. [The achievements of] both men were equally subtle and bright, why must we consider the ability to also discuss moral learning as essential? In fact, is not the respect that Master Kongtong received no less than that accorded Master Yangming? 第有所欲言者,幸兄勿談及問學之事。說學問反埋卻種種可喜可樂 之趣。人生亦自有雄世之具,何必添此一種也?如空同先生與陽明先 生同世同生,一為道德,一為文章,千萬世後,兩先生精光具在,何必 更兼談道德耶?人之敬服空同先生者豈減於陽明先生哉?17

15. Burckhardt, Civilization of the Renaissance, p. 82. 16. Lee, Li Zhi, pp. 84–87. 17. Li Zhi, “Yu Guan Dengzhi shu” 與管登之書, in Fen shu, p. 267.

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This letter from Li Zhi was an attempt to stop any further discussion that Guan had initiated, for he knew that Guan was trying to challenge him. Note the way Li Zhi makes a clear distinction between moral learning and literary writing, and then follows up with a comparison of Wang Yangming and Li Mengyang. Guan did not take this distinction gracefully, for he believed that Li Zhi saw him primarily as a literary figure like Li Mengyang rather than a moral philosopher like Wang Yangming. In rebuttal, Guan claims that his learning was closer to that of Wang.18 Regardless of what Li Zhi thought about Guan, in his view Li Mengyang and Wang Yangming were the authoritative figures in their respective fields, and it was unnecessary to demand that a leader in literature, such as Li Mengyang, concurrently be an expert in moral philosophy. Excellence in literature alone was reason for admiration, so Li’s impact on the literati world was no less substantial than that of Wang, who excelled in moral learning. Clearly, this exchange between Li Zhi and Guan Zhidao points to the fact that late Ming literati were accustomed to interpreting the difference between Li Mengyang and Wang Yang­ ming as a manifestation of the division of learning. Classifying people into different categories according to their learning certainly has a long history, but I shall argue that the ways late Ming literati thought about the division of learning were often historically specific and articulated within the intellectual milieu created during the mid-Ming period. That was the time when Cheng-Zhu Daoxue was seen as inadequate in providing a satisfactory explanation for the existence of diversity in human knowledge and experience. Leading intellectuals, including Li Mengyang, Wang Yangming, and many others, then made it a priority in their intellectual pursuits to propose alternative ways of understanding diversity and deal­ing with it. Wang Yangming’s philosophy, with its emphasis on moral subjectivity reworked from Daoxue discourse, provided sixteenthand seventeenth-century intellectuals with a theoretical framework 18. Guan Zhidao, “Da Li Jushi Zhuowu sou shu” 答李居士卓吾叟書, in Xu Wenbian du, 1.43–45.

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for embracing diversity while sharing a set of established norms. Yet it is well known that Wang came to this position only around 1508, when he was banished to a remote area in southwestern China. As Wei-ming Tu points out, Wang had been through a stretch of time in his earlier life when he explored widely but was unable to settle on a school of learning that could fulfill his aspirations. Interestingly, “ancient-style writings” (guwenci 古文詞) were among his pursuits. Apparently he was motivated by Li Mengyang when both men met in Beijing in 1502, but he eventually decided that was not what he wanted.19 Thus, even before Wang Yangming’s ascendency, Li Mengyang had managed to convince a group of promising scholars in their thirties and forties to share his vision of literary writing, in particular, and literati culture in general. Though some of them, including Wang Yangming, eventually embarked on different intel­ lectual journeys, Li had articulated persuasive insight in addressing the central concerns of early sixteenth-century intellectuals. However, we now know that, quite contrary to Li Zhi’s assertion, Li Mengyang was much less a source of inspiration for late Ming intellectuals than Wang Yangming. Apart from his views on literature, Li was unable to entice later Ming intellectuals to take him seriously. Why did his influence falter?

North versus South, Li Mengyang versus Wang Yangming Li Zhi’s juxtaposition of Li Mengyang and Wang Yangming reminds us that to understand why Li faltered, we have to reflect on what led to the success of Wang Yangming. Although no one can claim to fully explain his rise, by looking at the factors that contributed to the eventual marginalization of some of his contemporaries, we may gain a fresh perspective on the enthusiasm that welcomed what Wang had to offer.

19. Tu, Neo-Confucian Thought in Action, pp. 22–31.

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To meaningfully explain Wang’s success, we need to take into account regional factors. Consider the following comment by the scholar-artist Dong Qichang 董其昌 (1555–1636) in a preface written for the publication of the literary works of Luo Qinshun 羅欽順 (1465–1547): During the Chenghua and Hongzhi reign [1465–1505], every teacher professed the same Way and every scholar studied the same learning. The books of the Cheng-Zhu school were enshrined in the Office of Institutional History, and that was supposedly a time of great unity. Scholars who engaged in literary writing then held steadfastly to the styles of Ouyang Xiu and Zeng Gong, and their styles were ordinary and constant. It was Beidi [Li Mengyang or, literally, “Northern Land”] who began to change the contemporary writings by advocating learning from the ancient styles. It was Dongyue [Wang Yangming; literally, “Eastern Yue”] who began to change the learning of principles by advocating following the heart. But Beidi has retained few adherents, while Dongyue, relying on his official status and reputation, was able to add weight to his unique theory, so much so that it almost uprooted the learning of Zhou Dunyi, the Cheng brothers, and Zhu Xi. 成弘間,師無異道,士無異學。程朱之書,立於掌故,稱大一統。而修 詞之家,墨守歐曾,平平爾。時文之變而師古也,自北地始也。理學之 變而師心也,自東越始也。北地猶寡和,而東越挾勛名地望,以重其 一家之言,濂洛考亭幾為搖撼。20

In this piece Dong Qichang was lamenting that the authority of Cheng-Zhu Daoxue and Song literary masters was being eroded by the rise of Wang Yangming and Li Mengyang, respectively. In particular, he applauded Luo Qinshun for challenging Wang’s learning, which he thought was really Chan Buddhism in disguise.21 But my main concern is how Dong, like Li Zhi, made a clear distinction between the different fields of learning that 20. Dong Qichang, “Heke Luo Wenzhuang gong ji xu” 合刻羅文莊公集序, in Dong, Rongtai wenji, 1.260–61. 21. It should be noted that Dong was not hostile to Chan Buddhism; he discussed it approvingly throughout his literary collection. What Dong objected

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Wang Yangming and Li Mengyang represent. We also find Dong attributing the success of Wang and the failure of Li to two factors: disparities in official accomplishment (xunming 勛名) and reputation (diwang 地望). I am primarily concerned with the second factor that Dong highlights. The term diwang was originally used in medieval times to refer to the reputation of the great clans, which were identified by their place of origin, for instance Zhaojun Li 趙郡李 and Taiyuan Wang 太原王. Hence, Dong seems to be suggesting that Wang owed his success to his glamorous family background. 22 But notice that Dong uses two geographic terms, beidi and dongyue, which were often used by Ming-Qing writers to refer to Li and Wang. Beidi was the old name of Qingyang 慶陽 in present-day Gansu Province, the hometown of Li Mengyang. Dongyue, the old name for eastern Zhejiang, was Wang Yangming’s home region. Coupling this with the notion of diwang, a term that also carries geographic connotation, it seems as if Dong was inviting his readers to consider regional disparity as an explanation for the difference in the reception that the two men received. Regardless of whether this was really what Dong intended to do in this passage, we will see that Li’s learning was often thought to be “northern” in nature and in opposition to the southern writers.23 Certainly, the rhetoric of a north-south divide was not a Ming invention. Xiaofei Tian has shown that the discourse on the northsouth division that persists into modern times—that the north is tough, harsh, and austere while the south is warm, soft, sensuous— were first formed and crystallized during the Northern and Southern Dynasties period and found their way into the consciousness to was that, at least from his perspective, Wang seemed to confuse Daoxue with Chan. 22. Wang Yangming’s family traced its origin to Wang Dao 王導 (276–339), an important Eastern Jin dynasty statesman. Wang Yangming’s father, Wang Hua 王華 (1446–1522), was the optimus of the 1481 metropolitan examination. 23. It is worth noting that the north-south divide featured prominently in Dong Qichang’s own conception of literati culture, and he is well known for his division of Chinese painting into northern and southern “schools.” See Ho, “Tung Ch’i-chang’s New Orthodoxy.”

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of the Sui-Tang political and cultural elites. The binaries of classical learning and literary achievement, military and civil, and substance and form were all employed in this period to denote the essential differences between the cultures of north and south.24 The founding of the Song and the full implementation of the civil service examination as the most important avenue for selecting officials added a new dimension to the rhetoric of the northsouth divide. Now, the focus moved to the following questions: Who, northerners or southerners, given their distinct characteristics and education, was better equipped to serve the state, and was the civil service examination designed to address this issue adequately? A major debate erupted between Ouyang Xiu 歐陽修 (1007–72), a southerner, and Sima Guang 司馬光 (1019–86), a northerner, over whether regional quotas should be put in place to ensure a more fair selection process. The debate again highlighted the distinction made between northerners and southerners according to their different characters (form versus substance) and their preferences for different types of learning (literary versus classical).25 As we shall see in chapter 1, Ming debates concerning the quota system continued along these lines and formed the background against which Li Mengyang issued his criticism of Liu Jian. Because the examination system in the Song marked the beginning of a new way of tying the literati to the state, thus changing the way learned men viewed their role in the state system, our discussion of the north-south divide will also begin with the Song, so as to put Ming’s discussions of this topic in a more historically specific perspective. It is important to note from the start that throughout the history of China, the line that divides north from south is constantly reinterpreted.26 I will adhere largely to the boundary used for 24. Tian, Beacon Fire and Shooting Star, pp. 310–66. 25. Shen, “Cong nanbei duizhi dao nanbei ronghe.” Liu Haifeng, “Keju qucai zhong de nanbei diyu zhi zheng.” 26. Tang Changru, for instance, has shown that in third- and fourth-­century discussions about the differences in scholarship, the Yellow River was marked as the line that divided north and south. See Tang Changru, “Du Baopuzi tuilun nanbei xuefeng de yitong.”

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determining the Ming regional quota system for the civil service examination (see chapter 1), for this was the most common way that Ming elites referred to the north-south divide. Influenced by the ways in which Ming elites made sweeping generalizations about north-south disparities, some modern scholars have used Li Mengyang’s northern identity to explain his poetic style and orientation. A common view is that Li’s poetry is characterized by its masculine and “thick” attributes, which differ sharply from the refined and delicate style of the southern poets.27 However, such an essentialist and impressionistic framework cannot do justice to either Li Mengyang or his southern counterparts. In Li’s works we can certainly find poems resembling the so-called southern style, and in the southern poets’ works we find “northern” features. Nonetheless, regional classification of this sort is important for several reasons. First, it is obvious that the north, and the south, for that matter, can be further divided into many subregions that are vastly different in all sorts of ways. But each of the two regions still displays certain administrative, social, cultural, and economic traits that allow us to consider it as a generally coherent unit in comparison to the other. For example, it is commonly known that environmental conditions in regions north of the Huai River were unfavorable for rice production, but as Timothy Brook recently noted, ecological constraints did not deter some Ming-Qing statecraft activists from trying to introduce rice production in northern China. They called for stronger state intervention in the local society, as sophisticated irrigation systems had to be set up to ensure a good supply of water. This created a set of state-society relations unlike those in the south.28 There are many other examples. The point is that, collectively, these findings clearly suggest that we can consider north-south contrasts without assuming homogeneity within a region.

27. For an example of the research built on such assumptions, see Bai, “Bei­ fang zhengtong yu Jiangnan bianti.” 28. Brook, Chinese State in Ming Society, pp. 81–98.

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Second, it has been argued by some that northern and southern political, social, and cultural elites in the Song-Ming period differed in certain aspects of their intellectual outlook.29 It would have been difficult a decade ago to test their findings on a micro level because local social and cultural history had focused mostly on the south and we knew relatively little about northern elite communities.30 In recent years, a growing body of literature that adopts a comparative perspective has not only advanced our knowledge of the cultural landscape of north China but also made it possible for us to establish a firm foundation for conducting meaningful comparisons.31 Collectively, these recent works demonstrate some general differences between northern and southern literati culture and vision. This is not to subscribe to some sort of essentialist depiction of regional culture suggesting that all northerners (or all southerners) would necessarily think, write, and behave in an identical manner. In fact, given how frequently people crossed geographical boundaries, it would be absurd to assume that an individual’s worldview would definitely be bound by his place of origin. The point is that despite vast differences in the intellectual orientations of individuals, most northern literati did share certain concerns and assumptions that could be compared and contrasted with those of southerners. There were of course exceptions, but the general contrasts between northern and southern intellectual inclinations are still discernable. My objective is to examine Li 29. For some prominent examples, see Liu Shipei, “Nanbei xuepai butong lun”; Qian Mu, Guoshi dagang, pp. 707–85; Xiao, “Zhongguo jinshi qianqi nanbei fazhande qiyi yu tonghe.” 30. Most earlier works on northern China cover only the Qing (especially the nineteenth century) and Republican periods. For some examples, see Duara, Culture, Power and the State; Esherick, Origins of the Boxer Uprising, esp. chap. 1; Cohen, “Lineage Organization in North China”; Pomeranz, Making of a Hinterland. 31. Des Forges, Cultural Centrality and Political Change. Ong, Men of Letters. Tan, Songs of Contentment and Transgression. Koh, A Northern Alternative. Wenyi Chen, “Networks, Communities and Identities.” Jinping Wang, “Between Family and State.” Iiyama, Kin Gen jidai no Kahoku shakai to kakyo seido.

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Mengyang’s thought and its legacy within the context of such differences. In particular, the subsequent chapters will focus on explicating a major disparity between northern and southern literati in their vision of their relationship to the state. Building on previous scholarship, I shall establish that the state featured more prominently in the social and cultural lives of the northern literati in general, and explain what this implies for our understanding of Li Mengyang and his legacy. Third, employing the rhetoric of the north-south divide was a common way for Ming intellectuals to make sense of differences in poetic style as well as divisions in literati learning. My goal is to examine the political, social, cultural, and geographical settings that produced such rhetoric. I contend that the general divide between north and south, besides being an actual manifestation of certain social, economic, cultural, and intellectual phenomena, was also a constructed idea that contributed to the shaping of intellectual developments. Thus, this study deals with three different layers of northsouth division. The first concerns the general differences among the ecological, economic, administrative, and social conditions of north and south. This serves as the background for understanding the second layer, the general differences in the intellectual orientations of northern and southern literati communities, especially in their views of the state. The third layer is related to the historical processes by which the idea of a north-south divide was imagined and used to make sense of differences in political, social, cultural, and intellectual associations, which often may not have been triggered by any real distinction between north and south. This will subsequently lead us to examine the real consequences brought about by such an imagined divide. I shall argue that to understand Li Mengyang’s intellectual endeavors and his legacy, we have to frame our inquiry with these three overlapping but distinct layers in the division between north and south. This volume gives the field its first (long-overdue) book-length study in English of Li Mengyang’s overall vision of learning, devoting special attention to his compartmentalization of the different branches of literati learning. This in turn gives us a fresh

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perspective on one of the most exciting stories of late imperial China—the rise of Wang Yangmingism. By asking why the visions of some of his contemporaries, such as Li, attracted little interest in the intellectual world at large, we will be able to gain new insight into the enthusiasm for what Wang had to offer. Finally, by moving beyond essentialist and impressionistic understandings of the cultural disparities between north and south, we may shed light on the actual differences in the priorities and concerns of the northern and southern literati communities. We will also be able to show, systematically, how the rhetoric of a north-south divide was constructed and employed during the Ming period, and the historical implications it bore.

Structure of the Book The book is divided into four parts, each with two chapters. Part 1 provides the historical and intellectual background for understanding Li Mengyang’s emergence and reception. Chapter 1 situates Li’s life and career within the context of a north-south divide as experienced by the Ming elite class of shi 士 (often translated as “scholar-officials,” “literati,” or “gentry,” depending on the context). Chapter 2 depicts how leading thinkers from the Song to early Ming periods understood the past and applied that knowledge to tackling contemporary problems. Through this broad survey, we may better appreciate the various visions, especially the ways by which they envisioned the unity and division of literati learning, that shaped the intellectual milieu of Li’s generation of thinkers. Part 2 discusses the foundation of Li’s intellectual vision: his views on cosmology and the place of human society within the cosmos. In chapter 3 we see that, unlike the Daoxue view of Heaven-and-Earth that postulated ontological oneness and coherence in the working of the universe, Li contended that in the natural world, irregularity and unpredictability are the rule. Moreover, the basic process of creation is one of competition and rivalry, not one of harmony and mutual benefit. The same could

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be said for the essence of the human world. Li argued that human nature is not, as Daoxue suggested, inherently good; to the contrary, the cruel reality is that good men are constantly outnumbered by evil ones. Li insisted that the presence of a strong state is indispensable for keeping the world in order, for society cannot rely on individuals to act morally of their own volition. It was for this reason that Li Mengyang spent considerable effort in explaining the source and nature of political power and legitimacy, a topic that will be discussed in chapter 4. Building on the assumption that nature operates in an irregular and unpredictable manner, Li argued that the mandate that Heaven bestows on a ruler is mysterious and incomprehensible. In other words, it is impossible to understand, intellectually, the reasons behind Heaven’s choice of a ruler. This line of reasoning underscores the divine qualities of the Chosen One and the divide between the ruler and his subjects, the former being a semispiritual being and the latter, ordinary human beings. This view stands in stark contrast to the mainstream Daoxue position that the ruler is an ordinary human being who has to go through the same kind of step-by-step self-cultivation as everybody else in order to act morally and responsibly. In fact, it was Li’s contention that the ruler should not listen to Daoxue advice. While Daoxue generally posited a separation of moral authority from political legitimacy, Li’s emphasis was squarely on teaching the ruler how to hold onto his power, and not on helping the ruler to cultivate his moral self. As for the ordinary people, their moral cultivation is also seen as important, but Li’s approach stands in stark contrast to Dao­ xue’s convictions. It begins with a different understanding of human feelings, sentiments, and emotions, crystallized in the con­cept of qing 情. Li’s position was that qing, rather than the moral mind or innate human nature, forms the most authentic attribute of the self. By focusing on qing, Li set out to explain how diverse human experiences and conditions should be understood and managed with different programs of learning. The division between parts 3 and 4, which address Li’s ideas on politics and literature, respectively, is based on the way Li compartmentalized literati learning. Broadly and superficially

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speaking, I argue that in Li’s overall intellectual scheme, literati learning could be divided into these two categories. On the one hand, the literati needed the ethical and practical knowledge that would make them good servants of the state. On the other hand, they needed to develop the literary skills to articulate their ideas clearly and aesthetically, expressing their personality and sentiment in such a way as to arouse the feelings of their audience. These two goals were expected concurrently from anyone who wished to pursue any given subject of learning that might correspond to an independent academic discipline in our times. Take the study of history, for instance. On a utilitarian level, Li insisted that history should be studied so that moral and political lessons could be extracted from the past in order to help the state better govern in the present. On another level, Li wrote at length about the recording of history as a form of literary writing that could articulate the historian’s ideas clearly and in a manner easy for readers to follow. For Li, understanding and applying the ideas and lessons from history and getting the form of history right clearly required two very different sets of knowledge and skills that warranted separate theories and different approaches. The logic behind this way of categorizing learning may not be immediately apparent to us today but it made sense for Ming readers, who had to deal with the same intellectual issues that Li encountered. Thus, when discussing Li’s ideas about how learning should be compartmentalized, we should be ready to suspend our modern classifications of scholarship. The two chapters in part 3 discuss the institutions and programs of learning that Li proposed for preparing the literati to become competent servants of the state. Chapter 5 discusses the nature and function of the institutions, most notably the school system and religious spaces, Li envisioned as ideal settings for educating the people to become loyal subjects of the state and the learned to become competent state agents. Chapter 6 focuses on the various branches of knowledge that Li sought to integrate into a program for teaching the literati to serve the state, including ritual, history, techniques for ruling, and literary writing.

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Aside from the political concerns in Li’s theories of literary writing (wen), an equally important concern was the expression of selfhood through literature, the subject of part 4. In this respect, Li’s theory was premised on a discourse of qing that celebrates distinctiveness. In some ways Li’s emphasis on qing anticipates the rise of what Martin Huang and others have called “the cult of Qing” in the late Ming, which encouraged the proliferation of literary works that freely expressed the authors’ personal emotions and feelings. 32 Contrary to the conventional perception of Li as a stern advocate of conforming to or even imitating archaic styles in writing, individuality and originality were not only valued but essential.33 Yet an appreciation for individuality does not necessarily lead to idiosyncrasy. As I have noted, Wang Yangming’s entire intellectual project was precisely to establish a shared norm for embracing individuality. It presupposed an ontological and ethical understanding of the completeness of a moral mind shared by all men. In contrast, Li Mengyang tried to locate the shared premise in wen. Used in a narrow sense, wen refers to the genre of prose as opposed to poetry. Used in a broader sense, it may mean “literature,” “civility,” “culture,” or a “normative pattern,” sometimes conflating two or more of these concepts. Clearly, for Li the wen in which we could find common ground for expressing individuality refers to a kind of intellectual endeavor that we would call “literature” today. More specifically, it refers to the genres of prose and poetry. Chapters 7 and 8 are devoted, respectively, to Li’s theories and practices of writing prose and poetry. From as early as the seventeenth century, the slogan “[In] prose one must take [the masterpieces of] Qin and Han [as the model]; [In poetry] one must take the [the masterpieces of] High 32. Huang, Desire and Fictional Narrative. 33. Despite numerous efforts to refute the conventional perception of Li Mengyang and the Former Seven Masters as mindless imitators, it is still very much alive, so much so that the author of a recent important work on He Jingming felt compelled to address the issue in great detail. See Bryant, Great Recreation, pp. 415–27.

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Tang” (wen bi Qin-Han, shi bi Sheng-Tang 文必秦漢,詩必盛唐) has often been associated with Li Mengyang.34 But such a simple slogan does not do justice to the complexity of the theoretical foundations of the literary archaist movement of the early sixteenth century. The literary models that Li chose for both prose and poetry actually go far beyond the masterpieces of the QinHan and High Tang and reflect a sophisticated understanding of the multiple legacies on which literary pursuits could be conducted. In this respect, Li’s appeal to ancient styles was actually a theoretical strategy devised for establishing prose and poetry as two independent fields within the broader scope of literati learning. In retrospect, Li Mengyang’s theories of learning that made service to the state the ultimate objective aroused little or no interest among late Ming intellectuals. In contrast, his vision of literary writing centered on the expressiveness of the self secured him a prominent position in late Ming discourse. The conclusion addresses these issues and examines Li’s legacy within the late Ming context of the north-south divide and the compartmentalization of literati learning.

34. See, for instance, Li Mengyang’s biography in Zhang Tingyu, Ming Shi, 286.7348.

part i Historical and Intellectual Background

one North and South: Li the Man and His World


wo main images of Li Mengyang emerge when one reads his biographies. One is of Li as the leader of a mid-Ming archaist literary movement whose impact lasted for centuries. The other image is that of an upright official who fought fearlessly against eunuchs and imperial relatives in a series of battles that culminated in an abrupt end to his official career and sent him to prison, with death’s shadow passing over him more than once. Indeed, these are the most common interpretations of his legacy even today.1 Li’s literary accomplishments and political career, though extremely important, make up only a part of his fascinating life story, which has to be understood within the context of a midMing world that, in addition to its cultural inheritance, witnessed the emergence of new possibilities. Therefore, rather than providing a linear narrative of Li’s life, I will organize my discussion of Li’s experiences around several key issues central to the lives of many who came from his social class. First, we will consider the role that family played in shaping Li Mengyang’s intellectual outlook. Li produced a genealogy for his family that contains a wealth of information not only on his ancestry but also on Li’s understanding of what kinship really

1. See, for instance, the semifictional biography of Li Mengyang by Xue Zhengchang, Li Mengyang quanzhuan.


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meant, how it should be organized, and its role in society. The significance of kinship organizations in late imperial Chinese society has been well-studied, but one lacuna in the field has been the characteristics and functions of lineage organizations in northern China. While we do have some general accounts of lineages in northern China and their differences from counterparts in the south, rarely do we find studies that examine northern lineages in their specific temporal and spatial settings.2 Li’s identity as a northerner affords us the opportunity in this chapter to reconstruct the story of his family—told retrospectively by Li, for the most part—within the context of lineage development in midMing Shaanxi and Henan, for those were the places where the family gradually rose to prominence. The second section will follow Li Mengyang’s journey through what Miyazaki Ichisada has called China’s examination hell. 3 With occasional interruptions, the imperial state since the Southern Song witnessed an ever-increasing number of candidates taking (and failing) the imperial examinations. This focused attention on the content of the examinations, the setting of quotas, and the curricula and functions of the school system, among other issues. In the Ming, regional quotas based on a north-south split were instituted in the first half of the fifteenth century. What were the reasons for the court’s decision to introduce the quota system, and how did it affect Li and other ambitious men in the mid-Ming period? A critical analysis of this issue will illuminate the choices that Li faced when he sat for the examinations. His success at the highest level of the examination system guaranteed Li Mengyang an official career, one in which he is recorded as having served faithfully and diligently. Highlighting Li’s aborted career were his tussles with the court eunuchs and imperial relatives, but these were minor episodes in a long history of such power struggles during the Ming. Scholars have pointed 2. For an excellent general account, see Cohen, “Lineage Organization in North China.” 3. Miyazaki, China’s Examination Hell.

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out that most of these political struggles were closely related to splits in the bureaucracy that carried a strong flavor of rivalry between north and south.4 While it may be geographical essentialism to reduce all frictions at the court to regional conflicts, conceptions of regional disparity did play an important role in shaping the consciousness of the Ming political elite, and this tension provides a backdrop for understanding the problems that Li Mengyang faced in his capacity as an official. In the last section of this chapter we will reconstruct the social networks Li formed through his identities as a writer, scholar, and thinker. Recently, several interesting studies of Ming literature have begun their inquiries from a regional perspective, and collectively they bring to light a mid-Ming intellectual world that owed its diversity and complexity largely to the differences, both real and imagined, among the various literati communities formed through regional networks.5 As we will see, Li Mengyang’s works were produced, circulated, and consumed in just such an intellectual environment. While not every historian will agree with Naitō Konan in calling the Song period the beginning of China’s early modern era, it has been widely accepted that the Tang-Song transition did bring about fundamental changes in all aspects of Chinese life.6 One of the most notable was the rise of the south and, consequently, the change in north-south dynamics. By locating Li Mengyang’s political, social, and cultural experiences in such a regional context, we may better comprehend his position in Song-Ming intellectual history. In short, this account of Li Mengyang’s life proceeds from the recognition that Li operated in a world with a heightened sense of the division between north and south. 4. Chen Lunxu, “Ji Ming Tianshun Chenghua jian dachen nanbei zhi zheng”; Lü Shipeng, “Mingdai de dangzheng.” 5. Izumi, “Kōnan no chishikijin to fukuko ha.” Huang Zhuoyue, Ming zhonghouqi wenxue sixiang yanjiu. Tan, Songs of Contentment and Transgression. 6. On Naitō’s theory, see Miyakawa, “Outline of the Naitō Hypothesis.”

Figure 1. Li family chart. Diagram by Shaun Choh.

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Managing Kinship in Mid-Ming North China In 1507 when Li Mengyang was demoted and forced to leave the capital after a confrontation with the powerful eunuch Liu Jin 劉瑾 (d. 1510), he took up residence in Kaifeng 開封, Henan, where his elder brother owned a farm north of the city. During that winter he completed a genealogy that is our source for following the Li family’s rise from a humble and obscure background to its elite status during Li Mengyang’s lifetime.7 It also contains a chart that enables readers to trace the names of all the male family members whom Li could (or chose to) identify (see figure 1). According to Li’s account, the origin of the family was unclear. His great-grandfather, En 恩, took the surname Wang 王 when he entered into a uxorilocal marriage with a woman whose family was originally from Fugou 扶溝, Henan, and of hereditary military status. In 1370, when the woman’s father was assigned to military duties in Puzhou 蒲州 and then Qingyang 慶陽 in Shaanxi, he left some members of the family behind in Fugou.8 Wang En followed his father-in-law and served in the garrison of Qingyang, where the family was bundled with two other families, surnamed Yang 陽 and Tian 田, to form one single household for the purposes of conscription under the military household system.9 In 1399, when the conflict escalated between Emperor Hui (r. 1398–1402) and his uncle, the prince of Yen, Wang En went with his unit to fight with the prince’s army and was killed during the famous Battle of Baigouhe 白溝河 in 1400. He left behind his wife and two sons, Zhong 忠 and Jing 敬, who, we are told, were too young then to remember their original surname. Li also tells us that Wang 7. Li Mengyang, “Lishi zupu” 李氏族譜, KTJ, vol. 38. See also Zhu An­xian, “Li Kongtong xiansheng nianbiao,” KTJ, appendix 1.3a–15a. Chaoying Fang, “Li Meng-yang,” in Goodrich and Fang, Dictionary of Ming Biography, pp. 841– 45. The account of Li’s family history in this chapter is based on these sources unless stated otherwise. 8. Today Qingyang belongs to Gansu Province, but in the Ming it was under the administration of Shaanxi. 9. The system was called duoji 垜集. See Yu Zhijia, Mingdai junhu shixi zhidu, pp. 10–26. Zhang Jinkui, Mingdai weisuo junhu yanjiu, pp. 39–47.


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Zhong refused to stay with his mother when she remarried and so he had to earn a living as a tradesman. He started slowly and gradually expanded his business over the next decade. Although Li Mengyang portrays his grandfather as a generous person who would answer requests for money even from strangers, it is certain that Wang Zhong was actually involved in the business of money lending. Studies of the economic history of Shaanxi in the MingQing period have shown that trade and credit services were two major forms of economic activity undertaken by families that eventually became prominent. A favorable environment for commercial activity was made possible by the state practice of “border delivery” (kaizhong 開中), in which merchants within the system transported grain to the border in exchange for selling salt in specific regions. This encouraged the growth of regional marketing centers in the northwest.10 Unfortunately, Wang Zhong died tragically. When a member of the Tian family was killed, Wang Zhong tried to file a lawsuit against the powerful antagonist, who had connections with the authorities, but his effort led only to his arrest and subsequent death in prison. This case is cited by Li Mengyang to showcase his grandfather’s righteousness, but it also indirectly shows that early success apparently did not immediately raise the status of the family; it still had to rely on the support of two other families for survival. Nevertheless, Wang Zhong’s success had allowed him to accumulate enough wealth to provide his sons with an education. He had three sons. The eldest, Wang Gang 王剛, was entrusted with running the declining family business. Wang Gang also ensured that his two brothers would receive a better education. The second brother, Wang Qing 王慶, shouldered the family’s military duty and became a soldier. Li Mengyang’s own father, Li Zheng 李正 (1439–95), the third son of Wang Zhong, took a different path. He pursued learning and sat for the examinations, but failed repeatedly. Eventually he was appointed as an instructor in the Fuping 10. Tian Peidong, Ming-Qing shidai Shaanxi shehui jingji shi, pp. 128–30. Brook, Confusions of Pleasure, pp. 107–8.

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阜平 County School, a position in which we are told he served diligently. He later received an offer to serve as a tutor to the grandson of Emperor Taizu’s fifth son, Zhu Su 朱橚 (1361–1425), whose princely establishment was located in Kaifeng, Henan. It is however unclear how Li Zheng met Zhu Su.11 Although princely establishments were located at various places throughout the country in the early Ming, the main concern of the dynasty’s founder when he “enfeoffed” his sons was the defense of the northern frontier against the Mongols. Thus the northern provinces had the largest share of these royal institutions.12 The affiliation with this prince proved to be a turning point for the family, who not only managed to join the class of literati, restoring their family name to Li and taking up residence in Kaifeng, but also to forge marriage ties with the prince’s relatives. In 1490, Li Mengyang married a women surnamed Zuo 左, whose mother was Zhu Su’s great-granddaughter. At the time of this marriage, the Zuos, originally from Yongxin 永新 County in Ji’an 吉安 Prefecture, Jiangxi, were already an established elite family with a long tradition of civil service. Zuo Fu 左輔, Madam Zuo’s grandfather, was an investigating censor of the southern metropolitan region in the Zhengtong era (1435–49). Although he was demoted to a postal relay station manager for overly aggressive remonstration, he met Prince Zhu Su’s son and married his son to the latter’s daughter in his next posting as the magistrate of Weishi 尉氏 County, Henan. This ensured that the Zuo family could remain at the top of the social hierarchy, standing above new and upcoming families like Li Mengyang’s.13 The story of the Li family’s climb up the ladder of success is not an unfamiliar one for historians of late imperial China, yet there are several points worthy of special note. Li, along with others in his generation of northern literati, was among the first 11. For Li Zheng’s biography, see also Li Dongyang, “Ming Zhoufu Feng­ qiuwang jiaoshou zeng Chengdelang hubu zhushi lijun mubiao” 明周府封丘王 教授曾承德郎戶部主事李君墓表,” in Huailutang ji, 76.11a–12b. 12. Chan, “The Problem of the Princes.” 13. Li Mengyang, “Ming gu chaolie dafu zongrenfu yibin Zuogong muzhiming” 明故朝列大夫宗人府儀賓左公墓志銘, KTJ, 45.1a–3b.


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to produce a genealogy for his family. Unlike in many parts of southern China, where powerful lineages dominated local society and genealogy compilation had become increasingly common since the Southern Song, in northern China, literati families who could document their continued success over a few generations were rare.14 The first serious attempts at writing personal family histories were made only in the early sixteenth century. Even then, the quantity of genealogies produced was only a shadow of the numbers from the south. Also worth noting is the fact that, like most northern literati families in the mid-Ming period, the foundation of the Li family was very fragile. The family tree was short, members were few, and, more important, we find no evidence suggesting that the family owned any form of communal property comparable to that which formed the financial backbone of lineages in the south.15 For this reason, unlike many in the south who, under the influence of Daoxue Neo-Confucianism, saw lineage organizations as voluntary institutions formed to transform the customs of local society, Li Mengyang’s utmost concern was the long-term survival of the family.16 Although it was commerce that provided the first spark igniting the family’s move upward, Li Mengyang apparently did not feel that relying on commerce should be a permanent solution. In the genealogy, Li repeatedly emphasizes how difficult it was for the family to emerge from obscurity, and the important role that education played in lifting the family to its respectable status. For many in northern China at that time, sustaining their 14. Studies on regions in northern China have shown that families with long traditions of literati learning were extremely rare during the Jin-Yuan period. Frequent occurrences of man-made and natural disasters were among the factors contributing to the adverse development of the literati families. Their gradual recovery seems to have taken place only after the founding of the Ming, and we begin to see the emergence of multigenerational literati families during the fifteenth century. See Shūji, “Transformation of the Shih-jen”; Ong, Men of Letters. 15. For an excellent discussion on north-south differences in terms of the regional distribution of communal property, see Shimizu, Chūgoku zokusan seido kō. 16. Bol, “Neo-Confucianism and Local Society.”

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hard-earned literati status through office holding was an important consideration in compiling a family genealogy.17 We should also note that, given the unreliability of trade and the family’s negligible communal property, the Li family opted to supplement its strategy of preparing its brighter sons for official careers by forging marriage ties with members of the imperial clan. Li Meng­ yang’s numerous pieces written for the Zuos show that he dearly cherished this relationship.18 When he was serving as the educational intendant in Jiangxi, he even sent his subordinate, an official of Yongxin County, to offer sacrifices at the grave of his wife’s grandfather when he was unable to go there himself.19 The state played a prominent role in the story of the Li family, from the way the Lis took up trading in a commerce-friendly environment created by favorable government policy, to the family’s conversion from military status to official status, and its marriage ties with members of the imperial clan. The family’s rise to prominence could be attributed to its success at seizing opportunities presented by the state’s strong presence in the northern regions. This is especially clear with regard to the changes made to the civil examination system, changes that the Li family capitalized on to rise to the peak of the social hierarchy.

North versus South in Ming Politics In 1489 Li Mengyang took part in the Henan provincial examination, on the basis of his ancestral connection with the Henan county of Fugou. He failed. Three years later, Li left Henan and 17. Wang Changwei, “Cong zupu kan Mingdai Shaanxi zongzu zuzhi yu shiren jieceng dijie lianmeng de fangshi.” 18. Li Mengyang, “Ming gu chaolie dafu zongrenfu yibin Zuogong muzhi­ ming,” “Zuo Shunqin muzhiming” 左舜欽墓志銘, “Feng yiren wangqi Zuo­shi muzhiming”封宜人亡妻左氏墓志銘, “Yibin Zuogong hezang zhiming” 儀賓左 公合葬志銘, “Zuogongmu jiwen” 左公墓祭文, “Neidi Zuo Shunzai jiwen” 内弟 左舜在祭文, “Waimu Guangwu junjun jiwen” 外母廣武郡君祭文; all of these writings are in KTJ, vols. 45 and 64. 19. Li Mengyang, “Zuogongmu jiwen,” KTJ, 64.4b–5a.


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brought his family back to Qingyang, where he sat for and passed the Shaanxi provincial examination conducted at Xi’an. One year later, he passed the local metropolitan examination. In 1523, his son Li Zhi 李枝 (b. 1491) also passed the metropolitan examination. The success rate for the Li family in taking the civil examination is remarkable, especially considering that northerners were consistently underrepresented during the early years of the dynasty, which saw northerners constituting only about 17 percent of successful exam candidates.20 This became a major political issue, and in 1425 a proposal was made by Senior Grand Secretary Yang Shiqi 楊士奇 (1354–1444) to the newly enthroned Emperor Renzong 仁宗 (r. 1424–25) to set a regional quota to ensure a more regular supply of northerners into the bureaucracy. Emperor Renzong did not live long enough to put the reform in place, but after him the policy was continued by Xuanzong 宣宗 (r. 1426–35) and remained more or less unchanged throughout the Ming. Regions included in the northern category were Shandong, Shanxi, Henan, Shaanxi, Beizhili 北直隸 (the northern metropolitan region), the two military commissions of Daning 大寧 and Wanquan 萬全 (with their administrative seats located within the northern metropolitan region), and the frontier military region of Liaodong 遼東. The southern regions included Zhejiang, Jiangxi, Fujian, Huguang, Guangdong, and most prefectures of Nanzhili 南直隸 (the southern metropolitan region) except those put under the category of “middle” scripts (zhongjuan 中卷). The “middle category” was added during the course of the Xuande-Zhengtong period (1426–49), affecting candidates from Sichuan, Guangxi, Yunnan, Guizhou, and the prefectures of Fengyang 鳳陽, Anqing 安慶, Luzhou 盧州, Chuzhou 滁州, Xuzhou 徐州, and Hezhou 和州 of Nanzhili (see figure 2). The quota ratio was set at 55:35:10 for the regions of the south, the north, and the middle, respectively. With occasional exceptions, these quotas were preserved and implemented until 20. Wu Xuande, Mingdai jinshi de dili fenbu, pp. 142–43.

Figure 2. China’s southern, northern, and middle regions, according to the Mingera civil service examination’s regional quota system. Map by Shaun Choh.


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the end of the dynasty.21 Whether the quotas were strictly adhered to in practice is questionable, but they did provide more opportunities for the northerners than before. The Lis and other ambitious families in mid-Ming northern China obviously benefited from the state’s early interventions to address the uneven north-south distribution of successful exam candidates. To understand the nature of Yang Shiqi’s proposal and its impact on the subsequent development of Ming politics, we need to decipher what was really at stake when Yang made the recommendation to Emperor Renzong. Yang suggested that the examination system should be designed in such a way that northerners and southerners would have equal chances to advance through the system. The emperor expressed his doubt about the competency of northerners. Yang, however, replied, “Our country has been recruiting scholars from both the south and the north from the very beginning, and those who possess great talent are usually northerners. [On the other hand], the southerners are endowed with literary talent but are usually superficial.”22 In light of the “superficiality” and implied untrustworthiness of the southerners, Yang advocated regional examination quotas. Why did he say they were superficial? According to Yang, they were “superficial” precisely because they were “literary,” and thus supposedly valued form over substance. For this reason, when Emperor Renzong agreed to Yang’s suggestion and issued an edict to the Ministry of Rites to implement the new policy, he made a 21. Zhang Tingyu et al., Ming Shi, 70.1697–98. Writing in the seventeenth century, Gu Yanwu 顧炎武 (1613–82) lamented that the north had always been culturally backward and the northern literati did extremely poorly in literary composition and classical scholarship. This was because, Gu said, the north lacked both resources (dihuang 地荒) and talent (renhuang 人荒). The regional quota system, Gu claimed, was simply a passive way of reducing the tension between northerners and southerners, rather than a progressive method for nurturing talent. Thus he recommended that, rather than trying to recruit more northerners into the bureaucracy using the quota system, the court should consider broadening the military path for the northerners, since they were known to be brave and aggressive. See Gu, Rizhilu jiaozhu, 17: 951–53. 22. Yang Shiqi, “Sanchao shengyu lu shang” 三朝聖諭錄上, in Dongli ji, 2.30ab.

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direct connection between being literary and being superficial. First, the emperor expressed regret that since the beginning of the dynasty, northerners had constituted only one-tenth of those who had passed the examination. This was not fair because, according to the emperor, “although the southerners are better with words [wenci 文詞], the northerners are more sedate [houzhong 厚重].”23 This kind of rhetoric directly links the mastery of literary skill with superficiality in character. As mentioned in the introduction, thinking about the southern people and their culture in terms like superficial, shallow, refined but weak, and so on has a long history. What is also interesting about Yang Shiqi’s claims is that Yang himself was a southerner—a native of Taihe 泰和 County, Jiangxi—so if southerners were truly superficial, how could Yang avoid undermining his own presence in the court? For an answer, we need to examine earlier stages in the development of northversus-south rhetoric. Emperor Taizu (r. 1368–98), the founder of the dynasty, consolidated his power in the south with the help of southern scholars. His two trips to Kaifeng in 1368, the first year of his regime, were the only visits he paid to the north in his entire lifetime.24 Yet Taizu was well known for his animosity toward southerners. In the palace examination of 1398, when examiner Liu Sanwu 劉三吾 (n.d.) from Huguang did not pass a single northerner, rumors spread that Liu was showing favoritism toward southerners. The gossip angered the emperor, and he ordered the exams to be reevaluated by different officials. The result was the same, but rumors spread again. This time it was said that Liu Sanwu had influenced the selection of papers to be reassessed, and that the northern papers selected were all of poor quality. This angered the emperor even more. He ordered the failed candidates to be reexamined, and he personally read all the essays. Sixty-one candidates were passed this time, all of them northerners. As a result, the original examiners were punished, some sent into exile and some even killed.25 This famous 23. Yang Shiqi, “Sanchao shengyu lu shang.” 24. Farmer, Early Ming Government, pp. 43–45. 25. Zhang Tingyu et al., Ming Shi, 70.1697–98.


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episode was later known as the “the scandal of the southern and northern lists” (nanbeibang 南北榜). When Taizu showed displeasure toward the “south,” which south was he guarding against and what exactly was his target? Apparently, many people in the Ming thought that some of the harshest words Taizu had delivered had been directed toward the Jiangnan area, or the Lower Yangzi Delta, the most prosperous region in late imperial China. Indeed, throughout the emperor’s life he perceived the Jiangnan elite as a threat to his imperial order, so much so that, according to Danjō Hiroshi, his suspension of the civil examination in 1372 was an effort to block Jiangnan scholars from entering government.26 The emperor preferred the recommendation system (jianju 薦舉), which, according to his vision, would select individuals based primarily on their moral conduct (dexing 德行) instead of their literary skill (wenyi 文藝).27 The examinations were reintroduced ten years later, but the emperor’s concern about the potentially subversive south never lapsed, leading eventually to the 1398 scandal. The barriers against Jiangnan were immediately reduced after the death of Emperor Taizu, when his grandson and successor, Emperor Hui, removed some of the harshest policies of the Hong­ wu reign. His advisory committee was mostly made up of scholarofficials from Jiangnan and Jiangxi. They advised him to take action against the princes who had been dispatched to various strategic regions, mostly in the north, during the Hongwu reign and whose powers were growing to the extent that the court was losing control of them. The outcome was the usurpation of the throne by the most powerful prince, Zhu Di 朱棣, who defeated and killed his nephew Emperor Hui and became Emperor Chengzu (r. 1402–24). Apart from making a northern city, Beijing, the national capital, Emperor Chengzu’s attitudes toward the north and the south were quite similar to those of his father. The Chengzu (Yong­le) reign saw a revival of many of Emperor Taizu’s initial plans, 26. Danjō, “Mindai kakyo kaikaku no seijiteki haikei.” 27. Zhang Tingyu et al., Ming Shi, 71.1712.

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including some harsh policies against Jiangnan, such as the imposition of heavy taxes. 28 This was accompanied by a conscious effort to support northerners. In 1421, when a native of Yanshan 鹽山 in the metropolitan region of Beijing, Wang Ao 王翱 (1384– 1467), passed both the metropolitan and palace examinations, Emperor Chengzu was said to have been delighted with the fact that a northern scholar had done so well in the examinations just when he was considering moving the capital to Beijing. Wang was granted an audience with the emperor, was given food, and was appointed a Hanlin bachelor (shujishi 庶吉士).29 The shift in court policy from the founding of the Ming to the end of the Yongle era has prompted Danjō Hiroshi to argue that the Hongwu era signifies a transition from a “southern” regime (nanfang zhengquan 南方政權) to a “unified” regime (tongyi zheng­ quan 統一政權), while the Jianwen era represented an attempt to reverse that process. After Emperor Chengzu successfully supplanted his nephew, he reverted to Taizu’s push for a unified empire, a trend followed by Emperors Renzong and Xuanzong. Emperor Hui’s revision was therefore only a temporary reversal of the fundamental trend laid down by the founding emperor.30 It is with this conception of early Ming political trends that Danjō tries to rationalize Yang Shiqi’s “odd” attitude toward the south, mentioned above. Yang and other southern scholar-officials, Danjō argues, having witnessed how the Yuan fell apart because of the government’s inability to control the powerful southern elite, fully embraced the imperial vision of building a unified empire. They put aside their southern identity and helped to consolidate the imperial vision by ensuring that northerners would be given equal chances to advance.31 Danjō’s explanation fails, however, to take into account the formation of the Jiangxi clique in the early Ming, of which Yang Shiqi was the central figure. Compared with candidates from other 28. Mao Peiqi, “Jianwen xinzheng he Yongle ‘jitong,’” esp. pp. 44–46. 29. Zhang Tingyu et al., Ming Shi, 177.4699. 30. Danjō, “Ming ōchō seiritsuki no kiseki.” 31. Danjō, “Mindai kakyo kaikaku no seijiteki haikei,” pp. 518–21.


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regions, Jiangxi men enjoyed the most striking success in the early Ming in climbing the bureaucratic ladder. While the reasons behind this extraordinary success might be many, the fact that many Jiangxi men relied on their hometown connections to enter the government is notable. 32 John Dardess, in particular, has noted how Yang fervently patronized promising men from his hometown of Taihe. When Nanjing fell to the army of Emperor Chengzu in 1402, Yang, having formerly served Emperor Hui, offered his service to the usurper. He and six others were soon made part of an inner group of palace advisers. This group would later become the core of the grand secretariat. In the coming years, building on the recommendations and patronage of Yang and other prominent Taihe figures, Taihe men found extraordinary success in the court of the early fifteenth century.33 Such regional boosterism suggests that southerners like Yang Shiqi might not have shared the imperial vision of building an “impartial” state system after all. It is in the means by which Taihe men entered Ming government that I think we may see the real motivations behind Yang Shiqi’s criticism of the south. When Yang Shiqi himself entered the Ming government, he was first appointed to position as a county-level assistant instructor, which was not a ranked position. He achieved this position through recommendation rather than examination. He was later recommended again, to the post of editorial assistant in the Hanlin Academy. According to Yang’s own account, there was an occasion when all editorial assistants were ordered to take a written test at the Ministry of Personnel, and he was rated number one. The minister exclaimed after reading his paper: “Here we have a usable talent who understands current affairs. His is not just a literary talent.”34

32. Ikoma, “Minsho Kakyo gokakusha no shushin ni kan suru ichi kōsatsu”; Elman, Cultural History of Civil Examination, pp. 91–92. 33. Dardess, Ming Society, pp. 173–89. 34. Dardess, Ming Society, p. 177. The minister’s words are translated by Dardess from Yang Shiqi’s biography; see Chen Shang, “Dongli xiansheng xiao­ zhuan,” 12.35b–41b.

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Here we see how, by quoting the minister’s approving evaluation of his talent, Yang tried to distance himself from the “literary.” This is in line with his criticism of southerners as being “super­ ficial” in the 1425 proposal to reform the examination system. It appears that Yang sought to contrast the worthiness of men like himself, who entered the government through recommendation, with those who went through the examinations. In other words, when Yang employed the rhetoric of the “problematic south,” he, like Emperor Taizu, was trying to undermine the examination system that, if left alone, would be dominated by candidates from Jiang­nan. At the same time, Yang was trying to endorse the recommendation system through which he and many of his Jiangxi protégés had made their way into government positions. When Emperor Renzong initially expressed his approval of the learning of the southerners over that of the northerners, he may have been ready to patronize the once-deprived Jiangnan elites, who had proven many times in the past that they could do well in the examinations. The emperor might have intended to use them to limit the power of Yang Shiqi and his ilk. 35 However, Emperor Renzong and his successor, Xuanzong, were unable to displace the recommendation system. It remained an important system of recruitment until 1457, when it was finally abolished by the reinstated Emperor Yingzong 英宗 (r. 1436–49; 1457–64). 36 Debates on the regional quota system and the north-south split were often intertwined with the debates on examination versus recommendation systems, as may be seen clearly in an episode that took place during the reign of the Jingtai 景泰 emperor (r. 1449–57), who replaced Emperor Yingzong when the latter was captured by the Mongols during the Tumu Incident. In 1451, the Ministry of Rites “suddenly” proposed to abandon the quota 35. Emperor Renzong was well known and often praised for his “friendly” policies toward the Jiangnan region, especially for the way he reduced the tax burden of the Jiangnan people. See Wu Jihua, “Lun Mingdai qianqi shuiliang zhong­xin zhi jianshui beijing ji yingxiang,” pp. 86–87. 36. Ho Ping-ti, Ladder of Success, pp. 216–17.


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system that was initiated during the Hongxi era. Li Kan 李侃 (n.d.), a supervising secretary of the Ministry of Revenue and a native of Dong’an 東安 in the metropolitan region of Beijing, joined other officials to urge the court to reject the proposal: In this year’s metropolitan examination, the Ministry of Rites proposed to select candidates without considering [whether they are from] the north or the south. Your humble subjects feel that the words of the scholars from the north of the Yangzi River is concrete in substance while the words of the scholars from the south of the Yangzi River is rich, [and] therefore the examiners would consistently select more southerners and fewer northerners. In the thirtieth year of the Hongwu reign, Emperor Taizu was angry over the fact that the selection was biased. He personally selected sixtyone northerners, including Han Kezhong, and granted them the degree of jinshi. In the first year of the Hongxi period, Emperor Renzong again ordered Yang Shiqi and other ministers to discuss and fix the quota of selection at 60 percent southerners and 40 per­ cent northerners. Now, the Ministry of Rites, yearning to [base the selection] entirely on wenci so as to [allow] more southerners to be selected, absurdly proposed to change the system. We beg [your majesty] to open this issue for discussion and order all officials to take part, and to decide that in the future, although the selection quota should not be restricted [to the current proportion], the distinction between north and should not be changed. 今年會試,禮部奏准取士不分南北。臣等切惟江北之人文詞質實,江 南之人文詞豐贍,故試官取南人恆多而北人恆少。洪武三十年,太祖 高皇帝怒所取之偏,選北人韓克忠等六十一人,賜進士及第出身有 差。洪熙元年,仁宗皇帝又命大臣楊士奇等定議取士之額,南人什 六,北人什四。今禮部妄奏變更,意欲專以文詞多取南人。乞勑多官 會議,今後取士之額雖不可拘,而南北之分則不可改。37

In response to Li Kan’s accusation, the Ministry of Rites rebutted: Previously an edict issued to our ministry ordered that beginning from the first year of Jingtai, the examination system is to revert to 37. Yingzong shilu 英宗實錄, in Ming Shilu, vol. 32, 201.4275–76.

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that which was implemented in the Yongle period [i.e., before the quota system]. We have checked and learned that in the twenty years of the Yongle era, the examination was held eight times and all the candidates were selected without consideration as to whether they were northerners or southerners. Our findings were submitted and approved. But now Li Kan suggests that the Ministry of Rites proposes to change the system because we intend to base the selection criteria solely on words, so as to pass mostly southerners. The system of local recommendations can no longer be used, so if the selection is not to be based on wen, then what should the examiner rely upon [to make a decision]? Moreover, the north is where the talents of the middle land are produced. In the ancient times, great sages such as the Duke of Zhou and Confucius, as well as great worthy men such as Yan [Yuan], Zeng [Cen], [Zi] si, and Mencius were all not southerners. In present days, [great officials] such as Wang Ji, the Earl of Jingyuan, Wang Ao, and Wang Wen, the Left Censor-in-chief, were all jinshi selected during the Yongle reign when no distinction was made between the north and the south. [As such], how could we presuppose that there is no talent in the north? Moreover, our ministry is just following the order of the edict and has never proposed to select more southerners or fewer northerners. Now that the officials are making such comments, we hope [your majesty] could request that this be discussed at the Hanlin Academy. 頃者詔書:科舉自景泰元年為始,一遵永樂年間例行。本部查得永 樂二十年間,凡八開科,所取進士皆不分南北,已經奏允。今侃稱禮部 變更,意在專以文詞,多取南人。夫鄉舉里選之法不可行矣。取士若不 以文,考官將何所據?且北方中土,人才所生,以古言之,大聖如周 公、孔子,大賢如顏、曾、思、孟,皆非南人。以今言之,如靖遠伯王 驥、左都御史王翺、王文,皆永樂間不分南北所取進士,今豈可預 謂北無其人?況本部止遵詔書所奏,即不曾奏請多取南人,少取北 人,今各官所言如是,祈勑翰林院定議。38

The controversy did not end even after the Jingtai emperor ordered that the edict to revert to the Yongle-era system be followed and Li Kan’s suggestion to use quotas be disregarded. Not 38. Yingzong shilu, in Ming Shilu, vol. 32, 201.4276–77.


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long after, the northerner Xu Tingzhang 徐廷章 (jinshi 1451) again requested that the quota system be restored, and this time the emperor complied. In 1454, the north-south-middle quota system was brought back once again.39 In this particular controversy, characterization of the south as being “too literary” reappeared. Fewer northerners were selected because, according to Li Kan, their writings were less decorative and hence less attractive. Li Kan argued that the ministry’s proposal was designed to help southerners gain ground in the examination competition. The minister of rites at the time was the southerner Hu Ying 胡濙 (1375–1463), so Li was in effect accusing Hu of favoritism. Li Kan’s accusation, as we can see, was based on the commonplace north-south distinction, but the response of the Ministry of Rites was interesting. It shifted the controversy from north-south distinctions to examination-recommendation distinctions. Since the ministry said it was now impossible to implement the recommendation system, the examiners had no alternative but to judge the credibility of the candidates based on their writings. This method, contrary to the accusation of Li Kan, did not work against the northerners, the ministry said, as many northerners were selected and given high official posts under the system. Contrary to the ministry’s claim, a recommendation system was still in effect at that time, although it was no longer called xiangju lixuan (system of local administration). The Jingtai emperor, however, had been trying to narrow this path to the government. Later in the same year, for example, the emperor agreed to apply stricter screening to government teachers who had been appointed through recommendation. Now, the recommended person had to be evaluated by province-level officials before he could be appointed.40 Ironically, as mentioned earlier, it was the reinstated Emperor Yingzong who eventually abolished the recommendation system. He had to dethrone the Jingtai emperor by force, but Emperor 39. Zhang Tingyu et al., Ming Shi, 70.1697–98. 40. Yingzong shilu, in Ming Shilu, vol. 32, 210.4513.

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Yingzong apparently shared Jingtai’s distrust of the recommendation system. This proved to be devastating for those who relied on it to secure their positions at court. Although individuals who entered the government through the recommendation system were usually appointed to the lower levels in the bureaucracy and, except in extremely rare cases, their prospects were limited, the recommendation system, as Dardess’s study of the Taihe men has shown, was crucial to the overall success of those striving to achieve higher-status positions. Without it, all other paths would be much narrower.41 Dardess believes that attacks on the recommendation system were aimed at the many Taihe men in the government who had gotten there through that system.42 Taihe men became targets because they had been able to dominate the recommendation system, thanks to powerful political figures controlling the process. The attacks came from two sides, from the monarch and from newcomers to the government, both trying to challenge the “old hands” from Taihe who had been monopolizing that route to bureaucratic success. Instead of directing their attacks at a particular locality, however, the confrontations often involved more general north-versus-south rhetoric.43 With such rhetoric firmly instilled in the consciousness of Ming political elites, some emperors had found the north-south label useful for practicing the politics of “divide and conquer,” for various ends. For instance, Emperor Yingzong’s patronage of northerners was well known and even recorded by his ministers.44 41. Dardess, Ming Society, pp. 142–46. 42. Dardess, Ming Society, pp. 142–46. 43. Wang Changwei, “Mingchu nanbei zhi zheng de zhengjie.” 44. Peng, Peng Wenxiangong biji, 2. In this record by Peng Shi 彭時 (1416– 75), a southerner who was appointed grand secretary by Emperor Yingzong, the emperor is said to have once instructed that only northern jinshi should be selected for the Hanlin Academy, unless there was someone like Peng among the southern jinshi. Peng responded that there were many southerners who were superior to himself, so the court should not make the selection based on regional origin. Eventually three out of the fifteen selected were southerners (although the biography of Peng in the official history of the Ming counts six). While it is clear that Peng was trying to highlight the imperial favor that


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This led to a wave of factional politics that was again projected as a north-south split within the bureaucracy during the TianshunChenghua (1457–87) era. These fierce conflicts subsided before Li Mengyang began his political career, but their impact could still be felt during Li’s time. Once in a while, the regional origins of officials would be brought up during political disputes, suggesting the lingering effect of the north-south factional split.45 Dardess has warned against characterizing the TianshunChenghua episode as solely regional in nature. He convincingly argues that “the cliques of the Ch’eng-hua era were fuzzily founded, not sharply defined in regional membership; and they were not useful as rallying symbols in any positive sense. One did not assert one’s own membership of a regional clique; one castigated one’s enemies as members of a regional clique. One also acted under the fear of being so stigmatized by others.”46 Still, the fact that regional labels were useful for accusing opponents of practicing favoritism suggests a deep-rooted concern over the damaging effect of political factions formed via regional ties. This was especially true when the different parties began to form alliances with eunuchs and imperial relatives to monopolize access to the monarch. The phenomenon of eunuchs gaining political power had first appeared during the Yongle era, when Emperor Chengzu set up the Eastern Depot for performing surveillance work. The Cheng­hua reign, under the rulership of Emperor Xianzong 憲宗, witnessed another high tide of “eunuch politics” with the establishment of the Western Depot.47 Moreover, this was the period he received, the episode does underscore the emperor’s strong preference for northerners. Other instances in which the emperor showed his support for northerners may be seen in Zhang Tingyu et al., Ming Shi, 176.4679–80. 45. See, for instance, a record about how the southerners and northerners fought over the highly contested post of minister of personnel during the Hongzhi 弘治 (1487–1505) period, in Chen Hongmo, Zhishi yuwen, p. 15. This miscellany, first published in 1521, contains much information about court politics of the Hongzhi era as experienced personally by Chen (1474–1555), who was a contemporary of Li Mengyang and served last in the post of vice minister of war. 46. Dardess, Ming Society, p. 203. 47. Tsai, Eunuchs in the Ming Dynasty, pp. 114–16.

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when a powerful woman at the palace surnamed Wan 萬, along with her relatives and associates, including Daoist and Buddhist practitioners, also had tremendous influence on court politics.48 Under such circumstances, it is not surprising that members from both the northern and southern factions sought alliances with these political players outside of the regular bureaucracy, and their complex relationships further enhanced the power of the latter.49 In the subsequent reigns of Hongzhi 弘治 (r. 1487–1505) and Zhengde 正德 (1505–21), the influence of these ambitious groups continued to grow, eventually culminating in the emergence of Liu Jin, one of the most powerful eunuchs in Chinese history. Stories abound of how Liu Jin dominated the court and abused his power. One instance worth noting here was his attempt to alter the examination quota system. A native of Xingping 興平 County, Shaanxi, Liu Jin instructed the officials under his control to propose in 1508 that the quotas for the following provinces be increased for the provincial examination: Shaanxi (from 65 to 100), Shandong (from 75 to 90), Shanxi (from 65 to 90), and Henan (from 80 to 95). At the metropolitan examination level, Liu Jin removed the “middle” category and set the northsouth ratio at 50:50. Apparently Liu was trying to rally the support of northerners in general and his Shaanxi countrymen in particular. The change was implemented for only one round of exams and abolished after Liu’s fall from power and execution in 1510, and it got several northern scholar-officials into trouble when they were accused of belonging to the Liu Jin clique.50 This was but one episode in the early years of Zhengde when beliefs about the north-south divide were wielded for the destruction of political enemies.51 For those who firmly believed that administrative power should be placed solely in the hands of the bureaucracy, 48. Meng, Ming-Qingshi jiangyi, pp. 162–68. 49. Chen Lunxu, “Ji Ming Tianshun Chenghua jian dachen nanbei zhi zheng,” p. 268. 50. Tan Qian, Guoque, p. 2979. 51. Other anecdotes about how Liu Jin and his associates, especially the powerful minister Jiao Fang 焦芳 (1434–1517), sought to expel the southerners are recorded in Zhang Tingyu et al., Ming shi, 306.7836.


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it also exemplified how established norms could be disrupted by powerful individuals operating outside of the regular state system. Li Mengyang was among those who sought to restore the integrity of the bureaucracy, and he spent a good part of his career battling with eunuchs, relatives of the emperor, and religious practitioners. Li’s first official posting was as a secretary in the Ministry of Revenue, and it was in this ministry that he witnessed many cases of tax evasion by merchants protected by powerful eunuchs and imperial relatives. His disdain for these groups of powerful men is apparent in many of his writings, including a memorial written in the last year of the Hongzhi reign (1505), in which he identified two failings, three threats, and six deteriorations (erbing, sanhai, liujian 二病三害六漸) in the contemporary situation, many of which were related to the evils of these powerful and unruly men. In a sense, the memorial presages Li’s future struggles. 52 Li Mengyang was imprisoned for submitting the memorial, but he was later released by the emperor, against the will of the eunuchs and imperial relatives who wanted Li dead. This episode did not stop Li from battling the eunuchs. As soon as Emperor Wuzong 武宗 (r. 1506–21) ascended to the throne, Li submitted a memorial on behalf of Minister of Revenue Han Wen 韓文 (n.d.), impeaching the eunuchs, including Liu Jin. 53 When Li spoke on the salt trade in the capacity of vice minister of revenue, he described the state’s loss of control of the trade as a major threat and put the blame on unruly merchants and local strongmen backed by powerful official families and imperial relatives. The solution, he proposed, was to assert the state’s authority in a forceful manner by sending stern officials who were capable and

52. Li Mengyang, “Shang Xiaozong huangdi shugao” 上孝宗皇帝書藁, KTJ, 39.1a–3b. 53. Li Mengyang, “Dai he huanguan zhuangshu” 代劾宦官狀疏, KTJ, 40.1a–2b.

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honorable to wrest control of the trade from the hands of the merchants and their patrons.54 The emperor of course did not follow such suggestions. Not only was Li Mengyang demoted and chased out of the capital, he was also arrested not long after, when Liu accused him of writing poems to criticize the court. Li was released with the help of his friend Kang Hai 康海 (1475–1541). 55 In 1510, after Liu Jin was executed, Li was reinstated and then appointed educational intendant of Jiangxi, a post that he held for three years before getting into trouble again. This time he was accused of siding with students when they had a run-in with a prince’s guards, interfering with the jurisdiction of other officials, and being associated with Prince Zhu Chenhao 朱宸濠 (d. 1521), who staged the rebellion that was famously suppressed by Wang Yangming. As a result, Li was sent to prison, released, and eventually deprived of his official status, in 1522. He spent the rest of his life in Kaifeng.56 In spite of his early success, Li Mengyang had a rough official career marked by intense struggles with eunuchs, imperial relatives, and those he described as “evil” officials. Li was of course not alone. In fact, throughout the Ming period this was a recurring problem that many faced. As we have seen, Ming sources have 54. Li Mengyang, “Ni chuzhi yanfa shiyi zhuang” 擬處置鹽法事宜狀, KTJ, 40.5a–8a. 55. The relationship between Kang Hai and Li Mengyang after the Liu Jin incident is a matter of debate. A popular version has it that after Kang approached Liu and successfully persuaded the latter, who thought highly of Kang, to release Li Mengyang, Kang was seen by his contemporaries as belonging to Liu’s clique. As a result, after the fall of Liu he was dismissed from court. But much to Kang’s dismay, Li Mengyang did not care to help him clear his name. For this reason, Kang wrote a famous drama titled The Wolf of Zhongshan, in which he satirized the ungrateful Li. Through careful research on the various versions of the play, however, Tian Yuan Tan has convincingly showed that we need to be extremely cautious about interpreting the drama in such terms. See Tian Yuan Tan, “The Wolf of Zhongshan and Ingrates.” 56. Zhu Anxian, “Li Kongtong xiansheng nianbiao,” KTJ, appendix 1.3a– 15a. Chaoying Fang, “Li Meng-yang,” in Goodrich and Fang, Dictionary of Ming Biography, pp. 841–44.


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often portrayed such rivalries in terms of north-versus-south rhetoric. This may be what has prompted some modern scholars to locate the origin of factional politics in the Ming period in the division between northerners and southerners.57 Such factionalism was actually much more complicated, however. The north-south divide that arose from the episodes surrounding the civil service examination and the formation of political cliques can be properly understood only if we keep in mind the three layers of the divide outlined in the introduction: the actual differences in ecological, economic, administrative, and social conditions; the differences between northern and southern literati in their intellectual orientation and views of the state; and the perceived or imagined north-south divide and how it has been used historically to interpret political, social, cultural, and intellectual differences. The north-south dispute that plagued Ming politics corresponds to the third layer. The north-versussouth contention was rhetorical, and the real issue was the competition between various political cliques trying to control the system for selecting officials. Moreover, the competition was ­often most intense among groups from different southern regions. The early Ming efforts to suppress the influx of Jiangnan elites by manipulating the examination system encouraged the rise of powerful Jiangxi cliques, whose extraordinary success before the midfifteenth century was curtailed only after the recommendation system was abolished. Yet political struggles at the court into the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries continued to use the rhetoric of north versus south. Viewed from this perspective, the division between north and south was certainly more imagined than real. Still, the numerous discussions and debates concerning the regional quota system, and the power struggles within the bureaucracy, while not necessarily triggered directly by actual disparity between north and south, did augment a heightened sense of regional difference. This perception of difference is also apparent if we follow the activity of the various literati networks and communities active during Li’s time. 57. Zheng Kecheng, Mingdai zhengzheng tanyuan.

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Northern and Southern Literati Communities As mentioned, after Li Mengyang failed his first provincial examination in Henan in 1489 he moved back to his birthplace of Qingyang. It was there that he met the director of education for Shaanxi, Yang Yiqing 楊一清 (1454–1530), whom he regarded as his teacher and with whom he maintained a lifelong friendship.58 Yang was one of the most important statesmen of the mid-Ming period as well as an established poet. In 1516 he asked Li Mengyang to edit and publish a collection of his poems, and Li took this opportunity to articulate his views on poetry by writing commentaries on individual pieces. 59 Yang thought very highly of Li and received his suggestions and criticisms wholeheartedly.60 While it is unclear to what extent Yang actually influenced Li Mengyang, he was definitely a strong supporter of Li’s call for learning from the past.61 Another towering figure who featured prominently in Li Meng­ yang’s literary pursuits was Li Dongyang, who is often credited with initiating a literary movement to correct the faults of the so-called Cabinet style (taige ti 臺閣體) and igniting the archaist movement that followed.62 Li Dongyang was one of the examiners for the metropolitan examination that Li Mengyang took in 1493. After the examination, Li Mengyang returned to Qingyang to 58. In the seventh month of 1529, the year that he died, Li Mengyang made a trip to Jingkou 京口 (in present-day Zhenjiang 鎮江, Jiangsu) to seek medical care. While there, he stayed at Yang Yiqing’s house. He returned home two months later, and died shortly thereafter. Zhu Anxian, “Li Kongtong xiansheng nianbiao,” KTJ, appendix 1.3a–15a. Chaoying Fang, “Li Meng-yang,” in Goodrich and Fang, Dictionary of Ming Biography, p. 844. 59. Zhu Anxian, “Li Kongtong xiansheng nianbiao,” KTJ, appendix 1.3a– 15a. Chaoying Fang, “Li Meng-yang,” in Goodrich and Fang, Dictionary of Ming Biography, p. 843. See also Shi and Yang, “Shilun Li Mengyang pingdian Shicong shigao de shixue jiazhi.” 60. Yang Yiqing, “Yu Li Xianji xianfu” 與李獻吉憲副, in Yang Yiqing ji, pp. 1100–1101. 61. Some scholars claim that Li Mengyang was directly inspired by Yang Yiqing. See Tan and Dai, Yang Yiqing pingzhuan, pp. 184–85. Yang Yiqing, Yang Yiqing ji, p. 1099. 62. See, for instance, Song Peiwei, Ming wenxueshi, p. 89.


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mourn for his parents and stayed there for five years. The two men met again in Beijing in 1498 when Li Dongyang, then a grand secretary, assembled a group of talented young writers, including Li Mengyang, to meet for literary discussions.63 Li Mengyang’s admiration for both Yang Yiqing and Li Dongyang is obvious in a poem that he wrote in 1505: The literary styles of the Xuande period were mostly murky. How great was Dongli [Yang Shiqi’s style name] whose writings were like treasures in the court! My masters Yang [Yiqing] and Li [Dongyang] arose [during this time of mediocrity.] They turned the tide as if moving objects of immeasurable weight using a strand of hair. [Their achievements] are as rare as the globular vase and silver wine urn. And [the way they shock the world] like a big sea turtle moving with lightning-fast pace or a whale turning its body is hard to describe.64 宣德文體多渾淪,偉哉東里廊廟珍。 我師崛起楊與李,力挽一髮囘千鈞。 天球銀甕世希絕,鰲掣鯨翻難具陳。

Li Mengyang credited Yang Yiqing and Li Dongyang with rescuing Ming literature from the mediocrity of the days when Yang Shiqi had stood as the lone bright star. Since many literary historians have identified Yang Shiqi as a major representative of the Cabinet style and Li Mengyang’s vision is often seen as a reaction against it, his praise here of Yang Shiqi suggests that the kind of linear narrative of Ming literature I alluded to in the introduction has to be revised. We also know from historical hindsight 63. Zhu Anxian, “Li Kongtong xiansheng nianbiao,” KTJ, appendix 1.3a– 15a. Chaoying Fang, “Li Meng-yang,” in Goodrich and Fang, Dictionary of Ming Biography, p. 841. 64. Li Mengyang, “Xuzi jiangshi Hu-Xiang, yu shi lianlian nan bie: Zoubi chanju, shu yidai wenren zhi sheng, jianyu zhuwang yaner” 徐子將適湖湘,余 實戀戀難別。走筆長句,述一代文人之勝,兼寓祝望焉耳, KTJ, 20.19a–20a.

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that Li Mengyang would eventually become uncomfortable with Li Dongyang’s literary vision. But in the period around 1505, Li Mengyang still considered Li Dongyang and Yang Yiqing literary leaders to whom he willingly adhered.65 Yang Yiqing was born in Guangdong and claimed Yunnan as his ancestral land, but his main place of residence after passing the metropolitan examination in 1472 was Zhenjiang (belonging to the southern metropolitan region in the Ming).66 Li Dongyang, on the other hand, was born and resided in Beijing for most of his life, although he traced his ancestry to Chaling, Huguang.67 The group that revolved around Li Dongyang (retrospectively called the Chaling school) included individuals from both the north and the south.68 In other words, there is no clear regional character to the literary circle in which Li Mengyang participated during his earlier years. However, Li was sensitive to regional disparities in literati culture. As mentioned in the introduction, Zhu Anxian, the author of Li Mengyang’s chronicle, referred to the encounter between Li and the senior grand secretary Liu Jian, a northerner. The rest of that account is about Li’s experiences at the capital in 1498, and it goes on to describe Li Mengyang as excelling in his official role without altering his literary pursuits. Interestingly, Zhu’s narrative of the mistreatment that Li received is remarkably similar to a tomb inscription that Li Mengyang wrote for Zhu Yingdeng 朱應登 (1477–1526): [Zhu Yingdeng] was a native of Baoying, Yangzhou. . . . He obtained the jinshi degree in his twentieth year. At that time, Gu Hua, Liu Ling, and Xu Zhenqing were known as the Three Talents of 65. In the following year Li Mengyang wrote a poem celebrating Li Dongyang’s sixtieth birthday. See Li Mengyang, “Shaofu Xiya xianggong liushishou shi sanshiba yun” 少傅西涯相公六十壽詩三十八韻, KTJ, 28.12a–13a. 66. Chou Tao-chi, “Yang I-ch’ing,” in Goodrich and Fang, Dictionary of Ming Biography, p. 1516. 67. Chaoying Fang, “Li Tung-yang,” in Goodrich and Fang, Dictionary of Ming Biography, pp. 877–81. 68. Zhu Anxian, “Li Kongtong xiansheng nianbiao,” KTJ, appendix 1.3a–15a.


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Jiangdong, and Lingxi [Zhu’s style name] joined them in making noise [in the literary circles] between Jiangsu and Huguang, quickly turning the region into an excellent place. At that time, scholars devoted to [the learning of] the past admired him greatly and were eager to befriend him. However, the power-holder disliked him and [tried to] suppress him. Being a northerner, [the power-holder] was coarse and felt ashamed of his lack of literary skill. He took pride in his learning in classical studies and said, “If a youngster is not committed to practical affairs, even if he can write poems comparable to those of Li [Bai] and Du [Fu], he is still merely an inebriate.” At the same time, the leaders of the literary world69 were accustomed to inheriting bad writing habits and repeating commonplace expressions. They wasted their effort in producing superficial and flowery writings to please the tastes of their times. When they saw the archaic writings of Lingxi and his peers, they were offended and they suppressed [Lingxi and his fellows] by saying that [writing in an archaic form] is like selling a pingtian headdress [an archaic headdress used in ceremonies of old]. As a result, all those who excelled in literary learning were not given positions in the Hanlin Academy. As for Lingxi, he was appointed secretary in the Ministry of Revenue at the Southern Capital. This was [the result of] a secret conspiracy aimed at containing him. 凌谿先生,姓朱氏,名應登,字升之,揚之寶應人也。年二十舉進 士,時顧華玉璘、劉元瑞麟、徐昌穀禎卿,號江東三才,凌谿乃與 並奮,競騁吳楚之間,歘為俊國。一時篤古之士,爭慕響臻,樂與 之交。而執政者顧不之喜,惡抑之。北人樸,恥乏黼黻,以經學自文 曰:“後生不務實,即詩到李杜,亦酒徒耳。”而柄文者承弊襲常,方 工雕浮靡麗之詞,取媚時眼,見凌谿等古文詞,愈惡抑之曰:“是賣平 天冠者。”於是凡號稱文學士,率不獲列于清衘。乃凌谿則拜南京戶 部主事,陰欲困之。70

69. This is most likely a reference to Li Dongyang and other leading members of the grand secretariat who were charged with overseeing literary learning. 70. Li Mengyang, “Lingxi xiansheng muzhiming” 凌谿先生墓志銘, KTJ, 47.1b–4a. A slightly shorter version of the text is collected in Jiao Hong, Guochao xianzheng lu, p. 102.

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We are told that although Zhu Yingdeng did not receive an appropriate official post, he nevertheless fulfilled his official duties effectively and was still able to broaden his learning. Recalling from the introduction that this was exactly how Zhu Anxian described Li Mengyang in the chronicle, it is clear that Zhu was aware that Li Mengyang had actually used the tomb inscription for Zhu Yingdeng as a venue for complaining about the sort of mistreatment that he himself received. What can be deduced from our analysis of the two texts? Clearly Li Mengyang was acutely sensitive about the fact that many of his contemporaries were labeling southern scholarship as “literary” and northern learning as “classical” and “practical.” The literary culture of the south was further maligned for being excessively adorned and thus superficial and useless. Presumably, the power-holder in this case disparaged Zhu’s learning because he valued only those pursuits of the literati that he thought could be applied to government. Li Mengyang’s promotion of the archaist style, as evident in his description of Zhu Yingdeng’s work, was thus apparently motivated by a commitment to underscore the importance of literary learning against classical studies and administrative knowledge. In emphasizing how Zhu excelled both as an administrator and a writer, Li was arguing that the art of writing did not have to depend on being relevant to the grand purpose of the state in order to be seen as a serious and worthwhile pursuit. Li’s archaist course was also a conscious effort to strip literary writing of its southern label and project it as an intellectual endeavor worth pursuing for both northerners and southerners alike. Indeed some, like Li Kaixian 李開先 (1502–68), praised Li Mengyang for being able to avoid the pitfalls of both northern and southern literary traditions while producing writing that combines the strengths of the two.71 When he was at the capital from 1498 to 1507, Li Mengyang began to articulate his theory of archaism and quickly attracted a group of like-minded friends. Members of the group, which 71. Li Kaixian, “Haidai shiji xu” 海岱詩集序, in Li Zhonglu xianju ji, 5.3a–5a.


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became known as the Former Seven Masters, all met Li during this critical juncture in Ming literary history, although not at the same time, and six of the seven were northerners. Apart from Li Mengyang himself, the group included Kang Hai and Wang Jiusi 王九思 (1468–1551) from Shaanxi, He Jingming 何景明 (1483– 1521) and Wang Tingxiang 王廷相 (1474–1544) from Henan, and Bian Gong 邊貢 (1476–1532) from Shandong. The only southerner in the group was Xu Zhenqing 徐禎卿 (1479–1511) from Suzhou. Although some scholars have argued that the rise of the Former Seven Masters signified that the northern literati community was growing,72 as Jian Jinsong has convincingly shown, it was never Li’s intention to form a distinctly northern community of writers. In fact, Li was eager to penetrate the southern literati cliques with his ideas. He received help from established southern scholars such as Xu Zhenqing, Zhu Yingdeng, and Gu Lin 顧麟 (1476–1545), who promoted his vision of literary archaism in Jiang­nan. Equally important was the role of the Huizhou merchants who became acquainted with Li when they conducted their business in Henan. Several of these merchants learned the art of poetry from Li and provided financial support for his literary ventures. They also introduced Li to the famous Suzhou publisher Huang Xingzeng 黃省曾 (1490–1540). Huang would later become an admirer of Li’s, publishing not only Li’s literary collection but also works that promoted his literary theory. Li was already nationally acclaimed before he met Huang, but through Huang’s efforts, his works reached a much wider audience.73 Although Li Mengyang’s authority was keenly felt in Suzhou and he attracted many followers there, he also encountered strong resistance. During the mid-Ming period, Suzhou produced names like Shen Zhou 沈周 (1427–1509), Tang Yin 唐寅 (1470–1523), Zhu Yunming 祝允明 (1460–1527), and Wen Zhengming 文徴明 72. Guo Haozheng, “Mingdai zhengtan nanbei zhi zheng yu Qian Qizi de jueqi.” Guo further claims that the Former Seven Masters benefited from the political ascendency of Liu Jian, a fellow northerner. However, we have seen how Li Mengyang castigated Liu for his hostility toward literary pursuits. 73. Jian, “Li-He shilun yanjiu,” pp. 85–95. Wang Gongwang, “Li Mengyang zhuzuo Mingdai kexing shulue.”

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(1470–1559). They are familiar not only to literary historians but also to art historians. Yet in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, the influence of Suzhou writers—not to mention painters, calligraphers, and scholars—on the intellectual world paled in comparison with that of the archaist circles. A major reason for their lack of recognition on the contemporary national stage was that most of them did not enjoy great success in the civil examinations or have distinguished bureaucratic careers. This is not to say that candidates from Suzhou were generally unsuccessful in the exams; to the contrary, as a prefecture Suzhou had one of the largest shares of successful examination candidates in the Ming era (and the Qing, for that matter).74 It is just that official status was not particularly prized in Suzhou. In fact some even purposefully avoided public service or resigned from office, preferring a carefree life indulging in art and literature. This has prompted some modern literary historians to suggest that there existed among the group a kind of “Suzhou spirit” that valued personal freedom over officialdom.75 The “Suzhou spirit,” if it existed, could be sustained only with sizable wealth and material comfort. Indeed, unlike most of their northern counterparts, who had to rely on official careers to raise and maintain their social status, being an official was only one of the ways—and for many, not the most important one—for Suzhou elites to thrive in an economically prosperous region with a high level of commercialization and urbanization, where the finest cultural products were produced and prized.76 This created a markedly different intellectual outlook that many leading Suzhou figures sought to preserve with pride. For this reason, some in the Suzhou clique saw practicing the archaist style as abandoning “our” 74. Wu Xuande, Mingdai jinshi de dili fenbu, p. 69. Ho, Ladder of Success, pp. 246–54. 75. Kang-I Sun Chang, “Literature of the Early Ming to Mid-Ming (1375– 1572).” 76. Marmé, Suzhou, pp. 154–86. Even Li Mengyang was willing to spend a large sum of money for his writings to be engraved and printed in Suzhou. See Cho-ying Fang, “Li Mengyang,” in Goodrich and Fang, Dictionary of Ming Biography, p. 844.


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tradition and adopting northern learning. The leading Suzhou scholar, Zhu Yunming, once wrote a poem dedicated to his younger Suzhou colleague Xu Zhenqing, the only southerner of the Former Seven Masters, that included the following couplet: [He] anxiously searched for [the poetic styles] of Han and Wei, Leaving his companions to learn in the north. 遑遑訪漢魏 北學中離群77

It is beyond the scope of this study to examine Xu Zhenqing’s literary thought and practice. Suffice it to say that Xu’s literary style took a turn when he met Li Mengyang at the capital around 1505, which was what prompted Zhu Yunming to proclaim that in searching for the literary style of the Han and Wei dynasties, Xu had left the Suzhou community while finding his tune in the north. Some modern scholars have tried to argue that even after Xu met Li, he retained his unique literary vision and style, with its origins in Suzhou’s high culture.78 Even if this is true, it is still obvious that Xu’s contemporaries found it useful to characterize the shift in his literary style as a change from a “Suzhou” one to a “northern” one. Such a rendering ignores the fact that there were many southerners who participated in Li Mengyang’s ventures both during and after his lifetime. Li himself provides a list of literati whom he befriended during his years in Beijing, many of whom were southerners.79 From this perspective, the so-called Former Seven Masters represented a retrospective and incomplete assessment of literati affiliations, colored by a sense of north-south division that underscored the contributions of the northerners. Jian Jinsong 77. Zhu Yunming, “Meng Tang Yin Xu Zhenqing (yiyou Zhang Ling)” 夢唐 寅徐禎卿 (亦有張靈), in Zhishan wenji, 4.1a. 78. Li Shuanghua, Wuzhongpai yu zhong wan Ming wenxue, pp. 264–66. 79. Li Mengyang, “Chaozheng changheshi ba” 朝正倡和詩跋, KTJ, 59.16b– 17a. For a nonexhaustive list of literati who belonged to the community, see Gong, Ming Qizipai shiwen jiqi lunping zhi yanjiu, pp. 17–40.

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argues rather convincingly that it was Shaanxi scholars, such as Kang Hai and Wang Jiusi, who first postulated the literati association, consisting mostly of northerners and centered on Li Mengyang and He Jingming, that would later be labeled the Former Seven Masters.80 Indeed, a sense of regional disparity was so prevalent in the Ming literati world that literary critics of the time were often quick to highlight the differences between north and south when discussing the nature of literary communities. For instance, Hu Yinglin writes: During the Hongzhi-Zhengde period, Li [Mengyang,] He [Jingming], and Wang [Jiusi]81 were known as the Three Talents of the world. Others, such as Cui Zhongfu [Cui Xian 崔銑 (1478–1541)], Kang Dehan [Kang Hai], Wang Ziheng [Wang Tingxiang], Xue Juncai [Xue Hui 薛蕙 (1489–1539)], Gao Ziye [Gao Shusi 高叔嗣 (1501–37)], Bian Tingshi [Bian Gong], and Sun Taichu [Sun Yi­ yuan 孫一元 (1484–1520)], were all northerners. In the south there were only Changgu [Xu Zhenqing], Jizhi [Zheng Shanfu 鄭善夫 (1485–1523)], Huayu [Gu Lin 顧麟 (1476–1545)], Shengzhi [Zhu ­Yingdeng], and Shixuan [Xiong Zhuo 熊卓 (1463–1509)]. Their numbers could not amount to one-third of the total. 當弘、正時,李、何、王號海內三才。如崔仲凫、康德涵、王子衡、薛君 采、高子業、邊廷實、孫太初,皆北人也。南中惟昌榖、繼之、華玉、升 之、士選輩。不能得三之一。82

According to Hu’s calculation, two out of three established poets from the late 1480s to early 1520 were northerners. A closer examination shows that the figures Hu mentions were all supporters of Li Mengyang’s archaist approach. What Hu presents is therefore a loosely connected literati community with a generally shared literary vision, whose members included both northerners and southerners, the southerners being outnumbered two to one. 80. Jian, “Li-He shilun yanjiu,” pp. 79–87. 81. Zhang Zhidao 張治道 (1487–1556) first identified Li Mengyang, He Jingming, and Wang Jiusi as the Three Talents in a preface written in 1545 for Kang Hai’s literary collection. See Kang Hai, Duishan ji, 51.248. 82. Hu Yinglin, Shishuo, p. 363.


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But things changed when the next generation of archaist masters came to the stage. This time, the majority were southerners, prompting Hu Yinglin to conclude that the tide of literary development turned in favor of the south from the 1520s onward.83 Prominent figures in this second wave of the archaist movement were commonly known as the Later Seven Masters. Just like Former Seven Masters, Later Seven Masters is a fuzzy label that could not do justice to the much broader archaist movement during the second half of the sixteenth century.84 The list that Hu provided certainly went beyond the seven, and following from our discussion so far, it is clearly quite misleading to label the group surrounding the Former Seven Masters as “northern” and that surrounding the Later Seven Masters as “southern.” Nonetheless, two conclusions can be drawn from Hu’s observation. First, the southerners had indeed come to dominate the literary world, and as we shall see in the concluding chapter in this volume, the late Ming intellectual world that we are familiar with was actually dominated by southerners and their works. This attests to the fact that while the regional quota system in the civil service examination succeeded in bringing more northerners into politics, and at times allowed the northern voices in intellectual discourse to be heard more clearly, it did little to reverse the cultural trend that witnessed the rise of the southerners since the Song period, especially in the long run. Second, although the groups that Hu mentioned were not composed entirely of either northerners or southerners, that was still how many during the Ming understood the regional nature of these communities of poetry.85 Tian Yuan Tan has opined that the communities engaged in writing the marginalized genre “songs” 83. Hu Yinglin, Shishuo, p. 363. 84. Members of the Later Seven Masters include Li Panlong 李攀龍 (1514– 70) and Xie Zhen 謝榛 (1495–1575) from Shandong, Wang Shizhen and Zong Chen 宗臣 (1525–60) from the southern metropolitan region, Liang Youyu 梁 有譽 (jinshi 1550) from Guangdong, Xu Zhongxing 徐中行 (d. 1578) from Zhejiang, and Wu Guolun 吳國倫 (1524–93) from Huguang. 85. For a discussion of how Ming literary critics employed the rhetoric of north-south differences for discussing literati communities that include the

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(qu 曲) and centered around Kang Hai, Wang Jiusi, and Li Kaixian in the same period were populated almost exclusively by northerners.86 In poetry (shi 詩), such a regional characteristic is less apparent, and Li Mengyang and other northern poets do not seem to have tried to promote a northern version of poetry. Nonetheless, in the first decades of the sixteenth century, the sheer number of northerners participating in the archaist course was rather significant, so much so that some southern literati like Zhu Yunming would see this as a northern approach to poetry and a challenge to their own endeavors. This is an instance in which an imagined north-south divide was used to conceptualize differences in intellectual and cultural pursuits. As we will see, this had real consequences for Li Mengyang’s reception in later periods. Two years before his death in 1529, Li Mengyang produced a work of eight chapters titled Kongtongzi 空同子 ([The sayings of] master Kongtong). The topics that Li discusses therein range from theories of Heaven-and-Earth and human nature to literature, history, and politics. In structure it resembles the kind of “recorded sayings” (yulu 語錄) that one would normally find in the works of Daoxue Neo-Confucian masters. The main difference may be that while most Daoxue masters’ sayings were recorded by their students, Li Mengyang’s were his own creation. According to Li’s biographer, Li wrote the work because he was worried that since the sages lived so long ago and their sayings had been buried, heterodox teachings had become prevalent and terminated the transmission of learning of the principle. Therefore he wrote The Sayings of Master Kongtong in eight chapters. Its ideas are far-reaching and [its] tenets correct; it covers all things and exhausts all principles. It may be used to illuminate the origins of human nature and the heavenly mandate, and therefore is held in high regard by scholars.

Former and Later Seven Masters, see Yu Laiming, Jiajing qianqi shitan yanjiu, pp. 148–60. 86. Tan, Songs of Contentment and Transgression.


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公閔聖遠言湮,異端橫起,理學亡傳,於是著《空同子》八篇。其旨 遠,其義正,該物究理,可以發明性命之源,學者宗焉。87

Although Li Mengyang was actually working from a very different intellectual premise, he still clearly wished to position the work in the tradition of Daoxue discourse. Although Daoxue’s origin could be traced to the Cheng brothers of Henan in the North­ ern Song, it spread and gradually developed into a centerpiece of the intellectual culture in the south under Zhu Xi and his followers during the Southern Song period. There were regional pockets in the south, such as Suzhou, where Daoxue was unable to penetrate deeply into the local culture. But even in those regions, regardless of whether they accepted the Daoxue premise, scholars increasingly tended to frame their inquiries in the context of the concerns and scope put forth by Daoxue.88 With the unification of north and south under the Yuan dynasty, Daoxue began to spread to the north as well. However, it did not enjoy the same level of success as in the south, and its development was regularly disrupted for various reasons.89 Moreover, it took on a very different form in the north as compared with the south. In contrast with their southern counterparts, who valued local elite activism and devoted great effort to setting up voluntary social institutions such as private academies and community granaries, many northern Daoxue thinkers were state oriented and saw the state apparatus, rather than voluntary social institutions, as indispensable for realizing the ideal order.90 This is not to say that the southerners were hostile toward the state or did not wish to participate in the state system. Rather, the point is that the southerners were generally less inclined to regard the state as more important than the unofficial literati networks in their quest for a better world. 87. Zhu Anxian, “Li Kongtong xiansheng nianbiao,” KTJ, appendix 1.3a–15a. 88. Li Zhuoyin, “Difangxing yu kua difangxing.” 89. Ong, Men of Letters, pp. 76–131. 90. Bol, Neo-Confucianism in History, pp. 92–94.

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While not dealing with Daoxue exclusively, Wen-yi Chen’s exploration of literati culture in the Yuan arrives at the same conclusion. Chen posits that there existed two conceptions of literati culture in the Yuan. The first, which Chen calls the “dynastic tradition,” was prevalent in the north, where the literati identified their culture with the dynasty itself and employed a national perspective in thinking about cultural transmission. The second, called “local tradition,” was employed by southern literati to construct their identity, based on perceptions of local culture and networks. Even as southern literati came to construct a dynastic tradition of their own in the second half of the dynasty when they were given greater opportunity to participate in national politics, they did it in a different way that still incorporated the local tradition.91 The trend continued into the Ming within the Daoxue community. Daoxue quickly earned orthodox status in the Ming and was made the principal ideology in the civil service examination. Every literatus who sat for the examination would technically be familiar with Daoxue. But familiarity with the examination version of Daoxue was different from regarding Daoxue as a source of intellectual and moral inspiration and personally identifying with it. Only in the latter case could one be considered a Daoxue scholar. From the founding of the dynasty to about 1500, almost all of the most important Daoxue scholars were southerners, with the exception of Cao Duan 曹端 (1376–1434) from Henan and Xue Xuan 薛瑄 (1389–1464) from Shanxi. As has been shown in Khee Heong Koh’s study of Xue Xuan’s circles—known as the Hedong 河東 school—and its general intellectual orientations, the northern Daoxue approach looked to fuse its pursuits with the operational principles of state institutions. In particular, the educational ideal of private academies that had attracted so many southern Daoxue masters was completely absent from Xue Xuan’s vision. Not only did he not establish a private academy of his own, but his surviving writings contain no evidence of his having participated in any activities related to such academies. Instead, 91. Chen Wen-yi, “Networks, Communities and Identities.”


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Xue Xuan focused his attention on trying to convince others that the state schools and the civil examination systems were adequate (if imperfect) for putting Daoxue ideals into practice. Implicit in his faith in state mechanisms was what he believed to be the primary goal of education: to nurture the literati and prepare them for office.92 Therefore, at the time when Li Mengyang was serving as the educational intendant in Jiangxi around 1510, there already existed two different versions of Daoxue discourse, one southern and one northern, on the objectives of education and how those objectives could best be realized. While not exactly a Daoxue advocate, Li nevertheless took the Daoxue premise seriously and in Jiangxi, a region rich in academy culture, he expended considerable effort in supporting academy-related activities, including using his official capacity in compiling a gazetteer for the famous White Deer Grotto Academy.93 The academy would later become a major site where leading Daoxue masters, including Wang Yangming in 1521–22, conducted their lectures. Interestingly, Wang was among those whom Li counted as his literary associates in the first decade of the 1500s. Wang’s intellectual pursuit at that time was not moral philosophy but literature, and he shared Li’s literary vision to a certain degree, although he was never satisfied with what literature could offer.94 Li Mengyang died not long after Wang Yangming and did not live to see how Wang’s philosophy took the intellectual world by storm in the decades to come. Wang Yangmingism was so persuasive that it forced the literati to rethink their intellectual endeavors, regardless of whether they accepted Daoxue as a way of life. Its challenges to Zhu Xi’s version of Daoxue were so strong that it caused a split in the movement, forcing people to take sides. 92. Koh, “Guojia zhengzhi mudi he lixuejia jiaoyu lixiang zai guanxue he keju de jiehe.” 93. Li Mengyang, Bailudong shuyuan xinzhi. 94. On the friendship between Li Mengyang and Wang Yangming and how they might have influenced each other, see Suzuki, “Ri Bōyō Nempuryaku,” esp. pp. 8–11. On Wang’s literary pursuits in his earlier career, see Tu, Neo-Confucian Thought in Action.

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In this regard, it was truly a national movement. Yet Wang Yangmingism did not enjoy the same level of success in all places. It attracted the largest number of followers in Jiangxi and Jiangnan (excluding Suzhou) but was unable to fully penetrate the intellectual communities in Fujian and Anhui, where Zhu Xi was worshipped as a local worthy.95 Even so, those southern regions still saw more activity related to Wang Yangmingism than in the north as a whole, where Wang Yangming’s influence was particularly weak. Huang Zongxi 黃宗羲 (1610–95), himself an admirer of Wang Yangmingism, could identify only a handful of “real” Wang Yangming followers there.96 This was true even after some of Wang Yangming’s students and admirers, including Senior Grand Secretary Xu Jie 徐階 (1503–83), tried to promote it in Beijing by sponsoring social activities known as jiangxue 講學 (discussing learning).97 Quite different from the poetry communities discussed earlier, a real north-south split was obvious in those intellectual communities associated with Wang Yangmingism. Yet by the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, the influence of Wang Yangmingism was becoming apparent in northern Daoxue communities, even though the communities refused to fully embrace it. We begin to see in this period northern Daoxue thinkers adopting or responding to the ideas, languages, and practices that followers of the various Wang Yangming schools in the south had been articulating for decades, especially in terms of the intellectual communities’ relations with the state.98 In the end, the northern version of Daoxue discourse that was still prominent at least up till Li Mengyang’s time became less significant even in the north. 95. For instance, in Fujian, even after Wang’s top disciples, such as Wang Ji 王畿 (1498–1583) and Nie Bao 聶豹 (1486–1563), exerted their influence in the region in their official capacity or through conducting lectures, resistance from Fujian scholars, who saw themselves as heirs to the Cheng-Zhu tradition, was intense. See Liu Yong, “Zhongwan Ming lixue xueshuo de hudong yu diyu­ xing lixue chuantong de xipuhua jincheng.” 96. Huang Zongxi, Mingru xuean, vol. 29. 97. Dardess, Political Life, pp. 35–39. 98. See the case of the Shaanxi scholar Feng Congwu (馮從吾, 1557–1627) in Ong, Men of Letters, pp. 167–80.


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Therefore, if we wish to evaluate the impact of Wang Yangmingism on the intellectual worlds of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, we have to consider, among other things, the effects of regional disparities, both real and imagined, on the spread of intellectual movements. Likewise, we can better understand the lack of enthusiasm for Li Mengyang’s theories both during his time and in later periods by locating it in an intellectual world that was split by a north-south divide. Instead of providing a linear narrative of Li Mengyang’s life, this chapter has situated his family, career, and intellectual endeavors in the context of the north-south dynamic. I do not suggest that Li Mengyang would necessarily think in a “northern” way simply because he was a northerner; such a limited approach would reflect mere geographical determinism. Rather, I suggest that, since thinkers in the Ming discussed the differences between north and south in detail, we should consider their views seriously. The north-south split in the Ming may be understood on three different but related levels. On one level, the disparities were reflections of historical reality. Differences in the ecology and economy of the two regions gave rise to markedly different societies. This is not to say that there were no distinctions between the various subregions in what we call “north” and “south”—far from it. I am simply suggesting that we can tease out some general phenomena from past comparative studies of China’s regional history that are generally identifiable as “northern” or “southern.” One example is how kinship was understood and organized. The path that Li Mengyang’s family took was not unlike that followed by many northern elite families who lacked the kind of resources that their southern counterparts enjoyed. These northern families had to rely on the state for social advancement. Social conditions also played a role in shaping certain concerns and assumptions that were shared by the literati of a particular region, and this would eventually determine how a given intellectual trend was received there. This brings us to the second level of north-south disparity. The Daoxue movement, for instance, proliferated most effectively in the south. When northerners did

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accept its claim to orthodoxy, they understood the message quite differently, owing to the fact that the northerners’ intellectual outlook was generally more state-orientated—for the simple reason that they were more dependent on the state for success. For the same reason, Wang Yangmingism, which often promoted the autonomy of the self with little intention of fitting into the state’s agenda, received little support in the north (see the concluding chapter). On the third level, the north-south split was a matter of rhetoric. Debates concerning the regional quota system and factionalism at the court, as we have seen, were in reality manifestations of political struggles not directly triggered by real factors in the northsouth divide, yet they were often couched in such terms. This was also the case with discourses on literature, in which differences between northern and southern approaches were often highlighted to explain the qualities of individual writers or for labeling a literary movement, even when no clear regional inclination could be seen. Living and writing under such a heightened sense of division, One of Li Mengyang’s main missions was to create an intellectual program that could address regional differences. Like so many before and after him, Li looked to the past for inspiration. In the next chapter, we shall examine some influential narratives about the past from the Song and later that Li either drew on or rejected.

two Taking the Past as a Model in the Song-Ming Period


he mid-Ming archaist literary movement is often seen as a challenge to the political and cultural authority of the Grand Secretariat and the Hanlin Academy. Because many proponents of the archaist movement were midlevel officials in the six ministries, some have argued that the movement was a sign of the literary leadership’s shift from the Grand Secretaries and Hanlin aca­de­ micians to ministry officials. Yet as scholars have noted, leading members of the Grand Secretariat and Hanlin Academy were also looking to the past for inspiration.1 The question was, which past should be taken as a model, and what was to be revived from that past? In the case of Li Mengyang, it is important to note from the outset that while he often looked deep into the past in arguing against the “recent” (i.e., Song dynasty) ways of understanding politics and culture, his entire intellectual enterprise was actually built on ideas and narratives about the past that had their origins in the Song. Song thinkers and writers had laid the intellectual foundation for subsequent discussions of the past. Later scholars, such as Li Mengyang, could choose to either agree or disagree with Song premises, but they could not ignore them. The massive and multifaceted changes that occurred during the Tang-Song transition are extremely well documented and need

1. Jian, Mingdai wenxue piping yanjiu, pp. 19–83.

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not be elaborated here.2 Particularly important for us was how Song thinkers deconstructed Tang views of antiquity and provided alternative explanations for understanding the connections between antiquity and the contemporary world. In the process, the achievements of the great empires of Han and Tang were called into question. It became popular by the mid-eleventh century to argue that the postantiquity period marked a decline in human history, and that the perfect world of antiquity could be restored only by reverting to the age before those empires.3 In this chapter we begin with the guwen 古文 (ancient-style prose) movement, the first major movement to call for an extensive return to the “ancient” way. Tracing its origin to the great Tang writer and thinker Han Yu 韓愈 (768–824), the Song proponents of guwen sought to show how the ideal order that existed in antiquity could be understood and realized in the present through writing in an appropriate manner. However, intense debates about what antiquity really meant erupted among leading guwen thinkers, through which distinct models of antiquity were articulated. Although interest in the guwen quest subsided after the late eleventh century as Daoxue Neo-Confucianism began to gain widespread acceptance among the literati, its legacy, especially how it deconstructed and reconstructed models for understanding antiquity, continued to inspire and frame how leading thinkers through the mid-Ming period conceptualized literati learning as a tool for recapturing the ideal past. A broad survey of the major intellectual currents from the Song guwen movement to the cultural visions of the mid-Ming Grand Secretariat and Hanlin Academy, drawing substantially from the works of both intellectual and literary historians, will help us understand the context within which Li Mengyang articulated his vision.

2. For a critical evaluation of the “Tang-Song transition” hypothesis in modern historiography, see Liu Liyan, “Hewei Tang-Song biange.” 3. Bol, Neo-Confucianism in History, pp. 58–65.


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The Guwen Movement in the Northern Song After they finally “accepted” the throne from the Later Zhou dynasty, the most urgent task for the Song founders was to minimize the threat of military usurpation by establishing civil rule. They did so with great success. By the mid–Northern Song era, the general consensus was that the founding principles of the dynasty had sanctioned the shi, the cultured elites, as the most important participants in the state system, to whom would be granted due privileges. In the process, the view that the Song should emulate the distant Three Dynasties (sandai) rather than the more recent Han and Tang became prevalent among the shi.4 What was so great about sandai and what was that era’s relationship with the rise of the shi? Historians have long noted that in the Northern Song, those who called themselves shi were markedly different from their counterparts in the Six Dynasties and the Sui-Tang periods. Without the family pedigrees that members of the great medieval clans enjoyed, the Northern Song shi had to rely on passing the civil service examination to become officials, and an established shi family could maintain its success over an extended period of time only if it succeeded in sending its members into the bureaucracy generation after generation. This development was gradual, but by the second half of the tenth century the transformation was complete. In the new era, it was learning rather than family pedigree that was seen as the fundamental attribute of a shi, and that learning could be tested through the examination to determine a person’s qualification for an official appointment. But what did the learning entail? Put differently, what should be studied, and what could serve as models for learning? The notion that one should learn from antiquity was, of course, not a Song invention. But the Song intellectual leaders understood its importance in ways that pushed aside past interpretations and defined how later ages interpreted the same issue. In particular, proponents of guwen, most notably Ouyang Xiu, formulated a 4. Deng Xiaonan, Zuzong zhi fa, pp. 398–421.

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cultural-political theory that persuasively explained the perfect order of antiquity and how it could be revived. In 1057, Ouyang Xiu was appointed to take charge of the civil examination, and he used this opportunity to promote a particular style of prose writing and passed only those candidates who excelled in that style. According to Han Qi 韓琦 (1008–75), “At the time the examination candidates strove to write in an acute and strange style called the ‘National University style.’ Ouyang Xiu failed all of them.”5 As a result, Ouyang was harassed by bitter unsuccessful candidates. Scholars have different opinions regarding what exactly comprised the “National University style.” Some believe that it referred to an ornate literary style—the so-called parallel prose (pianwen 駢文)—commonly associated with Yang Yi 楊億 (974– 1020), Liu Yun 劉筠 (c. 1016), and others.6 Others, however, have convincingly shown that Ouyang was actually reacting against the kind of guwen associated with Shi Jie 石介 (1005–45).7 In 1056 Ouyang wrote: Under normal circumstances, a person’s talent and conduct should adhere to the constant and follow the principle, and therefore not be any different from everybody else. If he wishes to be different from others, then he will definitely behave perversely and strangely so as to earn a reputation for virtuous conduct, and will converse in a lofty and empty manner so as to earn a reputation for talent and insight. The learning of the former Qingli era (1041–48) had its fault in this. 夫人之材行,若不因臨事而見,則守常循理,無異衆人。苟欲異眾,則 必為奇怪以取德行之名,而高談虛論以求材識之譽。前日慶曆之 學,其弊是也。8 5. Han Qi, “Ouyanggong muzhiming” 歐陽公墓誌銘, Anyang ji 安陽集, SKQS, 50.9a. 6. Maeno, Chūgoku bungakushi, p. 148; Guo Zhengzhong, Ouyang Xiu, p. 53. 7. Ge Xiaoyin, Han-Tang wenxue de shanbian, pp. 208–14; Higashi, “Taiga­­­ kutai kō.” 8. Ouyang, “Yixue zhuang” 議學狀, in Ouyang Xiu quanji, 110.1673.


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Ouyang is complaining here about the trend in education that he thought Shi Jie was primarily responsible for initiating when he served as a lecturer at National University during the Qingli period. What was so perverse and strange about Shi’s learning and his vision of guwen? Generally speaking, the accusation was aimed directly at how Shi had set a bad example by being too idiosyncratic and arrogant. He angered many people when he claimed that he was the only one during his time who could effectively combat Buddhism and Daoism.9 Ironically, perversion and aberration were also the charges Shi made against the writings of Yang Yi and his peers. In his essay “Discourse on Aberrations” (“Guaishuo” 怪說), Shi demonstrated that he was particularly concerned with illuminating the Normal Way (Changdao 常道) of all realms—from that of Heaven-and-Earth to human society—which Shi thought had been illuminated by the sages in the past through wen, but which men of later ages had deviated from, unfortunately. By Shi’s standard, Yang Yi’s approach to literary writing was no doubt an aberration and Yang had allowed himself and his many followers to be led astray by Buddhism and Daoism. Shi therefore took it upon himself to resist the influence of Buddhism and Daoism and to rediscover the Normal Way.10 As a thinker, Shi Jie’s mission was to locate in the natural order the patterns of the human world. He insisted that for human society to function properly, we need to have a better understanding of how Heaven-and-Earth works. It is with good reason that many have seen Shi, together with Hu Yuan 胡瑗 (993–1059) and Sun Fu 孫復 (992–1057), as forerunners of Daoxue Neo-Confucianism, for Shi was ultimately concerned with finding the ontological grounding of morality. But unlike the steadfast Daoxue thinkers of later generations, Shi articulated his idea of the Normal Way 9. Shi Jie, “Da Ouyang Yongshu shu” 答歐陽永叔書, in Zulai Shi xiansheng wenji 15.175. 10. Shi Jie, “Guaishuo” 怪說, in Zulai Shi xiansheng wenji, 13.60–64. For a succinct discussion of Shi Jie’s position in this essay, see Chaves, Mei Yaoch’en and the Development of Early Sung Poetry, pp. 71–75.

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through wen. It was through the production and reproduction of cultural and literary forms that the sages articulated and put into practice the constant cosmic principle.11 An important point to note is that although Shi Jie did take as models certain classical texts and the writings of certain great writers of later ages, such as Han Yu, he did not mean that one should strictly follow the literary forms of the ancient sages. Rather, Shi asked simply that his students ignore the conventional styles of literary writing and strive for individualistic expressions that would best deliver the ideas of the sages. The result, according to many contemporaries who opposed his vision, was to encourage the emergence of a generation of young literati who wrote in an incomprehensible manner and yet claimed to be revealing the Way of the ancient sages. In comparison, Ouyang Xiu’s warning against being perverse and strange testifies to his respect for received traditions of learning. He maintained that mastering cultural forms that had been passed down through the ages was crucial. A good example would be calligraphy. Ouyang once criticized Shi Jie for abandoning all established styles in his effort to be different. This does not mean that Ouyang encouraged imitation. Quite the contrary, as Ronald Egan notes, Ouyang spent enormous effort in collecting rubbings of stone inscriptions from all over the country, written by littleknown calligraphers whose works were incongruent with the standard model championed by the imperial house. But Ouyang still wanted prospective calligraphers to learn from the past, especially from the Tang period, for that was a time when students had still learned the standards passed down by their teachers and, as a result, everyone became skilled at calligraphy.12 In prose writing as well, Ouyang promoted a kind of writing style that he thought could fuse individualistic expression with socially and culturally accepted norms. These sorts of endeavors earned him a reputation for being broad (bo 博) in his learning and having a writing 11. Shi Jie, “Guaishuo,” in Zulai Shi xiansheng wenji, 13.143. 12. Egan, The Problem of Beauty, pp. 7–59, esp. 34–37.


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style that was both elegant (yong 雍, or ya 雅) and accessible (pingyi 平易, or pingdan 平淡).13 Moreover, Ouyang Xiu was very uneasy with those who, like Shi Jie, tried to go beyond “human conditions” (renqing 人情) in search of an eternal truth.14 He firmly believed that human knowledge had its limitations. Even the sages could not know everything under Heaven: “When a sage attended to affairs, [he would only acknowledge that] he knew the things that he knew, [and would admit that] he did not know the things that are unknown to him. Therefore his words could be trusted even after ten thousand generations” 聖人之於事,知之為知之,不知為不知,所以 言出而萬世信。15 For this reason Ouyang Xiu chose not to pursue the paramount question of whether human nature is good or bad, or to dwell on the metaphysical characteristics of Heaven-and-Earth and the spirits. Ouyang’s sage was one who was contented with observing and ordering human affairs. Wen, more specifically the classics, provided a means for men to observe the realization of the ancients’ ideas in particular, concrete political and social situations. This was what Ouyang thought scholars of his days should pursue; to search for the existence of something beyond the realm of worldly affairs would be a waste of effort.16 That being said, it is crucial to note that in evaluating the aesthetic value of artistic works such as painting and calligraphy, Ouyang Xiu still emphasized meaning (yi 意) over stylistic forms or appearance (xing 形). As Egan pointed out, Ouyang also applied the same principle to his literary criticism and composition.17 This is consistent with his views on ritual. Ouyang once lamented that later generations had forgotten about the real meanings of ancient rituals and blindly followed only the forms. He argued that 13. Futomo, Hokusō ni okeru Jugaku no tenkai, pp. 192–237; He, Bei-Song de guwen yundong, pp. 203–7. 14. Liu, Ou-yang Hsiu, p. 92. 15. Ouyang, “Yi huowen” 易或問, in Ouyang Xiu quanji, 18.129. 16. Ouyang, “Yu Zhang Xiucai diershu” 與張秀才第二書, in Ouyang Xiu quanji. See also Lin Su-fen, Bei-Song daolun leixing yanjiu, pp. 220–33. 17. Egan, Literary Works of Ou-yang Hsiu, pp. 196–203.

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in antiquity the ritual system encompassed everything from the rites and music used at sacrifices and at court to issues of administration, judicature, and national defense. In other words, what made antiquity great was a holistic system that governed all aspects of human life according to a single principle. In the postantiquity period, the system of unity broke down and the uses of rites and music were divorced from daily administration, which rendered the single principle unworkable.18 Peter Bol rightly points out that because Ouyang did not deny that there was a universal principle beyond the phenomenal world that ties everything together, he actually encouraged others to search for that domain that he believed could not be grasped with human knowledge and to put forth interpretations of it.19 The question was where and how to begin. One approach was proposed by one of Ouyang Xiu’s protégés, Zeng Gong 曾鞏 (1019–83). Zeng shared Ouyang’s strong commitment to government. The essays and treatises found in his literary collection are predominantly about statecraft, including the administration of education, taxes, finance, military affairs, water control, and law. But Zeng went a step further and sought to find a more philosophical explanation for the great accomplishments of antiquity. He posited that a sage is someone who is able to function in keeping with the disposition of Heaven-and-Earth, which nourishes and completes the natures of the myriad things. He is able to devise institutions and direct customs so as to place all things in their appropriate positions, helping them avoid calamities. This is the dao of all ancient sages.20 How were the sages able to do this? According to Zeng Gong, it was because they had cultivated their minds and perfected their cognitive capacity. In a long treatise on the “Great Plan” chapter in the Book of Documents, Zeng explains: 18. Ouyang et al., Xin Tangshu, 11.307–8. See also Bol, “When Antiquity Matters,” esp. pp. 217–18. 19. Bol, “The Sung Context,” pp. 33–42. 20. Zeng Gong, “Liangshu mulu xu” 梁書目錄序, in Zeng Gong ji, 11.178–79.


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As [the “Great Plan” chapter] says, “[The virtue of] cognition is per­ spicaciousness, and perspicaciousness becomes manifest in sage­ ness.” This is because only with cognition may one fulfill one’s talent to the ultimate. Being a sage is the ultimate achievement of a man. Mencius said, “There are cases where one man is twice, five times, or countless times better than another man, but this is only because there are people who fail to make the best of their native endowment.”21 The reason a man fails to make the best of his native endowment is because he fails to exercise cognition. Here we can see how important cognition is to man. But what about the statement, “Getting it right without exercising cognition”? This is [possible] because there are people who are naturally sincere and enlightened and could get it right without relying on cognition. Some examples are Yao and Shun, whose natures are defined by sincerity. Sincerity is the way of Heaven. [There are also people] who could illuminate sincerity without relying on others. Even if they did not get it right through cognition, they never gave up. Some examples are Tang and King Wu, who embodied and practiced sincerity. Becoming sincere through cognition is the way of man. 思曰睿,睿作聖者,盖思者所以充人之材以至於其極。聖者,人之極 也。孟子曰:“人之性或相倍蓰而無筭者,不能盡其材。”不能盡其材 者。弗思耳矣。盖思之於人也如此。然而或曰:不思而得,何也?盖人 有自誠明者。不思而得,堯舜性之也。所謂誠者,天之道也。有自明誠 者,思之弗得弗措也,湯武身之是也。所謂思誠者,人之道也。22

In this passage, Zeng Gong differentiates between two kinds of sages. The first was represented by Yao and Shun, who were perfect by nature. The second group was represented by Tang and King Wu, who perfected their natures through diligently employing their cognitive faculties to learn. Zeng Gong wanted to stress that even Yao and Shun still had to think, like everyone else; it was just that they were so enlightened that their thoughts and reasoning flowed with ease and perfection. Here, Zeng highlights the one thing—which he calls “method” (fa 法)—that is shared by all men, including the sages: the ability to conceive and comprehend. 21. Lau, Mencius, 6A.6, p. 163. 22. Zeng Gong, “Hongfan zhuan” 洪範傳, in Zeng Gong Ji, 10.157–58.

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All men can attain perfection not because all are endowed with a common human nature that is naturally good—a position that was taken up by the mainstream Daoxue thinkers—but because all are able to employ cognition, through which they can fully understand the principles of the myriad things, respond accordingly and appropriately, and, in the process, nourish all things under Heaven. 23 Although Zeng Gong acknowledged that the world that we live in is an extremely complex place, he still argued for the existence of a universal truth: In ancient times, those who ruled the world sought to unite morality and make all customs the same. Once the teaching was illuminated and the practice finalized, even with the vastness of the nine continents, the abundance of the population, and the lengthy time span of a thousand years, what was preserved was only a single way, and what was transmitted was only a single teaching. 古之治天下者,一道德,同風俗。盖九州之廣,萬民之衆,千歲之 逺,其教已明,其習已成之後,所守者一道。所傳者一説而已。24

For Zeng, unity of morality and customs could be found only through a perfect government with excellent political leadership that would tirelessly study the myriad principles governing all things under Heaven and proceed to issue appropriate responses to each and every one, to put them all in order. Given the vital role he assigned to politics, he further asserted that the most important task for a ruler was to “learn” (xue 學), as he emphasizes in a memorial to Emperor Shenzong 神宗 (r. 1067–85) in 1069. By learning, Zeng meant using one’s cognitive skills to study the dao of the ancient sages and clarify the mind.25 But where could the dao of the ancient sages be found? It could be found, Zeng contended, in the Six Classics. He argued that while the texts 23. Zeng Gong, “Hongfan zhuan,” in Zeng Gong Ji, 10.157–58. 24. Zeng Gong, “Xinxu mulu xu” 新序目錄序, in Zeng Gong Ji, 11.176. 25. Zeng Gong, “Xining zhuandui shu” 熙寧轉對疏, in Zeng Gong Ji, 27.433–36.


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preserved in these classics were not written by a single author and were separated by a thousand years, the messages they conveyed were as if written by the same person. When things fell apart with the demise of the golden age of antiquity and people began to transmit false ideas with their appealing but incorrect wen, the only way that one could learn about the right way of the sages was through studying the classics, which are exemplars of correct wen.26 Without the correct wen to transmit the correct ideas, people living in a less than ideal age would be deprived of the opportunity to gain knowledge of the perfect order that once existed. It was therefore the responsibility of contemporary scholars to do wen in the right way (although Zeng acknowledged that, in reality, this became extremely difficult after antiquity) so as to preserve and transmit the correct ideas about government found in the classics. In Zeng’s scheme, knowledge of morality, politics, and wen are all united in a perfect system based on the universal principle that runs through the pages of the Six Classics; it was when this system broke down that people started to pursue these areas of knowledge as if they were independent of one another. A similar but more radical position was taken up by Zeng Gong’s cousin Wang Anshi 王安石 (1021–86), who continued Ou­ yang Xiu’s and other guwen thinkers’ call for political reform. He wanted his emperor to take Yao and Shun as models, rather than the emperors of the Han and Tang. Those later rulers were able only to imitate the forms of antiquity; they failed to understand the underlying principle that made antiquity great. The way to bring the order of antiquity back to life therefore depended not on restoring the ancient institutions but on discovering the real messages and intent of the sages. Like Ouyang Xiu, Wang Anshi saw antiquity as a period when everything fit into a coherent system. More ambitious than Ouyang, Wang declared that he had figured out the underlying principle of that perfect system and was able to explicate it. The key was to do what the sages had done: to use the cognitive function of the mind to recognize the 26. Zeng Gong, “Wang Zizhi wenji xu” 王子直文集序, in Zeng Gong Ji, 12.197.

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universal principle—derived from the patterns of Heaven-andEarth—for organically connecting all parts of society, and thus contributing to the formation of a coherent system. In Wang’s vision, the state is that system. Once a person is able to accomplish this—and Wang believed he had done so—he should be put in charge of the state apparatus, for only the state had the authority and power to “unify customs and make morality the same.”27 Some said that Wang Anshi’s statist approach, when applied to culture and learning, imposed on the literati a standard format for writing and thinking that did not allow for individual creativity. Su Shi once commented that there was nothing wrong with Wang’s writings; it was his dogmatic attitude in demanding that others follow his writing style that was troubling.28 For Su, a masterpiece of literature, or any other form of artistic pursuit such as calligraphy or painting, must necessarily be the manifestation of the writer’s or artist’s true self. But Su Shi was not a supporter of Shi Jie’s eccentric approach. In fact, Su maintained that it was important for the writer or artist to first study and learn widely from the established styles or models available to him before he could create his own style and become a master. In his early years, for instance, Su borrowed creatively from the great Tang poets— Li Bai 李白 (701–62), Du Fu 杜甫 (712–70), Wei Yingwu 韋應物 (ca. 737–91)—and more recently Ouyang Xiu—when composing his own verses.29 In calligraphy and painting, too, Su stressed the importance of inheriting and passing on the accomplishments of previous masters.30 Su Shi’s respect for the received traditions in art and literature, and his mastery of various cultural genres, earned him a reputation as one of the greatest wenren 文人 (literally, “cultured men”) who had ever lived. This label seems to imply that Su’s activities were confined to art and literature, and has led scholars 27. Bol, “This Culture of Ours,” pp. 215–18. 28. Su Shi, “Da Zhang Wenqian xiancheng shu” 答張文潛縣丞書, in Su Shi wenji, 49.1427. 29. Fuller, Road to East Slope, pp. 63–77. 30. Egan, Word, Image, and Deed, pp. 261–309.


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to consider Su a writer and an artist rather than a philosopher. However, this was not how Su’s closest affiliates, including his brother Su Zhe 蘇轍 (1039–1112), understood him. In writing the inscription for Su Shi’s grave, Su Zhe wanted readers to appreciate his elder brother’s contribution as a matter of wen, but Su Shi’s wen should not be understood in the narrow sense, as literary composition, nor should it be identified with any particular school of thought. Su Shi, in his brother’s portrayal, was a genius who fused a broad array of literati pursuits into a coherent program of learning that made apparent the lost learning of antiquity. He was able to do this because he had successfully discovered the underlying truth of both the natural and human worlds and then revealed it through his wen. 31 Indeed, Su Shi often spoke with the voice of an enlightened individual who understood the dao as a principle of unity and one­ ness (yi 一). For instance, when he expounded on the meaning of the Book of Changes, Su continuously stressed that what the classics had revealed was the single origin of all worldly manifestations and transformations. For Su, this was the key to understanding the great accomplishment of antiquity. The sages, through the classics, had shown how the perfect order of antiquity was characterized by a commitment to unity, coherence, and comprehensiveness, even though the institutional and cultural innovations that they created were customized to respond to their own particular circumstances and historical moments. This did not imply that in antiquity the sages had forcibly made all men act and think alike by imposing a prescriptive standard on society. In contrast to the mainstream guwen position, Su Shi did not think that social unity or uniformity should be imposed from above by political authorities. In fact, because the real dao could not be defined using human language, it could not be translated into a set of fixed doctrines. Rather, the truth of unity could be grasped and realized only by individuals who could free themselves from self-interest 31. Su Zhe, “Wangxiong Zizhan Duanming muzhiming” 亡兄子瞻端明 墓誌銘, in Su Zhe Ji, pp. 1126–27. See also Bol, “This Culture of Ours,” pp. 257–58.

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and self-indulgence to respond spontaneously and appropriately to external matters in an unobstructed and impartial manner. Only then could they achieve unity with all things. An enlightened individual could choose to express this understanding of the dao through the various cultural ventures of prose, poetry, calligraphy, painting, music, and so on. Underlying all of these different ventures and their respective traditions is the universal principle of unity, creativity, and transformation; engaging in such ventures is in itself a process through which unity of the self and the world may be realized.32 From the time of Ouyang Xiu onward, the guwen movement in all its variations proceeded under the assumption that, even in an era when diversity ruled, the unity and oneness that characterized antiquity’s ideal order could be revived through practicing wen. With Su Shi, the intellectual world witnessed the culmination of the culturalists’ approach to bringing the dao into practice. Yet for some, Su’s approach was devastating, not only because it adopted an accommodative stance toward Buddhism and Daoism but also because some perceived it as focusing the literati too exclusively on wen, an enterprise that might be irrelevant or even harmful to the dao. This was the Daoxue view.

Daoxue and Its Competitors in the Southern Song Su Shi challenged the statist vision of Wang Anshi with his view of the individual who puts the dao into practice through wen. The mastery of wen, whether in literature or art, requires the highly cultured practitioner to develop a breadth of knowledge of received traditions. This was not suitable for everyone. An alternative approach that put the responsibility for realizing the dao on the individual but did rely on his being skilled in wen was articulated by those identified by Zhu Xi as the patriarchs of the Daoxue 32. Bol, “This Culture of Ours,” pp. 254–99. See also Bol, “Su Shih and Culture.”


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school—Zhou Dunyi 周敦頤 (1017–73), the Cheng brothers, and Zhang Zai 張載 (1020–77). What separated these thinkers from their contemporaries were their discourses on morality and self-cultivation aimed at bridging the natural and the human orders. They believed that the ideal order had ceased to exist after the Three Dynasties, and that after Mencius no one had attained true understanding of that order. As a result, not only had the true meaning of antiquity been lost but even the form had failed to survive, and ancient institutions such as the enfeoffment ( fengjian 封建) and well-field (jingtian 井田) systems gave way to imperial systems that defied antiquity’s principles of the perfect order. For Zhang Zai and his students, reviving the perfect order required bringing back the institutions of antiquity.33 But for the Cheng brothers, using one’s own mind to comprehend the intent of the sages was more important than studying the formal aspects of antiquity.34 It was Zhu Xi in the Southern Song who innovatively fused the learning of the Northern Song masters into a coherent program of Daoxue that redefined literati learning for the future generations. From the outset, Zhu knew that Wang Anshi’s and Su Shi’s approaches to learning were antithetical to his vision, and he spent considerable effort rebutting their positions. At the heart of their differences was what the ideal order of antiquity really meant: On one occasion, [Master Zhu and Lu Jiuyuan 陸九淵 (1139–92)] discussed Jinggong [Wang Anshi]. Lu Zijing [Jiuyuan] said, “At that time he [Wang Anshi] should not have focused on institutional issues [literally, legislation and systems].” [Master Zhu] said to him, “How could he not have focused on institutional issues? It is only that those he focused on were incongruent to the institutions of the Three Dynasties.” 因語荊公,陸子靜云:“他當時不合於法度上理會。”語之云:“法度如 何不理會?只是他所理會非三代法度耳。”35

33. Ong, “We Are One Family.” 34. Bol, “Cheng Yi as a Literatus.” 35. Li Jingde, Zhuzi yulei, p. 130.

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When Lu Jiuyuan, in many ways Zhu Xu’s intellectual rival, criticized Wang Anshi for prioritizing institutional issues, he was presumably continuing the eleventh-century tradition of distinguishing between idea and form, and maintaining that when carrying out political reforms, it was more important to focus on cultivating and articulating correct ideas than to try making institutional changes. Indeed, from Lu’s career we knew that he was not particularly interested in improvising institutions for any sort of reform. 36 In contrast, Zhu Xi, partly inheriting the concern over institutional reform from Zhang Zai’s circle, was instrumental in devising institutions and practices that had a lasting effect on late imperial society. These include the private academy (shuyuan 書院), the community compact (xiangyue 鄉約), and family ritual (jiali 家禮), among others. However, these were not replications of ancient institutions; therefore, when he criticized Wang Anshi for departing from the institutions of the Three Dynasties, he was not suggesting that imitating those forms could be the solution. Rather, he was pointing his finger at Wang Anshi’s failure to understand the real principles behind the ancient institutions. For instance, when even his friends could not tell the difference between Wang Anshi’s Green Sprout policy (qingmiao fa 青苗法) and Zhu’s community granary (shecang 社倉)—both were rural credit systems designed to help farmers get loans—Zhu Xi explained that Wang’s plan was statist in nature, seeking to enrich the state at the expense of the populace, while his own was based on local initiatives and a sense of compassion, encouraging mutual aid within the local communities.37 Zhu Xi’s social program was an integral part of his moral philosophy, based on the belief that all things are ontologically interconnected in a coherent manner. Willard Peterson is on target when he translates li 理—the central concept in Zhu Xi’s philosophy and Daoxue—as “coherence” rather than the common gloss, “principle.”38 Antiquity, in this view, was a period when the 36. Hymes, “Lu Chiu-yüan.” 37. Von Glahn, “Community and Welfare.” 38. Peterson, “Another Look at Li.”


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great coherence that characterizes the working of Heaven-andEarth was fully realized in the human world as well. In antiquity, all institutions were set up to serve the greater purpose of encouraging mutual support and integration among the people so that a harmonious society could be achieved. Likewise, all knowledge and skills were devised by the sage-kings for achieving such a goal. Unfortunately, when the golden age came to an end during the last days of the Zhou dynasty, no new sage-king appeared. In the postantiquity eras, it was the teachings of Confucius that pointed in a new direction: deprived of the guidance of the sagekings, now individuals had to learn to fully realize their own Heaven-endowed, innate ability, which would enable them to see that all things are organically interconnected, both within and without. In other words, to restore the ideal order that existed in antiquity, individuals had to learn to be sages themselves.39 What should one learn in order to become a sage? As early as 1050, Cheng Yi had already laid out the basic principles of Dao­xue learning. According to Cheng, what Yan Yuan 顏淵, Confucius’s best student, had aspired to master was neither rote memorization of the classics nor literary composition—both of which were central components of the civil examination. Rather, true learning required a commitment to perfect one’s moral self so as to fully develop the innate goodness endowed by Heaven.40 Thus, according to Daoxue, any scholarly pursuit that did not facilitate the moral mission of bringing back the ideals of antiquity and restoring the world to harmony was worthless. This does not mean that Daoxue discouraged the acquisition of knowledge. In fact, Zhu Xi was one of the most broadly learned individuals of his times. What it means is that all knowledge acquisition must have a moral dimension to it. Yung Sik Kim has shown that Zhu Xi extensively discussed specialized knowledge of the natural world, such as calendrical astronomy, harmonics, and geography, among other fields, and believed that the ancient sages had attained true 39. Bol, Neo-Confucianism in History, pp. 168–70. 40. Cheng Yi, “Yanzi suo hao hexue lun” 顏子所好何學論, in Cheng and Cheng, Er Cheng ji, Wenji文集, 8.577–78.

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knowledge in all of these areas. To Zhu Xi, pursuing that knowledge was putting into practice the “investigation of things” (gewu 格物), steps through which the coherence of the world could be fully understood and a moral order could be realized. Zhu repeatedly stressed the importance of establishing the “basis” (benling 本領)—that is, the quest for morality—before exploring the different branches of specialized knowledge. In other words, he did not see the branches of knowledge as independent categories of learning existing outside of the pursuit of the universal dao.41 Similarly, in the field of historical studies Zhu Xi insisted that comprehending universal and eternal moral principles had to take precedence over learning the mere names and dates of history. Once a person had fully grasped the dao, he could, like Confucius, present historical events as they were and the moral messages would be revealed. Zhu Xi could make this claim because, as Conrad Schirokauer rightly points out, history to Zhu was both descriptive and prescriptive. When written and studied properly, history could help to guide decisions under any circumstance. However, learning history in the wrong way would lead to disastrous outcomes, resulting in the surfacing of evil and treacherous motives. History was important for Zhu Xi, but to be of any value it needed to provide useful lessons for individuals engaged in moral self-cultivation.42 In the field of literary study and composition, Zhu Xi adopted a holistic approach that situated literary writing within his overall intellectual program for comprehending and transmitting the dao. He generally followed Zhou Dunyi’s famous slogan, “Wen serves as the vehicle for dao” (wen yi zai dao 文以載道). This could be seen in his assessment of Zeng Gong’s learning: The writings of Zeng Gong are quite filled with substance. He started by learning to do wen, and eventually reached some understanding of the right principles from learning wen. Therefore his writings were done in accordance with the right principles and he 41. Yung, Natural Philosophy of Chu Hsi, pp. 245–94. 42. Schirokauer, “Chu Hsi’s Senses of History.”


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did not produce empty words. But he was too unfocused and cumbersome and unclear at critical junctions. This is because he did not work from the basis, and therefore failed to gain a complete understanding. 南豐文卻近質,他初亦只是學為文,卻因學文,漸見些子道理,故文 字依傍道理做,不為空言。只是關鍵緊要處,也說得寬緩不分明。緣 他見處不徹,本無根本工夫,所以如此。43

Zhu Xi felt that although Zeng Gong had managed to understand certain aspects of the truth by learning wen, he failed to fully comprehend the truth because he spent his effort mainly on writing and not on moral self-cultivation. The underlying message is that wen could be a pathway to apprehending the dao, but relying primarily on learning wen would inevitably lead to a partial and shallow understanding of the ultimate truth. Moreover, wen could be potentially subversive, especially if pursued without a serious commitment to the common good. This was the evil of Su Shi’s approach to learning. Zhu saw Su as a powerful writer who had successfully persuaded the literati community to accept a distorted interpretation of the dao with his frivolous rhetorical practices. This error was committed in part because Su valued wen as a cultural enterprise, independent of moral self-cultivation. Only one who understood true moral values could produce the correct wen; cultural pursuit had to be in service of moral pursuit for it to have real value.44 There were others in the twelfth century who adopted approaches that did not privilege moral pursuits exclusively. Zhu Xi’s close affiliate Lü Zuqian 呂祖謙 (1137–81), for instance, was well known for his mode of teaching that sought to fuse ethical with institutional, historical, statecraft, and literary studies.45 As Hilde De Weerdt notes in her study of Lü’s works and several twelfth-century examination manuals compiled based on his lectures, Lü sought to integrate the moral philosophy of the Cheng 43. Li Jingde, Zhuzi yulei, 139.3313–14. 44. Bol, “Chu Hsi’s Redefinition of Literati Learning.” 45. Tillman, Confucian Discourse and Chu Hsi’s Ascendancy, pp. 83–103.

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brothers with the kind of result-orientated statecraft studies popular among the leading figures from the Zhedong 浙東 (eastern Zhejiang) region. He shared Zhu Xi’s conviction that the ideal order of antiquity was achieved through complying with the universal and eternal moral principles that Daoxue had rediscovered. Later dynastic rules failed to match the ideal because government had abandoned those principles and instead pursued selfish desires. Lü also shared Zhu Xi’s view that the ideal order of antiquity could be restored through teaching the literati the correct way of learning. But he disagreed with Zhu Xi about what the correct way was, and Daoxue philosophy’s role in it. Lü used Dao­ xue philosophy to explain and evaluate historical events, but he did not believe that prioritizing moral philosophy in learning was the best way to realize the ideals of antiquity. Rather, that goal would be achieved through careful study of historical and institutional changes.46 Underlying Lü Zuqian’s accommodative program of learning was the conviction that the ideal order of antiquity was essentially a political order, albeit a moral one. Therefore, moral philosophy, statecraft studies, institutional history, and literary writing should all be taught so as to prepare students sitting for the civil service examination—the pool from which future officials were to be selected—in order to help the government rebuild the ideal order. The idea that the perfect order of antiquity was essentially a political order was shared by others, such as Chen Liang 陳亮 (1143–94). Though he was ready to acknowledge the accomplishments of the Han and Tang, and thus refused to go along with Zhu Xi in seeing the great Han and Tang monarchs as unqualified rulers solely motivated by selfish desire, Chen nevertheless agreed that the achievement of antiquity in fully realizing the dao was unmatched. But his dao was not Zhu Xi’s dao. Chen’s dao was utilitarian in nature; its realization depended on whether the political authorities could take care of the actual welfare of the people.47 46. De Weerdt, Competition over Content, pp. 141–50. 47. Tillman, Utilitarian Confucianism, pp. 153–68.


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Another major Zhedong scholar, Ye Shi 葉適 (1150–1223), held a different view regarding Han and Tang. In fact, Ye was more radical than Zhu Xi in denying the achievements of the great Han-Tang rulers. His negative evaluation of the postantiquity eras went beyond the monarchs and extended to almost all major thinkers who came after Confucius, including the celebrated figures Zengzi 曾子, Zisi 子思, and Mencius, all of whom in the Dao­ xue discourse had faithfully transmitted Confucius’s messages. These later thinkers were to be reproached because, in Ye’s opinion, they had abandoned Confucius’s emphasis on practical issues and understanding what is knowable through our senses. Instead, they turned their attention to searching for an incomprehensible realm and set a bad example for scholars of the later ages (Ye had the Dao­ xue adherents in mind), who followed them in pursuing empty knowledge. Ye further argued that in antiquity the sage-kings and their ministers had a broad vision of education that was designed to cultivate men with different talents and virtues for serving the state and the people. This was in sharp contrast to Dao­xue’s approach to learning, which directed students to pursue narrow, super­ fluous discourses on morality while ignoring all other forms of use­ful knowledge. Therefore, as a teacher Ye encouraged each of his students to learn from a broad range of literati learning—classical, historical, literary, and statecraft studies—according to each student’s interest and aptitude, so that collectively they would be able to cover the entire scope of learning and attend to the myriad affairs of the world.48 That being said, we can still easily discern an overriding concern in Ye Shi’s program of instruction. De Weerdt has rightly maintained that even in his earlier years, when he still revered Zhu Xi and the Daoxue cause, he had a very different conception of the Way. “For Ye, the Way was ultimately the Way of government, and in order to engage in the Way of government, historical studies and policy analyses, as the study of eternal things, were an essential

48. Lo, Life and Thought of Yeh Shih, pp. 162–75.

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complement to moral philosophy.” 49 Apparently the same could be said for all the major thinkers from Zhedong. The Zhedong position was illustrated most clearly by the Illustrated Charts on Imperial Statecraft (Diwang jingshi tupu 帝王經世圖譜) by Tang Zhongyou 唐仲友 (1136–88). The work attempted to reveal the overarching principle, derived from the various classics, that informed the Way of the sage-kings. Cosmology, ethics, history, and practical administrative affairs were blended into a coherent knowledge system that led, in the end, to a grand theory of good government. 50 Thus, the Zhedong vision of literati learning, though appearing to be more broad-minded than Daoxue, still did not regard any particular form of scholarship as an independent academic discipline. From the guwen movement in the eleventh century to the twelfth and thirteenth centuries when Daoxue had successfully established itself as a major expression of literati learning, Song intellectual culture had witnessed the emergence and proliferation of several influential and often competing views of antiquity. At the center of controversy were different opinions about how and what the literati should learn so that the ideal order that characterized antiquity could be revived. Yet a common assumption ran through all the differences: the goal of learning was to put into practice the dao of the ancient sages. Moreover, the dao was often understood to be a manifestation of the unity, coherence, and oneness that characterize the ultimate truth. Thus, to be of any value, literati learning had to be essentially a holistic system in which all kinds of knowledge could be brought together to serve the greater purpose of apprehending and realizing the singular and universal dao. This does not mean that specialized knowledge had no place in Song China. On the contrary, traditional branches of knowledge and their respective specialties continued to develop and flourish during the Song, sometimes capturing the attention of 49. De Weerdt, Competition over Content, pp. 105–6. 50. Liu Liankai, “Tang Zhongyou de shixue sixiang.”


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members of the literati class. Still, broadly speaking, the difference between the specialists and the literati class is obvious. The specialists tended to discuss knowledge within discrete domains, showing little concern for merging it with other forms of knowledge to form a coherent system of learning. In contrast, mainstream literati discourses on such knowledge often employed a holistic tone and stressed the necessity of contributing to the overall program of learning.51 This was especially true when the knowledge in question was traditionally a core component of literati education, such as the classics, literature, history, or statecraft. But there were some who argued that particular endeavors for the literati, poetry for instance, could be independent enterprises. Yan Yu 嚴羽 (ca. 1180–ca. 1235), whose work was obscure during his lifetime but became extremely influential during Li Mengyang’s time, was one proponent of this view.

Yan Yu’s Reevaluation of the Poetic Traditions Yan Yu was so little known that his first detailed biography, put together during the Qing dynasty, was no more than four hundred characters in length. A native of Shaowu 邵武 in northern Fujian, Yan traced his ancestry to Shaanxi. It was said that one of his ancestors was a famous Tang governor and a good friend of the great Tang poet Du Fu, and the family was said to have moved to Fujian in the last years of the Tang. Whether such claims are true is unknown, but what we do know with some degree of certainty is that by Yan Yu’s time the family seemed to be doing quite well, and several members across a few generations had managed to produce literary collections. Yan never sat for the civil service examination, but he gained enough fame to befriend some of the key poets of his day, including Dai Fugu 戴復古 (b. 1167). 52 He 51. A good example of such a body of knowledge would be medicine. See Goldschmidt, Evolution of Chinese Medicine, pp. 42–68. 52. For a succinct discussion of Dai Fugu’s poetry, see Chang and Owen, Cambridge History of Chinese Literature, vol. 1, pp. 490–93.

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also seems to have traveled to neighboring provinces several times, for reasons that are unclear, eventually returning to his hometown to spend the rest of his life there.53 Given Yan Yu’s anonymity, the fact that his major poetic work, the Canglang shihua 滄浪詩話 (Canglang’s discussions of poetry), attracted such a large audience in the fifteenth through seventeenth centuries is a matter of great interest for literary historians. The impact of the Canglang shihua on late imperial intellectual culture was so far-reaching that a purely literary approach to understanding it is inadequate. Indeed, to understand Canglang shihua’s enormous influence during the Ming, we need to situate Yan’s theory of poetry within the Song intellectual climate. Yan lamented that, by and large, the poetry of his day was inferior to that of the Tang, when poetry had been able to attain a higher level of sophistication because the Tang government had recruited talent based on their poetry. 54 This was apparently a response to the Song practice of gradually reducing the importance of poetry in the civil service examination, and consequently in intellectual life as well. 55 As Richard John Lynn points out in his study of Ming-Qing theories of poetry and their debt to Yan Yu, although it is well known that the Canglang shihua borrowed heavily from the language of Chan Buddhism, the vocabulary and narratives that Yan employed in his discussions of poetry are in some instances very similar to Daoxue discourses on morality. This is especially true when Yan contemplates the role of learning from tradition in preparing a poet for enlightenment. To demonstrate that the Song period marked a decline in the art of poetry, Yan drew up a list of patriarchs from the Han to the High Tang who had shown later generations what true poetry was. To be a great poet required taking the very best examples from the past as models, rather 53. Chen Bohai, Yan Yu he Canglang shihua, pp. 21–33. Li Ruiqing, Canglang shihua de shige lilun yanjiu, pp. 1–27. 54. Yan, Canglang shihua jiaoshi, p. 147. 55. For a succinct discussion of the Song debates on poetry versus classics in the examination field, see Zhu Shangshu, Songdai keju yu wenxue kaolun, pp. 190–209.


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than learning from poets of the lower tiers. This sort of poetic genealogy might have reminded his readers of the Daoxue definition of the sagely tradition.56 Consider the following passage: For the student of poetry, judgment is the most important thing: his introduction must be correct, and his ambitions must be set high. He takes Han, Wei, Jin, and High Tang as his teachers, and he does not wish to be someone who lived after the Kaiyuan (713– 41) and the Tianbao (742–55) eras. If he yields, he will have the inferior-poetry-devil enter his bosom—this, because he did not set his ambition high. . . . First one must thoroughly recite the Chuci, and sing them morning and night so as to make them his basis. When he recites the Nineteen Ancient Poems, the “Yuefu in Four Sections,” the five-syllabic poetry of Li Ling and Su Wu and of the Han and the Wei, he must do them all thoroughly. Afterward, he will take up the collected poetry of Li [Bai] and Du [Fu] and read them in dovetail fashion as people of today study the Classics. Next he will take up comprehensively the famous masters of the High Tang. Having allowed all this to ferment in his bosom for a long time, he will be enlightened spontaneously. 夫學詩者以識為主:入門須正,立志須高;以漢、魏、晉、盛唐為師,不 作開元、天寶以下人物。若自退屈,即有下劣詩魔入其肺腑之間;由立 志之不高也……先須熟讀《楚詞》,朝夕諷詠,以為之本;及讀《古詩 十九首》,樂府四篇,李陵、蘇武、漢、魏五言皆須熟讀,即以李、杜二 集枕藉觀之,如今人之治經,然後博取盛唐名家,醞釀胸中,久之自 然悟入。57

By claiming that there was a rupture in the transmission of the true poetic way, Yan Yu was participating in the Song process of reevaluating the literati tradition from all quarters. Of course, when Yan looked to the more recent imperial past instead of high antiquity to formulate his version of an orthodox tradition, he was rejecting Daoxue’s perception of poetry. Like Su Shi, he was 56. Lynn, “Orthodoxy and Enlightenment,” esp. pp. 219–21. 57. Yan, Canglang shihua jiaoshi, p. 23. Translation taken from Lynn, “Orthodoxy and Enlightenment,” pp. 219–20, with modification to Pinyin romanization.

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contending that composing poetry had real value that could be discovered from a cumulative tradition. But Su Shi was not Yan’s idol. In fact, he rejected Su’s vision outright and offered a very different understanding of what the great models of poetry in the past really represented. In his view, the approach of Su and his followers, and the Song approach to poetry in general, was antithetical to Tang practices in the sense that it was too “intellectual,” replacing aesthetic appeal with scholastic display.58 Song people therefore failed to recognize that poetry was a different endeavor: Poetry requires a different kind of talent, which is not concerned with books; it requires a different kind of purport, which is not concerned with principles. However, if one does not read widely or exhaust the principles of things, he will not be able to reach the ultimate purpose [of poetry.] That which could “avoid the road of principles and falling into the trap of words” is superior. The purpose of poetry is to express one’s nature and sentiments through chanting. The people of the High Tang were only concerned with inspired charm. They were antelopes who hung by their horns, leav­ ing no trace by which they could be found. Therefore, their wonder­ fulness lies in being as transparent as crystal and being free from blockage. Like a sound in the void, color in the looks, like the moon reflected in water or an image in a mirror, their words come to an end but their meanings are limitless. Modern writers made strange interpretations. Consequently, they consider language to be poetry, talent and learning to be poetry, or arguments and discourses to be poetry. They certainly are not unskillful, but their poetry will not be up to the poetry of the ancients. This is because their poetry is inferior to the [ancient] tone of “one singing and three joining in.” 夫詩有別材,非關書也;詩有別趣,非關理也。然非多讀書、多窮 理,則不能極其至,所謂不涉理路、不落言筌者,上也。詩者,吟詠情 性也。盛唐諸人惟在興趣,羚羊掛角,無跡可求。故其妙處,透徹玲 58. For discussions of Yan Yu’s opposition to Su Shi and his followers, especially Huang Tingjian 黃庭堅 (1045–1105) and the so-called Jiangxi school of poetry, see Cheang, “Poetry and Transformation.” Zhang Jian, Canglang shihua yanjiu, pp. 104–9.


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瓏,不可湊泊,如空中之音,相中之色,水中之月,鏡中之象,言有盡而 意無窮。近代諸公,乃作奇特解會,遂以文字為詩,以才學為詩,以議 論為詩。夫豈不工?終非古人之詩也。葢於一唱三嘆之音,有所歉 焉。59

In claiming that studying and writing poetry required a different kind of talent and purpose than book learning or the philosophical pursuit of principles, Yan Yu was not dismissing the importance of learning per se. Nor was he asking his readers to abandon reading in favor of pursuing poetic enlightenment. Book learning and the investigation of the principles of things were important, especially if one aspired to be a great poet. Nevertheless, Yan thought of poetry as an independent enterprise with a distinctive tradition that required a different approach and purpose.60 This was how poetry was understood during the HanTang period. In the Tang, for instance, poetry was studied as a specialized form of learning.61 Yan thought that the scholars of his day instead tried to fuse different forms of intellectual endeavor into an integrated system of literati learning, and in the process they sacrificed the distinctiveness of poetry. In contrast, the ideal poetic models of the past were supreme because they preserved the discrete features of poetry. This was true even within the broader domain of literature, as the best poetry of the past had a unique spirit that separated it from prose.62 In seeing poetry as an independent discipline with a unique history and its own set of rules, Yan Yu departed from the mainstream view, which tended to judge the validity and usefulness of a particular form of knowledge based on whether it could be integrated into a coherent program, and thus serve a single, allencompassing purpose. As a result, Yan was not taken seriously as 59. Yan, Canglang shihua jiaoshi, p. 26. Translation taken partially from Lynn, “Orthodoxy and Enlightenment,” pp. 226–27. “One singing and three joining in” is an allusion to a passage in the “Record of Music” section in the Book of Rites. See Liji zhengyi, 37.8ab. 60. Lynn, “The Talent-Learning Polarity.” 61. Yan, Canglang shihua jiaoshi, p. 147. 62. Yan, Canglang shihua jiaoshi, pp. 252–53.

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a critic in his day. The eventual rise of Yan’s theory during the mid-Ming period suggests that the Song belief in a coherent program of learning was beginning to break down. However, that happened only after some two hundred and fifty years. The sections that follow will examine how, in the meantime, the belief that unity was the ultimate goal of learning, with Daoxue leading the way, continued to evolve in the intellectual world.

The Zhedong Approach and the Founding of the Ming It is well-known that the founding of the Ming dynasty owed much to the Zhedong (especially Jinhua) scholars active during the last few decades of Yuan rule. Some of the most prominent individuals in the region became advisers and executors for Emperor Taizu’s regime after his armies captured the region in the 1350s, and they were instrumental in creating the systems and codes of the new dynasty. As we have seen, the Zhedong tradition adopted a utilitarian approach to scholarship and measured the use­fulness of knowledge by its contribution to the practical aspects of govern­ ment. Even after Zhu Xi-ism became widely accepted by the Zhedong literati community as the orthodox mode of learning during the late Southern Song and early Yuan periods, leading scholars, most notably the so-called Four Masters of Jinhua (He Ji 何基 [1188–1268], Wang Bo 王柏 [1197–1274], Jin Lüxiang 金履祥 [1232– 1303], and Xu Qian 許謙 [1270–1337]), continued to study and teach the practical affairs of government. Their method was to fuse Zhu Xi’s moral philosophy and social initiatives with Zhedongstyle statecraft, historical, and literary studies. The result was a holistic program of learning aimed at motivating the literati to take moral responsibility for transforming society through political and social action.63 Toward the end of the Yuan, Zhedong scholars began to pay special attention to the study of law and

63. Sun Kekuang, Yuandai Jinhua xueshu.


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emphasized its importance in maintaining social stability.64 This has led some scholars to argue that the Zhedong scholars provided the ideological foundation for autocratic rulership that Taizu eventually exploited.65 Yet the Daoxue commitment to the Way, which had by now become an integral part of Zhedong scholarship, would not submit itself to despotism easily. For instance, we can discern from the writings of these Zhedong scholars that although they desired a strong ruler (sometimes with a divine-like quality) who could centralize control and effectively regulate the bureaucracy, they still wanted the ruler to heed their advice, as they believed that they were the ones who had comprehended the Way. By and large, they urged the emperor to practice moral self-cultivation and to endorse, through legislation on a national level, the kind of voluntary local reforms that the scholars experimented with during the 1340s and 1350s, for they believed that was how a moral society had been achieved in the past and how the world could be saved again.66 These Zhedong writers differed in their opinions of the accomplishments of the imperial past, with some, like Liu Ji, holding a more positive view of Han and Tang rulers than others, such as Hu Han. Nevertheless, they unequivocally agreed that high antiquity should be taken as the ultimate model for the new regime.67 In particular, Song Lian’s thought deserves elaboration, for he had perhaps the most influence on Zhu Yuanzhang. A native of Pujiang 浦江 County, Jinhua, Song studied with several renowned Jinhua scholars in his youth and followed the various trends in Jinhua scholarship. The aim of learning, as Song saw it, was to regulate the mind, and the ability to fully preserve the mind and put it into practice was the accomplishment of the ancient sages. Based on such an understanding, Song declared that 64. Langlois, “Political Thought in Chin-hua under Mongol Rule.” 65. See, for example, Dardess, Confucianism and Autocracy, pp. 183–253. 66. See Dardess’s discussions of the major Zhedong thinkers, including Liu Ji, Wang Wei 王禕 (1323–74), Song Lian, and Hu Han 胡翰 (1307–81), in Confucianism and Autocracy, pp. 131–81. 67. Dardess, Confucianism and Autocracy, pp. 139–40, 174–76.

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the Six Classics were nothing but the learning of the mind, and although each classic work contains a different set of knowledge about the natural and human order and each serves a distinct function, they all point to the same principle.68 The greatness of antiquity, therefore, was marked by a unity of knowledge, which the sages merged in their minds in order to connect all domains of the cosmos and the human world. This view was not unique to Song Lian. In examining the construction of local identity in fourteenth-century Jinhua, Peter Bol makes the following insightful observation: In the mid-fourteenth century, as literati like Song Lian came to see that a pure Neo-Confucian position risked ignoring literature and statecraft studies, they delved back into the Jinhua past to find exemplars of what they cared about, and thus to argue for a broader view of local tradition. . . . But Song Lian and his contemporaries continued to insist that ultimately there were no fundamental differences between literary, political, and moral approaches to learning: One should and could do them all and integrate them into a coherent whole.69

The view that all forms of knowledge and learning should be pursued for serving the greater goal of uniting a diverse world, and that only a sage with a fully enlightened mind could understand and fulfill the mission, may have contributed to the Ming founder’s despotic rule. Seeing himself (as others saw him) as belonging to the same rank as the ancient sage-kings, Taizu ignored the imperial prototype and set out to search for models of government from remote antiquity that could fit his vision of an absolute sovereign who controlled every aspect of the cosmos, bureaucracy, and society.70

68. Song Lian, “Liujing lun” 六經論, in Song Lian quanji, pp. 72–73. 69. Bol, “The ‘Localist Turn’ and ‘Local Identity’ in Later Imperial China,” quotation on p. 43. 70. Farmer, Zhu Yuanzhang and Early Ming Legislation, pp. 81–83.


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Still, Taizu did not reject the imperial past in its entirety. Immediately after he founded the Ming dynasty as the Yuan collapsed, he ordered his people to abandon the “barbarous” (hu 胡) cultural practices, language, naming systems, and styles of dress associated with the Yuan dynasty. Taizu specifically demanded that the Tang style of dress be restored. This was part of his effort to legitimize his new regime by emphasizing its Han Chinese identity. When stressing the superiority and continuity of Han culture and custom, Taizu looked back to the great accomplishments of the imperial past (Han, Tang, and Song) and blamed the non-Han regimes for ruining the cultural foundation of the Chinese empire.71 But ethnic and cultural purity were probably lesser concerns for Taizu. In bringing back the Tang practice of assigning different dress codes to different social classes, Taizu was also explicitly castigating the Yuan regime for abandoning the methods of maintaining social hierarchy and cohesion.72 This was consistent with his views about antiquity. The greatness of antiquity, according to Taizu and his advisers, lay in its characterization as a hierarchical society in which each member was assigned a proper place, through both ritual and legal measures, according to his social status and role. Even the supernatural forces and beings (Heaven, Earth, gods, and spirits) were brought into this unified and coherent system. Taizu’s antiquity was therefore one in which the sagelike ruler assumed total control of all realms, both human and supernatural. In such a world, potential conflicts were soothed and harmonious relationships achieved.73 However, replicating ancient institutions was not the solution he proposed. Rather, Taizu asserted that the key to successfully restoring the ancient ideal lay in reforming the psychology and behavior of the people. For this reason, all useful knowledge and 71. Other ethnicity-related measures included forcing assimilation of Mon­ gols and Central Asians (Semu 色目) by outlawing marriage within the same minority ethnic group. See Jiang, The Great Ming Code, p. 88. 72. Ming shilu, Taizu shilu 太祖實錄, 30.10a. 73. Dardess, Confucianism and Autocracy, pp. 196–224.

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learning, including the three doctrines of Confucianism, Buddhism, and Daoism, were to be channeled into teaching the ­people a set of unified and universal principles that would create such a perfect order, so that their minds and wills could be cultivated and equipped to uproot evil intentions and harmful desires. Taizu saw himself as a moral teacher of the world, repeatedly issuing moral instructions to educate the people. When he discovered that moral instructions received minimal results, he turned to harsh penalties and public humiliation, but ultimately, like his Zhedong advisers, Taizu saw mental discipline as the definitive cure for social ills.74 The view that a moral society had to be achieved through harsh disciplinary measures in order to strike fear in people’s hearts and make them obedient subjects was met with resistance. Later in Taizu’s reign, Fang Xiaoru 方孝孺 (1357–1402) from Ninghai 寧海 (just next to Jinhua in Zhedong), Song Lian’s best student and a close affiliate of the Jinhua literati community, wrote essays to refute Taizu’s overreliance on harsh laws. He argued that the excessive use of punishment would eventually erode the people’s sense of responsibility and cease to serve its original function. A better alternative, Fang asserted, would be to treat the people with care and trust and to try to transform them through education rather than force.75 He further opined that this was how the Song dynasty, despite being relatively weak and poor, could rise above the powerful Han and Tang and attain great achievements comparable to those of the Zhou dynasty.76 No doubt the Song rulers played an important role in providing favorable political settings, but it was the scholars who made the Song great with their learning.77

74. Dardess, Confucianism and Autocracy, pp. 224–53. 75. Fang Xiaoru, “Shenlü lun qi” 深慮論七, in Xunzhizhai ji, 2.24ab. See also Wang and Zhao, Song Lian Fang Xiaoru pingzhuan, pp. 429–33. 76. Fang Xiaoru, “Shixue guifan xu” 仕學 規範 序, in Xunzhizhai ji, 12.12a–14a. 77. Fang Xiaoru, “Zeng Guo Shiyuan xu” 贈郭世淵序, in Xunzhizhai ji, 14.8b–9a.


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As a devoted Daoxue scholar, Fang maintained that Song learning reached its peak with the emergence of Zhu Xi, but he parted ways with Zhu by showing admiration for the literary accomplishments of Su Shi.78 In fact, Fang went so far as to suggest that only by combining the dao of Cheng Yi, Zhang Zai, and Zhu Xi with the wen of Ouyang Xiu and Su Shi could the learning of the ancients be fully restored. His more accommodating approach seems to echo that of his Zhedong teachers and friends. Nevertheless, Fang insisted that dao must take precedence over wen; doing wen without a commitment to dao would only render wen useless.79 The ancients, Fang argued, wrote to illuminate dao. This was also true for the thinkers of the so-called hundred schools, even though what they meant by dao was not the true and allencompassing Way of the sages.80 In comparison, the fault of modern scholars lay in separating literary and legal studies from a moral mission as prescribed by the Way.81 In the succeeding Jianwen reign, Fang Xiaoru was ready to assume the leadership role in formulating the ideological foundation for the new administration, but he was brutally killed by Emperor Chengzu after Chengzu staged a coup d’état. To rid himself of the negative image of a usurper and portray himself as a receiver and transmitter of the Way of the ancient sage-kings, Chengzu orchestrated a series of cultural projects, the most important of which was the compilation of the Sishu daquan 四書 大全 (Complete collection [of commentaries] for the Four Books), the Wujing daquan 五經大全 (Complete collection [of commentaries] for the Five Classics), and the Xingli daquan 性理大全 (Complete collection of works on nature and principles). Although the production of these texts, which formed the basic curriculum for the civil service examination, injected into Daoxue a strong imperial 78. Fang Xiaoru, “Zeng Lu Daoxin xu” 贈盧道信序, in Xunzhizhai ji, 14.42b–43a. 79. Fang Xiaoru, “Song Ping Yuanliang Zhao Shixian guisheng xu” 送平元 亮趙士賢歸省序, in Xunzhizhai ji, 14.26a–27b. 80. Fang Xiaoru, “Yu Zheng Shudu shu” 與鄭叔度書, in Xunzhizhai ji, 10.16b–17a. 81. Fang Xiaoru, “Yu Zhao Boqin shu” 與趙伯欽書, Xunzhizhai ji, 11.7ab.

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voice, one that sought to mold the literati into loyal servants of the monarch, it also indicated that a regime’s legitimacy could now be sustained only when it was willing to formally accept the basic Daoxue premises. As it developed over the course of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the civil examination, with its curriculum, format, and standards, reinforced Daoxue’s view that the literati should pursue knowledge not within independent fields of study but for achieving moral-political ends analogous to the intent of the ancient sages. The appearance and growing importance of highly formalized examination essays, especially the “eight-legged essay” (baguwen 八股文) in the late fifteenth century, which required candidates to “speak in the place of the sages” (dai shengren liyan 代聖人立言), and the marginalization of other forms of knowledge in the examination field, essentially defined literati learning as a total commitment to state-sanctioned morality.82 But the ascendancy of the examination essay as a new form of literati writing was accompanied by the emergence of alternative voices even from within the establishment. Leading the way were the Hanlin academicians, who articulated new visions of literati cul­ture that aimed at distinguishing between examination writing— often termed shiwen 時文, “the prose of our time”—and what they perceived to be a better form of writing modeled after the style of the ancients—the guwen. Under the leadership of Li Dongyang in the late fifteenth century, the call for reestablishing the ideals of guwen attracted a large following that anticipated the coming of a new era in literati culture.

Li Dongyang, the Hanlin Academy, and Constructing the Guwenci Ideals The early Ming effort to control literati learning through the civil examination was met with resistance. Independent-minded scholars such as Wu Yubi 吳與弼 (1392–1469) and Hu Juren 胡居仁 (1434– 82. Elman, Cultural History of Civil Examinations, pp. 371–420.


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84) refused to sit for the examination, even though they were steadfast followers of Daoxue doctrine.83 Moreover, even for those who passed the examination with distinction and occupied significant positions in the prestigious Hanlin Academy, the examination culture, especially its emphasis on shiwen, often represented a less-than-ideal form of literati learning and writing.84 What they valued was the guwenci 古文詞 (ancient-style prose and poetry), which were not tested in the civil examination. Ideally, there should be no qualitative differences between examination learning and guwenci, as Wu Kuan 吳寬 (1435–1504), the optimus of the 1472 examination and a leading figure of the Hanlin community, argued: The literati in the local schools regard examination learning as their only endeavor. Whenever there is someone who learns to write guwen, the others will laugh at him and say, “What you are doing is affecting your studies.” Alas! This is because they do not know [learning guwen] can greatly aid one’s examination learning. Learning to write guwen without engaging in classical studies will result in the inability to fully understand principle; engaging in examination learning without learning from the [writings of the] ancients will result in not being able to produce superb writing. [This is because] each of the two takes the other as its application. 鄉校間士人以舉子業為事。或為古文詞,衆輙非笑之曰:是妨其業 矣。噫!彼葢不知其資於塲屋者多也故。為古文詞而不治經學,於理 也必閡;為舉子業而不習古,作於文也不揚,二者適相為用者也。85

In reality, as Wu’s observation makes clear, many perceived learning guwenci as a waste of time, irrelevant to examination studies. But if one managed to pass the examination with distinction, the story became completely different. The top-tier metropolitan 83. Chan, “The Ch’eng-Chu School of Early Ming,” pp. 45–46. 84. Admission to the Hanlin Academy was the necessary first step in attaining appointments to some of the most important official posts in the Ming government, including grand secretary, minister and vice minister of rites, and minister of the right of personnel. See Zhang Tingyu et al., Ming shi, 3.1702. 85. Wu Kuan, “Rong’an ji xu” 容庵集序, in Jiacang ji, 43.4b–5a.

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degree holders who proceeded to serve in the most prestigious Ming governmental body (that is, the Hanlin academicians and bachelors) were expected to excel in a kind of literary endeavor that was not required of officials in the regular bureaucracy, or of examination candidates generally. The assumption was that the best talents of the world should be nurtured in a relatively exclusive environment free from daily administrative duties, so that in due time they would be well versed in the knowledge vital for elite statesmen responsible not only for heading the bureaucracy but also for influencing the culture and customs of the world. In the Ming view, that which really distinguished the learning of the Hanlin academicians from the rest was guwenci. As a result, for the first 150 years of the Ming, most leading figures of the literary world were members of the Hanlin Academy in general, and the Grand Secretariat in particular.86 The origin of this demarcation is often dated to 1405 when, during a meeting with the new jinshi who had been selected for the Hanlin Academy, Chengzu made clear his expectations for the junior Hanlin officials: But [you should all] think far and on a large scale, and must not be satisfied with this small achievement. When you learn, you must explore the subtleness of the Way and virtue, and cover all aspects of the nature [of things and affairs] and their applications. When you write, you must aspire to be in the same rank as Ban Gu, Sima Qian, Han Yu, and Ouyang Xiu. If you could put your mind to this and make progress every day without stopping, there is no reason that you cannot meet my expectations. . . . I will not ask you to deal with daily administration. Rather, the imperial library has an excellent collection of books from past and present. You will be paid and allowed to read the books in the library freely. But you must ensure that you will truly embody what you have learned, and in no time I will be able to count on you to serve the country. You must not slacken and disappoint me. 86. For the role Hanlin Academy played in the political and cultural life of late imperial China, see Elman, Cultural History of Civil Examinations, pp. 4–23.


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然當立心遠大,不可安於小成。為學必造道德之微,必具體用之全;為 文必並驅班馬韓歐之間。如此立心,日進不已,未有不成者……朕不 任爾以事,文淵閣古今載籍所萃,爾各食其祿,日就閣中,恣爾玩 索,務實得於巳,庶幾國家將來皆得爾用。不可自怠,以孤朕期待 之意。87

It is clear from Chengzu’s instructions that writing guwen was just part of the learning that a member of the Hanlin Academy was expected to master. Indeed, when Ming people compared the learning of the Hanlin Academy with the knowledge required for the civil examination, the fact that the former was broad (bo) in scope and “ancient” (gu 古) in style was often emphasized. Some scholars have argued that for the Hanlin Academy, Ouyang Xiu was the model to emulate, as he set the standard for broadness and for a commitment to the learning of the ancients.88 Ouyang Xiu was not the only model, for as the writings of leading Hanlin scholars reveal, they had constructed a “genealogy of wen” that identified the Six Classics as the origin and included major literary figures from Han to Song.89 Nevertheless, it is clear that the Hanlin scholars did have a special affection for Ouyang Xiu’s scholarship, and it was for this reason that Li Dongyang, a senior grand secretary and the unassailed leader of the late-fifteenth-century literary world in China, was credited as “the Master Ou­yang of our time.”90 Li Dongyang certainly valued broadness and learning from the ancients, which he thought was the ideal form of scholarship for all literati and not just the Hanlin officials.91 Even so, he was acutely aware that in reality most officials in the regular bureaucracy 87. Lin Yaoyu et al., Libu zhigao, 2.16a. 88. Jian Jinsong, Mingdai wenxue piping yanjiu, pp. 29–49. 89. Who exactly should be included in this “genealogy of wen” was of course a matter of intense debate. See Huang Zhuoyue, Ming Yongle zhi Jiajing chu shi­ wenguan yanjiu, pp. 23–37. 90. Huang Wan, “Zai shang Xiya xiangsheng shu,” in Shilong ji, 16.20b. 91. Li Dongyang, “Daizhai Liu xiansheng ji xu” 呆齋劉先生集序, in Li Dongyang ji, vol. 2, pp. 73–75. This preface was written for the literary collection of Liu Dingzhi 劉定之 (1409–69), who was the optimus for the 1436

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would have no interest in this kind of learning because their career advancement depended, rather, on their ability to handle daily administrative tasks.92 But it is also important to note that when Li was looking to history for established models, he developed a sense of the past that went beyond the confines of Ouyang Xiu’s vision. For instance, in discussing poetry Li was apparently inspired by Yan Yu, and his Huailutang shihua 懷麓堂詩話 (Huailutang discussions of poetry) borrowed heavily from Yan’s similar work. Consider the following passage: Poetry requires a different kind of talent, which is not concerned with books; it requires a different kind of purport, which is not concerned with principles. However, one would not be able to compose poems without reading plenty of books and understanding principle to the ultimate. No theorist of poetry could deny this. Occasionally men and women of lowly status, with real sentiment and sincere intent, may [produce poems] that unintentionally carry the characteristics [of good poems,] and they do not have to be taught to achieve this. This is the reason why [many] so-called literati and scholar-officials, even after trying so hard from their prime to a ripe old age and exhausting all their intellect and energy, still fail to understand where the magnificence [of good poetry] lies. 詩有別材,非關書也;詩有別趣,非關理也。然非讀書之多明理之 至者,則不能作。論詩者無以易此矣。彼小夫賤隸婦人女子,真情 實意,暗合而偶中,固不待於教。而所謂騷人墨客學士大夫者,疲神 思,弊精力,窮壯至老而不能得其妙,正坐是哉。93

The first two sentences are taken almost word for word from a similar passage in the Canglang shihua. Li Dongyang shared Yan Yu’s view of poetry as a unique literary pursuit requiring a different kind of talent not related to book learning or the Daoxue discourse on principles. He also echoed Yan’s claim that, compared metropolitan examination. He served as a Hanlin academician and later as vice minister of rites. 92. Li Dongyang, “Song Zhangjun Rubi zhi Nan’an shi xu” 宋張君汝弼知 南安詩序, in Li Dongyang ji, vol. 2, pp. 41–42. 93. Li Dongyang, Huailutang shihua, 1.9.


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with prose, poetry is a different kind of literary venture, and that Song poetry was generally inferior to that of the Tang because of its prose-like features.94 This might seem to imply that Li, like Yan, was suggesting that a good program of literati learning would not require a commitment to be comprehensive and an assumption that the ultimate objective is to arrive at a single, universal truth. But a closer examination of Li’s position suggests otherwise. Contrary to the claims made by some scholars who see Li Dong­yang as trying to free literature from Daoxue’s domination, the most striking difference between Li and Yan Yu was Li’s admiration for the poems written by Daoxue thinkers.95 Huiweng [i.e., Zhu Xi] was profound in writing ancient-style poems. When he emulated the poetry of the Han-Wei period, every word and sentence was in accordance with the pitches and rhythms. His way of penning his intent and stimulating exhilaration was greatly influenced by the Books of Odes. This could be seen from his Collected Commentaries on the Book of Songs, where the comments [on the poems] are simple and yet appropriate and precise, leaving nothing out. His own works of poetry that expressed his aspiration were composed by putting into chants facts and principles from the classics and history. How can he be ranked among the poets of later ages? 晦翁深於古詩,其效漢魏,至字字句句,平側高下,亦相依仿。命意 托興,則得之《三百篇》者為多。觀所著《詩傳》,簡當精密,殆無遺 憾,是可見已。感興之作,蓋以經史事理,播之吟詠,豈可以後世詩家 者流例論哉?96

In Li Dongyang’s opinion, Zhu Xi produced some of the best poems and theories of poetry, but he was able to reach such heights precisely because he was more than a poet. Also, in a preface written for the literary collection of a colleague, the Hanlin academician and a self-proclaimed Zhu Xi follower Cheng Min­zheng 94. Li Dongyang, Huailutang shihua, 1.4; 1.3, 1.10. 95. Liao Kebin, Fugupai yu Mingdai wenxue sichao, vol. 1, pp. 137–48. 96. Li Dongyang, Huailutang shihua, 1.7.

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程敏政 (1445–1500), Li stressed that the only forms of literary writing that had true value were those of the classics and histories (jingshi 經史). The former is for establishing the Way while the latter is for recording historical events. In both of these distinct fields, Zhu Xi’s work represented the highest standard because he was able to fuse both forms of writing into a coherent literary enterprise that served to illuminate the Way.97 This assessment of Zhu Xi’s literary achievement should prompt us to reconsider the role of literature in Li’s overall program of learning. In the preface written for his senior colleague Wu Kuan’s literary collection, Li recalled how Wu had finished reading the entire corpus of guwen writings, from the Zuo Commentaries and Records of the Grand Historians to those of the Tang-Song masters, such as Han Yu, Liu Zongyan, Ouyang Xiu, and Su Shi, even as he was studying for the civil examination. And when Wu served in the Hanlin Academy and later as a senior grand secretary, he was fully committed to literary writing, regardless of what his duties were. A reader of Wu Kuan’s prose and poetry could discern Wu’s character, insight, and conduct without having met him in person. This was because, Li insisted, although prose and poetry belong to different literary genres, each with its own quintessence (ti 體), they are both outward expressions of one’s morality: Prose [wen] is produced by putting verbal expressions into writing; poetry [shi] is composed by giving prose a sonic dimension. Poetry and prose both [originate from] verbal expression but each has its own quintessence and [they] should not be mixed up. . . . But verbal expressions originate from the mind and serve as the appearance of one’s conduct; therefore one must be nurtured from within before one can speak. Therefore the fact that a piece of literary writing [wen] must possess a certain quintessence is similar to the fact that one must conduct oneself with integrity. If a person writes purely for the purpose of pursuing beauty in words but his conduct

97. Li Dongyang, “Huangdun wenji xu” 篁墩文集序, in Li Dongyang ji, vol. 3, pp. 55–56.


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does not match his words, even if his verbal expressions do match [the quality of good writing], it is nothing more than a coincidence. When we label a piece of writing as “ancient,” certainly it is because of this, isn’t it? 言之成章者為文,文之成聲者則為詩。詩與文同謂之言,亦各有體,而 不相亂……然言發於心而為行之表,必其中有所養而後能言。蓋文之 有體,猷行之有節也。若徒為文字之美而行不掩焉,則其言不過偶合 而幸中。文以古名者,固若是乎哉?98

Thus only writings (whether prose or poetry) that are congruent with the writer’s cultivated conduct deserve to be called “ancient.” In Li Dongyang’s view, what is superior about the literature of the ancients is its commitment to a greater purpose than the aesthetic display of the writer’s skill. Elsewhere, in a preface written for the literary collection of the senior Hanlin scholar Lu Yi 陸釴 (1439–89), Li argues that despite their differences in form, both prose and poetry are necessary for “evaluating the merits and demerits [of policies] and implementing encouragement and admonition [for transforming customs].” He further stresses that Lu’s writings were suitable for achieving these ends because of Lu’s superior moral conduct. The “greater purpose” in this case, then, is to establish a good government based on ethics.99 In short, despite sharing Yan Yu’s view about the difference between poetry and prose, and despite his assertion that literature is an indispensable pursuit for the literati and that one requires a special talent in order to excel, particularly in the case of poetry, Li still saw literary writing—whether prose or poetry, whether in the classics or histories—not as an independent intellectual pursuit but as a medium for moving toward a greater and unified goal of good (and thus moral) government. In this, Li parted ways with 98. Li Dongyang, “Huangdun wenji xu.” In this passage, when wen is contrasted with shi it specifically means prose, but when it is used in relation to one’s conduct, it carries the broader meaning of literary writing. 99. Li Dongyang, “Chunyutang gao xu” 春雨堂稿序, in Li Dongyang ji, vol. 3, pp. 37–38.

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Yan Yu. But the very fact that a leading figure like Li would find Yan’s once-ignored proposal for compartmentalizing knowledge intriguing suggests that the Ming intellectual landscape was under­ going a major transformation. Modern scholars have different opinions about the position that Li Dongyang occupied in Ming literary history. Some have argued that he initiated a new literary movement that displaced the Cabinet style of earlier grand secretaries and Hanlin academicians and anticipated the emergence of Li Mengyang and other archaist masters in the early sixteenth century.100 Others have instead perceived Li Dongyang as belonging to the Cabinet-style tradition, from which the archaist movement of Li Mengyang and his peers represented a radical break.101 A more middle-ground position is to see Li Dongyang as a transitional figure, continuing certain traits of the Cabinet style but opening up ways for later generations to envision new approaches to literary composition.102 Still others reject the notion of continuity or rupture and instead see the two Lis’ different approaches as evidence of the bifurcation in Ming literary landscape.103 Despite their differences, however, scholars have largely agreed that both Li Dongyang and Li Mengyang took “learning from the past” as their approach to literature. The question remains, of course, just which past should be taken as the model? In this chapter, which relies heavily on existing scholarship, we have begun to investigate how the literati of the Song dynasty articulated models for learning from the past for different purposes. When searching for past models, leading Ming intellectuals may have looked beyond the Song, but the models they constructed were to a large extent shaped by Song discourse. Beginning with 100. Song Peiwei, Ming wenxueshi, p. 81; Liao Kebin, Fugupai yu Mingdai wen­xue sichao, vol. 1, pp. 146–48. 101. Jian Jinsong, Mingdai wenxue piping yanjiu, pp. 52–83. 102. Huang Zhuoyue, Ming Yongle zhi Jiajing chu shiwenguan yanjiu, chaps. 2 and 3. 103. Ye, Mingdai zhongyang wenguan zhidu yu wenxue.


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the guwen movement of Ouyang Xiu’s generation, the mainstream approach was to perceive literati learning as a comprehensive program that could ideally fuse different fields of knowledge in the pursuit of universal truth for attaining political and social unity. In reality, the diversity of knowledge was recognized, but different schools had their own ideas about the relationships among different kinds of knowledge. For instance, for the guwen thinkers in their search for the Way, the literary endeavor was the centerpiece linking all forms of knowledge. For the Daoxue thinkers, moral self-cultivation took precedence over all other intellectual undertakings. In contrast, the Song-Yuan Zhedong thinkers by and large sought to design a cohesive learning program that included moral philosophy, statecraft, historical, and literary studies, with the goal of constructing a perfect political order. Nevertheless, from the eleventh to the fourteenth century, apart from marginal figures like Yan Yu, a shared view about the ideal order in antiquity did emerge from these differences. The common assumption was that the order of antiquity could be restored if the literati devoted themselves to unite the different types of knowledge to discover and clarify the set of principles that had made antiquity successful. Put differently, despite having to cope with the diversity of knowledge in reality, Song-Yuan intellectuals generally envisioned an ideal scenario wherein all knowledge was integrated to serve a single, greater purpose. The founding of the Ming channeled the literati’s visions into the state-building process and created theories, texts, and institutions of learning that attempted to redefine Daoxue as a form of state orthodoxy. The civil service examination, in particular, sought to instill in the literati community a concept of learning that recognized serving the state and the monarch as the ultimate goal. But the priority assigned to examination learning was met with skepticism even from within the establishment. For the first century and a half of the Ming era, the Hanlin circles promoted a form of learning that they thought was “ancient” and therefore antithetical to the contemporary learning required for the examination. Still, judging from Li Dongyang’s writings, the ultimate learning program was still one that combined classical, historical,

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and literary aspects into a cohesive moral system of knowledge for serving the state. Going back to the question of whether Li Mengyang’s vision represented a continuation of Li Dongyang’s view or a rupture from it, the following chapters will show that Li Mengyang was a pioneer, in the sense that his archaism challenged the unity of knowledge articulated by the thinkers addressed here, and approached diversity seriously and positively. He saw the intellectual enterprises of politics and literature as independent disciplines, each with its own agenda, objectives, and internal divisions of knowledge, warranting customized theories and practices for learning. This point will be elaborated in parts 3 and 4 of this volume. But first we shall examine Li Mengyang’s view of the natural world, to understand his cosmological justification for seeing the world as essentially diverse, in constant flux, and thus often unpredictable.

part ii Understanding the Cosmos

three Patterns of the Cosmos

When yang has made a turn, yin will come on more strongly. When a person is going to prosper, the predicaments that he faces will become more extreme. Therefore, when disaster and defeat sprout, the embers of his spirit flare up. When happiness and blessing have arrived, disobedience and disaster will deepen. When the learning of the Three Dynasties discusses the intersection between Heaven and men, [it will certainly reveal that] decay and growth are interdependent and [their developments] not abrupt. Alas, [the pattern] is laid out in full in the Book of Changes and elaborated in detail in the Book of Songs and the Book of Documents. Do the scholars of today understand this? 陽已囘則陰愈劇,人將亨則困益至。故禍敗萌而氣焰愈熾,福祐臨而 拂亂益深。三代之學,必論天人之際,以消長倚伏,非斬然而來也。嗚 呼!《易》備矣,《詩》、《書》詳焉。今之學者知之否乎?1

This passage in the Kongtongzi contains several points worthy of note. First, it claims that the classics—the texts that contain the learning of the Three Dynasties—have provided the most correct, comprehensive, and detailed understanding of the working of the universe. This is contrasted with the knowledge of “the scholars of today.” Second, it posits a correlation between the natural and the human world. Finally, it suggests that the correlation is 1. Li Mengyang, “Lunxue shang” 論學上, KTJ, 66.1b.


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predicated on a dialectical tension between the forces of yin and yang, whose movements generate opposite phenomena that are interdependent. We will discuss some of the ideas presented in this passage later in the chapter, but first we might ask exactly whom Li Mengyang was addressing in this passage. When Li expresses skepticism regarding the knowledge of “the scholars of today,” he is most likely referring to those who worked within the Dao­ xue premises. In fact, one of Li’s main purposes in writing the Kongtongzi was to engage with and reconceptualize the mainstream Daoxue discourse. Li proposed a different theory for understanding the cosmos and its relationship with the human world, which he thought had been clearly expounded by the classics, especially the Book of Changes, but then sank into obscurity after antiquity. We begin in this chapter with Li Mengyang’s understanding and use of the Book of Changes. Li’s extant writings do not include any formal commentary for explaining the contents of the classics; he merely extracted from the text those messages that he thought revealed the secrets underlying the movements and transformations of the vital forces (qi 氣). Li articulated his views of qi from his reading of the Book of Changes in order to explain various natural phenomena, both “normal” and “abnormal,” in conjunction with the notion of patterns (li 理), and he framed the discussion within the context of the li-qi dichotomy put forth by Daoxue, although he overturned it in the end.

(Re)reading the Book of Changes against the Daoxue Position In the mainstream Daoxue tradition of Zhu Xi, the status of the Four Books was raised at the expense of the Five Classics. This position was enforced by the late imperial civil service examination. Although section one of the exam required the candidates to write essays on the Four Books and one of the Five Classics,

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the exam graders usually placed greater emphasis on the former.2 Li Mengyang appears to have accepted this arrangement when he discusses the relationship between the Four Books and the Book of Changes: Mencius never spoke about the Book of Changes [Yi], for the Confucian school did not discuss Yi. . . . Confucius transmitted his teaching to Zeng Shen, who did not discuss Yi when writing the Great Learning. Zeng Shen transmitted his teaching to Zisi, who did not discuss Yi when writing the Doctrine of the Mean. Zisi transmitted his teaching to Mencius, who did not discuss Yi when writing the Mencius. From these we know that the Confucian school did not discuss Yi. This is what it is meant by “[theories about] human nature and the Way of Heaven are not available for discussion.” 孟子不談易,以孔門不易言也……孔子傳之參,《大學》不言易。參傳 之思,《中庸》不言易。思傳之軻,《孟子》不言易。以是知孔門不易 言。所謂“性與天道,不可得而言也。”3

In this passage Li Mengyang seems to be echoing Zhu Xi’s view that the Book of Changes is too difficult and should not be assigned to students lightly.4 But I would argue that we could understand Li’s position from another perspective: he was in fact maintaining that the Book of Changes deals with knowledge broader in scope than curricula of the “Confucian school” (kongmen 孔門), with the Four Books as its basic texts. To illustrate this point, we will need to analyze this passage alongside Li’s other remarks on the Book of Changes. It will also be helpful to consider Cheng Yi’s and Zhu Xi’s interpretations of the Book of Changes, for they were the ones who provided Ming intellectuals with authoritative views concerning its messages. Cheng Yi spent considerable effort in trying to reveal through his commentaries what he thought were the subtle meanings of the 2. Elman, Cultural History of Civil Examinations, pp. 425–27. 3. Li Mengyang, “Lunxue xia” 論學下, KTJ, 66.6b–11a. 4. Li Jingde, Zhuzi yulei, 66.1623.


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Book of Changes. In his view, the Book of Changes was an entrance to the perfect order of the cosmos and the ideal world of antiquity, and a careful reading could reveal why the current human situation was deteriorating and how the process could be reversed. His focus was to teach the literati of his times the ways to discover li, the inherent principle that governs the working of the universe. The goal was to allow the literati to realize that they were ontologically united with all things under Heaven, despite apparent differences, so they could carry out moral actions based on such an understanding. Kidder Smith provides an excellent account of how Cheng Yi discussed the unity of differences through commenting on the hexagrams. He is also right to relate the discussion to Cheng’s famous theory that “the principle is one but its manifestations are many” (liyi fenshu 理一分殊). In a nutshell, the theory posits that a universal principle or pattern runs through the phenomenal world. Even with seemingly opposite pairs, such as heaven and earth or male and female, their differences are simply varying manifestations of the same principle. This principle determines that, in an ideal world, all things are produced and repro­ duced to contribute to the formation of an organic system—the universe—and that each and every thing is in itself a complete system capable of generating and regenerating. Cheng therefore defined li as suoyiran 所以然, “that by which [it is] like this” or “that by which [something works] this way.”5 In a less than ideal world—the one that Cheng Yi found himself in—this understanding of li had become obscure, and instead of contributing to the seamless working of the universe, men harmed the perfect system by acting on the impulse of selfish desire, thereby alienating themselves from the rest of the system and causing it to break down. The remedy, according to Cheng, was to persuade the literatus to “learn to be a sage,” which entailed a painstaking effort to train the mind to comprehend the principle of unity and coherence by “investigating things.” After a literatus had investigated things thoroughly and comprehended the principle to its fullest, he would be able to clearly understand that 5. Smith, “Ch’eng Yi and Heaven-and-Earth,” p. 144.

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human nature is simply a particular manifestation of this principle and is therefore inherently good. He would also be able to see that the real message of the Book of Changes was about transcending apparent differences in the phenomenal world and reaching a higher state of interconnectedness.6 Cheng Yi’s commentary on the Book of Changes is a clear example of a “philosophical” (yili 義理) approach to the classics within the history of Book of Changes scholarship; he pays less attention to delineating the specific structures of the hexagrams than to discussing the general concepts embedded in the texts. Zhu Xi, who usually held Cheng in high esteem, criticized him in this case for neglecting the images and therefore losing sight of the original intention of the classics. When working on the Book of Changes, Zhu tried to synthesize the yili approach with the socalled image and number (xiangshu 象數) approach. The xiang­shu approach, which focused on explaining the graphic and numerological aspects of the Book of Changes, could, according to Zhu, provide no guidance for moral action because its explanation was often forced and unconvincing and therefore failed to deal with human affairs. When adopted in the correct manner, however, he found it useful for revealing the subtle configurations and correlations of the hexagrams, which in turn show how to understand the cosmological implications of the classics.7 What propelled Zhu to take the xiangshu approach seriously was his belief that the Book of Changes was originally written for the purpose of divination. He argues that at the time Fuxi 伏羲 drew the eight trigrams, the legendary sage had no intention of using the images for teaching moral values. Rather, he was simply using diagrams to elucidate the natural patterns of yin and yang that correlate to human fortunes and misfortunes, so that the people could act according to divination. Even when King Wen and the Duke of Zhou wrote the hexagram and line statements, their purpose was simply to clarify the graphic and oracular meanings of the hexagrams. It was not until Confucius wrote the 6. Smith, “Ch’eng Yi and Heaven-and-Earth,” pp. 152–60. 7. Zhu Xi, “Yixue qimeng xu” 易學啓蒙序, in Zhu Xi ji, 76.3987–88.


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Ten Wings that he specifically discussed the moral messages that could be derived from the images. In other words, it was Zhu’s contention that although moral guidance could be inferred from reading the Book of Changes, a reader must bear in mind that the natural order is omnipresent and not limited by specific human activities. Zhu further acknowledged that it was extremely difficult to understand this, and that he would not try to convince those who failed to see his point.8 Yet by classifying the Book of Changes as a book of divination, Zhu was drawing an analogy between the natural and human worlds, an analogy that equated movements in qi with actions in political and social settings. Although Zhu thought that the actual applicability of divination was no longer useful in the modern age, when men had already been educated according to moral principles, learning the Book of Changes and uncovering the natural patterns made apparent by divination was still a way to learn for one’s self how the mind of the sage operated and the methods of rectifying the still-imperfect mind to rid it of selfish desire.9 Despite criticizing Cheng Yi for neglecting the images, Zhu Xi continued Cheng’s effort to link the principles underlying the working of the universe with those of the sage’s moral mind. Herein lies another level of analogy between nature and humanity as suggested by Zhu’s reading of the classics. For Zhu Xi, and also Cheng Yi, the Book of Changes points the way toward moral selfcultivation by showing the reader that the li of nature is also the li that defines human nature and the cognitive capacity of the mind. While the Cheng-Zhu reading of the Book of Changes emphasizes its relevance for moral self-cultivation, Li Mengyang’s reading shows that he was moving in a different direction. He did not deny that ideas about moral self-cultivation could be derived from reading the Book of Changes, as the following remark suggests: [The hexagram] that owns the finest Xiang commentary and meaning is none other than Yi. Yi means “assist by mouth” or “nurture.” 8. Li Jingde, Zhuzi yulei, 66.1622–26. 9. Adler, “Chu Hsi and Divination,” pp. 169–205, esp. pp. 188–99.

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The Xiang commentary says, “The Gentleman, [upon receiving the hexagram from divination,] will be cautious when he speaks and limit food consumption.” The only thing that comes out of the mouth is words and the only thing that gets into the mouth is food. Therefore its [i.e., Yi’s] Xiang commentary is finer than that of the other hexagrams. The best way to nurture one’s virtue is none other than to be cautious with words, and the best way to nurture one’s body is none other than limiting food consumption. Therefore, its meaning is even finer. 象與義至精者莫如頤。頤,口輔也,養也。象曰:“君子以慎言語,節 飲食。”口之出惟言語,入惟飲食。故其象視他卦獨精。養德莫如慎言 語,養身莫如節飲食,故其義更精。10

The image of Hexagram #27, Yi ( ), is often seen as a graphic representation of the mouth. Li Mengyang followed both Cheng Yi and Zhu Xi in stating that the hexagram is a reminder to people that caution with words and limiting food consumption are crucial for nurturing one’s virtue and physical body. But Li did not infer, as Cheng Yi had, that the need to be cautious with words derived from the fact that the self was the starting point for government and education, or that limiting one’s consumption of food would help save resources for feeding others. In singling out the Xiang commentary for discussion, he did not attempt, as had Zhu Xi, to relate the discussion to the general principle of nurturing, or the “Way of nurturing” (yangdao 養道), that Zhu thought could be deduced from studying this particular hexagram.11 Looking at how Li presented his view in this particular instance, one might get the impression that Li was actually talking about two different kinds of nurturing, one having to do with personal virtue and the other about the well-being of the physical body. Both are articulated by the same hexagram simply because the actions of speaking and eating are made possible by a person’s mouth. In Li’s analysis, 10. Li Mengyang, “Lunxue xia,” KTJ, 66.10b. 11. For Cheng Yi’s interpretation of the Yi hexagram, see Cheng Yi, Zhouyi Chengshi zhuan, in Cheng and Cheng, Er Cheng ji, p. 834. For Zhu Xi’s interpretation, see Zhu Xi, Zhouyi benyi, pp. 38–39.


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the Yi hexagram, with its unique structure, examines different kinds of human behavior side by side, without blending them into a coherent theory of human nature or morality. In fact, this was how Li understood the Book of Changes in general: [Among all the classics,] only The Book of Changes talks about images. The images are for elevating [the idea of] oneness for assembling the myriad phenomena. Moreover, oneness is what the images rely on to come into existence. [When we are able to] assemble the myriad phenomena using [the idea of] oneness, [we will be able to] leave out the words after we acquire the images. [When we are able to] form [the idea of] oneness with the myriad phenomena, [we will be able to] leave out the images after we acquire the meaning. As for the other classics, when they talk about a principle, they do not go beyond that principle; when they talk about an event, they do not go beyond that event. 《易》獨言象。象者懸一以會萬也。又一者象之所由始也。一以會萬,故 得 象 而 忘 言。萬 以會 一,故 得 意 而 忘 象。它 經 言 一 理 則 止 一 理,言一事則止一事。12

In this passage, Li Mengyang makes two important claims about the Book of Changes. He first argues that the hexagrams (images) were devised to bring together the myriad phenomena and promote the idea of oneness. Second, he asserts that this is the only classic work that deals with the myriad principles and phenomena in a comprehensive manner, whereas the other classics deal with each principle and event individually. An underlying assumption here is, therefore, that there are different principles in the world. If the principles are indeed many, how can comprehensiveness be achieved? This is the same as asking what “oneness” (yi 一) means in Li’s usage. From our discussion of Li’s interpretation of the Yi hexagram, we can suppose that he perceived the Book of Changes to be a “master” classic that thoroughly covers the various principles and events that are expounded separately in the other classics. What Li did not do, I would argue, is devise a 12. Li Mengyang, “Huali xia,” KTJ, 65.3a.

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universal principle of cosmology or learning based on his reading of the Book of Changes. Hence, “oneness” in Li’s usage simply denotes a collection of distinctive principles and events. On this note, we may now revisit Li Mengyang’s view of the relationship between the Book of Changes and the Four Books, presented in the passage at the beginning of this section. Li was certainly not suggesting that since the Four Books had exhausted all knowledge, one could leave out the Book of Changes, nor was he trying to relegate the Four Books to a lesser rank. The issue here is not ranking the classics in terms of importance. Rather, the significance of Li’s remark lies in the conviction that the great masters of the Confucian school had chosen to address only a fixed set of issues; they did not attempt to write about every aspect of the cosmos and the human world. He used the same argument to claim that, with the exception of the Book of Changes, all the other classics deal only with specific principles or events, and that although the Book of Changes has exhausted all principles, it does not present to its readers a universal and overarching principle. Following from this conviction, one could postulate that human knowledge has to be pluralistic, so that each and every pattern may be studied properly. Indeed, this was the direction in which Li was moving, and as we shall see in the next section, Li viewed the cosmos, constituted by qi, as essentially diverse and sometimes unpredictable. As such, he did not grant that a cosmological theory claiming to be universal and capable of explaining every single phenomenon under Heaven could be correct. To understand his point, we need to elucidate his theory of cosmology based on a unique set of li-qi relations.

(Re)thinking Theories of Li and Qi The idea that the universe and the myriad things are made up of qi has a long history, going back at least to the Warring States period.13 It was the Song Daoxue representation of this concept, 13. Onozawa, Fukunaga, and Yamanoi, Ki no shisō.


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however, that shaped the late imperial intellectuals’ understanding. In the opening chapter of the Classified Conversations of Master Zhu, Zhu Xi tries to answer inquiries regarding the relationship between li and qi. After some hesitation, he concludes that li can manifest itself only through qi, but if we must speculate on which comes first, then it seems that we must postulate that li exists before qi does.14 In granting that li requires qi to become detectable, Zhu gave concerns about the physical world and social institutions an important place in his philosophy and program of learning. Still, by and large he followed the presumption of Cheng Yi by stressing the primacy of li.15 The Cheng-Zhu position of giving li supreme status did not impress those who felt that the key to bringing about moral action was to cultivate the moral mind, rather than searching for li beyond the self. This way of reasoning found its most powerful advocate in Wang Yangming. The Cheng-Zhu approach also failed to resonate with those who were uneasy with what they perceived to be an attempt to extract a shared norm out of empty and abstract discourses on li, without attending to the diverse situations of the real world. Hence, they sought to redefine li and its relationship with qi. The mid-Ming period witnessed a surge in the number of thinkers who questioned the Cheng-Zhu stance by underscoring the importance of qi. Wang Tingxiang was one of the most radical proponents of this alternative view.16 Generally speaking, Li Mengyang belonged to the latter group of thinkers, who distanced themselves from the orthodox view of Cheng-Zhu on the issue of the li-qi relationship. In the first few chapters of the Kongtongzi, Li uses the movements of qi, which he saw as carrying the attributes of yin, yang, and the Five Elements (wood, metal, water, fire, and earth), to explain the 14. Li Jingde, Zhuzi yulei, 1.1–2. 15. For Cheng Yi’s notion of qi, see Graham, Two Chinese Philosophers. 16. For a discussion of Wang Tingxiang’s anti–Cheng-Zhu approach and its differences from Wang Yangming’s ideas, see Ong, “The Principles Are Many.”

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various phenomena observable in the natural, human, and supernatural worlds. The opening passage of the first chapter reads: Someone asked about lightning and thunder. Master Kongtong said, “Alas! Why ask someone who is shallow [in his knowledge] about profound ideas? Still, I have heard about it. [Lightning and thunder] are caused by yin and yang wrestling with each other.” Question: “Why is it that [sometimes we see] ghosts and spirits taking form?” [Master Kongtong] answered, “This is triggered by qi. Once qi disperses, [the forms will] disappear. Whenever spirits and demons take human forms according to the [changing] misfortunes and fortunes of qi, they are all due to sudden deviations [from the norm]. When the stars signal misfortunes, such as the appearance of [the comets] Chanqiang, Tiangou, Huibei, and so on, it is due to the transpiration and dispersion of qi. This is also the case for [the story of] the Tang monk Yixing [673–737] turning the Big Dipper into seven pigs.” 或問電雷。空同子曰:“吁!胡叩淵於淺人哉?雖然,竊聞之矣。是陰 陽搏擊之為也。” 問:“有鬼神形者,何也?” 曰:“氣動之也。氣散則散。凡神怪隨氣之妖祥,亦有人物形者,皆忽 然之變也。星之妖,為攙槍、天狗、彗孛等,亦氣之生散。唐一行 北斗化七豕,是也。”17

17. Li Mengyang, “Huali shang” 化理上, KTJ, 65.1ab. The story of Yixing goes like this: When Yixing was young and poor, Nanny Wang often took care of him. Yixing later became a renowned monk. One day Nanny Wang’s son killed someone and she went to Yixing for help. Yixing then displayed his supernatural power, turning the Big Dipper’s stars into pigs and hiding them from sight. When it was reported to Emperor Xuanzong (r. 713–55) that the Big Dipper had disappeared, Yixing told the emperor this was a sign of misfortune and that, to avoid calamities, he should pardon all criminals. The emperor obliged and Nanny Wang’s son was saved. Yixing then released the pigs, turned them back into stars, and returned them to the sky. See Zheng Chuhui, Minghuang zalu, p. 44.


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Several points that Li Mengyang makes in this passage are key to his theory of the cosmos. First, he saw natural phenomena such as lightning and thunder as caused by the regular activities of qi, but in a process that was violently competitive rather than harmonious. Even the existence of supernatural beings was explained by the movement of qi. Second, Li did not deny that irregularities do occur. In fact, he said that when the standard movement of qi is deviated, one will begin to see strange occurrences, such as ghosts and spirits taking human form. Third, his depiction of the activities of the inauspicious stars unequivocally discloses his acceptance of the theory of correlative cosmology. Zhang Zai, the Cheng Brothers, and Zhu Xi had all explained the working of the universe with a theory of qi. What we do not find here, compared with the theories of those Daoxue masters, and indeed I would argue that this is true of Li Mengyang’s entire cosmological theory, is any attempt to develop a theory based on li or qi to explain how to achieve ideal unity or coherence when diversity and irregularity are so apparent in the phenomenal world. Li was instead overwhelmingly concerned with showing that the cosmos is essentially diverse: Rain is a single thing, but in spring it causes growth while in autumn it causes [crops] to die. Breeze is a single thing, but in spring it causes [the leaves] to open up [while] in autumn it causes them to fall. Snow is a single thing, but in winter it brings benefits while in spring it will harm [agriculture]. Water is a single thing; it is suitable for geese and ducks, but chickens will be hurt if submerged. Soil is a single thing, but [it] will become heavier on summer solstice. Charcoal is a single thing, but [it] will become heavier on winter solstice. The same object can be very different [in its manifestations], not to mention different objects! 雨一也,春則生,秋則枯。風一也,春則展,秋則落。雪一也,冬六出則 益,春五出則損。水一也,鵞鴨則宜,鷄濡則傷。土一也,夏至則重。炭 一也,冬至則重。一物且爾。况殊哉!18

18. Li Mengyang, “Huali shang,” KTJ, 65.3ab.

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If such differences are so obvious even for the same substance or phenomenon, the differences will only multiply when we consider all things under Heaven. This is not to say that there is no observable pattern in the working of the universe. But for Li, the patterns actually reveal a natural world that is disparate. For instance: The way of Heaven is defined by principle, therefore [the Book of Changes] says, “[It is the way of Heaven] to diminish the full and augment the humble.” The way of Earth is defined by inclination, therefore [the Book of Changes] says, “[It is the way of Earth] to over­throw the full and replenish the humble.” The way of ghosts and spirits is defined by function, therefore [the Book of Changes] says, “[It is the way of ghosts and spirits] to inflict calamity on the full and bless the humble.” The way of men is defined by sentiment, therefore [the Book of Changes] says, “[It is the way of men] to hate the full and love the humble.” [The difference between] full and humble is one of distinction and not [caused by the circular movement of qi] decaying and growing, rising and falling. The coarse scholars are ignorant about analogies, and they liken [the principle of diminishing the full and augmenting the humble] with [the patterns observed in] sun, moon, grasses, and woods. How sad! The moon would only diminish but never augment. Grasses and wood would only augment but never diminish. If we understand withering as diminishing, does it mean that that which is humble will never wither? 天道以理言,故曰虧盈而益謙。地道以勢言,故曰變盈而流謙。鬼神 以功用言,故曰害盈而福謙。人道以情言,故曰惡盈而好謙。盈謙以 分限言耳,非謂消長升沉也。而俗儒不知類,以日月草木等當之。悲 哉!月有虧而無益,草木有益而無虧。若以凋落為虧,則謙者不凋不 落邪?19

When Li Mengyang criticizes the “coarse scholars” for their ignorance, he refers to their tendency to see the disparity in a thing being full or humble as relative, caused merely by the circular rise and fall of qi. When they applied such a view to explain 19. Li Mengyang, “Huali xia,” KTJ, 65.2ab.


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the changes in different things, their explanation seems to suggest that all things follow a standard pattern of qi movement and there is no qualitative difference between the various kinds of social and natural phenomena observed. In rebuttal, Li stresses that, firstly, Heaven, Earth, ghosts, spirits, and men respond differently to things being full or humble because the natures of their actions are different. Secondly, things in nature, such as the moon, grasses, and woods are categorically different in how they diminish or augment. As a result, changes in them tend to follow different patterns and cannot be explained by using a universal theory of transformation. The conviction that nature is essentially diverse, with different things following different patterns of existence, could have profound implications for the way that human knowledge is under­ stood. If one believes that the cosmos is diverse, one may postulate that human knowledge has to be pluralistic, so that each and every pattern can be studied properly. Looking back at how Li Mengyang viewed the different functions of the classics, we can see that he was moving in this direction. Moreover, even if we grant that the myriad occurrences in the world could be more or less explained by a general pattern of yin-yang activity, the key word is still “competition” (zheng 爭) rather than “unity”: Someone asked about the power of transformation. Master Kongtong said, “When yin and yang continuously replace each other, they will inevitably compete, and [in a particular moment], the one [that triumphs] will command and lead [the process of transformation]. For instance, in the spring, the commanding spirit is growth. Even when [occasionally we see] dangerous gusts and severe frost, the plants will still break forth and sprout. In the winter, the commanding spirit is to conceal. Even when we have beautiful and sunny weather on some days, the number of leaves that turn yellow will still increase. This is called the power of transformation. To command is what is meant by power, and it carries the meaning of governing. The [ability to] govern is made possible by [the acquisition

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of] power, for [it is only with power that one] could move things around and set priorities.” 或問化權。空同子曰:“陰陽代更必爭,而主之者行。如春主生,即惡 風凄霜,無損於拆萌。如冬主藏,非無晴和之辰,而黃葉愈增。故曰化 權。權 者,謂主 之也,有 官之義 焉。官之者,權也,能 推 移 輕 重 20 之也。”

In periods when yang is in command, such as in the spring, yin will still try to wrestle power away from yang, resulting, for example, in more wintry weather, such as “dangerous gusts and severe frost.” Likewise, when yin is in command, yang will try to wrestle power away from yin. When yang wins, it brings about pleasant and harmonious experiences. But this is only one side of the story. Nature works in such a way that yin will get its share of victory as well, and when that happens, harsh conditions will reign. Therefore, while mainstream Daoxue discourse claims that the li of Heaven is universal and absolutely good, its principle being to nourish life, Li saw goodness as transitory and relative. Admittedly the transformations are all predictable, as they still fall within the regular patterns of qi movement. But qi sometimes moves in ways that defy the regular patterns: [Someone] asked about mirages. Master Li said, “Occasionally we can find this kind of strange qi in places like these. The transformation of qi in terms of the yin and yang and the Five Elements is not uniform. The regions close to the sea vary greatly. The pearls in Guangdong, the pebbles in Yunnan, the razor clams in the north, the dried fishes in the south, the crabs in the Huai region, and the clams in Jiangsu—how is it possible to investigate their origins thoroughly? There are things that we do not need to dispute, for they are not urgent matters. There are things that we cannot dispute, for they are not congruent with the patterns. Things that we do not need to dispute include [the occurrence of] mirages, birds, and rats living in the same cave, and the rotation of an elephant’s 20. Li Mengyang, “Huali xia,” KTJ, 65.1a–4a.


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gallbladder among its four limbs according to the four seasons.21 Things that we cannot dispute include pigs standing up and crying like a human, and reincarnation.22 [These are similar to how] one is unable to see one’s own brain or back. When illness strikes, one may not be able to know when the pain will come or go or when the body will feel hot or cold. But those who are obsessed with reports of strange occurrences often try to argue that [the strange phenomena] are not real. Are these people too eager to search for [irregularities] that lie outside the patterns?” 或問海市。李子曰:“此處偶有此怪異氣耳。夫陰陽五行,氣化不 齊,濱海之邦,海錯萬殊。廣之珠,滇之石,北之蟶,南之鮝,淮之 蠏,吳之蛤,能盡究其所來邪?事有不必辯者,以其非急也。有不能 辯者,以其非理也。不必辯如海市、鳥鼠同穴、象膽四時在四脛之類 是也。不能辨者,如豕立人啼,人死託生之類是也。人不能自見其腦與 背。病之來也,忽而痛,忽而止,忽而寒,忽而熱,自不能知之,而好奇 23 者每每辯其非,急求之理之外乎?”

According to Li, strange phenomena could be divided into two categories. The first type occur only in nature and have nothing to do with men. They could simply be ignored. The second type cannot be refuted with reason but are real, and relevant to human affairs. The Song scholars, however, refused to acknowledge the existence of these irregular phenomena, and thus their learning was flawed: The Song people refused to talk about events beyond the regular patterns, and therefore they were flawed in being narrow and 21. A description of this phenomenon may be found in Duan, Youyang zazu, 16.158. 22. The story alluded to here took place in the Spring and Autumn period. Pengsheng 彭生, a noble of Qi, was asked by Duke Xiang of Qi to kill Duke Huan of Lu. But when the people of the Lu state wanted revenge, Duke Xiang shifted the blame to Pengsheng and killed him to pacify the Lu people. One day, when Duke Xiang went hunting, he spotted a huge pig and was told that it was Pengsheng. Duke Xiang refused to believe this and tried to shoot the pig, but the pig suddenly stood up and cried like a human. Terrified, Duke Xiang fell from his cart and was injured. 23. Li Mengyang “Huali xia,” KTJ, 65.5b.

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inflexible. As for legends like the Blackbird giving birth to [the ancestor of the ruling house of the] Shang dynasty,24 the footprint [of a giant] starting the line of the [Zhou dynasty’s ruling] Ji clan,25 Yi Yin being born in a hollow mulberry tree,26 and Chen Tuan being born from a huge meatball,27 how can we make sense of these events by inferring from the regular patterns? Master Kongtong said, “[These were abnormal cases in which [the processes of] qi production came after the reproduction of the physical bodies. [The Song people who insisted that qi production must come before the reproduction of the physical bodies] were [narrow-minded and short-sighted] like rats in a deserted house and midges in a jar.” 宋人不言理外之事,故其失拘而泥。玄鳥生商,武敏肇姬,尹之空 桑,陳摶之肉摶,斯於理能推哉?空同子曰:“形化後有氣化焉。野屋 28 之鼠,醯甕之雞,其類已。”

The “Song people” referred to in this passage were none other than the Daoxue scholars who, in Li’s view, refused to recognize that some things and events were unexplainable because they did not follow the regular patterns of qi movements. Li Mengyang was highly critical of the Daoxue school for failing to take into account the world beyond the confines of li, even when such 24. It was said that the mother of Qi 契, the first ancestor of the Shang dynasty’s ruling house, gave birth to him after she ate the egg of a blackbird. 25. It was said that the mother of Houji 后稷, the first ancestor of the Zhou dynasty ruling clan surnamed Ji, gave birth to him after she stepped in the footprint of a giant. 26. It was said that the mother of Yi Yin 伊尹 drowned in a flood when she was pregnant, but she turned into a mulberry tree with a hollow trunk and gave birth to Yi Yin. 27. It was said that Chen Tuan (d. 989) was born from a huge meatball discovered by a fisherman surnamed Chen. “Tuan” means kneading something into the shape of a ball. This was how Chen Tuan got his name. 28. Li Mengyang, “Wuli” 物理, KTJ, 65.10a. Cheng Yi claims that in the beginning, all living things were produced by qi (qihua 氣化), but once physical bodies were formed, things were able to reproduce (xinghua 形化). And once the motion of xinghua set in, qihua was subdued. See Cheng and Cheng, Er Cheng ji, Yishu 遺書 5.79. Li Mengyang was apparently criticizing Cheng Yi and his followers when he referred to the Song people in this passage. See also Huang Zhuoyue, Ming Zhonghouqi wenxue sixiang yanjiu, p. 43.


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strange happenings were very relevant to human society. Indeed, a major concern that propelled Li to write the Kongtongzi was his wish to explain how the natural world correlated with the human world, an issue he thought had not been adequately answered by Song theories of cosmology. The next chapter will examine how Li sought to answer this question.

four The Human World as Part of the Cosmos


n the eleventh century, correlative cosmology was still invoked in political discussions and debates as in the earlier periods, especially in the court. However, its importance for conceptu­ alizing cosmo-human relations had lost much of its appeal in intellectual discourse. In its place had emerged a new way of understanding the potential of the individual to fathom the subtle patterns of the cosmos. Rejecting the imperialistic characteristics of the older correlative cosmology of the Han and Tang, proponents of this new view claimed that a learned individual, regardless of his class and status, could reach unity with Heaven through study of the words and deeds of the ancient sages as embedded in the classics. The Daoxue position brought this strand of thought to another level by putting the emphasis on the moral self rather than on politics.1 The Ming dynasty officially adopted the Daoxue position after some intense negotiations in the early years of the dynasty. All scholars aspiring to be officials in Li Mengyang’s generation would have to familiarize themselves with Daoxue rather than with the Han-Tang theory of the Heaven-human correlation. But as we shall see, Li’s approach to this issue indicates that the HanTang model remained useful for challenging the orthodox Dao­ xue interpretation. Extending his theory of cosmology to include 1. Skonicki, “Cosmos, State and Society.”


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the human condition as part of the cosmos, Li continued his criticism of Daoxue by attempting to dismantle its placement of moral self-cultivation at the center of discourse. This does not imply that Li was unconcerned with morality, but rather that his understanding of morality was built on a radically different premise. Li Mengyang’s view of morality derived from both his conception of cosmo-human relations and his revisionist theory of human nature. The former had important bearings on his ideas about politics, particularly the nature of rulership, while the latter underscored the primacy of qing—often translated as sentiment, emotion, or feeling—and proposed a new way of understanding human connectivity.

(Re)conceptualizing Cosmo-Human Relations The human body manifests the qualities of qi, according to Li Mengyang. Following traditional medical theory, he identified the five organs of the human body (heart, liver, spleen, lung, and kidney) with the Five Elements, explaining the functions of the organs based on the characteristics of each element.2 But Li spent more effort trying to delineate the correlation between the activ­ ities of qi and the realities of human society. Occasionally his remarks remind readers of Daoxue’s theory of Heaven-human rela­ tions. For instance: The seeds of peaches and almonds are called ren because they contain [the principle] of nurturing life. Mencius said, “Benevolence is that which defines the human mind.” He also said, “That which defines benevolence is human.” [Mencius was referring to the principle] of nurturing life when making such a claim. 桃杏仁以殼內含生生,故曰仁。孟子曰:“仁,人心也。”又曰:“仁者, 人也。”以生生言之也。3 2. Li Mengyang, “Huali shang,” KTJ, 65.1b–2a. 3. Li Mengyang, “Wuli,” KTJ, 65.10a.

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Mencius did not associate the concept of benevolence with nurturing life. It was Zhu Xi who did so in his commentary on this passage (6A) in the Mencius.4 By following Zhu in defining the concept of ren 仁 (benevolence) as nurturing life and seeing it as a principle that could also be found in the natural world, Li Mengyang seems to accept Daoxue’s theory of how nature and the human world interrelate, at least insofar as it attends to moral issues. But Zhu Xi’s interpretation of the passage highlights the importance of self-reflection and cultivation in achieving the state of benevolence by pointing to the function of the mind. 5 This is a step that Li never took. Instead, Li explicitly insists that evil inevitably exists and a higher authority is required to keep it in check: When harmony exists in a community, it is often the case that only one gentleman is needed to overcome [the destructive forces of] several inferior men. [This is a case of] yang governing yin. When selfishness arises and results in rivalry, it is often the case that only one inferior man is needed to harm several gentlemen. [This is a case of] yin harming yang. How could Heaven-and-Earth eliminate yin? The Way lies in governing it. 群居而和,一君子每盖數小人,陽統陰也。私起而爭,一小人每害數君 子,陰賊陽也,反復之道也。天地能使陰無哉?在統之有道耳。6

Also, Why is it so that the inferior men are many while gentlemen are few? [This is because] yang is one while yin is two, and yang is produced by yin. And why is it that the inferior men will definitely be destroyed? [This is because] of how the [heavenly] way of “blessing the good and bringing calamity to the evil” works. “Yang is produced by yin” is evident from the fact that man is bred by woman. 4. See Zhu Xi, Sishu jizhu, p. 364. 5. Zhu Xi, Sishu jizhu, p. 364. 6. Li Mengyang, “Zhidao” 治道, KTJ, 65.15b.


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小人多君子少,何也?陽一陰二也。陽生於陰也。小人必壞者邪也?福 善禍淫之道也。陽生於陰者,男自女生,其證也。7

Following popular theories of qi, Li Mengyang associated yin with evil and yang with goodness but argued that yang was dependent on yin. This was to bring forth his point about the abundance of inferior men in society. Even in the ideal world of Yao and Shun, Li argued, the evil and polluted qi still existed, and therefore not everyone was innately good.8 But Li still insisted that eventually goodness would prevail if the political authority could follow the heavenly Way in governing the world. This idea was brought forth more clearly in Li’s reading of the Xiang commentary of Hexagram #14, Da You 大有, which says: [The trigram for] Heaven and [that of] fire above it form Da You. The superior man, in accordance with this, represses what is evil and gives distinction to what is good, in sympathy with the excellent Heaven-conferred [nature]. 火在天上,大有;君子以竭惡揚善,順天休命。9

Elaborating on the relationship between Heaven and men, Li Mengyang argued that because the mandate of Heaven is absolutely good and without evil, the rules of the sages were nothing but a complete replication of Heaven’s will of honoring the good and repressing the evil.10 In Daoxue discourse, the absolute goodness of Heaven is received by all men and forms the nature of human beings, but this does not appear to be Li’s position. From the passages cited so far, we can discern several layers of meaning in his theory of cosmo-human relations. The first is essentially natural, with the functions and movements of yin and yang determining men’s physical attributes and inherent nature, as well as trends in society. At this level, natural processes may not be at all 7. Li Mengyang, “Huali xia,” KTJ, 65.8a. 8. Li Mengyang, “Huali xia,” KTJ, 65.9a. 9. Legge, The Yi King, p. 285. 10. Li Mengyang, “Zhidao,” KTJ, 65.15b.

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desirable. For this reason, Li argues that a good government must work against nature to rule the world effectively: Zhuangzi’s theory of leveling all things depicts the natural processes [“Heaven as it is”] most appropriately yet is most harmful to good government. If every person knows that his life will eventually end [whether he lives as long as] Peng Zu 彭祖 or dies at a young age, [whether he is as virtuous] as Confucius [or as rebellious as] Liuxia Zhi 柳下跖, who, then, would be committed to selfcultivation? And [if the people know] that purity and muddiness were both present when [the world was still undifferentiated], and metals and rocks will ultimately melt, and there is no distinction between Peng Zu and one who dies young, between Confucius and Liuxia Zhi, who, then, would be committed to self-cultivation? Therefore [Zhuangzi’s theory] is harmful to good government. [This was why] Confucius said, “The people may be made to follow, but should not be made to know.” 莊周齊物之論,最達天然,亦最害治。使人皆知彭殤孔跖同盡同 歸,則孰肯自修?或又知清濁混沌,金石銷鑠,孰彭孰殤,孰孔孰 跖,肯自修乎?故曰害治。孔子曰:“民可使由之,不可使知之。”11

Notice that in this interesting criticism, Li does not say that Zhuangzi was wrong. On the contrary, he agrees with Zhuangzi’s insight concerning the core principles of natural processes. What he objects to is revealing such subtle knowledge to the common people, for knowing the truth will discourage the people from practicing self-cultivation and thus result in an unruly populace. It is clear that Li was suggesting that Heaven’s pattern and good government are not connected. It could even be said that Li saw good government as “unnatural,” reversing the natural course of Heaven in the process of putting things right. But there is a second layer to Li’s theory of Heaven and cosmo-human relations that carries a political-moral implication. He assumes that there exists a heavenly authority that intervenes in the natural flow of qi, ensuring that human society will 11. Li Mengyang, “Zhidao,” KTJ, 65.17a.


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continue to function in a proper manner despite the overwhelming presence of the yin component of qi. It is this higher authority that confers political power on the leaders of humankind (that is, the monarchs), so that they can form a strong government to execute Heaven’s will and realize the common good by minimizing the harmful effects of the yin forces. Heaven’s will, understood as such, is basically a divine power that rises above the natural movements of qi. For an educated man, therefore, the most important task is to serve the ruler and help carry out Heaven’s will. For this reason, when Li’s friend and student, the talented Yunnan scholar Zhang Han 張含 (1479–1565), visited Li’s hometown and told Li that he had named his hall the Hall of Leisurely Wandering (Youyoutang 優游堂), Li, who had already been forced to retire, advised Zhang to reconsider, even though he knew that Zhang was not interested in an official career:12 Master Li said, “In high antiquity, the rulers were idle; in the middle period, it was the people that were idle. When the people are idle, [it means that] talented men are leading a reclusive life, and when talented men are leading a reclusive life, the official posts will be vacant, and when the official posts become vacant, the rulers would be very busy. Therefore, when the Former Kings ruled the world, they put in every effort to recruit talent. Yet they still feared that they had left someone out, so they summoned [the talents of the world] with bows and flags and picked them up with carts whose wheels were covered with papyrus, and then they placed the talents in their appropriate positions. . . .” “Leisurely wandering” is another name for “being so at one’s will,” and it means “idleness.” If everyone chose to be idle, then the ruler would be without officials to assist him. 李子曰:“上世君逸,中世民逸。民逸則賢隐,賢隐則官曠,官曠則 君勞。是故先王之治天下也,立賢備矣,然猶懼其遺也,於是弓旌有

12. For Zhang, see Zhang Xingjuan, Mingdai shiren Zhang Han de shigeguan ji chuangzuo shijian chutan.

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招,蒲輪有迎,夫然後賢者各以其位……優游者,自如之名而逸之義 13 也。使人自逸,則君無與官。”

Enjoying the life of a recluse while one has the opportunity to serve the ruler is an irresponsible act not to be encouraged. Li Mengyang did not see any value in voluntarily keeping one’s distance from the state. Talented men should make themselves available to the ruler, who is blessed by the heavenly authority to rule. But how could the will of the heavenly authority be discerned? This brings us to the third layer of Li’s theory, which suggests a mysterious connotation: Someone asked about geomancy. Master Kongtong said, “Does it exist or not? Efficacious signs will automatically appear when air [circulates and] qi accumulates, so [how can we] say that it is not real? Wealth and prestige may come to you on their own accord but may not be deliberately pursued. This is the secret of Heaven and is not something that men can control, so [how can we] say that it is real? Therefore, good fortune is to be brought about by being virtuous. As for the nonvirtuous households, they will not be able to enjoy [wealth and prestige] even if they are presented [with the opportunity].” It was asked, “If this is so, should we just discard geomancy?” “Even if this is so, how could we discard it? It is still useful for calculating [the best arrangements to ensure that one would be] safe and sound.”

13. Li Mengyang, “Youyoutang ji” 優游堂記, KTJ, 49.3b–4a. Li had written a couple of pieces to congratulate officials who had decided to retire even when they were still capable of serving. In these pieces, the officials were deemed morally superior to those who cared only about their personal gain in pursuing office holding, and those who stubbornly refused to retire even when they were no longer able to serve effectively because of illness, old age, or some other issue. In Li’s narrative, therefore, opting to retire was construed not as a refusal to serve the emperor but as a moral statement against officeholders with no integrity. See Li Mengyang, “Song Anchashi Fanggongxu” 送按察使房公序, KTJ, 54.4b–6a; “Song Ma Buyun gui xu” 送馬布雲歸序, KTJ, 55.12a–13a.


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或問風水。空同子曰:“有哉?無哉?風氣聚則靈異自發,何謂無?富 貴可遇而不可求,天之秘,非人之能為也,何謂有?故吉以善 獲,非善之家,雖遇弗遇矣。” 曰:“若是,則廢之乎?” 14 “雖然,曷可廢哉?卜其安焉平焉者可矣。”

Based on the conviction that the cosmos sometimes functions in an unpredictable and incomprehensible manner, Li Mengyang warned against relying on geomancy to pursue wealth and prestige, insisting instead that virtue plays a definitive role. But Li was not saying that one should abandon geomancy. Rather, he granted that knowledge of it could sometimes account for one’s destiny, as the cosmos generally correlated with human activities. The point that Li wanted to make was that the secrets of Heaven’s operation and how it affected the human world were often not revealed to humankind, even when nature sometimes showed signs foretelling certain occurrences: Birds are the first to [sense] qi. They gather and make noise at places destined to be prosperous. Master Kongtong said, “I was serving at the court during the early years of the Hongzhi reign. And whenever bells and drums sounded, crows numbered in tens of thousands would gather at the Assembly Hall. I asked my seniors about this after the court session, and they said that this was [a sign] of [a phoenix] worshipped by hundreds of birds. But [according to them], this phenomenon had been observed for a long time, occurring in every regime of all [previous] emperors. Later in the Zhengde period, [however,] the phenomenon disappeared. I have heard that when Emperor Xian was making his way to the capital and moored his boat at the Longjiang Gate [near Nanjing], crows numbered in the tens of thousands were seen gathering at the willow trees on the riverbank twittering at the emperor’s boat. Wasn’t that a sign that the emperor would eventually be restored [to his deserved position] in our day? Nowadays common folk welcome magpies and feel worried when owls are spotted around their residence; isn’t this because they sense qi before it happens? [The 14. Li Mengyang, “Yidao” 異道, KTJ, 66.18a.

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residence of] Mr. Fu of Ningling, Henan, was originally called the Old Crows Fu household because the trees surrounding the estate were full of crows. At that time, the noise [created by the birds] often disrupted human conversation. Nowadays, many [unfortunate] incidents have happened; since then the crows have stopped coming.” 禽鳥先氣者也。凡噪聚處則旺而興。空同子曰:“弘治初,予盖侍朝 焉。每鍾鼓鳴,則烏鴉以萬數集於龍楼。予退而問諸長老,曰:此百鳥 來朝也。然久矣,朝朝帝帝如此。後正德間不復見此矣。甞聞獻皇帝 之國也,舟泊龍江關,烏鴉以萬數集江柳向王舟鳴噪,亦今中興之應 歟?今人家喜鵲憂鴟,亦氣之先歟?寧陵符生舊稱老鴉符家,言環庄 15 樹皆鴉。每鳴噪妨人語,今多事來,鴉亦不之來。”

Several anecdotes cited in this passage need explanation. Legend has it that a phoenix will be worshipped by hundreds of birds during a prosperous age. People in the seventeenth century would look back at the Hongzhi reign as a period marked by good governance, made possible by having a benevolent ruler on the throne. Recalling that Li was spared by the emperor after he got into trouble for criticizing the eunuchs and the imperial relatives, it is understandable that Li would look back on the Hongzhi reign as a decent age as well. The Zhengde period, on the other hand, was often perceived as ruled by an incompetent emperor and a cor­ rupt bureaucracy and filled with disastrous events, including the ascendancy of Liu Jin and the Zhu Chenhao rebellion. Li Mengyang himself suffered during this period, and it is apparent that he was disappointed with the Zhengde regime. When crows stopped coming to the palace, it was for Li a sign that the qi had degenerated and the dynasty was in decline. This makes Li Mengyang’s comment on Emperor Xian all the more significant. Emperor Xian was Zhu Youyuan 朱佑杬 (1476– 1519), who was made emperor posthumously by his son, Emperor Shizong 世宗 (r. 1522–65), during the Great Rites Controversy. Li had been removed from office by then and did not participate in that dramatic episode, but the passage quoted clearly demonstrates the 15. Li Mengyang, “Wuli,” KTJ, 65.11ab.


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position that he would have taken. The use of the term “restoration” (zhongxing 中興), which is normally used to describe the second life that a dynasty enjoys after it has almost fallen, strongly suggests that Li regarded Emperor Shizong’s attempt to honor his father as legitimate and even desirable, for it could potentially reverse the deteriorating trend started by the malfunctioning Zhengde regime. But how could Li tell that this would necessarily be the case? He could tell because mystic signs showing that Emperor Xian deserved the status of an emperor were visible even before he was made one. And why was Emperor Xian legitimate? Li provides no explanation for this. Nevertheless, if we revisit the passage quoted at the end of chapter 3, in which he cites the myths concerning the Shang and Zhou ancestors to demonstrate that the Song scholars were wrong in refusing to acknowledge the existence of events lying outside the regular patterns, we see that he was clearly suggesting that Heaven’s decision to choose an emperor, while detectable through signs in nature, is beyond human comprehension. Legends about how a ruler would have to take good care of the people before he could receive the mandate of Heaven appear repeatedly in the classics. A particularly intriguing example is the famous lecture delivered to King Cheng by the Duke of Zhou, collected in the Book of Documents, in which the Duke of Zhou warns the Son of Heaven against indulging in luxurious comfort. To secure Heaven’s decree that he should rule for a lengthy period, a ruler must work diligently to win the people’s support through compassion. To do otherwise is to forgo the mandate of Heaven and have one’s reign cut short.16 Theories of rulership crafted within this tradition had developed along two different lines. The first emphasized the Heaven-ruler connection, maintaining that it is the duty of the ruler to obey the will of Heaven and to look out for omens that signal Heaven’s affirmation of, or displeasure with, his performance. This line of discourse originated partly with the correlative cosmologists who were active during the Warring States period. According to Aihe Wang, there 16. Legge, Shû King, pp. 200–205.

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were four different groups: the religious and nature experts, the bureaucratic officials and local administrators, the military specialists, and the scholars. Regardless of whether they had invented or implemented the multiple theories of correlative cosmology based on the concept of the Five Elements, these four groups collectively, in Wang’s words, “usurped the hereditary king’s monopolized divine authority and distributed it among themselves, eventually changing the nature of rulership altogether.” In the process, the nature of the ruler was transformed “from a hereditary king, legitimized by an ancestral cult, to a territorial ruler of a bureaucratic state, legitimized by his imitation of and conformity to the cosmos.”17 In the Han, the scholar-bureaucrats, includ­ ing the likes of Lu Jia 陸賈 (fl. ca. 206–180 bce) and Jia Yi 賈誼 (201–168 bce), added a moral dimension to this set of theories, holding the ruler responsible for poor government. With Dong Zhongshu, the theory was further moralized. Again, to quote Aihe Wang: [In Dong’s theory,] omens no longer represent different types of sovereignty, but rather verify a single permanent sovereignty that derives from the ultimate source of authority—Heaven. Unlike his predecessors Lu Jia and Jia Yi, who had to accept force and violence in the transformation of power while at the same time advocating rule by morality, Dong Zhongshu eliminates force and violence entirely from the transmission of dynastic power, attributing the dynamism of such transmission to the shifting of the Mandate of Heaven.18

While replacing earlier theories of correlative cosmology that emphasized the ruler’s responses to the cosmological cycles with a conviction that the ruler’s primary task is to enhance the welfare of the populace, Han theories of correlative cosmology generally accepted that the ruler has a special relationship with Heaven that is not shared by all. This sort of rhetoric elevated the ruler’s status 17. Wang, Cosmology and Political Culture, pp. 77, 91. 18. Wang, Cosmology and Political Culture, p. 150.


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to that of a divine being and provided the theoretical basis for a centralized imperial state.19 A second line of discourse could be found in the eccentric Western Han text Huainanzi, which decentralized the sovereign’s position in the Heaven-human connection. Produced under the sponsorship of Liu An 劉安 (d. 122 bce), Huainanzi represented the voices of the kings of distant kingdoms who opposed the imperial court’s attempts to centralize ideas and culture. It promoted a theory of cosmic resonance that denied the emperor a monopoly on his connection with the cosmos, instead proposing that anyone who united with the Way could resonate with the cosmos.20 Although working in a very different era as well as from a different intellectual premise, Daoxue thinkers from the Northern Song onward accepted and reconfigured this decentralized version of cosmic resonance by emphasizing the individual’s innate moral connection to Heaven. They challenged the imperial rhetoric identifying the emperor as the only human being who could provide a link between Heaven and the human world. Theoretically, in Daoxue’s program of learning, the emperor, like everyone else, could become a sage by going through a vigorous process of moral self-cultivation and fully realizing his Heaven-endowed nature. However, no ruler in the postantiquity period was thought to have accomplished this. As a result, moral authority was separated from political legitimacy. In the standard Daoxue discourse, moral authority belonged to those willing to engage in learning to perfect themselves, and such individuals were to be treated with respect and regarded as teachers, even by the monarchs who possessed political legitimacy. As de Bary points out, alongside Daoxue’s discourse on the learning of the Way lay an auxiliary discourse on the emperor’s own study, in which Daoxue masters portrayed themselves as teachers of the ruler.21 Daoxue’s theory of emperorship was a reaction against the early Tang model of emperor, which was based, by and large, on 19. Wang, Cosmology and Political Culture, pp. 191–92. 20. Wang, Cosmology and Political Culture, p. 190. 21. De Bary, Neo-Confucian Orthodoxy.

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an extension of Han cosmic resonance theory and saw the ruler as literally “the Son of Heaven,” bestowed with the mandate of Heaven and the responsibility and power to realize harmony in both the cosmic and human realms. In his discussion of Daoxue’s view on politics, Peter Bol argues that, contrary to the conventional modern opinion that charges Daoxue with supporting autocracy and thus hindering China’s quest for democracy, Daoxue actually contributed to a rethinking of the nature of emperorship that worked to limit autocracy. To be more specific, Daoxue under Zhu Xi maintained that “the ruler is a human being like every other human, with the same moral and intellectual potential and the same susceptibility to corruption,” and that “the ruler was part of the administrative system” and therefore should devote himself to learning so as to keep the structure of government in order, “for he needed learning if he was to see the overall situation, select the right men for high office, and judge their sense of policy priorities.”22 It was against these two great theoretical models of emperorship that Li Mengyang embarked on a mission to rethink the position and role of the ruler in both the natural and the human realm. On one level, Li Mengyang’s understanding of the relationship between Heaven-and-Earth and man came close to that of mainstream Daoxue. Consider the following passage: [The way] Heaven-and-Earth nurtures the myriad things [is similar to the way] the sages nurture the people [in that] they both could not take their minds away [from their responsibility] even for a moment. . . . This is just like parents taking care of their babies, how could there be a moment when they could take their minds off [the babies]? 天地父母萬物,聖人父母萬民,其心無一息忘之……即如父母育嬰 兒,有一息忘之耶?23

22. Bol, Neo-Confucianism in History, pp. 133–38; quotation on 134–35. 23. Li Mengyang, “Zhidao” KTJ, 65.16b–17a.


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This analogy between Heaven-and-Earth and the sages suggests a moral connection between the natural order and the human order. Indeed, Li spoke on several occasions about why it was important for the ruler to obey the will of Heaven by ruling with virtue (de 德), for a virtuous man would be rewarded with happiness (fu 福): A virtuous man will definitely be happy, this is the point of intersection between Heaven and man. . . . When one seeks happiness by noncrooked ways,24 this is the point where man approaches Heaven; when Heaven assists man with abundant happiness, this is the point where Heaven approaches man. [The Book of Poetry says, “From error’s taint is their pure virtue free,] Long may they live, and ne’er forgotten be!”25 This means that when one is pursuing longevity, he has virtue on his mind all the time. The subtle triggering of happiness or disaster is quick to make an impact. How can one not observe? How can one not observe? 徳者必福,天人相與之際……求福不囘,人際天也。介爾遐福,天際 人也。夀考不忘,言夀考之求,徳如念念在之也?禍福之幾,捷於影 響,察之乎?察之乎?26

Here, Li Mengyang was contemplating a paramount issue in Chinese thought: Can a virtuous man be guaranteed happiness?27 The answer for Li was positive. In fact, he said, only those who are committed to pursuing virtue in a consistent manner will be showered with happiness by Heaven. In the case of a ruler, the utmost happiness that one could be guaranteed, Li argued, was to be placed in a position by Heaven to rule. For this reason, Li could not agree with Zhu Xi on whether a ruler should feel happy to be put on the throne: 24. This is an adaptation of a phrase from a verse in the Book of Poetry. The translation is partially taken from Legge, The She King, p. 293. 25. Legge, The She King, p. 206. 26. Li Mengyang, “Hualipian xia” 化理篇下, KTJ, 65.2b–3a. 27. For a detailed study of the role the concept of happiness played in the history of Chinese thought, see Bauer, China and the Search for Happiness.

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[Confucius once made a remark in the Analects about the greatness of] Shun and Yu, who held possession of the empire as if it were nothing to them.28 This is what Mencius meant in saying that when Shun [became sovereign, and had the embroidered robes to wear, the lute to play, and the two daughters of Yao to wait on him, he acted] as if those things belonged to him as a matter of course.29 [Zhu Xi’s] commentary [on the passage in the Analects] remarks that [Shun and Yu] did not feel happy about being put on the throne. This is wrong. The concept of happiness is the opposite of worry. If [Shun and Yu] were unhappy about becoming sovereigns, does that mean that they were worried about it? If we consider Mencius’s point about those things belonging to Shun as a matter of course, then worries and happiness would both cease to exist. So why is it necessary for one to be unhappy before he can [treat the possession of the empire] as if it were nothing to him? [The reason that Confucius] singled out Shun and Yu [in this passage] was because they did not have to labor to hold possession of the empire. 舜禹有天下而不與。孟子所謂若固有之者。註曰:“不以位為樂。”非 也。樂者對憂之名,不以位樂,以位憂乎?既若固有,則憂樂具泯,豈 必不樂而後為不與哉?獨言舜禹者,以其得天下易也。30

Zhu Xi’s original comment was not about the dichotomy between happiness and worry. He was merely putting forth the proposition that a sage ruler’s mind would always be occupied with his responsibility to the people, rather than with celebrating the rank and post that he assumed. In contrast, Li Mengyang’s main purpose was to explain the prestige that came with rank, for it provided the basis for the legitimacy of rulership: The sages emphasized rank and post because they were acting on the basis of common human feelings and following Heaven’s intent. The key to Heaven’s [decision to bestow] disaster or 28. Translation taken from Lau, The Analects, 8. 29. Translation taken from Lau, Mencius, 7B.6. 30. Li Mengyang, “Zhidao,” KTJ, 65.21a.


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happiness rests on the virtue [of the ruler]; the reason that people like or dislike something depends mainly on [whether] gain [might be expected from it]. Confucius once praised Shun and said, “Therefore a man of great virtue will definitely be given the post and rank.” He also said that poverty and low­ liness are what everybody dislikes. The Book of Documents says, “We, the sovereigns of Kâu, will greatly help you, and confer rewards, selecting you to stand in our royal court.”31 [The Zhou] used status and rank to attract [worthies to serve it]. Also, the Book of Poetry says, “As duke or marquis, honors bright Thou should’st obtain, and in thy home Find endless joy.”32 So how could the sages privately love titles but hide this when facing the public? [The Great Learning says,] “[A ruler should] like what his people like,” and Heaven would reward his virtue based on this, and therefore would now raise his official status; grant him a residence that is tall, spacious, and colorful; ensure that he has sweet dreams and is surrounded by auspicious stars. Therefore we know that it is possible that Heaven is serious about giving out rank. [Someone] commented, “Rather than using status and rank to convince a person, [a better way seems to be] encouraging him to focus on his moral accomplishment.” Master Kongtong said, “There will be no accomplishment without morality. And there will be no rank without accomplishment. And there will be no status without rank. Even if one has it, it is due to pure luck.” 聖人重禄位者,本人情而順天心也。天之禍福主徳;人之好惡主利。孔 子稱舜曰:“故大徳必得其位,必得其禄。”又曰:“貧與賤,是 人之所惡也。” 《書》曰:“我有周,惟其大介賚爾。迪簡在王 庭。”是以名位歆之也。《詩》亦曰:“爾公爾侯。逸豫無期。”聖 人豈内好爵而外隱約哉?民之所好好之,又天以是報徳也。故今 將喬其官,則高廣紅黄,夢寐嘉美,星合拱吉,固知天未始不禄 之重也。 又曰:“期人以名位,不若勉人以徳業。”

31. Translation taken from Legge, The Shû King, pp. 218–19. This chapter in the Book of Documents is about the Duke of Zhou addressing the subject of the various states—especially the Shang dynasty—that the Zhou conquered. 32. Legge, The She King, p. 220.

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空同子曰:“無其徳,無其業,無其業,無其位,無其位,無其名,即有 之,幸耳矣。”33

In this long remark, Li Mengyang was conflating the happiness of the ruler with that of his officials, as his assumption was that the craving for higher rank and status was common to all men. Nevertheless, the remark had a greater implication for the nature of emperorship. Unlike mainstream Daoxue’s conception of emperorship that emphasized the emperor’s moral responsibility rather than his prestige, Li Mengyang was providing a rationale for the prestige that the emperor enjoyed: the status of an emperor was determined by Heaven, and this gave the emperor a divine quality that was sometimes beyond comprehension: Someone asked, “When Shun hid in a well [to avoid being killed by his brother Xiang], he eventually escaped through a hole. [Was this true?]” Master Kongtong said, “Since Shun was already in the well, how could there be another hole? Even if there was a hole, how could it be that only Xiang was ignorant about it?” [The person] asked, “If this was so, then how did Shun escape?” [Master Kongtong] said, “The gods did it. In the Han dynasty, Emperor Gaozu [was able to] break through the siege of [the Xiongnu 匈奴 at Daideng 白登 Mountain] with the help of a wind storm. Also, Emperor Guangwu [was able to escape from the pursuit of Wang Mang 王莽 and his troops] when the river froze on the sixth month of the year. In the Song dynasty, King Kang [the subsequent Emperor Gaozong, was able to escape from the pursuit of the Jurchens] by crossing the river on a clay horse. These sorts of extraordinary happenings pertaining to true rulers are abundant throughout history, not to speak only of Shun! Things like these are unknowable and cannot be comprehended.” 或問:“舜入井,以孔出。”空同子曰:“既入井,顧安所得孔哉?即有 孔,象獨不之知邪?” 曰:“若是,舜胡由出?” 33. Li Mengyang, “Zhidao disi,” KTJ, 65.18b–19a.


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曰:“神為之也。漢高大風破圍,光武六月之氷,宋康王泥馬渡河,古 34 來眞天子怪異多矣,况舜哉?此等不可知,亦不可窮。”

Such tales about emperors in the past who founded or restored their empire after escaping, with divine help, from near-death situations suggest that they were granted the mandate of Heaven and thus were destined to be rulers. But why were they chosen? What were Heaven’s criteria? When Li insisted that “there will be no accomplishment without morality. And there will be no rank without accomplishment. And there will be no status without rank. Even if one has it, it is due to pure luck,” this would seem to suggest that the morality of a ruler is the key. But what about the fact that Confucius, with the moral qualifications of a sage, was not made a ruler? In Li’s opinion, Confucius no doubt had the qualities to become a sage-king. His best student, Yan Yuan, had the potential to serve as an aide, but Li notes that Yan’s early death led Confucius to such grief that he cried, “Heaven has bereft me! Heaven has bereft me!” Zhu Xi’s commentary explains that Confucius was grieved because he knew that now there would be no one to transmit the Way.35 Li, however, thought that this was only part of the reason. As he suggests, Confucius was keenly aware that Yan’s premature death was an omen that Heaven had mandated that he would not be made a ruler. 36 Compared with the standard Daoxue interpretation that stressed Yan Yuan’s moral self-cultivation and his wholehearted devotion to Confucius’s teaching, Li adds another dimension to the Confucius–Yan Yuan relationship by highlighting its political aspect, through which he argues that a good government must be made up of a worthy ruler and equally worthy officials. The absence of the latter is a sign that an individual, regardless of how worthy he is, does not possess the mandate from Heaven to rule. Apparently the fact that Confucius was not made a ruler has to do with his destiny rather than his moral character—a destiny 34. Li Mengyang, “Huali xia,” KTJ, 65.9a. 35. Zhu Xi, Sishu jizhu, p. 124. 36. Li Mengyang, “Shishi di qi,” KTJ, 66.14b–15a.

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that, if we follow Li Mengyang’s argument, was mysterious and not intellectually comprehensible. At one point Li even suggests that a ruler could put humanity (ren) right only if blessed with extraordinary longevity. What made the rule of Yao, Shun, and Yu a golden age was precisely the fact that those sage-kings were all able to enjoy lengthy reigns—more than two hundred years between the three. 37 This line of reasoning gives the emperor a spiritual presence; the gap between the emperor and his subjects is predetermined by cosmic powers and cannot be crossed. This brings Li much closer to the Han correlative cosmologists. Consider the following passage: The Way and the Principle are laid out horizontally and vertically like the character for “ten.” When the count gets to ten, it means the Principle has been exhausted. The character for “king” remains the same in all types of calligraphy, such as the standard, the cursive, the seal, and the clerical scripts. For “king” means someone who stands independently and connects the three realms [of Heaven, Man, and Earth]. If [its style could be] changed [with different scripts], then it would not [deserve] to be called the “king.” 道理一橫一直爾,十字是也,數盡十,理亦盡之矣。王字真草篆隸不 變,挺三才而獨立也,變之非王也。38

It was and still is a common belief that the graphic scripts of Chinese characters are cultural mimics of cosmological patterns. Therefore, by using the character “king” to discuss the attributes of a king, Li Mengyang was giving the king a divine presence not accessible to ordinary people. It is also important to note that Li was in fact echoing Dong Zhongshu on this matter. As Aihe Wang points out: Dong interprets the very graphic of the character for king—wang 王—by saying that the three horizontal strokes symbolize the three realms of Heaven, Man, and Earth, with the central vertical stroke 37. Li Mengyang, “Zhidao,” KTJ, 65.16a. 38. Li Mengyang, “Wuli,” KTJ, 65.9a.


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connecting the three to symbolize the sovereign. He defines the sovereign as the sole human being capable of achieving resonance between Heaven and Man. . . . Therefore, “Heaven and Man resonance” is the function exclusive to the sovereign. 39

By repeating Dong Zhongshu’s idea while using the Daoxue vocabulary of the Way and the Principle, Li was in fact undermining the Daoxue assumption of a moral norm shared by all, regardless of their rank and status. Indeed, as is evident from Li Meng­yang’s explanation in the passage in which he expounded on the concepts of prestige and rank, what he meant by the morality or virtue of a ruler was not that the ruler shares the same human nature with commoners and should therefore practice moral self-cultivation like everyone else. In fact Li was silent on this question, which had dominated the Daoxue discourse on emperorship. Rather, Li’s point was that a ruler could be considered virtuous so long as he was able to respond to the populace’s feelings (to like what his people liked). Feeling (qing) thus forms the common ground for establishing human connectivity and is of primary importance in Li’s discussion of human nature.

The Primacy of Qing A central issue in Daoxue’s discussions of ethics was how xing 性, often translated as “human nature,” and qing related to each other. Li Mengyang engages the issue head on in the following passage: [One’s] sentiment is the manifestation of his nature. But etymologically it is defined as “real.” Why is this so? [This is because] there is not one kind of sentiment that is not real in this world. Therefore, we refer to untruthfulness as betraying one’s sentiment.

39. Wang, Cosmology and Political Culture, p. 190.

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情者性之發也。然訓為實,何也?天下未有不實之情也。故虛假為 不情。40

Qing is predicated on xing but is nonetheless real. This line of reasoning implies that one could discern a person’s true nature by observing his sentiments or feelings as expressed in different circumstances. It would be difficult to agree with this argument if we accept Zhu Xi’s claim that human nature is inherently good and remains so even when feelings or emotions are misguided. However, it makes perfect sense in Li Mengyang’s understanding of the term xing. Categorically speaking, Li understood xing in two different ways. The first was a direct rejection of mainstream Daoxue’s assertion that human nature is inherently good: [Someone] asked, “[It seems that it is in their nature that] people will try to outdo others. Why is this so?” Master Kongtong said, “Yin and yang will definitely compete with each other. These two forms of qi circulate and rock endlessly, and the win and loss [of one or the other] determines [whether we have] warm or cold weather. As a result, [because of the violent nature of qi,] days with pleasant weather are few, and times with stormy weather are many. This is how yin and yang compete. Men receive qi in this manner; how could they not try to outdo others?” 或問:“人性上人,何也?”空同子曰:“陰陽必爭也。二氣旋轉坱圠, 以負勝為寒暑,是故晴和之日少而風曀之時多。斯陰陽之爭也, 41 人秉其氣,得不上人哉?”

Recall from the previous discussion that Li Mengyang envisioned a cosmic order shaped by the competition between yin and yang. The same theory could also be used to explain how men act. Li understood that it is natural for men to act aggressively, because they have inherited the competitive nature of yin and yang. 40. Li Mengyang, “Lunxue shang,” KTJ, 66.6b. 41. Li Mengyang, “Huali shang,” KTJ, 65.3b.


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What is noteworthy is that this did not lead him to conclude that human nature is inherently evil. Rather, he believed that the competition of yin and yang would result in goodness when yang prevails, just as in the cosmos. This implies that human nature varies from person to person in terms of goodness and evilness, depending on one’s qi allotment. As we have seen, Li did not believe people could rely on those with an evil nature to transform themselves through self-cultivation, and that a strong higher authority was needed to keep them in check. Nevertheless, Li Mengyang still believed that society could achieve a higher moral standard if the average person were properly educated. This brings us to the second way that he understood xing. It can be seen in other instances in which xing might be translated not as “human nature,” which suggests that every human being has by birth a shared attribute, but as “temperament” or “personality”: One’s personality is hard to change, just like [it is hard to change the fact that] grass [will inevitably] grow and spread, and that bushes [will grow in an] upright manner. For someone tilting toward the side of either toughness or gentleness, it is possible to improve [his character based on his] toughness or gentleness. But how could we possibly try to change toughness into gentleness, or gentleness into toughness? 生性難移如草木之蔓之直。故人剛柔之偏,變之為剛善柔善,有之 矣。若欲剛為柔,柔為剛,能之乎?42

Different people have different temperaments or personalities from birth (shengxing 生性). It is impossible, Li argued, to completely change a tough person into a gentle one and vice versa, as a person’s personality is more or less predestined. But we can try to educate him and make him a better person according to his unique personality. To bring home this point, Li adopted a marginal discourse in the Daoxue tradition that cast qing in a more positive light: 42. Li Mengyang, “Wuli,” KTJ, 65.12b.

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In discussing Mencius’s remarks on [the acceptability of being] fond of valor, money, and women,43 Master Zhu [Xi] said, “These [feelings] are all contained in the heavenly principles and indispensable to the human condition.” This remark is [so profound that] no shallow scholar could understand. Master Kongtong said, “The truth [of this statement] has not been articulated clearly to the world, and [as a result] the people have failed to understand the meaning of ‘Principle and desire exist concurrently in [one’s] action but are separated by [their] expression.’ For this reason, those who guard closely the inner [self] are ashamed to talk about fame and wealth, and those who only chase after the external are engaged in a nonstop pursuit of money and women. Those who are ashamed to talk about fame and wealth will end up being nameless and living in poverty, while those who pursue only money and women will be drawn into extravagance and arrogance. Alas! The gentleman does what is proper to his position.44 Aren’t these the words of Confucius? [The profound meaning] was known only to Confucius, Mencius, and Zhu Xi. Therefore I said, “This is not something that the shallow scholars could understand.” 孟子論好勇好貨好色,朱子曰:“此皆天理之所有而人情之所不能無 者。”是言也,非淺儒之所識也。空同子曰:“此道不明于天下。而人 遂不復知理欲同行異情之義。是故近裏者諱聲利;務外者黷貨色。諱 聲利者為寂為約,黷貨色者從侈從矜。吁!君子素其位而行,非孔子 言邪?此義惟孔知之,孟知之,朱知之,故曰:非淺儒之所識也。”45

Being fond of valor, money, and women may be part of a person’s unique temperament. Ordinary people, including the “shallow scholars” (the majority of Daoxue scholars), tended to see such yearnings as essentially evil. While it is true that unregu 43. The passage is an allusion to Mencius 1B.3–5, in which Mencius ­assures King Xuan of Qi that to be fond of valor, money, and women is not necessarily evil for a ruler, so long as he is able to bring peace to the world by overthrowing a tyrant to save the people, and then to share with them the desire to get rich and have a happy marriage. 44. This is a passage from the Doctrine of the Mean, which states that a gentleman acts according to his position, regardless of whether he is wealthy and honorable or humble and poor. See Tu, Centrality and Commonality, p. 28. 45. Li Mengyang, “Lunxue xia,” KTJ, 66.9ab.


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lated yearnings almost certainly lead to disaster, Zhu Xi and, before him, Confucius and Mencius believed those yearnings were inseparable from the human condition (renqing) and not at odds with the heavenly principle. If correctly cultivated, as in Mencius’s advice to King Xuan of Qi, such yearnings and the pur­ suit of wealth and power could also generate positive outcomes. The key, according to Li Mengyang, is to avoid, on the one hand, alienating oneself from the external world and, on the other hand, being led astray by all the sorts of seduction in the world and losing one’s integrity. Only then will one be able to do what is proper according to one’s position and benefit the world. This belief formed the basis of Li Mengyang’s assertion that the distinction between good and evil is not absolute. Rather, he said, the difference lies in whether one’s feelings or sentiments are expressed in an appropriate manner: [The feeling] of respect will be deep if aroused by love but rigid if aroused by fear. It will be enduring if aroused by [the other person’s] virtue but brief if aroused by [his] status. [The feeling of love] will be encompassing if it is impartial but biased if it is selfish. It will be mild and harmonious if it is real but condensed and discordant if it is unreal. It will be distant yet genuine if based on righteousness but close yet suspicious if based on desire. 敬生於愛者厚,生於畏者嚴,生於德者久,生於尊者暫。愛生於公則 徧,生於私則偏,生於真則淡而和,生於偽則穠而乖,生於義則疏而 切,生於欲則眤而疑。46

The feeling of respect and, for that matter, love can go both ways. If expressed correctly, moral principles and proper conduct will prevail. Otherwise, it will give rise to immoral or improper behavior: Principle and desire exist concurrently in [one’s] action but are separated by [their] expression. Therefore, [when expressed] correctly it will lead to benevolence, otherwise it will be appeasement. When expressed correctly it will lead to righteousness, otherwise 46. Li Mengyang, “Lunxue shang,” KTJ, 66.4a.

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it will lead to meanness. If expressed correctly it will lead to propriety, otherwise it will lead to [an unnecessary expression of respect, such as] kneeling for a long time on all fours. When expressed correctly it will lead to wisdom, otherwise it will be a deception. When words are expressed correctly, then they will sound like the music of strings; otherwise they will sound like [noises] produced by a metal reed. When one’s appearance is expressed correctly, one will look trustworthy; otherwise one will look too [unnecessarily] solemn. When a person’s laughter is expressed correctly, [he will be seen as] timely [in appreciating humor during a conversation]; otherwise he will be seen as trying to ingratiate [the other party]. When a person’s feeling is expressed correctly, he will be praised for looking and smiling blandly; otherwise he will be ridiculed, even if he appears gentle and mild. All these are testimonies to the statement, “Principle and desire exist concurrently in [one’s] action but are separated by [their] expressions.” 理欲同行而異情,故正則仁,否則姑息。正則義,否則苛刻。正則 禮,否則拳跽。正則智,否則詐餙。言正則絲,否則簧。色正則信,否 則莊,笑正則時,否則諂。正則載色載笑稱焉,否則輯柔爾顏譏焉。凡 些皆同行而異情者也。47

The statement “Principle and desire exist concurrently in [one’s] action but are separated by [their] expression” was first introduced by the Southern Song Daoxue thinker Hu Hong 胡宏 (d. 1161). Hu was a leading proponent of the Cheng brothers’ teachings a generation before Zhu Xi, and the teacher of Zhu’s close friend Zhang Shi 張栻 (1133–80). Interestingly, Li Mengyang did not acknowledge his debt to Hu but instead cited Zhu Xi’s comment to prove that Zhu shared his view on the relationship between principle and desire. Yet, although Zhu granted that Hu belonged to the Cheng school, he felt so uncomfortable with Hu’s key ideas that he specifically wrote a text to question Hu’s logic.48 A major critique Zhu directed at Hu concerned the 47. Li Mengyang, “Lunxue xia,” KTJ, 66.8a. 48. Zhu Xi, ed., Huzi Zhiyan yiyi 胡子知言疑義, in Hu Hong, Hu Hong ji, appendix 1, pp. 328–37. Zhiyan was Hu Hong’s major philosophical work, but the extant version was heavily edited by Zhu Xi and Zhang Shi, with many


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latter’s take on the relationship between the heavenly principle and human desire: Heavenly principle and human desire are of the same essence but differ in their functions. They exist concurrently in [one’s] actions but are separated by [their] expressions. The gentlemen who wish to improve themselves should carefully consider the distinction. 天理人欲同體而異用,同行而異情,進修君子宜深別焉。49

By insisting that the heavenly principle and human desires are essentially the same, Hu Hong was subtly reacting against Cheng Yi, who drew a sharp distinction between the two. Hu claimed that both were simply different expressions of our nature (xing), which is characterized not by goodness or evil (shan’e 善惡) but by the feelings of like and dislike (haowu 好惡). 50 Although a detailed study of Hu’s philosophy is beyond the scope of this work, it will suffice here to note that the significance of Hu’s position lies in his introduction of the notion of qing—crystallized in the form of like and dislike—into his discussion of human nature. Zhu Xi was acutely aware of the implication of Hu’s position, and he expended considerable effort trying to disentangle the heavenly principle and human nature—which in his intellectual scheme are essentially the same ontological source of creation— from human feelings or sentiment formed by qi. 51 Zhu’s intention was clear: he wanted to emphasize that qing, when expressed appropriately, is simply the outward manifestation of the principle of ethical values and should not be confused with principle itself.

pasages deleted. Some of the deleted passages are preserved in the Zhiyan yiyi. 49. Zhu Xi, Huzi Zhiyan yiyi, p. 329. 50. Zhu Xi, Huzi Zhiyan yiyi, pp. 330, 334. 51. Schirokauer, “Chu Hsi and Hu Hung,” pp. 480–582. Tillman, Confucian Discourse and Chu Hsi’s Ascendancy, pp. 33–34. Hou Wailu et al., SongMing lixue shi, pp. 295–300.

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Despite praising Zhu Xi for “correctly” interpreting Mencius, when Li Mengyang injects Hu Hong’s theory into Zhu’s, he essentially turns Zhu on his head by associating li and yu with the different expressions of qing. In this way, Li strips Zhu’s li of its sacredness and makes it subject to human experience: That which flows between Heaven and Earth is the Way. When men’s daily endeavors do not go against it, it is called “Principle,” and learning is to examine the principles according to their manifestations. Therefore, those who [blindly] abide by the conventional teachings are decayed, those who invoke intellectual partisanship are deceitful, and those who hold on [to a particular point of view] are one-sided. 流行天地間即道,人之日為不悖即理,隨發而驗之即學。是故據陳言 者腐,立門戶者偽,有所主者偏。52

The key message in this passage seems similar to those that we usually find in Daoxue discourse, but it actually points in a different direction if viewed in the context of Li Mengyang’s theory. Li in this instance simply means the appropriateness of human activity and does not boast an ontological status that requires philosophical analysis. This was the reason, I suppose, that while Li alludes to Hu Hong’s claim that “heavenly principle and human desires exist concurrently in one’s actions but are separated by [their] expressions,” he ignores the first part of Hu’s assertion, that the pair “are of the same essence but differ in their functions.” There is no “essence” (ben 本) to talk about when it comes to ethical issues, only concrete human actions and experiences. The implication of Li Mengyang’s theory of ethics for one who wishes to learn (xue) is therefore that he should scrutinize his own qing to make sure it is appropriately expressed, rather than searching for some ontological source of morality in the cosmos and in his own nature. But how can a learner know if he is on the right track? Li did provide certain guidelines concerning how a person should behave—such as being independent, and mindful 52. Li Mengyang, “Lunxue shang,” KTJ, 66.5a.


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with words—but unlike in the Daoxue tradition, in which one could begin with the assumption that human nature is good and therefore focus on cultivating the moral self to attain sagehood, Li Mengyang’s theory of learning has a different goal and requires the learner to take a different route.53 The next four chapters will examine Li’s theory of learning. In part 4, chapters 7 and 8 focus on how Li envisioned literary writing as a form for expressing the self, a topic that has been well studied. Before that, however, part 3—chapters 5 and 6—will address a rarely explored aspect of Li’s thought: his political vision and the learning he prescribed for achieving it.

53. On the guidelines for behavior, see Li Mengyang, “Lunxue xia,” KTJ, 66.6b–11a.

part iii Learning for the State

five Institutions for Learning


n chapter 1 we saw how Li Mengyang, a northerner, and his family moved up the social ladder by successfully exploiting the state apparatus. We have also seen, in chapters 3 and 4, how Li believed that having a strong government was the only way to bring society together in a functional manner, and that a Heavenchosen ruler needed capable men to help him govern society. It is therefore little wonder that Li viewed participation in the state system as the most important responsibility for a learned man. However, a man had to be educated in order to understand the nature and function of politics; only then could he function properly as an official: There are people who become officials without learning, and there are people who [because of this] fail badly when they embark on their official career. There are women who marry before [using] a hairpin [i.e., before reaching the age of fifteen sui], and there are those who peep through the holes [in the wall, looking at their lover] before marriage. Is this like selling fruits at the market before they are ripe? 人有未學而仕者矣,有初仕而壞者矣。女有未笄而歸者矣,有未歸而 穴窺者矣。果未熟而市鬻之矣。1

1. Li Mengyang, “Shishi,” KTJ, 66.12b.


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Learning, for Li, provides the foundation for grooming a person to be a successful official. His understanding of learning not only identifies serving the state as one of the primary and ultimate goals of education but also looks to the state to set the educational agenda. In addition, to fully understand Li Mengyang’s perspective we need to look at what he proposed to do to promote learning in practice. Using his capacity as an official, especially in his position as the educational intendant in Jiangxi, Li Mengyang worked hard to set up or endorse formal institutions aimed at edu­ cating the literati so as to bring them into the state system. Even after he was forced to retire, Li still actively promoted his statist worldview in his engagement with popular religious practices. Through writing about and redefining temples and shrines that reflected the popular beliefs that he endorsed, he sought to influence the customs of the day, stressing especially the virtue of political loyalty. As a thinker, he also weighed in on the content of education, expounding on the substance of learning that could best prepare students to serve the state. This chapter will discuss the institutional aspects of the education Li proposed, and chapter 6 will address the content. In 1514, Li Mengyang’s countryman Lü Jing 呂經 (1475–1544) was demoted to associate prefect of Puzhou 蒲州, Shanxi, for remonstrating against “evil” individuals at the court. On his ­arrival in Puzhou, Lü found that there was a temple devoted to the worship of Mount Tai in Shandong. He thought that this was improper because the worship of natural spirits should be restricted to sites within local administrative boundaries. As it was, worshipping the spirit of Mount Tai from Puzhou was considered “illicit” (yin 淫). Lü proposed turning the temple into an academy, to be named Hezhong 河中 Academy. In addition to establishing a financial foundation for the new academy so it could begin to admit students, Lü set up a shrine within the compound for the worship of the sage-king Shun (for it was thought that Puzhou was within Shun’s kingly realm), along with the loyal Shang ministers Boyi 伯夷 and Shuqi 叔齊, who starved to death because

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they refused to eat the grains of the new Zhou regime. Also ­receiving sacrifices at the shrine: the great Shanxi scholar Wang Tong 王通 (584–617) of the Sui dynasty and Xue Xuan of the Ming. Along the two side corridors were placed the spiritual tablets of “famous local officials” (minghuan 名宦) and “local worthies” (xiangxian 鄉賢). It was said that when Lü put forth the idea for the academy, his colleagues were all supportive and the people enthusiastic. Li Mengyang praised Lü for understanding the “fundamentals of education” (jiaoben 教本) and wrote a rhapsody to commemorate Lü’s effort.2 This episode involved two kinds of state-sanctioned institutions that we will be discussing in this chapter: educational and religious spaces. The original temple in this case was the site of a popular ritual that did not fit with the state’s approved categories of religious practice, and its existence was subject to the decisions of local officials. Lü Jing apparently opted to follow the state’s instruction closely, outlawing the worship of a natural spirit beyond the jurisdiction of local authorities. But removing such “illicit” temples was not enough. Alternatives had to be established to align popular religious beliefs and practices with the ideological preferences of the state. This chapter will discuss some of the alternatives Li Mengyang wrote about. Let us first consider the shrine that was attached to the newly built Hezhong Academy. In housing the spiritual tablets of “famous local officials” and “local worthies,” it resembled the dual establishments of Confucian temple and state school in every prefectural and county seat. In fact, the choice of Shun, Boyi, Shu Qi, Wang Tong, and Xue Xuan for worship seems to have been a conscious effort to reconstruct the three-tier hierarchy of the ruling class: sage-king (ruler), loyal ministers, and devoted scholars. This was what Li Mengyang meant by the “fundamentals of education,” for the shrine’s display was set up to orient the students of the academy toward state orthodoxy by following the state school system. 2. Li Mengyang, “Hezhong shuyuan fu (youxu)” 河中書院賦 (有序), KTJ, 3.4a–5b.


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An All-Encompassing State School System In Li Mengyang’s time, Daoxue had the most powerful influence on literati learning. The Daoxue approach had begun in the Song as a rejection of the civil examination curriculum, which focused at that time on literary composition and memorization of the classics. As an alternative, Daoxue learning emphasized the realization of the moral self through self-apprehension, though which a perfect and unified order could be achieved. 3 In the Southern Song, private academies, a form of educational institution reshaped by Zhu Xi and his supporters and financed mainly by the leaders of local communities, were entrusted with teaching the Daoxue ideals. But the line between the two curricula blurred when private academies began to teach to the examinations as well.4 A more significant development that bound Daoxue with examination culture occurred in 1315, when the Yuan state adopted Daoxue’s commentaries on the classics as the standard ­interpretations for the civil examination. But it was not until the Ming that the examination was conducted on a regular basis, ensuring that all literati aspiring to be officials would have to be familiar with Daoxue’s discourses on self-cultivation. Paradoxically, Daoxue’s teachings encouraged the literati to go beyond office holding when searching for value in their lives. Indeed, many were persuaded that having a successful official career was not necessarily the best prize in life, regardless of whether they took the examinations or eventually become officials. There were those in the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries who understood the basic texts for the examination—the Four Books and the Five Classics—as instructions passed down by the ancient sages for how to lead a moral life, rather than how to become a good official. Thinkers who held such a view include steadfast followers of Zhu Xi, such as Cai Qing 蔡清 (1453–1508) from Fujian, as well as figures who were often seen as the fore­ runners of Wang Yangmingism, such as Wu Yubi from Jiangxi and 3. Bol, “Chu Hsi’s Redefinition of Literati Learning,” pp. 151–87. 4. Chen Wen-yi, You guanxue dao shuyuan, pp. 218–27.

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Chen Xianzhang 陳獻章 (1428–1500) from Guangdong. 5 But there were others who believed that the messages in these texts were mainly about government. For instance, Qiu Jun 邱濬 (1421–95) from Hainan was famous for expanding Zhen Dexiu’s Extended Meaning of the Great Learning to focus on the practical affairs of the government, in his Supplement to the Extended Meaning of the Great Learning.6 As noted in the introduction to this volume, Li Mengyang was often portrayed as having adopted an anti-Daoxue stance. His famous remark that “the rise of Song Confucians brought an end to the ancient style of writing” (Songru xing er gu zhi wen fei 宋儒興而古之文廢) is often quoted as evidence that Li regarded the entire Daoxue enterprise with distaste.7 It is true that Li did not agree with mainstream Daoxue’s belittling of literature, but when reading Li’s literary works, it is hard to miss his respect for the Daoxue masters and his defense of their orthodox position: During the time of Emperor Taizong [the Yongle emperor], there was an elderly scholar from Boyang who attacked the learning of Lian-Luo [i.e., the orthodox Daoxue of the Cheng-Zhu school] and submitted his own works to the throne. His Majesty was angered after reading it. The scholar was saved from execution by the ­effort of the grand secretary Yang Shiqi, [but His Majesty] sent people to his home and burned all his works. Master Kongtong said, “[His Majesty] was truly a ruler of a prosperous age [who ruled with] the Way. The Book of Rites says, ‘Unite morality to make the customs identical.’ Therefore, [it has been proven that] illicit opinions bring harm to government.”

5. On Cai Qing, see Hong, “Through Philosophical and Sociopolitical Lenses Clearly”; on Wu Yubi, see Bol, Neo-Confucianism in History, pp. 148– 50. For Chen Xianzhang, see Jen, “Ch’en Hsien-chang’s Philosophy of the Natural.” 6. Chu, “Ch’iu Chun’s Ta-hsueh yen-I pu.” Li Zhuoran, Qiu Jun pingzhuan, pp. 157–65. 7. Li Mengyang, “Lunxue shang,” KTJ, 66.4b. See, for instance, Chen Jianhua, “Wan Ming wenxue de xianqu: Li Mengyang.”


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太宗時,鄱陽一老儒詆斥濂洛之學,上已所著書。上覽之大怒,閣臣 楊士竒力營救得不殺。遣人即其家盡焚其所著書。空同子曰:“盛世 之君有道哉!《記》曰: ‘一道徳以同俗。’故異言亂政。”8

When orthodox ideology was under attack, Li Mengyang unequivocally called for the highest political authority to interfere, with force if necessary, for he thought it was the responsibility of the ruler to unite thought and custom. But in applauding the Yongle emperor’s harsh sentencing, he was merely insisting that Daoxue’s orthodoxy should never be deposed; he was not suggesting that Daoxue’s official interpretations of the classics had to be followed strictly. In fact, we have already gotten a glimpse of this in how, when he felt uncomfortable with some of Zhu Xi’s commentaries, he did not hesitate to offer his own interpretations. What Li appreciated about Daoxue was its emphasis on ethics and moral cultivation for the literati class. During his tenure as the superintendent of education in Jiangxi in 1511 and 1512, he actively promoted the academy culture that was central to Daoxue’s program of learning. It is worth noting that after Li retired and moved to Henan, he no longer participated in any academy-related activity. This may be due to the fact that, compared with Jiangxi and other southern regions, Henan was not a region with a strong academy culture.9 It may also have been the result, as we shall see, of Li’s conviction that the academy was part of the state system and thus not the business of a gentleman without an official title. The most significant academy-related work that Li Meng­ yang carried out in Jiangxi was the compilation of a gazetteer for the famous White Deer Grotto Academy that Zhu Xi had ­(re)­founded.10 But what purpose could the academies serve? Li 8. Li Mengyang, “Zhidao” KTJ, 65.20b. 9. Wang Hongrui and Wu Hongqi, “Mingdai Henan shuyuan de diyu fengbu.” 10. Li Mengyang, Baludong shuyuan xinzhi 白鹿洞書院新志, in Li Mengyang et al., Bailudong shuyuan guzhi wuzhong 白鹿洞書院古志五種 (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1995), pp. 11–146. This modern collection contains five different editions from the Ming-Qing period. Li Mengyang’s is the earliest.

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expounded on this issue in a stele inscription written to commemorate the rebuilding of Dongshan 東山 Academy, in Yugan 餘 干 County, Jiangxi. The academy was originally founded by Zhao Ruyu 趙汝愚 (1140–96), his cousin Zhao Ruliang 趙汝靚 (n.d.), and his son Zhao Chongxian 趙崇憲 (n.d.). The Zhaos belonged to the Song imperial clan, but they took up residence in Yugan during the time of Zhao Ruyu’s grandfather. After founding the academy, Zhao Ruyu invited Zhu Xi to lecture at there, and Zhu attracted a sizable group of students, among whom were Zhao Ruliang and Zhao Chongxian. Zhao was later implicated during the prosecution that declared Zhu’s teaching to be “false learning” (weixue 偽學), and he died on his way home. Zhu revisited the academy to pay his respects to his late friend. He stayed on to lecture and to complete his commentaries on the Songs of Chu (Chuci 楚辭). The academy was thus an important site for Yugan in declaring its connection with the Daoxue tradition. It was destroyed and rebuilt several times over the years and centuries. The rebuilding project that Li describes in the following piece was carried out after the academy was destroyed during a violent riot that rocked Jiangxi around 1510:

Mr. Ren said, “It is adequate to nurture the literati in the state schools; what value can an academy provide? The academies are for gathering the most talented students and making them concentrate on their studies. When the students congregate [at state schools, the environment will] become cluttered. [When the environment] becomes cluttered, [the students’] minds will become bewildered. When their minds become bewildered, their conduct will be compromised. Therefore, what the state schools do to nurture the students is important, whereas those whom the academies gather are the most talented. If the most talented are not gathered, they will not concentrate on their studies. Only when they concentrate on their studies can their learning be refined. Only when learn­ ing is refined can the Way be illuminated. Only when the Way is illuminated can the task of transformation through education become possible and can everyone be made aware of the importance of loving their parents and respecting the elderly. When everyone


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knows the importance of loving their parents and respecting the elderly, then rebellions and banditry can be pacified without using military force. Therefore the role of the academies is to assist the state schools in perfecting the most talented.” 任公曰:“夫士養於學足矣,奚貴於書院?蓋書院者,萃俊而專業者 也。夫士羣居則雜,雜則志亂,志亂則行荒。故學以養之者大也;書院 以萃之者其俊也。俊不萃則業不專,業專則學精,學精則道明,道明 則教化行,而人知親長之義,人知親長之義,則盗 賊可不兵而平 也。故書院者,輔學以成俊者也。”11

Here, Li Mengyang quotes the words of Ren Han 任漢 (n.d.), who was then the governor of Jiangxi. Ren Han was on an investigatory trip to Yugan after the rebellion. Besides Ren, two other provincial-level officials who contributed to the rebuilding of the academy were Dong Pu 董樸 (n.d.) and Wu Tingju 吳廷舉 (n.d.), both then serving as right-administration vice commissioners of Jiangxi (you canzheng 右參政). Li himself was then the educational intendant of Jiangxi. The project thus constituted a gesture by the government to show that order had been restored, and it was these officials who dictated the project’s purpose. Li writes that, with proper education, such devastating social unrest could be prevented, for the correct values of love and respect would be inculcated among the students of the academy, and they in turn would influence and lead the community in building a harmonious and well-ordered society.12 The purpose of establishing the academy was thus to provide good education to the learned men in Yugan so that they could help the state restore order to society. Li shared Ren’s view that the academies were not alternatives to but rather extensions of the state school system. Under the Ming system, which required all examination candidates to go through the state schools, the schools had a monopoly on the supply of students. But Li felt that because the schools had to take in a huge number of students, they were unable to provide the best 11. Li Mengyang, “Dongshan shuyuan chongjian bei” 東山書院重建碑, KTJ, 42.1b–4a. 12. Li Mengyang, “Dongshan shuyuan chongjian bei,” KTJ, 42.1b–4a.

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education for the best students. The solution would be to set up academies, and scholarship support would be provided by renting out fields. Only then could the best students be free of worry and able to concentrate on their studies.13 The arrangements for ritual within the Dongshan Academy also created an opportunity for Li Mengyang to underscore his vision of education: Master Dong said, “As I understand it, [the way to honor] a place is to honor its host, [and the way to honor] the Way is to honor its patriarch. There must be some organizing principles for determining who should come first and who should come later [during a sacrificial ritual]. And there must be some distinction for separating the prestigious from the humble. In the layout of the present shrine, the left spot [on the main altar] should be reserved for Zhong­ ding [Zhao Ruyu] and the right spot for Master Zhu. Both tablets should face south. [The tablet of ] Zhongding’s younger brother Zhao Ruliang should face west and that of Cao Jian [曹建 (n.d.)] should face east. All altars should be arranged in such a way that the one on the north [the one on which Zhao Ruyu’s and Zhu Xi’s tablets are placed] is honored. Chai Yuanyu’s [柴元裕 (n.d.)] tablet should be ranked beneath Zhao Ruliang’s; Rao Lu’s [饒魯 (1193– 1264)] should be ranked beneath Cao Jian’s, and Hu Juren’s [胡居仁 (1434–84)] of the Ming dynasty should be ranked beneath Chai Yuanyu’s. All of these should face the southeast. Zhao Chong­xian, the son of Zhongding, and Cai Zhongxing, the nephew of Chai Yuanyu, should not be worshipped. Although Master Zhu was the patriarch of the Way, [if he were still alive] he would definitely prefer that Zhongding be placed on his left [so that Zhongding could occupy a more prestigious position], for Zhongding was a worthy predecessor and he and his brother were the hosts of this place. Cao Jian was someone who attained true knowledge after study­ ing with Master Zhu. Since then, Chai Yuanyu, Rao Lu, and Hu Juren arose, one after another. These four gentlemen were known in their hometown for [promoting the Way]. Now if we really wish to gather the most talented students and make them concentrate 13. Li Mengyang, “Daliang shuyuan tianbei” 大梁書院田碑, KTJ, 41.11a– 13a.


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on their studies so as to illuminate the Way, we have to [arrange the spiritual tablets] according to who came first. And to worship the father but not the son is to observe the distinction between the prestigious and the humble.” 董公曰:“朴聞之,地以主,道以宗。先後者必據,尊卑者必殺。今之祠 忠定宜左,朱子右位,皆南向。忠定弟汝靚西向,曹無妄建東向,皆北 上。柴強恕元裕位次汝靚,饒雙峰魯次建,明敬齋居仁次元裕,皆 東西向,而忠定子崇憲,元裕姪中行,宜不祠。夫朱子者,固道之宗 也,然其心必左忠定。忠定者,其先達也,又與其弟主乎地者也。夫 無妄者,於朱子見而知之者也。而強恕、雙峰、敬齋,則相繼起于其 後。夫四人者,固以道鳴其鄉者也。今誠欲萃俊專業以明其道,非據 14 先後之緒不可,而祠其父者置其子,斯又尊卑之殺也。”

By citing Dong Pu, Li Mengyang was again letting official discourse define what a proper ritual arrangement should be. In Dong’s opinion, although Zhu Xi most aptly represented the Way, he should concede the most prestigious position in the shrine to Zhao Ruyu, for two reasons: Zhao was a native of Yugan and thus the “host,” and he was a worthy predecessor (xianda 先達). It is unclear what Dong was referring to when he called Zhao a ­xianda, which literally means “one who arrives first.” It could refer to Zhao’s role in introducing Daoxue to the area through establishing the academy and bringing in Zhu Xi. It could also refer to the fact that it was Zhao who brought Zhu Xi to the court, giving Zhu an opportunity to meet the emperor. In any case, apart from being the host and xianda, an equally important reason for Li to grant Zhao the most prestigious position in the ritual setting was Zhao’s record as a prominent statesman. Following Dong’s comments, Li recounts Zhao’s contributions toward the abdication of Emperor Guangzong (r. 1189–94) and praises him for restoring stability after a period of turmoil. Zhao’s deeds show that he was a man whose heart would remain unwavering, regardless of whether he was rich or poor, or whether he was facing a life-or-death situation. Li believed that such virtue 14. Li Mengyang, “Dongshan shuyuan chongjian bei,” KTJ, 42.1b–4a.

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was present in all the scholars who had their spiritual tablets placed in the shrine. If the students of the academy were able, through concentrating on their studies, to embody virtue and transform local customs, then social unrest could be curbed without the use of force. In such a narrative, the accomplishments of local worthies, the learning of the Way, and ritual principles were all compressed into a holistic package that contributed to the well-being of the state. Li Mengyang’s statist orientation can be seen more clearly in a case in which he personally converted a temple into an academy. The temple that he abolished was devoted to the worship of the spirit of Hengshan 衡山. Although the reason was not explained, the fact that Hengshan belonged administratively to Hunan rather than Jiangxi may have prompted Li to declare the temple to be “illicit.” Instead of locating the newly built Zhongling 鐘陵 Academy at the temple site, Li, supposedly heeding the advice of a Buddhist monk, moved a Buddhist monastery to the temple’s site and used the site of the monastery for the academy. This arrangement was made because, according to the monk, the temple’s site was too remote, while that of the monastery was conveniently located near a busy marketplace in the county seat, with the county school just across the street. Establishing the academy there would give the students of the county school easy access to it. We can again see clearly that the academy was regarded by Li as part of the state school system.15 The academy housed a shrine devoted to the worship of Zhou Dunyi: Jinxian was formerly the town of Zhongling in Nanchang and has now been carved out and established as a county. It is therefore appropriate to name the academy the Zhongling Academy. Master Zhou once served as the magistrate of Nanchang, so I concurred with the decision to build a shrine for Master Zhou. Hence we built a shrine in the academy to make sacrifice to Master Zhou. 15. Li Mengyang, “Zhongling shuyuan bei” 鐘陵書院碑, KTJ, 42.4a–5b.


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夫進賢者,故南昌鍾陵鎮也,割為縣。書院稱鍾陵書院,宜。夫周子 者,故南昌尉也,祠則周子,予曰可哉!於是書院立祠祠周子。16

The decision to build a shrine for Zhou Dunyi was made on the premise that Zhou had once served as an official in that locale. Of course, not all past local officials were awarded such prestige, and Zhou’s contribution to reilluminating the Way that had been lost since the time of Confucius and Mencius remained a crucial consideration.17 Yet just as the worship of the spirits of the natural landscape had to conform to the state’s administrative layout, the celebration of a scholar’s great achievement also had to be aligned with the bureaucratic system. For Li, it was inconceivable that the learning of the Way could be separated from service to the state. It was with the same thinking that Li Mengyang wrote the stele inscription for an Honoring the Patriarchs of Confucianism Shrine (Zongru ci 宗儒祠) in the White Deer Grotto Academy. The shrine was devoted to the worship of Zhou Dunyi, Zhu Xi, and the fourteen scholars who studied there with Zhu Xi. In explaining the character zong 宗, which could mean “honoring” as a verb, or “origin,” “patriarch,” or “apex” as a noun, Li clarified the rationale for selecting Zhou Dunyi and Zhu Xi as the subjects of worship. He cited the History of Han and claimed that during the time of the hundred schools, each of the six most prominent schools—the Confucians (Ru 儒), the Daoists (Dao 道), the Yin-yang 陰陽 school, the Moists (Mo 墨), the Legalists (Fa 法), and the “Logicians” (Ming 名)—traced back to and honored a different zong. As such, although the Ru had attained the highest achievement in understanding the Way, the intellectual landscape was nevertheless diverse and messy, resulting in the Confucians’ being marginalized and disrupted after Mencius. Fortunately for them, Zhou Dunyi and Zhu Xi reilluminated the Way and reestablished the zong of Ru. It was for this reason that

16. Li Mengyang, “Zhongling shuyuan bei,” KTJ, 42.4a–5b. 17. Li Mengyang, “Zhongling shuyuan bei,” KTJ, 42.4a–5b.

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Li felt that the two Song masters deserved a place in a shrine with the name of Zongru.18 The history of the Confucian school, as presented in this piece, resembles the mainstream discourse of Daoxue, which claims that the transmission of the Way came to an abrupt end after Mencius, only to be resurrected by Zhou Dunyi. But Li’s narrative is significant for how it justifies the choice of Zhou Dunyi and Zhu Xi. Zhou and Zhu were chosen because the shrine and the academy were located at a place where both men had served in an official capacity (guohua zhi di 過化之地).19 Again, we see a clear intention to align scholarly achievements with the official administration, so that students participating in the ritual process would then be exposed to this state-orientated system. Academies could cater only to the students at the highest stratum. At the other end of the spectrum were those who had yet to make it to the schools located at the county or prefectural seats. For that group of prospective students, Li Mengyang pointed toward an educational institution at the grassroots level that the founder of the dynasty supposedly sought to establish but never had—the community school (shexue 社學): The community school is [a system] wherein every community would set up a school for educating the sons of the people. This is how the young could be nurtured, the talents could be assembled, and transformation [of the customs] and [the effectiveness of] government could be observed. 社學者,社立一學以教民之子,所以養蒙斂才,視化觀治者也。20

Li Mengyang continues with a lament, that since the demise of the perfect order of antiquity, state education had been conducted 18. Li Mengyang, “Zongru ci bei” 宗儒祠碑, KTJ, 42.5b–7a. 19. Guohua 過化 literally means to pass through and transform. It is often used to refer to the deeds of local officials. 20. Li Mengyang, “Nan-Xin erxian zaicheng shexue bei” 南新二縣在城社 學碑, KTJ, 42.8a–10a.


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only at the county level and above, and no attempt had been made to assemble and educate the populace below the county level. This resulted in a situation in which the students were not taught the fundamentals of filial piety and respect before they were admitted to the state schools, where they were given a formal education in the systems of the former sages and monarch-minister relations. Apparently this was less than ideal and violated the principles of antiquity’s perfect order. Emperor Taizu had tried to restore the system of antiquity by establishing the community schools, but he found it difficult to implement because of practical management problems. Nevertheless, from the reign of Zhengtong 正統 (1436–49) onward, the government had tried to set up community schools at various places. The effort had mostly been wasted because the community schools were detached from the state school system and people sought to avoid them because they perceived them to be a form of forced labor. A solution to the problem, Li proposed, would be to link the community schools with the state schools and declare that only community school students would be eligible for selection into the state schools.21 Sarah Schneewind argues that Li’s proposal was part of a larger trend in the mid-Ming period when the state tried to control the community schools, and that this represented a move away from the original plan of Emperor Taizu, who wanted to keep the community schools out of the hands of local administrators.22 Li Mengyang thus entrusted the state with the responsibility of educating the literati through an all-encompassing school system. In this system, there was little room for the kind of private education, sponsored and run mainly by the local elites, that the founders of the Daoxue movement envisioned. But in Li Mengyang’s time access to officialdom had become very narrow, and the school system was also unable to absorb all who wished to enroll. To this point we have seen how Li Mengyang envisioned religious practice within the context of the school system. Beyond 21. Li Mengyang, “Nan-Xin erxian zaicheng shexue bei,” KTJ, 42.8a–10a. 22. Schneewind, Community Schools, p. 46.

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the schools, Li saw alternatives to “illicit” temples as additional institutions for inculcating state-centered values in society.

Educating and Transforming through Sacrifice Daoxue was very active in trying to define religious spaces as well as schools. It was well known that an official who held steadfastly to Daoxue’s ideals would insist that so-called illicit temples should be abolished. Although Li’s overall intellectual orientation was not consistent with Daoxue, we have seen from the support that he gave Lü Jing, outlined at the beginning of this chapter, and his own efforts in the case of the Zhongling Academy that Li Mengyang concurred with using this kind of stern approach. Li seems to have written very little on popular religious sites, but surviving works suggest that the popular religious practices that he supported were mainly those that could remind worshippers of the grace bestowed by benevolent rulers or instill in them a sense of loyalty. A temple devoted to the worship of the sage-king Yu, in Henan, was one such “legitimate” case. The origin of the temple is unclear, but the renovation work that prompted Li Mengyang to write the stele inscription was carried out by the authorities under the instruction of Wang Qin 王溱 (n.d.), the inspector on touring duties (xun’an 巡按) in Henan in 1521, the year the Jiajing emperor ascended the throne.23 Again, this was a case in which gov­ ernment authorities tried to (re)define the scope of popular religious practice, and Li wrote approvingly of it. He also took the opportunity to reflect on the distinction between a king (wang 王) and a despot (ba 霸):

23. A xun’an was a regional inspector who was normally on a “one-year assignment to tour all localities in his defined jurisdiction, observing all governmental activities, . . . [and] regularly participating in policy deliberations of provincial-level authorities; [he] submitted memorials directly to the emperor denouncing unfit officials, criticizing inappropriate policies, or proposing new policies.” See Hucker, A Dictionary of Official Titles in Imperial China, p. 253.


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A despot’s achievement is pleasing, but the people will doubt it after a while. A king’s achievement is easy to forget, but the people will miss it after a while. In the past, when Yu was controlling the floods, he redirected the rivers, making way for land reclamation, and he turned chaos into peace. The earth was leveled and the sky was completed, [all because of his achievement]. And the people were able to abandon their dens and start living in huts. They had also been taught to consume rice and to farm. The continuation of the people’s lives till this day is the result of Yu’s achievement, and it is something that the people have relied upon for ten thousand generations. But if we ask those who farm, those who consume rice, those who live in huts and those who make a living on the land, none of them knows [of] Yu’s achievement. For this reason, we say that a king’s achievement is easy to forget. This is similar to the case of things forgetting Heaven’s nurturing, or swimmers forgetting the rivers, or resting birds forgetting the branches, or the people forgetting the sages. [To be precise,] it is not a case of the people forgetting, but a case of ignorance. When disaster strikes, the people cry and pray for mercy. The wise then point out to whom it is that they owe their lives in the first place, and the temple is built and flourishes. Henan is east of the Mengjin jetty, with a hostile terrain, and the landscape [is raised to such a level that if flooding occurs,] it will be like pouring water from a tall building. Therefore, once the dam is burst, several surrounding prefectures will be flooded by fishes and turtles from the river. [When that happens,] the confused folks will crawl to the temple, kowtow, and pray as they cry, “We would not have drowned if you were still around!” And when the soldiers and laborers working on flood control suffer from the labor of construction and transportation, they will all approach the temple, kowtow, and pray as they cry, “We would have not been suffering from the labor if you were still around!” This is what I meant by “missing.” Therefore, if [the achievement] is not forgotten, it is not great enough. If it has not been missed, then it is shallow. There is nothing that is deeper than Earth, and nothing greater than Heaven, and this is the Way of Heaven! It is not that the despots have no achievement, but it cannot be forgotten and eventually doubted by the people. Why is this so? Something is bound to be trivial if it cannot be forgotten, it is bound to be near if it is trivial, it is bound to be shallow if it is near. And the people will doubt it if it is shallow. Such is [the achievement of the likes of] Duke Mu of Qin, who

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granted alcohol to those who consumed too much horsemeat.24 Now, we have not heard of any temple in the world devoted to the worshipping of [despots such as] Duke Huan of Qi and Duke Wen of Jin. This is why I said, “I understand the [differences between] the achievements of a king and a despot after visiting the temple of Yu.” 霸之功驩,久之疑。王之功忘,久之思。昔者禹之治水也,導川為陸,易 (臬兀)為寧;地以之平,天以之成;去巢就廬,而粒而畊。生生至今 者,固其功也,所謂萬世永賴者也。然問之畊者弗知,粒者弗知,廬者 弗知,陸者弗知。故曰:王之功忘。譬之天生物而物忘之,泳者忘其 川,棲者忘其枝,民者忘其聖人,非忘之也,不知之也;不知自忘。及其 菑也,號呼而祈恤,於是智者則指之所從來,而廟者興矣!河盟津東 也,蹙曠肆悍,勢猶建瓴;堤堰一決,數郡魚鱉。於是昏墊之民,匍匐 詣廟,稽首號曰:“王在,吾奚溺!”而防丁、堰夫、樁戶、草門輸築困 苦,則又各詣廟稽首號曰:“王在,吾奚役!”斯所謂思也。故不忘不 大。不思不深。深莫如地,大莫如王,天之道也!霸者非不功也;然不 能使之不忘,而不能使之不疑。何也?不忘者小,小則近,近則淺,淺 則疑,如秦穆賜食善馬肉者酒是也。夫天下未聞有廟桓、文者也!故 曰:“予觀禹廟而知王霸之功也。”25

“Despots” in this passage refers to those disloyal but powerful vassal lords who usurped the political authority of the true Son of Heaven, the kings of the Zhou dynasty, during the Warring States period. The so-called achievements of the despots may be dramatic and pleasing, but they are very limited, or short-lived, and have no lasting effect on the well-being of the people in future generations. In contrast, because of the sage-kings’ achievements, people are able to live and work peacefully and in a civilized way. As time goes by, however, what the sage-kings have created or 24. This was a story from the Warring States period that appears in slightly different versions in various early Chinese texts. It is said that Duke Mu of Qin’s fine horse was killed and eaten by a group of men (in some texts, barbarians). Rather than taking revenge on them, the duke offered them alcohol, on the grounds that consuming too much horsemeat without drinking alcohol would hurt one’s health. Greatly appreciative of the duke’s kindness, the group of men joined his army and defeated the Jin state in a battle during which they captured the Jin ruler. 25. Li Mengyang, “Yumiao bei” 禹廟碑, KTJ, 41.1b–3a.


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implemented becomes such a part of the people’s lives that most will tend to forget how they benefited from those achievements. So what purpose could a temple serve? It could remind the people of those to whom they owe their lives. And of all the sages, why Yu? Because, Li argued, the sages each had different qualities: for Yao, it was benevolence; for Shun, it was filial piety; for Yu, it was achievement; for Tang, it was righteousness; for King Wen, it was loyalty; for the Duke of Zhou, it was talent; and for Confucius, it was learning. In this particular case, since Henan is a disasterprone region, Yu’s attribute of “achievement” is most relevant and thus should be worshipped.26 Throughout Li’s text, the emphasis is not on Yu’s efficacy as a deity but on his political contribution and grace toward the people as a ruler. Thus this was essentially a call to celebrate Yu’s rulership and to remind the common people about the grace bestowed by a true king. Li was urging the authorities to actively remind the commoners about the grace of a specific sage-king in history, through a defined religious space, but the space was also intended for honoring true kings in general. Li was imposing a layer of interpretation on a popular religious practice that would serve to redirect people’s appreciation of the gods’ grace to the true kings. The Jiajing emperor who had just ascended the throne was one such true king, according to Li: The previous ten emperors of our great Ming have attained divine status. It is clear that Heaven intends to bestow great peace [on the world]. From the Jiajing era onward, the purple cover [of the emperor’s carrier] is seen again. The Yellow River clears itself before the sage [takes the throne]. 大明十帝轉神明 天意分明賜太平 紫蓋復從嘉靖始 黃河先為聖人清27

26. Li Mengyang, “Yumiao bei,” KTJ, 41.1b–3a. 27. Li Mengyang, “Jiajing yuannian ge ershou” 嘉靖元年歌二首, KTJ, 35.7b–8a.

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This is one of several poems that Li Mengyang wrote in 1521, the same year he penned the Yu temple inscription, to celebrate the accession of the Jiajing emperor, even after Li had been stripped of his official rank and sent home. Recall from the previous chapter that Li claimed that a true ruler would receive Heaven’s blessing. The Jiajing emperor qualified because the Yellow River, forever muddy, suddenly turned clear just before he was crowned. This was an auspicious sign, proving beyond a doubt that the emperor possessed divine qualities. Li further pronounced that an era of great peace was now within reach, for Heaven had sent a sage to be the sovereign. Viewed in this context, Li’s narrative of the temple of Yu was intended to encourage ruler-centered religious activities among the people, to remind them of the grace that they received from their rulers. Mere appreciation is insufficient if it does not lead to a sense of loyalty, so it is no coincidence that the other type of popular worship that Li Mengyang wrote about approvingly was that devoted to loyal officials. In addition to his account of the temple of Yu, three pieces that fall into the category of “accounts of shrines” (cibei 祠碑 or ciji 祠記) are preserved in Li’s literary collection. One gives an account of a “loyal pair” (shuangzhong 雙忠) temple, established by the magistrates of Changyuan 長垣 County in Henan and devoted to the worship of the legendary loyal ministers Guan Longfeng 關龍逢 of the Xia dynasty and Bi Gan 比干 of the Shang dynasty. The second piece describes a temple, also in Henan, set up for commemorating Yu Qian 于謙 (1398– 1457), who saved the Ming dynasty after Emperor Yingzong was captured by the Mongols during the Tumu incident of 1449 but died tragically after Yingzong retook the throne. The third was about a temple established by imperial order to honor Huo En 霍恩 (1470–1512), a former magistrate of Shangcai 上蔡 County in Henan, who died defending the county during a rebellion. Again, Li wrote all of these pieces after having been removed from office.28 28. Li Mengyang, “Shuangzhong ci bei” 雙忠祠碑, “Shaobao Bingbu Shang­ shu Yugong ci chongjian bei” 少保兵部尚書于公祠重修碑, and “Chici minjie


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In the case of Huo En, Li Mengyang asks a hypothetical question: Does a low-ranking official, such as a magistrate, have to sacrifice his life in such a situation? Li answers: To attain the Way, nothing is more important than being loyal. To be loyal, integrity must come first. To be a man of integrity, nothing is more valuable than being righteous, and righteousness cannot exist without courage. These four virtues are the essential guiding codes of an official and the great conduct of a gentleman. To give up one’s life for the country is loyalty. To remain resolved to the death is integrity. To lay down one’s life for justice is righteousness. To go forward at the point of a knife is courage. Obtaining these four merits simultaneously by dying, this is the conduct of Huo En. [Someone] asked, “If this is so, then why did [Confucius say that] it is extremely difficult to attain the state of centrality and commonality?” [I] answered, “This is because [the act of sacrifice has to comply with] the ritual codes. A ruler should die protecting the altars of earth and grain [i.e., the country]. [If necessary,] a great official should perform his duties even as death approaches. A governor should die in his assigned region. A general should die in battle. Although a county is small, it too has altars of earth and grain. Although a magistrate is a minor official, he is also assigned to perform a duty. [A magistrate] managing the four quarters [of a county] is like a governor guarding his assigned region. [A magistrate] fending off rebels in battle is behaving like a general. Therefore, if he does not die during battle, he is not being courageous. If he does not die in his assigned region, he is not being righteous. If he does not die doing his duty, he does not have integrity. And if he does not die defending the altars of earth and grain, he is not being loyal. Huo En died but completed the four virtues. And why do I consider [Huo’s action] as fulfilling the ritual codes? Because what is meant by centrality is [behavior] that can be justified by the ritual code. Therefore, if there is a case in ci bei” 勑賜愍節祠碑, KTJ, 41.3a–5b, 41.8b–11a, and 43.18a–21a. The remaining piece, not about a shrine devoted to the worship of loyal officials, is “Qu­jiang citing bei” 曲江祠亭碑, KTJ, 41. The shrine in this piece, at Fengcheng 豐城, Jiangxi, was devoted to the worship of three great Southern Song figures—Zhu Xi, Li Yishan 李義山 (jinshi 1220), and Yao Mian 姚勉 (1216–62)—who were related to the place in one way or another.

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the world when dying is necessary, then it must be prescribed by the ritual code. . . . Since the time when the Teaching started to decline, the people have only discerned [and feared] death but failed to recognize the righteousness behind the act, and thus they became disloyal. When they became disloyal, their minds wavered [under adverse conditions]. When one wavers, he will have no integrity to speak of. With no integrity, one will become shameless. And with no shame, there will be no courage to speak of. Thus, one will act shamelessly in times of peace and live in contentment during times of adversity. In this world, there is no lack of people who [in times of peace] would glare like a tiger and show off their airs but [in times of adversity] would run and hide like a rat and do anything to survive.” 道莫大於忠,忠莫先於節,節莫貴於義,義莫外乎勇。四者人臣之要 經,而君子之大行也。上蔡兼之矣。夫以身狥國,忠也,之死不變,節 也。舍生取義,義也。白刃可蹈,勇也。一死而四懿具者,是上蔡之行 也。曰:“若是,則中庸不可能者何?”曰: “禮有之矣。君死社稷,卿大 夫死職守,吏死封疆,率死戰陳。邑雖小,有社稷焉。宰雖卑,受之職 矣。四境是治,封疆守焉。兵起拒寇,身固率也。故戰陳不死,是謂弗 勇,封疆不死,是謂弗義,職不死,謂弗節,社稷不死,謂弗忠。夫上 蔡者,一死而四懿具者也。禮有之矣,何也?中者正諸禮者也,故天 下有必死者,以有必禮也……自教之衰也,民見死而不見義,於是乎 不忠,不忠則二心矣,二心則不節,不節則無恥矣,無恥則不勇。於是 29 靦面於平時,而甘心於患難。虎視簸威而鼠竄偷生者不少矣。”

When it came to the virtue of loyalty, Li Mengyang believed that there was no distinction between what should be expected from the top ranks of the ruling elite—including the ruler, the high officials, the governors, and the generals—and minor officials such as magistrates. The reasoning is simple: although a county may reside at the bottom of the administrative hierarchy, it is nevertheless an integral part of the state system, and therefore what is expected of the heads of state should also be applicable to a magistrate. Nor is this principle limited to officials, for Li. The common people (min 民) must also be taught to understand the virtue of loyalty, which propels a loyal subject to sacrifice his life 29. Li Mengyang, “Chici minjie ci bei,” KTJ, 43.18a–21a.


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for the country and not be overwhelmed by the fear of dying. Complete devotion to the state is thus an overarching principle that binds together members of the ruling class and the common people. Normally, complete devotion to serving the state and complete devotion to serving the emperor could easily be fused together in a traditional narrative concerning political loyalty. In the case of Yu Qian, however, difficult choices had to be made. When Emperor Yingzong was captured by the Mongols, the Ming court could have chosen to be aggressive and launched an attack on the Mongols to try to rescue the emperor, or it could have enthroned another emperor to prevent itself from being held hostage. Yu Qian, then serving as the minister of war, persuaded the court to take the second option and put the Jingtai emperor (r. 1449–57) on the throne. It was said that, when questioned, Yu Qian justified his decision by paraphrasing Mencius, saying, “The safety of the country is more important than that of the ruler.” When the Mongols released Emperor Yingzong, thus presenting the Ming court with the unusual dilemma of having two emperors, Yu Qian was said to have been instrumental in helping the Jingtai emperor put Emperor Yingzong under house arrest and replace Yingzong’s son with Jingtai’s son as the heir apparent. After Yingzong successfully staged a palace coup and regained control of the court, Yu Qian was executed as a traitor. His controversial death was a hotly debated topic throughout the Ming. Many believed that Yu was wronged and the punishment that he received was unjustifiable. Others argued that he deserved it, either because he had showed disloyalty while handling the crisis, or because he was too obsessed with high rank and refused to retire.30 The Yu Qian shrine that we are concerned with was established voluntarily after Yu’s death by the people of Henan, who fondly remembered his contributions when he was serving in the region. After Yu Qian’s name was cleared and he was honored posthumously, the people petitioned to have the shrine formally 30. For Yu Qian’s legend and his relations with the two emperors, see Heer, The Care-taker Emperor.

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recognized by the court, but their request was not granted. It was only after thirty years had passed, in 1515, that some regional officials took the initiative to renovate the shrine, thus giving it semiofficial status. Li Mengyang praised the officials for their effort to keep alive the memory of Yu Qian. He clearly sympathized with Yu in his misfortune, for his fate demonstrated that to act responsibly as an official was an onerous task (weichen buyi 為臣不易). In Li’s mind, there was no question that Yu Qian was a loyal subject whose heroic act saved the Ming from extinction. What was trickier for Li was explaining why Yu Qian did not retire after the incident and whether he had really been involved in imprisoning Emperor Yingzong and replacing the heir apparent. “This is difficult to explain” (nanyan hu, nanyan hu 難言乎! 難言乎!), Li told his readers, but he said Yu had acted based on his conscience and not for his personal glory or benefit, such that those who heard or read his words would always be moved. Moreover, like the Song loyalists Yue Fei 岳飛 (1103–42) and Zong Ze 宗澤 (1060–1128), who faced similarly challenging situations and laid down their lives defending the country, Yu Qian’s eventual demise was a testimony to his ultimate loyalty. For this reason, Li argued, his death was appropriate and necessary.31 The question of whether to leave one’s position or to stay surfaces again in Li Mengyang’s account of the temple devoted to the “loyal pair.” Guan Longfeng and Bi Gan had the unfortunate experience of serving the two most notorious rulers in Chinese history, Jie 桀 and Zhou 紂. After pleading unsuccessfully with the despots to end their tyrannical rule, these two figures refused to abandon their rulers, even though they were aware that their own lives were at stake. As Li argues, leaving was not really an option: [Someone] said, “It is true that Bi Gan cannot rightfully leave [as he was also a member of the royal clan]. But a statement had been made in history that allows an official to withdraw and demand 31. Li Mengyang, “Shaobao Bingbu Shangshu Yugong ci chongjian bei,” KTJ, 41.8b–11a.


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release if he has remonstrated three times and his ruler still refuses to listen. 32 [If this is true,] why did Guan Longfeng have to die?” Master Li said, “A loyal minister will try his best to enlighten his ruler, even if it costs his life, for he will always put his ruler above himself. [The Analects] said, ‘[A complete man is one who is prepared to] sacrifice himself in times of crisis.’ Under such circumstances, how could [a loyal minister] still take into consideration whether he has blood ties with his ruler?” 曰:“干於紂無去之義,是矣。志曰: ‘人臣三諫其君而弗聽,則退而待 放。’逢何死也?”李子曰:“忠臣必君之悟也。斯殺身從之矣。有君而 33 不有身也。傳曰: ‘見危授命。’當是時,暇戚疏計哉?”

Li Mengyang staged this dialogue to explain Guan Longfeng’s choice. Unlike Bi Gan, Guan was not a member of the royal clan, and a well-received traditional view of ruler-minister relations grants that such an official may leave his ruler if the latter does not heed his advice. But Li rejected that view, claiming that a loyal official will always put the ruler before himself and die for the latter, if necessary. Thus, even without the obligations mandated by blood ties, the principle of political loyalty must still be observed strictly; quitting is never allowed. The texts that we have discussed so far reveal an author who defined the nature and function of temples and shrines as underscoring the importance of political loyalty. For Li Mengyang, these popular religious institutions served as reminders to the learned and commoners alike of the grace bestowed by the ruler and the state. This was especially crucial in the postantiquity era, when customs had deteriorated. In his discussion of Guan Longfeng and Bi Gan, Li addressed the question of why no such loyal minister had come forward during the last days of Zhou. The reason, he argued, was that the Zhou customs had been undermined by wen (wen bi zhi 文弊之).34 This position requires further 32. Paraphrases of the statement appear in a couple of early Chinese texts, including the Shiji and Chuci. 33. Li Mengyang, “Shuangzong ci bei,” KTJ, 41.3a–5b. 34. Li Mengyang, “Shuangzong ci bei,” KTJ, 41.3a–5b.

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scrutiny, for it defies our common understanding of the intel­ lectual inclination of Li, whom we would usually see as a man of letters (wenren 文人). As we will see in the subsequent chapters, Li had a unique understanding of wen that allowed him to argue for the rightful place of wen in an array of literati endeavors while simultaneously sounding a word of caution concerning its destructive power. First, we will consider in chapter 6 Li’s notion of wen within the context of the overall curriculum that he envisioned for educating the literati and preparing them to diligently serve the state.

six The Content of Learning


fter the 1525 provincial examination, the successful candidates from Henan gathered to compile a list of their names. Unlike the official list, which organized candidates’ names according to their grades, this unofficial document listed the candidates according to age. On its completion, the candidates submitted their list to the inspector on touring duties, for his reference. Initially the inspector questioned the necessity of this list, believing the official list would suffice. But the candidates put forth their reasoning: In the community, [recognition] of seniority is of utmost importance. Now we are admired in the community, and if we are ranked only according to our literary accomplishment and are content with this, we humbly fear that we may commit the fault of depending on our talents [and become arrogant]. Hierarchy [based on seniority] is one of the five relationships of men. Therefore the [hierarchy between] the elders and the young must be observed. Now if we are content with being ranked according to our examination grades, then those who were elder brothers before may become the younger brothers today; and those who came after in the past may come first today. We humbly fear that if we live in a community with this kind of mentality, respect for seniority will be lost. The ranking in the official list is for the public and it represents the appropriate norm in the world. To rank according to seniority is private, but it is also based on necessary human sentiments, and therefore it is private on the surface but public at the core.

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夫鄉黨莫如齒。今一旦得意于鄉,而直以文之高下名之,又恬然而安 之,愚懼人之挾賢也。夫人之倫五,序居其一。故長幼者必不能無者 也。今一旦以名之高下而安之,昔也兄之,今也弟之;昔也後之,今也 先之,以是而行于鄉,愚懼人之無長也。故榜之名,公也,天下之義 也。齒之序,私也,人之必情也,似私而實公者也。1

On hearing their explanation, the inspector was delighted and declared that the candidates were ready to take office. He agreed with them, that if they depended on their talents and became arrogant when they were at home, then they would naturally be arrogant after they took office, bullying their colleagues and creating tension. Therefore, the inspector said, “the country selects officials based on literary skill, but it is personal conduct that [determines] their usefulness.”With this conversation, which Li Mengyang heard about when the inspector showed him the unofficial list, Li was providing an answer to this question: How should aspiring literati be educated in order to become competent servants of the state? In Li’s time, it was the civil service examination, coupled with the state school system, that set the curriculum. But as the story about the Henan candidates’ list makes clear, being prepared to sit for the examination was insufficient in Li’s opinion. There were other lessons to be learned and other qualities that had to be cultivated before one could be considered qualified to serve. Li Mengyang explains: When the Former Kings designed the ritual system, they mandated that in a community, seniority had to be respected so that the virtue of giving precedence could be taught, and the hierarchy between the elders and the young had to be established so that humbleness could be nurtured. . . . There are things that are small but with huge influence, for the correct step is taken. There are things that are near but go a long way, for caution is observed when starting. Cor­rectness begins with the virtue of giving precedence, and the most important application of caution is for building a better human 1. Li Mengyang, “Dai tongbang xu chilu xu” 代同榜序齿录序, KTJ, 52.12b–14a.


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relationship. These candidates are just beginning to embark on their careers, and they are already aware that they should not act arrogantly because of their literary accomplishment. Rather than being obsessed with reputation, they observe the distinction based on seniority. Looking at their future, would their official ranks and accomplishments not be limitless? 先王之制禮也,鄉黨必齒以教讓也,長幼必倫以敦遜也……事有小而 關之大者,以其夬正也。有近而通之遠者,以其始慎也。故正莫先於 禮讓,慎莫大於厚倫。諸生發軔者也,而不文驕也,不名之競而于序 焉齒焉。圖之它日,階品功業尚可量哉?2

To become a competent servant of the state, a candidate had to acquire and practice the principles embedded in the ritual system designed by the Former Kings. This chapter will therefore discuss Li Mengyang’s views of ritual as a field of learning. At the close of the previous chapter, we also saw that Li adopted a serious view concerning the political consequences of wen, and he reiterated this point of view more clearly in his discussion of history. And in addition to history, Li discussed the important role that poetry—another form of literary writing—played in providing insight into the effectiveness of government and the customs of the world. Li’s utilitarian views of history and poetry as subjects of learning that furthered the greater purpose of the state will be discussed later in this chapter. First, however, we will examine Li’s views on a set of subjects that he thought prospective and current servants of the state had to comprehend in order to better assist the ruler who stood at the apex of the state system.

Understanding the Techniques of Rule In Li Mengyang’s theory of rulership, the mandate of Heaven certainly plays the decisive role in determining who is to receive the prestige and rank of a ruler, but the ruler still needs to master 2. Li Mengyang, “Dai tongbang xu chilu xu” 代同榜序齿录序, KTJ, 52.12b–14a.

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the techniques of control in order to secure his position and over­ see an effective government. It is for this reason that Li felt the Song Daoxue masters, despite their glamorous moral accomplishments, did not have a true understanding of the nature of government: Someone asked, “[In the Book of Documents, texts such as] the “Canon of Yao,” “the Canon of Shun,” “the Counsels of the Great Yu,” “the Speech of Tang,” and the “Instructions of Yi” do not talk about quan [權, contemplating and balancing circumstances; expediency]. [But it is mentioned in] the “Marquis of Lü on Punishments” that “the light and heavy fines are to be apportioned (in the same way) by quan.”3 Why is this so?” Master Kongtong said, “What is meant by quan is to consider the changing circumstances in a balanced manner and approach the mean. Therefore quan would be needed when the circumstances have changed. When the sage is on the throne, he would consistently hold to the mean and apply it to [governing] the people. Why should he talk about quan?” “Shun married without telling his parents. Yao and Shun chose their successors based on their worthiness. Tang and King Wu overthrew their kings. Were all these not acting based on quan?” “[The sage-kings] acted according to the circumstances that they encountered. Why was there a need to talk about it?” “But why did Confucius consistently talk about quan?” “That was because Confucius was great but had no rank, so he had to expound on the subtle meaning of quan to inform the later generations. Moreover, [considering] how bad the situation was during the spring and autumn periods, [how could Confucius not talk about it?]” “More than half of the seven chapters of Mencius talk about quan. Why?” “Again, [considering] how bad the situation was during the Warring States period, had Mencius not developed the subtle theory of quan, would the world not think of quan as [a theory that was all about] cunning tactics and calculation? Alas! Great 3. Translation of this sentence taken from Legge, The Shû King, p. 263.


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indeed! How would I dare to forget Mencius’s contribution? If Mencius were not born, would [the teachings of] Confucius not have died off? Not to mention the transmission of the mind of the sage-kings.” “What about the Han Confucianists?” Master Kongtong said, “They disobeyed [the teachings of] the classics and did not follow the Way. How could [one speak of] quan without following the Way? The sages’ theory of quan is all about weighing the situation and approaching the mean. It does not mean disobeying [the teachings of the classics.]” “What about the Song Confucianists?” “They did not understand Mencius. How could they understand quan? Therefore, we could say that only Confucius and Mencius could know about the transmission of the sage-kings, and only those who understand Confucius and Mencius could understand quan.” 或問:“典謨訓誥不言權。吕刑輕重諸罰有權。”空同子曰:“夫權 者。權其變以適中者也。故變而後權。夫聖人在位,允執厥中,又 用其中於民矣。何權之言哉?” 曰:“舜不告而娶;唐虞禪;湯武放伐,非權乎?” 曰:“夫身或遇之,行之矣。又何言哉?” 曰:“孔子每言權,何也?” 曰:“高而無位,於是發其微以詔來。且春秋之世,何世矣?” 曰:“《孟子》七篇大半言權,何也?” 曰:“ 戰 國之世,又何世矣?孟子不發其 微,天下 不以謀 數 為 權 乎?吁!大哉!予何敢忘孟氏之功也?孟子不生,孔其熄乎?矧帝 王之心傳?” 或又問漢儒。空同子曰:“反經無道,無道何權矣?聖人之權,輕重之 以適中者也,非反之也。” 問宋儒。曰:“宋儒不知孟子,又安知權?故心帝王之傳者必孔孟;心 孔孟者必知權,可也。”4

In this long passage, Li Mengyang reacts against two theories concerning rulership. One was supposedly adopted by the Han Con­fucianists, who emphasized quan at the expense of the Way. The other was advocated by the Song Confucianists, who, Li 4. Li Mengyang, “Lunxue shang,” KTJ, 66.5b–6a.

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believed, had misunderstood Mencius. Although Li does not elaborate on the wrongs of the Han and Song Confucianists, it seems to me that when he accuses the Han Confucianists of deviating from the teachings of the classics and thus the Way, he is insisting that some kind of shared norm has to be observed, even when one has to act in an expedient manner given one’s circumstances. Otherwise, quan will degrade into cunning tactics. The Song Confucianists, on the other hand, were flawed because they knew only to hold fast to a universal and constant principle and did not take the peculiarities of circumstance into consideration. In the end, the question boils down to this: how exactly did Li Mengyang think shared norms could be realized and put into practice by a ruler? Apparently, for realizing the shared norm, the ruler could not count on following the Daoxue prescription of moral self-cultivation to trigger the innate goodness common to all men. A more feasible solution for Li, as we saw in chapter 4, was for the ruler to satisfy the desires of the populace, for only after that could he be considered virtuous. In other words, Li shifted the foundation of shared norms from a common human nature that is naturally good (the Daoxue position) to a populist and positive interpretation of human desire. Once a ruler has fully comprehended quan, he has to learn to set his priorities. Li Mengyang once made a remark concerning Emperor Ai 哀帝 (r. 6–1 bce) of the Western Han, in which he expounded on the nature of good rulership: Someone asked, “Emperor Ai kept on sentencing his ministers to death and yet in the end he was not awe inspiring. Why?” Master Kongtong said, “A ruler inspires awe by being nonactive. If there is a prime minister who can act on his behalf, then the bureaucracy will be able to function in a proper manner automatically; if there are officials who abide by the laws, then all institutions will be firm. What is there for the ruler to do? Therefore, [a ruler who] puts himself to work lowers his own status and one who interferes with [the daily duties] of his administration is bothersome. When you rule in a way that combines lowering of status and bothersome killing, you will lose the heart of the people, how much less [if we


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consider the fact that] Emperor Ai was not a ruler who would rectify himself? [This is what] Jia Yi meant by ‘the hall will be high when the sides are farther away from the floor.’” 或問:“哀帝屢誅大臣而卒不威,何也?”空同子曰:“人主以無為 為威。有代天之相,則百官自正,有執法之吏,則百度自貞,君何為 哉?故自用者小,侵下者煩。煩小之政,挾之誅戮,則人心離。矧哀非 5 正已之君乎?賈氏曰:廉逺地,則堂高。”

According to Li Mengyang, a competent ruler should stay away from daily administrative tasks and leave them to his officials, led by the prime minister. This is the virtue of nonaction (wuwei 無爲). The concept of wuwei is often associated with the Laozi, but it also appears in the Analects: The Master said: “If there was a ruler who achieved order without taking any action, it was perhaps Shun. There was nothing for him to do but to hold himself in a respectful posture and to face due south.” 6 子曰:“無爲而治者,其舜也與。夫何爲哉?恭己正南面而已矣。”

Zhu Xi interpreted this passage in his usual manner, emphasizing the primacy of virtue. Shun did not have to act deliberately because he was able to transform his people with his unsurpassed virtue.7 At the same time, Li Mengyang links wuwei with awe (wei 威). To practice wuwei is not to relinquish power and authority. Rather, wuwei is the ruler’s key to asserting his authority over everybody else. By turning his attention away from daily administration, a ruler could focus on more important tasks, one of which was selecting well-deserving officials: 5. Li Mengyang, “Zhidao” KTJ, 65.15a. The last phrase is a reference to Jia Yi’s words found in the History of Han; Jia used the analogy to stress that a ruler should maintain a distance from his officials and subjects. See Ban, Han Shu, 48.2254. 6. Lau, Analects, 15.5. 7. Zhu Xi, Sishu jizhu, p. 160.

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The key to government is using the right people. Using the wrong people will result in not having worthy officials; the key to selecting the right individuals is having the ruler set the example. Selection not based on the ruler setting the right example will result in getting the wrong people.8 Is it reasonable to complain that the age lacks the right people after we select the wrong people, and lacks worthy officials after we select unworthy officials? Mencius said, “[The kingdom] of Yu collapsed because [its ruler] was unable to use Bali Xi, while Duke Mu of Qi was able to assume hegemony by using him.” People like Liu Ji and Xu Da were all born and nurtured during the Yuan, but it was Emperor Taizu of our dynasty who used them and founded the empire. [So,] was there really no right person in the world? Or are the right people around [but we just miss them]? 為政在人,非其人而用之,則不官;取人以身,非其身而取之,則不人。不 人而曰世無人,不官而曰世無官,有是理哉?孟子曰:“虞不用百里奚 而亡,秦穆公用之而覇。”劉基徐達輩,固元生之也,我太祖用之而 興。世無人邪?有人邪?9

The message from Li Mengyang to rulers was simple: Forget about occupying yourself with daily administrative affairs. Instead, you should focus on setting a good example so as to attract capable people to your side. In a Daoxue context, setting a good example would mean pursuing moral self-cultivation according to the Daoxue prescription. Particularly relevant for a ruler was the step-by-step method laid out mainly in the Great Learning, based on which major Daoxue masters from the Song dynasty onward, most notably Zhen Dexiu 真德秀 (1178–1235), developed a systematic approach for educating rulers on moral self-cultivation. The essence of this approach, rendered by the term jing 敬 (often 8. This is an elaboration of Confucius’s statement, “The key to government is using the right people; the key to selecting the right people is having the ruler setting the example” (weizheng zai ren, quren yi shen 為政在人,取人 以身) in The Doctrine of the Mean. For a discussion of this passage, see Tu, Centrality and Commonality, p. 51. 9. Li Mengyang, “Zhidao”, KTJ, 65.19a.


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translated as reverence or seriousness), is characterized by sustained attentiveness to keeping the mind serious at all times.10 The Daoxue theory of emperorship that focuses on selfcultivation through jing received very little attention from Li Mengyang. In the 1505 memorial discussed in chapter 1, he did praise Emperor Xiaozong for “taking the imperial ancestors as models and respecting [jing] Heaven-and-Earth.” But jing in this case is not linked to self-cultivation and does not carry much weight. Rather, Li’s main suggestion for the ruler, as laid out in his memorial, was to be diligent in observing (cha) the words and deeds of stern but loyal critics like himself.11 In another memorial, written on behalf of Han Wen, that was submitted to the newly enthroned Emperor Wuzong in the same year, he urged the emperor to have a clear (ming 明) mind when observing, so that he could see through the wickedness of the eunuchs.12 The central concern in Li’s theory of emperorship is reasserting the emperor’s authority through sharpening his judgment. Li’s aim is therefore to help the emperor weigh circumstances and to enhance his ability to manipulate and control all parties who have access to political power. This is precisely where the Song Confucianists’ theory of emperorship failed, Li ascertained, and because of this their learning was flawed, as they were not able to advise or assist the emperor in putting the government and the world right.

Abiding by the Rituals Understanding the techniques of rulership is essential for assisting the ruler. But to reach such an understanding, a scholar must first be able to conduct himself in the proper manner. Thus, understanding and practicing the principles underlying the ritual codes is crucial. In a passage that discusses the concept of weiyi 威儀, which could be translated as “awe-inspiring presence,” Li Mengyang 10. De Bary, Neo-Confucian Orthodoxy, p. 75. 11. Li Mengyang, “Shang Xiaozong Huangdi shugao,” KTJ, 39.1a–3b. 12. Li Mengyang, “Dai he huanguan zhuangshu,” KTJ, 40.1a–2b.

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argues that weiyi as a ritual category was taken very seriously by the ancients, who applied it to personal conduct, cultivating virtue, attending to affairs, government, and learning. He claims that evidence of this could be seen indirectly in the Six Classics, and could be checked against [the realities] of the Three Dynasties. The three thousand items of the Ceremonial Rites are all intended to teach a person to manage his external [appearances and engagements] so as to nurture his inner self. The Book of Documents says, “A man has to govern himself in dignity and with decorum.” The Book of Songs says, “Full of dignity and majesty, they are looked upon by the people.” However, nowadays no one understands the meaning of this. How sad! 旁見之六經,遠證之三代,儀禮三千,皆欲人制其外以飬其中。書 曰:“思夫人自亂於威儀。”詩曰:“顒顒卬卬,萬民之望。”而今無知 之者,悲夫!13

Now, weiyi carries two different meanings in classical texts. The first sense refers to the dignity and decorum manifested through one’s appearance. The second refers to standard rules of behavior as prescribed by the ritual codes, as cited in the Doctrine of the Mean: “[The Way of the sages] embraces the three hundred rules of ceremony, and the three thousand rules of demeanour” (liyi sanbai, weiyi sanqian 禮儀三百,威儀三千).14 Li Mengyang intended to conflate the two meanings of weiyi in this passage. A person could conduct himself, attend to affairs, and govern the world in a dignified and respectable manner only if he was able 13. Li Mengyang, “Lunxue xia,” KTJ, 66.9a. Translated quotes from the Book of Documents and the Book of Songs are taken mainly from James Legge’s translation. However, in this instance, Li Mengyang paraphrases the verse from the Book of Songs. The original verse reads: “Full of dignity and majesty [are they] / Like a jade-mace [in its purity], / The subject of praise, the contemplation of hope. / O happy and courteous sovereign, / [Through them] the four quarters [of the kingdom] are guided by you.” 顒顒卬卬、如圭如璋、令闻令望。/ 岂弟君子、四方为纲。 14. Legge, Doctrine of the Mean, p. 286.


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to abide by the ritual codes of conduct laid out in the classics. Unfortunately, this message of the sages had been lost, and Li took it upon himself to remind the people of his era about the importance of learning and practicing ritual for engaging in all kinds of matters. Therefore, as we saw in chapter 5, Li spent much effort discussing the proper arrangement for sacrificial rituals performed in shrines attached to the schools. The aim was to cultivate a sense of respect among the students for proper hierarchy, the only means by which they might conduct themselves in a dignified and respectable manner. Given that the rules in the ritual codes numbered in the tens of thousands, where should one begin? Li Mengyang believed the place to start was in the family: The rite of sacrifice is to arouse [one’s feeling] spontaneously. The purpose of worshipping one’s ancestors is to extend [the feelings of] love and respect so as to interact with spirits and men. The intent of the sages is necessarily subtle. Therefore, in order to stop arrogance and disobedience, nothing comes before [instituting] sacrificial rites. In order to have well-disciplined sacrifices and establish the teaching, nothing comes before ancestral sacrifices. Love and respect are where filial piety and brotherly love originate. Today, the scholar-official class takes sacrifices lightly and has thus caused their teaching to be abandoned. When teachings are abandoned, the atmosphere will become decadent. When the atmosphere becomes decadent, the customs will become dreadful. This is the reason why offspring now treat their ancestors [like strangers,] as if separated by the distance between Qin [in the northwest] and Yue [in the southeast]. Alas! How drastically has the subtle intent of the sages been belittled? 祀禮,發油然之心者也。崇祖考者,所以廣愛敬而交神人也。聖人之 意微矣。故遏慢止悖,莫先於祀。嚴祀立教,莫大於祖考。愛敬者,孝 弟之所由生也。今士大夫於祀也忽,故其教廢。教廢則風偷,風偷則 俗惡。故其子孫視其祖考猶秦越也。吁!甚矣聖人之微義篾乎?15

15. Li Mengyang, “Shishi,” KTJ, 66.14a.

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In this passage, we again see Li Mengyang lamenting the fact that the intent of the sages has been lost. His main complaint is that the scholar-officials of his day had forgotten about the importance of sacrificial ritual, especially making sacrifices to the ancestors. Recalling from the discussion in chapter 4 that feelings of respect and love could have either good or bad effects, depending on whether they were expressed appropriately, these ceremonies were essential because they could arouse feelings in a right way, channeling them to positive ends and rectifying the social customs of the day. To right social customs starting in the family was for Li Mengyang an approach that the scholar-official class could use to serve the state. Indeed, Li made no qualitative distinction between running a family and serving the government. In a preface written for the family genealogy compiled by an ex-official surnamed Dong 董, Li praised Dong for his attentiveness to the welfare of his own family whether he was in or out of office. Dong was a rare breed, Li thought, as scholar-officials of his day had forgotten about the teaching of the Great Learning, and that of Confucius: Ever since the days when the teaching of the Great Learning declined, the literati who aspire to govern the nation have failed to begin by harmonizing their families. As such, there have been officials who failed to govern properly, not to speak of the ability to run their families. When they were removed from office, there were some who could not take care of themselves, not to mention implementing plans for their families. This worried the master [Confucius], and he said, “This too [the practice of filial piety and brotherly love] also constitutes the exercise of government. Must one be in office to govern?” 自大學教衰也,士不由齊而求之治。是故仕也,有不官政者矣,矧 家之能政也。其罷也,有不身謀者矣,矧家之政行也。是以夫子憂 焉。曰:“是亦為政,奚其為為政?”16

16. Li Mengyang, “Dongshi zupu xu” 董氏族譜序, KTJ, 53.12b–14a. The words of Confucius are from the Analects, 2.21.


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The references to the Great Learning and the Analects on state-family relations can be interpreted in two different ways. One is to assume that the first priority of a literatus is taking care of and harmonizing his own family, with national politics coming after that. Some mid-Ming Daoxue scholars, such as Cai Qing of Fujian, pushed this position further, claiming that harmonizing the family was sufficient; one does not have to be engaged in politics at the national level, even if given the opportunity.17 Li Mengyang would have been outraged by such arguments. In this preface, he compares Dong with Junchen 君陳, the second son of the Duke of Zhou, who became a great minister like his father. The “Junchen” chapter of the Book of Documents records the instructions given by King Cheng 成王 to Junchen: The king spoke to the following effect: “Jun-chen, it is you who are possessed of excellent virtue, filial, and respectful. Being filial, and friendly with your brothers, you can display these qualities in the exercise of government. I appoint you to rule this eastern border. Be reverent.” 王若曰:“君陳,惟爾令德孝恭。惟孝友于兄弟,克施有政。命汝尹茲 18 東郊,敬哉!”

Junchen was entrusted with the great responsibility of ruling the eastern border because of his excellent virtue, characterized particularly by filial piety and brotherly love. By likening Dong to Junchen, Li Mengyang highlights the political implications for literati families. Managing the family well is not simply a private matter; it provides the foundation for good government. Jun­ chen, with his success in fusing the two aspects, was an excellent example from antiquity that Li hoped the literati of his day could emulate.

17. Hong, “Through Philosophical and Sociopolitical Lenses Clearly,” pp. 51–64. 18. Legge, The Shû King.

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Extracting Moral Lessons from History The other interpretation of how Li Mengyang viewed the link between national politics and family management looks to his method of writing his family genealogy. In the preface to the genealogy he compiled for his family, Li devoted a section to biographies or brief marriage information about the female members of the Li family and its affinal relatives. In explaining his reason for doing this, Li maintained that because the official histories contain sections on imperial relatives (waiqi 外戚), a family genealogy should do likewise, because “family and the state [operate based on] the same Way [i.e., principle]” (jia guo yi dao 家國一道).19 However, we know that in reality, family and the state operated in different ways. At the very least, this particular section of Li’s genealogy contains several records of women remarrying, something that was at odds with the state’s promotion of female chastity.20 Indeed, when serving as the educational intendant of Jiangxi, Li once memorialized the court to ask for its formal recognition of several exemplary individuals, predominantly women, who exhibited filial piety and chastity.21 Yet this difference did not deter Li from seeing the family as part of the state. Li recorded the cases of remarriage, it seems, to serve his sense of how history should be written, regardless of whether it was the history of a family or the state. In the preface to the genealogy of a certain Zhou 周 family, Li identified several key qualities of a well-written genealogy, the most important of which was its reliability.22 He put this belief into practice when compiling the genealogy for his own family: I have heard it said by the elder generation that “[it is like] a country having a national history for a family to have a genealogy.” Alas, the instances between life and death, between stepping out [to 19. Li Mengyang, “Puxu diliu” 譜序第六, KTJ, 38.17a–19b. 20. Li Mengyang, “Waizhuan diwu” 外傳第五, KTJ, 38.15a–17a. 21. Li Mengyang, “Qing biao jieyi ben” 請表節義本, KTJ, 40.8a–11a. 22. Li Mengyang, “Zhoushi zupu xu” 周氏族譜序, KTJ, 53.11b–12b.


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serve] and staying at home are critical moments. The key to [recording all these in the genealogy] is to not deviate from the facts. Otherwise, how could the later generations gain from reading it? 予聞之先輩曰:“國有史,家有譜。”嗟乎!生死出處之際大矣。要之 不離其事實,不然後世何觀焉?23

Whether a genealogy was written based on known facts without distortion, and whether the compiler was cautious in dealing with doubtful information, would determine whether a genealogy was a worthy document that could be counted on to bring to light the authentic history of a family. Indeed, Li tried his best to provide realistic portraits when writing the biographies, even if it meant casting some of his family members in a negative light. For instance, while he bestows high praise for his mother’s frugality in managing the family and generosity in helping the underprivileged, he also records that she was harsh with the servants.24 Li frequently draws analogies between national history and family genealogy, suggesting that he believed the principles of the genealogy ought to be applied when writing national history. The emphasis on presenting the subjects of history as authentically as possible was, for Li, never meant to address the question of whether history can be “objective,” as debated by modern historians. Rather, it was intended to provide a platform for “illuminating the past for educating the future and to completely register good and evil. [Events and personages] that do not provide [moral lessons of] encouragement or punishment should not be narrated” (zhao wang xun lai, mei e ju lie, bu quan bu cheng, bu zhi shu ye 昭往訓來,美 惡具列,不勸不懲,不之述也).25 In other words, the objective of studying history is not simply to understand the past per se, but to extract moral lessons from historical anecdotes and thus provide guidance for the present and the future. This applies not only to national history but also to the histories of administrative districts, 23. Li Mengyang, “Liyi diyi,” KTJ, 38.1a–2a. 24. Li Mengyang, “Waizhuan diwu,” KTJ, 38.15a–17a. 25. Li Mengyang, “Lun shi da Wang jiancha shu” 論史答王監察書, KTJ, 62.11b–12b.

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which come under the subgenre of “gazetteers” (zhi 志). In a long treatise discussing the function of gazetteers, Li suggests that histories were originally written to convey the subtle meanings of the classics, by the sages and gentlemen of the past whose political aspirations were suppressed during times of disorder: The gazetteer is a subgenre of history. Its categorization is based on The Tribute of Yu, its recording of events is based on the Rites of Zhou, and its method of bestowing praise and levying blame emulates the style of the Spring and Autumn Annals. Its narrative of social customs implies a system of sameness and oneness, its rec­ ords of imperial buildings convey the meaning of greatness and magnificence; its collection of poetry is intended for observing the customs [of various localities]. History is [a genre] that comprehensively presents the surviving words of historical figures, to bring to light past examples to serve as warnings, and to preserve the past for instructing the future. Therefore, through categorization and recording events, and comprehensively sorting [people and events] into good and evil, [the principle of] bestowing praise and levying blame can be observed therein. . . . A gazetteer is written for one prefecture or one county, while a national history is written for the entire territory under Heaven. Because [a prefecture or a county] is smaller in size, the gazetteer is detailed, while a national history is brief because the territory is huge. However, the principles of both kinds of history are derived from the classics. This may be called different roads leading to the same goal. 夫志者,史之流也。分例祖諸禹貢,屬事本之周禮,褒 貶 竊春秋 之筆。風俗寓同一之制,宮室取大壯之義,謌詩繫觀風之意。夫史 者,傋(備)辭蹟,昭鑒戒,存往詔來者也。是以分例屬事,善惡傋 (備)列,褒貶見之矣……夫志者,一郡一邑之書也。史者,天下者也。小 故詳,大則槩。然其義悉於經祖焉。所謂殊塗同歸者也。26

Because it was Li Mengyang’s belief that history should be written to illustrate the principles of the classics for political ends, he considered any historical work that deviated from that mission 26. Li Mengyang, “Zuozhi tonglun” 作志通論, KTJ, 59.7b–8a. The weiwen edition (58.1622) has the character gou 傋 as bei 備, which makes more sense.


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as morally inferior. One such example is Intrigues of the Warring States (Zhanguo ce 戰國策), which Li thought a gentleman would consider to be a work that “betrays the classics and deviates from the Way” (pan jing li dao 畔經離道). Yet it managed to survive through the ages. Why? Li argued that it was because the Intrigues possessed four merits that allowed the text to be appreciated and transmitted: Master Li said, “The Intrigues has four merits, the existence of any of which would make it worthy for circulation and transmission. [With any one of these merits making it worthy of] circulation and transmission, [scholars of later generations would have been interested in] discussing it, not to speak of its having merits that amounted to four. What are the four merits? Those who wish to record the past may trace the events recorded in it. Those who wish to analyze [the developments] of the world can investigate the transformations recorded in it. Those who wish to pursue literary accomplishment may imitate its style of writing, and those who esteem it to be good at strategy can copy the clever [schemes] recorded in it. Those who copy its cleverness are crafty, those who imitate its words are wily, those who investigate the transformations show unified understanding, and those who trace its events are [trying to be] comprehensive. Therefore, narrators hold it in high regard, but it would be repudiated by the gentleman.” 李子曰:“策有四尚,尚一足傳,傳斯述矣,况四乎?四者何也?錄往 者迹其事,考世者證其變,攻文者模其辭,好謀者襲其智。襲智者 27 譎,模辭者巧,證變者會,迹事者該,是故述者尚之,君子斥之焉。”

The four “merits” Li lists allowed the Intrigues to be widely read and circulated, and yet they were also the attributes—especially the first two—that would encourage immoral ideas and practices: “Wiliness tends to destroy simplicity; craftiness tends to interfere with uprightness.” With these qualities, the Intrigues demonstrated everything that is wrong with histories not written according to the moral principles laid out in the classics. The fact that 27. Li Mengyang, “Ke Zhanguo ce xu” 刻戰國策序, KTJ, 50.1b–3a.

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this text had been written was a signal that the golden age governed by the sage-kings’ perfect ritual, legal, and political systems was gone. Although those who supported the reprinting of the book argued that it could serve to remind readers about the correct and wrong ways of writing history, Li still worried that the literati might nevertheless be misled by its wrong ideas, and he hoped that those who were close to the ancient ways would approach the Intrigues in a sensible manner.28 As the Chinese scholar Huang Zhuoyue aptly points out, the “rediscovery” of the Intrigues and other works in the “miscellaneous learnings” (zaxue 雜學) category in the mid-Ming period showed that a break from the monopoly of knowledge imposed by Daoxue Neo-Confucianism was under way. It is also important to note that although Li leaned toward the orthodox position by assuming the role of the “gentleman” in repudiating the choice of the “narrators,” he did not dismiss the Intrigues completely. In fact, in his preface Li states that he values the Intrigues, though not without reservation, for preserving accounts of pre-Qin history after the Qin book burnings. The Intrigues therefore could serve as a reference for supplementing historical accounts and expanding knowledge.29 Moreover, as we have seen hints of and will see more clearly in subsequent chapters, when Li chided those who pursued literary accomplishment for being “wily,” he was not dismissing literary pursuits. What he opposed was the tendency of some to write in a frivolous manner, without the understanding that writing is a powerful device that can cause great destruction when misused. Nevertheless, the uneasiness that Li Mengyang felt toward the Intrigues, reflected in the fact that he decided to use his opportunity to write the preface as a platform for castigating the book, shows that Li saw history as a form of literati learning with a great and serious purpose. History is not just about the recollection of past events; more important, it is about using the past as a lesson 28. Li Mengyang, “Ke Zhanguo ce xu,” KTJ, 50.1b–3a. 29. Huang Zhuoyue, Ming zhonghouqi wenxue sixiang yanjiu, pp. 38–43. Li Mengyang, “Ke Zhanguo ce xu,” KTJ, 50.1b–3a.


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for ordering the present world. Again, under such a utilitarian approach, the welfare of the state was Li’s main concern. History, to be of any value, must be able to equip the literati with the ability to exercise appropriate moral judgment given their political circumstances, in order that good government can be achieved.

Observing the “Winds” History provides moral lessons from the past for achieving good government. To ascertain whether the present government is good, Li argues that one has to learn to look to the “winds” (feng 風), which might be thought of as currents of virtue blowing through society, created by the influential power of virtuous men. The term “winds” was an allusion to a passage in the Analects: “The virtue of the gentleman is like wind; the virtue of the small man is like grass. Let the wind blow over the grass and it is sure to bend.”30 Take the following passage, for instance: The traces [of a historical figure] can be seen only if made visible. Commemoration is for recalling real and concrete deeds. Eternity is preserved through continuation. That which is aroused derives from “winds.” Therefore, knowledge of the time can be derived from observing the visible traces of individuals. Good government is predicated on the ability to commemorate and make eternal [the exemplary deeds of individuals.] However, the exemplary deeds will be insignificant if they are not being aroused. There is no agreed way of making them significant, and it all depends on how the policies are being implemented. [Nevertheless,] it can be considered extensive if the silence is made apparent and the minute is amplified. . . . Confucius once said, “When the government does not follow the Way, to remain silent could preserve one’s life.” The most tragic thing that could happen to the world is thus none other than forcing people to be silent. That is why I believe that knowledge of the time could be derived from observing the visible traces of individuals. . . . But the world should not be [run in such a way 30. Lau, Analects, 12.19.

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that it] forces people to be silent, nor should it force people to abandon silence. Why? When the people are lured by the prospect of being prominent, they will lose the virtues of honor and shame. Once the virtues of honor and shame are lost, the government will be corrupted. And once the government is corrupted, the “winds” will not be aroused. Therefore winds are produced by the government. When the state [tries to commemorate individuals,] the effectiveness will depend on how it is implemented. And if the individuals are remembered forever by the people, then [their merits] must be real and concrete. Making these individuals visible must thus come first when [we try to] arouse [the winds]. 跡者,因乎彰者也。思者,追乎實者也。永者,存乎繼者也。激者,本 乎風者也。故觀人以彰,可以識世。思而永之,政之繫也。然不激 不著,著無定形,視施以明。顯默拔微,斯其致矣……孔子曰:“邦無 道,其默足以容。”世之不幸,莫大於使人默。予故曰:觀人以彰,可 以識世……世不可使人默,亦不可使人不默,何也?溺於顯,則廉恥 之道喪。廉恥喪,則政壞。政壞則風不激。故風者,生於政者也。政視 其施,思而永之,必實焉。彰此,激揚之先也。31

This passage is part of the stele inscription text that Li Mengyang wrote to commemorate the reconstruction of the Whistle Platform (Xiaotai 嘯臺), a historical site in Henan associated with Sun Deng 孫登 (n.d.), a recluse who lived during the Three Kingdoms period. Sun was without an official title and did not have any magnificent accomplishments. Yet he was remembered to that day, so much so that when the inspector on touring duty, Xu Wan 許完 (jinshi 1505), visited the site, he felt he could almost see Sun whistling away on the platform. Xu thus ordered the platform to be restored and a shrine built to commemorate Sun. To judge by his rank and prestige, Sun Deng was a humble figure, but underneath this obscurity was a man of real talent and integrity. His “silence” was a consequence of the chaotic era in which he lived. In times like the Three Kingdoms period, to actively seek rank and prestige was an indication of moral failure that would eventually lead to political corruption. In honoring a 31. Li Mengyang, “Xiaotai chongxiu bei” 嘯臺重修碑, KTJ, 41.6a–8a.


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“silent” figure such as Sun Deng, Inspector Xu was keenly aware that priority should be given to identifying worthy figures of the past so as to provide moral guidance for the present. This was what Li Mengyang meant by cultivating the winds, and to Li, Xu’s initiative was a sign of good government. When exemplified and made apparent by the government, the winds could positively shape public behavior. When behavior is so shaped and displays a general pattern or inclination, then a custom is formed. For the government to perform its job well, its officials, especially those who are assigned to the provincial posts, must investigate local customs. Winds, government, and customs are thus interconnected, as Li Mengyang explains in his preface to a collection of poetry celebrating the inspectorship of Tan Zuan 譚纘 (jinshi 1517): Observing the Winds in He-Luo is compiled for the inspector Master Tan. What is “observing the winds”? It is demanded by his official duties. And He-Luo [Henan] is a region. Since Master Tan arrived in my hometown he has been gracious but unwavering, and serious but insightful. He has been able to get to the bottom of good and evil, and concurrently to examine injustice thoroughly. And when he finds that injustice is really present, he stands firm like a mountain even in a strong whirlwind, not moving an inch regardless of gain or loss. As such, he is admired and loved by gentlemen and obeyed by inferior men. The [unruly] clerks fear him and refrain from [doing mischief], while the people rely upon him for living without stress. Yet he is seldom spotted in sight or sound, and he could sit all day in silence. How could this be? There is something in the world that has the power of great penetration, and that is observation. And there is something that has great incipient tendency, and that is “wind.”32 The movement of the wind is caused by incipient tendency, and incipient tendency is penetrated by observation. 32. Incipient tendency (ji 幾) is one of those philosophical concepts that defies straightforward translation. In the Neo-Confucian language of self-cultivation, it can refer to a kind of subtle mental activity or attribute within an individual that precedes the outward showing of thoughts and emotions. Here, Li seemed to have used the term to refer to a broader social tendency that is based on a specific human condition but not readily detectable.

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Therefore, no human condition could escape [the eyes of the observer]. The human condition is produced by the winds. A touring inspector takes observation as his duty. He attends to human conditions to examine the incipient tendencies. Based on the incipient tendencies, he broadens his ability to penetrate. It is unlikely that one’s quest for fulfilling his duty would fail with such an ability to penetrate. Thus, the gentlemen all acknowledge that Master Tan is good at government. He can even govern the entire world, and HeLuo is just the beginning. This year, as inspector of Henan, Master Tan’s main duty was to oversee the provincial examination, and there were fourteen successful candidates. The fourteen asked one another, “Why does our respectable inspector have such a great penetrating insight into the incipient tendency?” Master Kongtong said, “Have you studied the Book of Changes? The method of observation is applicable to both the self and others, but a gentleman would begin by observing his own self. Therefore it is said that [a gentleman] knows that the origin [of the winds] lies within himself. And if given an official post, he would remind himself that [his virtue] is like the winds, and that he has to avoid committing the three distasteful ‘winds’ of the sorcerers, extravagance, and disorder. 33 [The above] is a reference to [how a gentleman] keenly observes himself. Master Tan is one who has exhibited splendid virtues. His virtues possess such influential power that his action is filled with such mental attributes. Once he acts, he is capable of attaining full penetration and thus his observation leaves no condition unattended. As such, he is unwavering in his belief and clear in his application. When he investigates deeply, he can get to the bottom of things, and when he infers from his findings, he is able to illuminate [the truth]. His trustworthiness is loved and his actions carry an aura, thus the [unruly] clerks refrain from [doing mischief ] and the people live 33. A reference to a passage in the Book of Documents in which Yi Yin instructed the young king about the virtues of his ancestors. The “winds” here refer to a sort of behavior or fashion. The wind of the sorcerers refers to constant dancing in the palace and drunken singing in the chamber. The wind of extravagance refers to setting one’s heart on wealth and women, and abandoning oneself to wandering about or joining the chase. The wind of disorder refers to despising sagely words, resisting the loyal and upright, putting far from one­ self the aged and virtuous, and seeking the company of precocious youths. See Legge, The Shû King, p. 92.


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without stress. How does [Master Tan achieve this]? [He is able to do it because] virtue is that which creates the winds, and the human condition is where virtue flows. When the incipient tendency moves with subtlety while penetration is extensively completed, duty is accomplished. For this reason, the gentlemen all acknowledge that Master Tan is good at government.” But He-Luo is just a small region. The literati said, “In ancient times, poetry was presented for observation, after which the good and bad winds will be made apparent. Our governor is seldom spotted in sight or sound, yet his virtue attains great penetration into the incipient tendency. How then could he not be considered a talent for the entire world?” And so [the literati] wrote poetry and named the collection Observing the Winds in He-Luo. He-Luo is a small region, and [the literati’s] wish is to have the Grand Tutor submit the poetry to the Son of Heaven. 34 Master Kongtong said, “Folk poetry is collected for examining the customs, while the poetry of the literati is collected for examining the government. The two approaches take different paths but reach the same destination. Therefore, the customs are determined by the government and the winds determined by the customs.” 觀風河洛者,為廵按譚子而作也。觀風者何?其職也。河洛者,方 也。譚子之蒞我邦也,度而能貞,肅而有明。潛洞臧否,旁燭冤幽。見 之苟真,飈激山屹,利害罔移也。於是君子佩愛,小人服威,吏憚而 縮,民恃而舒。然聲跡泯焉。坐竟日默如也。斯何也?天下有大通 焉,觀是也。有大幾焉,風是也。風以幾動,幾以觀通,是故無遁情 焉。情者,風之所由生也。廵按者,以觀為職者也。即情以察幾,緣幾 以廣通,因通以求職,鮮不獲也。故君子謂譚子善為政,雖於天下可 也,河洛先之矣。是年也,譚子實監河南,試大梁士,試而中者十有四 人也。十四人者相語曰:“我監公何以大通於幾?”空同子曰:“士讀易 乎?觀之為道,人已之道也。然君子觀則先已,故曰知風之自,自我始 之也。其有職也,則戒之曰爾惟風,儆之曰巫風、滛風、亂風。言其觀貴 已也。夫譚子者,懋于德者也。德而風,故其動幾。動而通,故其觀無 遁情。是故以執則貞,以用則明。潛之則洞,旁之則燭,愛孚威行,吏 縮而民舒也。斯何也?德者所以為風者也,情者所以流德者也。幾動于 微,通成于廣,職斯獲之矣。故君子謂譚子善為政。”然河洛也,厥方 34. Here, Li Mengyang alludes to the ancient system of collecting folk songs for submission to the Son of Heaven (caishi 采詩). The grand tutor was the highest-ranking court official responsible for making the final arrangement before submission.

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狹矣。諸士曰:“古者陳詩以觀,而後風之美惡見也。我監公聲跡泯而 其德大通於幾,不謂天下之材乎?”於是賦觀風河洛云。河洛者,狹之 也,冀太師采之獻諸天子。空同子曰:“民詩采以察俗,士詩采以察 35 政。二者塗殊而歸同矣。故有政斯有俗,有俗斯有風。”

Although “observing the winds” is primarily an inspector’s duty, Li Mengyang argues that its significance actually extends beyond a specific region and is applicable to the entire realm of government. He expands the meaning of “wind” in this preface. To fully grasp the idea, we need to consider it in conjunction with another piece also written to celebrate the inspectorship of Tan Zuan. It was the summer of 1528, and Tan Zuan, accompanied by two provincial officials, visited a pavilion located at Fengxue 風穴 (Wind Cave) Mountain. Looking down from the site and appreciating the great scenery, Tan asked the officials about the subjects of their observation. One replied that he observed the “moments” (shi 時) to understand how the ancients made critical decisions. Another replied that he observed the “earth” (tu 土) to take note of the landscape and agricultural activities in the region. Tan praised the two for understanding their roles, but he was more concerned with observing the winds. When asked, Tan kept silent, and thus the two officials had to approach Li Mengyang for an explanation. Like Tan, Li applauded both men for understanding their roles, but he explained that observing the winds was more important than observing the moments or the earth: There must be some [ultimate source of creation] that precedes the movement of qi in the world. And when [qi is] stimulated, nothing is more miraculous than the wind. Therefore, it gusts but its origin remains unknown, it passes through the surface of the water but the areas that it covers remains unknown, and it slides through with its destination undetectable. Its virtue disperses, and therefore its penetration is deep. Its incipient tendency is subtle, and therefore it enters into things without their knowledge. It moves 35. Li Mengyang, “Guanfeng He-Luo xu” 觀風河洛序, KTJ, 51.10a–12a.


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with different speeds, and therefore there are distinctions among the ways it enters [into things]. And its changes may be diverting and varying, and therefore things differ in being lean or plump, pure or heterogeneous, resulting in their [different] characteristics. When the characteristics [of things] develop and their sentiments are released and result in [behaviors] being substantial or frivolous, then the customs will follow. Custom is formed by habits, and when good and bad [behaviors] are put under control and reach a peaceful state, [good] government is achieved. The Former Kings were aware of the miraculous nature of winds, and therefore they put the eight tunes into rhythm to implement the eight winds. But [the Former Kings] feared that the winds may be diverted and thus they ordered the officials to collect poetry for observation. Poetry is formed by winds, and as such, we can know the government by observing poetry. We can know the customs by observing the government. We can know the natures by observing the custom, and we can know the “winds” by observing the natures. We can then underscore the good and punish the evil, wash away the frivolous and nurture the substantial, and push for the pure and level off the heterogeneous. And only after this can transformation be successful. 夫天下之氣,必有為之先者,而鼓之則莫神於風。故颸颸乎,莫知所 從,渢渢乎莫知其被,溜溜乎莫知其終也。其德巽,故其入深。其幾 微,故入物而物不自知。其行疾徐,故其入不齊。其變也乖和殊,故物 有瘠腴純駁,性隨之矣。性發情逸,淳澆是效,而俗隨之矣。俗沿習 成,美惡相安,而政隨之矣。是故先王知風之神也,於是節八音以行 八風,然患其乖也,於是使陳詩觀焉。詩者,風之所由形也。故觀其 詩,以知其政,觀其政,以知其俗,觀其俗,以知其性,觀其性,以知其 風。於是彰美而癉惡,湔澆而培淳,廸純以剷其駁,而後化可行也。36

Delighted with Li Mengyang’s explanation of winds, the officials asked for Tan Zuan’s permission to name the pavilion the Wind-Observing Pavilion (Guanfeng ting 觀風亭) and requested that Li write a record to commemorate the occasion. Put together, these two pieces devoted to Tan Zuan present a sophisticated understanding of the concept of the winds. In Li’s conception, winds 36. Li Mengyang, “Guanfeng ting ji” 觀風亭記, KTJ, 49.7a–9a.

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are a mysterious force produced by qi that, through movement, provide the distinct characteristics (xing 性) of all things. The distinctive characteristics of things are manifested through their sentiments (qing 情) and they combine to constitute the customs (su 俗). When the government is able to manage the customs, which are by nature a mixture of good and evil, and put everything in order, then social harmony will be achieved. Observing and understanding the winds is thus crucial for the success of government. But where should the observation begin? It should begin with the self, to be mindful of the danger of the three distasteful “winds” identified in the first passage. Only after that can a gentleman set a moral example and influence the people, just as wind blows through a grassy patch. One way of putting the good winds to work is through music (bayin 八音), as the Former Kings taught. But the winds may change (bian 變), and as a result the gov­ ernment could diverge (guai 乖) from the original plan and the customs decline. The Former Kings thus instructed their officials to collect poetry from all quarters in the realm for observation, so they could understand how the customs had evolved and whether the government was doing a good job. Poetry should be studied because it is the manifestation of the winds. Here, Li Mengyang follows a traditional view of poetry that emphasizes its utilitarian nature, and leverages the fact that the Book of Songs contains a category of poetry also called feng, as in Guofeng 國風, which is usually translated as “Airs of the States.” The two aspects of learning that emerge from Li Mengyang’s discussion of “observing the winds” thus encompass the examination of the self and the world. The focus on avoiding the three undesirable kinds of behavior, and the constant reminder about the moral responsibility and power of a gentleman in influencing the world involve critical self-inspection. On the surface, this is akin to mainstream Daoxue’s approach of moral self-cultivation, but it actually differs on two important points. First, although it emphasizes the primacy of self-examination, it does not assume the common premise of an inherent human nature that is universally good in order to make the case that anyone could become a sage so long as he is willing to investigate his self thoroughly. In


l e a r n i ng for t h e s tat e

fact, the passages just cited have made it clear once again that Li was of the opinion that each individual’s nature is distinct and could be either good or evil. Thus human nature cannot serve as the source of morality. The second important difference lies in the objective of learning. The sort of self-inspection entailed in Li’s theory of “winds observation” was primarily for training officials, both current and prospective, to carry out their duties competently. It was never Li’s intention to propose a theory of moral cultivation for transforming an individual into a sage. Another aspect of “observing the winds” involves examining the world through observing poetry. Here, the emphasis is on poetry not as a literary pursuit but as a device for observing and understanding the government and public customs, for the betterment of the state. Li firmly believed that poetry, whether of the learned or of the common people, is a genuine outward expression of inner feelings, emotions, and sentiments. This conviction will be discussed in greater detail in chapter 8. Suffice it to note here that this was the main reason Li was so upset with the senior grand secretary Liu Jian when the latter denounced the learning of poetry as insignificant. For Li, poetry served the greater purpose of providing the state with a lens through which to examine the competency of its officials and the general condition of the world it governed. Just as his utilitarian view of history did not prevent Li Mengyang from arguing that compiling history is an art in prose writing, independent of the objective of learning moral lessons from history, the fact that studying poetry can provide information useful for running the government does not imply that an aspiring poet should focus on aligning his ideas with the purposes of the state. In fact, that would make bad poetry. The correct approach should be to realize that composing poetry is an art governed by its own rules and with its own body of knowledge it requires painstaking effort to master. The next two chapters discuss how Li envisioned prose and poetry as two separate approaches, not for serving the state but for expressing an author’s self.

part iv Expressing the Self

seven Prose


n his often-cited preface to a volume of poetry written by a merchant, entitled Fouyin 缶音 (Tunes of pottery), Li Mengyang blames Song scholars for causing the death of real poetry— which he says existed only up to the Tang period—by insisting that the main purpose of writing poetry was to engage in philosophical discourse, rather than to express one’s feelings through poetry’s music: Poetry lost its ancient tunes in the Tang dynasty, but the Tang had its own tunes for singing and reciting. The superior ones were still good enough to perform with the accompaniment of pipes and strings. The Song people focused on the principle rather than the tune, and as a result, the Tang tunes were also eventually lost. Huang Tingjian [黃庭堅 (1045–1105)] and Chen Shidao [陳師道 (1053–1101)] took Du Fu as their model and were known as great masters [during Song times]. But viewed from today’s perspective, the words of their poetry are difficult to understand, [they] are without scent and color, and motionless. Is it like when we walk into a temple: [we will see] statues of deities made up of clay and wood in their seats, but even if we dress them with clothes and headdresses and make them look human, can we say that they are indeed human? Poetry [is an art] that intermixes [the rhetorical techniques of] comparison and stimulus, and demonstrates spiritual transformation through [the depiction of] things. It resonates with and accentuates the wonders that are hard to put into words


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and hard to predict, and it moves emotions and thoughts. Therefore its vital energy is smooth and thick, its tune melodious, and its words precise and not hasty. As such, the ones who chant it could express their feelings in a free-flowing manner and the listeners will be touched. Song scholars emphasized [the learning] of principle and created language for discussing principle. As a result, they despised and uprooted all verses concerning clouds in the wind or dew in the moonlight. Moreover, [Song scholars] taught the genre of “discussions of poetry” and in the process, the people became unaware of the real substance of poetry. It is not that poetry is devoid of principle, but if one wishes to talk about principle alone, why not write prose instead of forcing poetry to do this? 詩至唐,古調亡矣,然自有唐調可歌詠,高者猶足被管弦。宋人主理 不主調,于是唐調亦亡。黃、陳師法杜甫,號大家,今其詞艱澀,不香 色流動,如入神廟,坐土木骸,即冠服與人等,謂之人可乎?夫詩比興 錯雜,假物以神變者也。難言不測之妙,感觸突著,流動情思,故其氣 柔厚,其聲悠揚,其言切而不迫,故歌之者心暢而聞之者動也。宋人 主理,作理語,於是薄風雲月露,一切鏟去不為。又作詩話教人,人不 復知詩矣。詩何嘗無理,若專作理語,何不作文而詩為邪?1

We will discuss the ideas in this preface, arguably Li Mengyang’s most important piece of literary criticism, in greater detail later. What is important to note here is that Li is not saying one should not write about philosophy. Rather, he simply feels that prose as a genre is more suitable for the task than poetry. This brings us to the important distinction Li intended to make between prose and poetry, the two literary genres to which most of his works belong.2 Although Li sometimes uses the term wen to refer to both forms of writing, he also uses it, as in the passage just quoted, to refer to prose alone, using shi to refer to poetry. Both prose and 1. Li Mengyang, “Fouyin xu,” KTJ, 52.4b–5b. 2. In the extant sixty-six volumes of Li Mengyang’s collected literary works, only three belong to the genre of “rhapsody” (fu 賦) while the rest belong to either poetry or prose. There is no indication that Li ever wrote any lyrics (ci 詞) or songs (qu). In Li’s view, rhapsody was a special kind of poetry, and therefore theories of poetry could also be applied to rhapsody. See Zhu Yijing, “Li Mengyang cifu yanjiu.”

pro se 221 poetry are no doubt essential for self-expression, but they approach it in different ways. Prose, Li says, is more appropriate for putting forth one’s ideas, and poetry for conveying one’s feelings. This distinction addresses two different aspects of man’s psychological activity: the intellectual and the aesthetic. When tracing the discourse on love in modern China, Haiyan Lee provides an insightful reevaluation of the late Ming “cult of qing” movement and its relationship to nineteenth-century sentimentalism and May Fourth romanticism. She cautions that in our reading of late Ming discussions of qing, we often inject our own modern division of reason from emotion. As a consequence, we too often fail to appreciate the fact that late Ming intellectuals rarely pursued such an Enlightenment dichotomy. The polarization of “heavenly principle” (tianli 天理) and “human desire” (renyu 人欲) in the late Ming context was never meant to fundamentally challenge the moral foundation of the preexisting political, social, and cultural order.3 While it is true that the relationship between reason and emotion took different forms and developed differently in Enlightenment Europe and Ming China, we shall see in Li Mengyang’s case that the tension between these two kinds of mental activity was keenly felt by mid-Ming literati because the dominant Song theory explaining their relationship was breaking apart. Unlike the Song predecessors he criticizes, Li refuses to fuse aesthetic pursuits with intellectual ones. For Li, the intellectual and the aesthetic form two separate realms of human existence and require different approaches to learning and different literary forms. This chapter and the next will examine in detail the theories Li articulated for each of the literary genres, and their connections to the intellectual and aesthetic aspects of human existence. We will also discuss Li’s exemplary works of prose and poetry, to illustrate how he applied his own theories in his writing. In the following well-known passage, Li Mengyang offers a strongly worded opinion about the rise of Song learning and its detriment to the literary world: 3. Haiyan Lee, Revolution of the Heart, pp. 25–38.


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The rise of Song scholars caused the downfall of the writings of the ancients. But it was not the Song scholars who destroyed them. Rather, it was the writers who brought self-destruction. When the ancients portrayed an individual in their writing, they would simply give an authentic representation of the individual. As with painting, the key is resemblance. Therefore [when writing about] a virtuous person, [ancient writers] would not conceal that person’s mistakes, [and when writing about] an unenlightened person, [ancient writers] would not take his good qualities away from him. [In comparison,] when contemporary writers portray an individual in their writing, they try to [suggest that he] conforms to the Way, regardless of whether he is good or evil. [This problem is] especially serious in the genre of historical records and biographies. Therefore, when we examine the facts we see that this was not the real person, and when we remove all the flowery language there is nothing left of their writing. This is the reason for my claim about the rise of Song scholars causing the downfall of the writings of the ancients. Someone asked: “What do you mean?” Master Kongtong said, “Alas! Weren’t the Song scholars’ discussions on Principle glamorous? [Nowadays] even a child can talk about it, but do they know that one’s personality and conduct do not necessarily have to be aligned with [Song scholars’ discourses of principle]?” 宋儒興而古之文廢矣。非宋儒廢之也,文者自廢之也。古之文文其 人,如其人便了,如畫焉,似而已矣。是故賢者不諱過,愚者不竊 美。而今之文文其人,無美惡皆欲合道,傳志其甚矣。是故考實則無 人,抽華則無文,故曰:宋儒興而古之文廢。或問:“何謂?”空同子 4 曰: “嗟!宋儒言理不爛然歟?童稚能談焉。渠尚知性行有不必合邪?”

Modern scholars have often cited this passage, especially the first sentence, to show that Li was hostile toward discourses on “principle,” a trademark of Song learning. Yet a close reading of the pas­sage suggests that Li was not rejecting Song learning in its entirety; he was merely arguing that Song learning that was focused on the discourse of principle represented only one aspect of human knowledge and experience. The greatest mistake that Song scholars committed, according to Li, was to treat partial 4. Li Mengyang “Lunxue shang,” KTJ, 66.4b–5a.

pro se 223 knowledge as a universal truth and demand that everyone conform to it. Put differently, Li did not deny the discourse on principle a place within the broad array of literati learning, but he refused to grant it a superior position, much less to acknowledge that it was the only viable path to a universal truth toward which all intellectual endeavors ought to converge. According to Li’s distinction between prose and poetry, it was permissible and appropriate to describe the learning of principle in prose writing. The problem arose only when writers started to embrace the Song position wholeheartedly. In so doing, they stripped prose of its independent and unique status and degraded it to an instrument for explication. To correct this bias, Li proposed to restore the ancient way of writing, which he saw as building on the ideal of realism to give an accurate and comprehensive account of the subject. But how could someone who aspires to be a good writer master the ancient art of prose writing so as to fully realize its value? Li tried to answer this question by first identifying the ancient model to be taken as the guide and explaining why such a model should be adopted, and then by demonstrating, through his own writing, how it could be done.

Which Ancient Model and Why? As I noted in the introduction to this volume, the slogan “[In] prose one must take [the masterpieces of] Qin and Han [as model]; [in poetry] one must take the [the masterpieces of] High Tang [as model]” has been associated with the Former Seven Masters, particularly Li Mengyang, since the seventeenth century. While Li did advocate the restoration of ancient models of writing, nowhere in his literary collection can we find such a precise prescription of specific models. So what did Li actually propose? Li Mengyang often articulated his views on prose by describing how history should be written. For instance, in a letter to Wang Jiancha in which he discusses the writing of history, briefly referred to in chapter 5, Li lists the literary models to be emulated and some negative examples that one should avoid:


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I have contemplated the meaning of writing history. It is to illuminate the past for instructing the future, and to record good and evil [deeds] clearly. [Things that are] irrelevant to encouraging and punishing [good or bad behavior] should not be recorded. The prose of historical writings should be concise and yet comprehensive. Being concise will aid the reader in completing the reading; being comprehensive will provide a full account [of the incidents]. No histories of the past surpass the Book of Documents and Spring and Autumn Annals. Abridged and edited by Confucius, their length is short and [their] narratives [are] tight. The Zuo Commentaries inherited such a legacy, and both its language and meaning are precise and detailed. Sima Qian’s [Records of the Grand Historian] and Ban Gu’s [History of the Former Han] are both broad in gathering materials and yet concise in presentation. Readers could finish reading the five histories mentioned above within a day, and the books could be carried along while walking or packed into a box while traveling. The writers of later generations were lacking in the three aforementioned merits to begin with, but they still tried to obtain fame through undesirable means by imitating the worthies. Thus they often claimed that [they were following Confucius in] recording and editing [the Spring and Autumn Annals], but in fact what they emulated was not worthy of reference, for the language is very ordinary, the biographical accounts are cumbersome, and his­ torical events [are] not recorded properly. When Fan Ye 范曄 (398– 445) wrote the History of the Later Han, he too knew that historical writing should not be ponderous. However, he [tried too hard at] editing the texts and paid too much attention to words and sentences. As such, the language is dull and the style is obscure. There is what we would call a [style of] prose that is chopped and unsmooth. This is due to the fact that [Fan] did not understand that the ancients wrote history in such a way that the language is concise but the meaning is fully expressed; they were not deliberately trying to keep it short at the expense of splendid expression. When it comes to Records of the Three Kingdoms and the histories of the Northern and Southern Dynasties, these are far inferior to Fan Ye’s [History of the Later Han], and are not properly organized and therefore hard to read. The History of the Jin was compiled through collective effort, and as a result, the format is unclear and it confuses both the elegant and the vulgar. Although Ouyang Xiu had a great

pro se 225 reputation, his New Tang History is inferior to the Old Tang History, and today’s readers with insight will choose the latter over the former. The New History of the Five Dynasties [by Ouyang Xiu] represents a unique voice. But the histories of the ancients are comparable to the brush that fully brings out the form and spirit of the subject. The viewers will be as aroused as if they have seen the real person. Ouyang did not have this kind of skill. As for the History of the Song and History of the Yuan, all official documents are copied in full without selection, and therefore both language and content are of poor quality. The size of each book runs to more than one hundred volumes but they both fail to inspire their readers, and readers will feel sleepy once they start to turn the pages. Therefore, readers who acquire the books have more often than not stored the books away on high shelves. I think that among the standard histories, other than the History of the Jin, History of the Song, and History of the Yuan, which must be recompiled, the rest may still be used. If there is any learned scholar whose talent is comparable to Sima Qian and Ban Gu, and who is willing to rewrite the standard histories beginning from the History of the Later Han, then he is on target to produce classics that are unmatchable for ten thousand generations. But if he feels that the task is too onerous and wishes to select only the three histories of Jin, Song, and Yuan for abridging and fine-tuning, it is still a great opportunity for promoting literary culture, and he will be highly respected for doing a great service for our dynasty. Although my view is [extremely narrow,] as if I am observing a leopard’s spots through a pipe and looking at the sky while sitting in a well, I have been holding on to this opinion for quite some time. And I am glad that you asked, so that I have the opportunity to express my view and receive instruction from you. 僕嘗思作史之義,昭往訓來,美惡具列,不勸不懲,不之述也。其文貴 約而該,約則覽者易徧,該則首末弗遺。古史莫如《書》、《春秋》,孔 子刪修,篇寡而字嚴。左氏繼之,辭義精詳。遷、固博采,簡帙省 縮。以上五史,讀者刻日可了,其冊可挾而行,可箱而徙。後之作者。本 乏三長,竊名效芳,輒附筆削,義非指南,辭殊禁臠,傳敘繁蕪,事無 斷落。范曄《後漢》,亦知史不貴繁,然剜精剷采,著力字句之間,故 其言枯體晦,文之削者也。蓋不知古史文約而意完,非故省之言之 妙耳。下逮《三國》、南北諸史,遠不及曄,漫浪難觀。《晉書》本出群 手,體製混雜,俗雅錯棼。歐陽人雖名世,《唐書》新靡加故,今之識


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者,購故而廢新。《五代史》成一家言是矣,然古史如畫筆,形神具 出,覽者踴躍,卓如見之,歐無是也。至於宋元二史,第據文移,一槩 抄謄,辭義兩蔑,其書各逾百帙,觀者無所啟發,展卷思睡矣。得其 書者,往往束之高閣。僕謂諸史,他猶可耳。晉宋元三史,必修之 書也。若宿學碩儒,才敵馬班,後漢而下,種種筆削,誠萬世弗刊之 典。或憚其難,止取三史,約而精之,亦弘文之嘉運,昭代之景勳。管 豹井天,私蓄素矣。幸公有問,輒吐布以聞伏,俟大君子教焉。5

The letter begins with an instrumental view of writing history: to extract moral lessons from historical anecdotes. But what follows is a long discussion about how history should be written that has little to do with the political and moral purposes of studying history. In other words, Li seems to have considered the discipline of history to consist of two components, one being the political and moral ideas, or yi 義, that could be extracted from historical narratives, and the other being the form of the narratives, which belong to the realm of prose, or wen.6 It was for this reason that Li strongly rejected the claim that “the most important task of doing wen is to [illuminate] the patterns; where’s the need for fixed rules?” (wen zhu li eryi yi, hebi fa ye 文主理而 已矣,何必法也).7 Unlike advocates of the mainstream Daoxue position that posited wen as a vehicle for conveying moral ideas, Li insists that wen has real value and a legitimate place in literati learning and is therefore not reducible to a nonessential device. In contrast to some Song guwen scholars who argued that since wen is the manifestation of the pattern of Heaven-and-Earth it must be all encompassing, Li in fact envisions a more limited role for wen in literati learning. In this case, acquiring good wen practices need not have direct bearing on yi. As we have seen time and again, in Li’s vision, to propose a universal program of learning is to ignore the real distinctions that exist between different branches of human knowledge. From the way Li discusses the writing of history in his letter, it is apparent that he perceived 5. Li Mengyang, “Lun shi da Wang Jiancha shu,” KTJ, 62.11b–12b. 6. Huang Zhuoyue, Ming zhonghouqi wenxue sixiang yanjiu, pp. 41–43. 7. Li Mengyang, “Da Zhouzi shu” 答周子書, KTJ, 62.13a–14b.

pro se 227 wen to be an independent entity warranting separate but equal attention alongside yi. For wen of history, Li Mengyang lists five authoritative histories from the Han period and before—namely, the Book of Documents, Spring and Autumn Annals, the Zuo Commentaries, Records of the Grand Historian, and the History of the [Former] Han—as archetypes. But what makes these five works unmatchable? We could answer this question by asking what Li believes went wrong with the standard histories from the History of the Later Han onward. According to Li, the later histories are either too parsimonious with words, like Fan Ye’s History of the Later Han, which resulted in a literary style both rough and obscure, or too lengthy, cumbersome, and messy, like the rest of the standard histories, especially those of the Jin, Song, and Yuan. In comparison, the five ancient histories are superior because their style of prose gives the reader a comprehensive view of historical events and yet does not bore him with meaningless detail and excessive narrative. But Li is not suggesting that a writer should adopt a middle ground between being too brief and too lengthy. In fact, length per se is not an issue, and he acknowledges that different texts require different treatment. While Li asserts in the letter that “the prose of historical writings should be concise and yet comprehensive,” he makes an important qualification elsewhere: Scholars in the past have opined that prose reached its peak with the chapter of Tangong [in the Book of Rites]. [They claimed that] where Sima Qian’s Grand History gave a detailed account of Maiden Li’s story [in the state of Jin], Tangong simply said, “the Duke was calm in the company of Maiden Li.” Because Tangong’s prose is concise and yet comprehensive, its accomplishment is unsurpassed. I believe if we discuss prose in such a manner, then there will be no prose left in the world. Prose is something that changes and transforms according to the events [that it depicts], and that juxtaposes the patterns to complete a text. It does not necessarily have to be concise, as too much concision will hurt the flesh [of the text]; it does not necessarily have to be comprehensive, as too much comprehensiveness will hurt the bones. The classics and the histories


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have different forms. Classics [should be written] primarily [using the principle of] concision while history [should be written] primarily [using the principle of] comprehensiveness. Take, for instance, a painter [who intends to draw] the form and appearance of a subject; he will concentrate on bringing out the meaning and making the image complete. A good example would be the phrase, “Without Maiden Li, he will have no appetite and be unable to sleep well.” [The form of the] classics is the most succinct kind of prose, with the word “at peace” (an 安) it refers to both [being able to] sleep and eating well. Since the opinion about prose reaching its peak with Tangong became popular, scholars who admire the ancients have become confused and pursued only concision in their writings, and [thus they write in a manner that is] washed out, that is awkward, and that is pared down. As a result, readers will know only about an event but will not know what caused it, and they will not be able to get close to its form and appearance. [Indeed,] I have not heard about any writer worthy of mention after the West­ ern Han. 昔人謂文至《檀弓》極,遷《史》序驪姬云云,《檀弓》第曰“公安驪 姬”,約而該,故其文極。如此論文,天下無文矣。夫文者,隨事變 化,錯理以成章者也。不必約,大約傷肉;不必該,大該傷骨。夫經史 體殊,經主約,史主該,譬之畫者,形容之也,貴意象具,且如“非驪 姬食不甘味,寢不安枕”之類是也。經者,文之要者也,曰“安”而食 寢備矣。自《檀弓》文極之論興,而天下好古之士惑。於是惟約之務, 為湔洗,為聱牙,為剋剔,使觀者知所事而不知所以事,無由彷彿其 形容。西京之後,作者無聞矣。8

The most important message that Li Mengyang wants to convey with a comparison of how the author of the Book of Rites and Sima Qian narrated the same historical incident is that the classics and histories serve different purposes, so the style of prose must therefore be different. The nature of the classics requires brevity, and that of the histories requires comprehensiveness. It is unclear how he would apply the logic that he lays out in this passage to the Book of Documents, the Spring and Autumn Annals, and, to a lesser extent, the Zuo Commentaries, which he cites in 8. Li Mengyang, “Lunxue xia,” KTJ, 66.1a–2a.

pro se 229 the aforementioned letter, for these are established classics and yet are referred to in the letter as archetypes of history texts. Despite this ambiguity, the underlying logic of his assertion seems to be that since the classics and the histories are written for communicating different kinds of knowledge, it would be wrong to apply the principles of analyzing the prose of the classics to that of the histories, as most of the “scholars who admire the ancients” would do. The superiority of writers from the Western Han and earlier lay in their better understanding of the diverse nature of wen, which is “something that changes and transforms according to the events [that it depicts,] and that juxtaposes the patterns to complete a text.” Unlike scholars since the Eastern Han period, the ancient writers did not attempt to pursue a universal method of doing wen, and so they were able to employ the appropriate literary form according to the specific task at hand. As is evident in his criticism of those who admired the ancient way of writing but claimed incorrectly that the art of prose writing had reached its peak with Tangong, Li is arguing for a more diverse and fluid approach to prose writing. Learning from the past is more about understanding how ancient writers applied different ways of writing for different objectives than about trying to deduce from the varied ancient texts a universal style that one can copy. Yet an appeal for diversity and fluidity does not imply an unconditioned acceptance of free expression and style, and it is telling that Li Mengyang limits his discussion of prose writing to the classics and histories. This reflects his conviction that prose should be used primarily for articulating one’s ideas and observations succinctly and clearly, not for showing one’s cleverness with words. Here, it would be useful to revisit the preface Li wrote for the reprinting of the Intrigues of the Warring States. Recall that Li had castigated the author or authors of the Intrigues for encouraging wily behavior through an overemphasis on writerly style. The consequence was the downfall of a great dynasty: Someone asked: “How did the period of Warring States come about?”


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Master Li said, “The disaster was caused by wen. The Former Kings understood that ritual must be established with wen and therefore they invented words, which started from what was near and communicated to what was afar. [As a result,] all affairs could be penetrated and all policies be accomplished, thus extending benefit to the world. This was the reason why [the Former Kings] paid great attention to words. When it came to the Spring and Autumn period, [the words of the Former Kings] had turned into something called ‘speeches.’ The more inferior speeches were flawed, nurturing [immoral] craftiness and wit, and as a result, human society degenerated into the situation of the Warring States.” “But could we, when reading the Intrigues, [learn] only its wen and not be misled?” Master Li said, “How would I know? How would I know? [If one could truly] return to the Way of the ancients and focus on being faithful and of substance, then it probably could work.” 或問:“周何以有戰國也?” 李子曰:“文禍之也。先王以禮之必文也,制辭焉,出乎邇,加乎遠,通 乎其事,達諸其政,廣之天下益矣,於是重辭焉。流之春秋,號曰 辭令,其末也弊,巧譎相射,遂為戰國。” 曰:“讀其書者,誠文焉可矣,不駸駸入之乎?” 李子曰:“嗟!予曷知哉?予曷知哉?返古之道者,忠焉,質焉,或 9 可矣。”

One way of reading this staged dialogue is to regard Li Mengyang as a mainstream Daoxue thinker who would consider wen written without a moral mission to be harmful. But apparently Li was not such a thinker. The issue that Li is grappling with, I would argue, is wen itself—whether a particular way of practicing wen is in line with the appropriate scope of wen. The fault of the Intrigues, as Li would have it, lies precisely in bringing to the fore­ front the darkest side of the Warring States period, when ambitious men used clever speeches and arguments to confuse their audiences, including the rulers. They had deviated from the Way of the Former Kings, who championed using words only for conveying 9. Li Mengyang, “Ke Zhanguo ce xu,” KTJ, 50.1b–3a.

pro se 231 political messages accurately and completely. The Intrigues is valuable insofar as it narrates the historical events of the Warring States period, but it also preserves the cunning arguments of ambitious men who excelled at playing with language. Their collective actions dealt a final blow to the once-prosperous Zhou dynasty. Therefore, unless a reader can appreciate the value of faithfulness (zhong 忠) and substance (zhi 質) in writing, he is likely to be led astray by reading the Intrigues, for the text’s language is seductively excessive and dangerous. Conversely, if one can embody the values of faithfulness and substance, then reading and learning of the wen of the Intrigues may be useful, for the book does have its merits. Such was Li Mengyang’s acute awareness of the power of wen, which in this particular instance refers solely to prose writing. An aspiring writer must be able to embrace the ancient Way of writing, which is defined by faithfulness and substance, before he can attain the highest standard of prose writing. Unfortunately, contemporary prose, as Li saw it, had already abandoned the ancient Way. This is the basis for his claim that “the wen of the ancients was based on [concrete] actions; the wen of our age is based on flowery [composition.] Flowery [composition] becomes superfluous because of words; [concrete] actions become glamorous because of the Way.”10 Li Mengyang tried to realize such a vision of prose writing in his own work. In his surviving prose, one rarely finds Li expressing his emotional or aesthetic inclinations to any significant degree. Nor have we come across a piece in which he could be accused of arguing for the sake of arguing. What we find is a recorder of facts who aims at providing objective descriptions of his subject, be it a person, a painting, a building, a historical site, or an event. We also find a thinker who, based on his personal experiences in life, uses different forms of writing to put forth his views on cosmology, politics, history, literature, and a variety of other topics. The self that Li exposes in these writings is one who, on the one hand, observes and records, and on the other, reflects and reasons. 10. Li Mengyang, “Liuzhen.wen liu” 六箴。文六, KTJ, 61.2b.


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Collectively the works reveal an author who is attentive to faithful depictions of events and objects and also to offering substantial reasoning. Some examples from Li’s work will demonstrate how he put his theories into practice.

The Author as Observer and Recorder, and the Author as Thinker In 1511, when Li Mengyang was serving as the educational intendant of Jiangxi, he put the restoration of the famous White Deer Grotto Academy at the top of his official agenda and even took on the task of compiling a gazetteer for the academy. As he explains in the gazetteer’s preface, he was motivated to compile it because the academy’s existing records were all disorganized and cumbersome: I therefore retrieved [the records] and edited them with my brush, trimming the bulky portions to make the meaning apparent, pulling out the framework to exemplify the significance, differentiating the explanations to gather the details, and gathering together what had been omitted to clear up the messiness, so that there are rules in displaying events and guidelines in establishing words. 於是取而筆削之,刪繁以章義,提綱以表巨,分注以收細,拾遺以定 亂,使比事有則,立言有例。11

In compiling the gazetteer, Li Mengyang was apparently trying to put his preaching into practice. As a particular form of historical account, the layout and content of a gazetteer should be succinct and yet comprehensive, in this case covering the institution’s history, natural landscape, built environment, financial 11. Li Mengyang, “Chongxiu Bailudong Shuyuan zhi xu” 重修白鹿洞書院 志序, in Li Mengyang et al., Bailudong shuyuan guzhi wuzhong, p. 13. The modern collected volume contains five different gazetteers of the academy from the Ming-Qing period. Li Mengyang’s gazetteer is the earliest extant version.

pro se 233 base, historical figures, and the literary writings associated with the academy, as well as the books and utensils kept there. But with the academy physically restored, why was it still important to write its history? One answer would be that such a history can equip its readers with moral lessons useful for dealing with contemporary situations. This is definitely implicit in Li’s view about the uses of history. However, the actual answer that Li provides is more sophisticated: After the gazetteer was completed, my students asked, “We have humbly learned from you that the gazetteer is a form of history, and history is written to record the past [in order] to provide a guide for future generations, putting words in place to depict historical events comprehensively. This is for [using the past] as a mirror and enforcing precepts. This is why, when the Way was unable to be put into practice, sages of the past would [retreat into] writing history to convey their aspirations. Therefore, Confucius completed the Spring and Autumn Annals after he retreated, and Master Zhu compiled the Outline and Details of the Comprehensive Mirror after he was chased away. This was all because they were saddened by the fact that the Way failed to be illuminated and practiced.” Master Li said, “If [writing history] was all about this, how would I dare [to compare my work with that of Confucius and Master Zhu]? How would I dare? I wrote this gazetteer simply to reveal what was concealed, to mend that which had broken, to make com­plete what was lost, and to organize what was in a mess. It is also to uphold that which is about to collapse, to stitch together that which is about to disperse, to straighten out that which is messy, to complete that which is incomplete, and to restore that which has fallen. But if the students, who have toured this place where the Way is apparent, read the texts depicting the rise and fall [of the institution], become clearly informed about the causes of [the academy’s] rise to its peak and descent to its nadir during its founding and con­t inu­ ing existence, and are fully provided with a subsistence allowance, given concise instructions for their curriculum, and have their daily expenses taken care of, and yet are still not devoted to concrete learning, or pursue official posts by exaggerating their aspirations and reputations, or yearn for abundant wealth by [claiming


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to] follow the footsteps of the worthies, then this academy is just another ‘Zhongnan shortcut.’12 Alas, if this is the case, then I will be greatly saddened, as it signals that the Way has been concealed and abandoned.” 志成,門人問曰:“竊聞之,志者,史之流也。夫史者,述往以詔來,比 辭以該事,所以示鑒垂戒者也。是以古之聖賢,道有不行,則托史以 寓志,故孔子退而《春秋》作;朱子遯而《綱目》修,皆傷道之不明不 行焉耳。”李子曰:“夫若是者,予豈敢哉?予豈敢哉?予為斯志,亦 直使其晦者晰,脫者補,遺者備,亂者統耳矣。亦又欲墜者可舉,散失 者可綴,紊者可理,缺者可完,圯者可復耳矣。或乃游昭道之地,覽興 亡之本,詳創繼顛末之因,養之者具,觀程有要,日用有需,而乃猶不 務實也,又或鮮情飾譽以干祿,附賢躅而罔厚利,則斯洞也,特終南 13 之捷徑焉矣。嗚呼!斯則予傷哉!斯則道之不明不行也哉!”

Here, we should take Li Mengyang’s refusal to compare himself with Confucius and Zhu Xi seriously. On one level, Li is humbly stating that this piece of work of his is inferior to the works of Confucius and Zhu Xi. On another, Li is in fact maintaining that while history should be written for illuminating the Way and promoting good politics and morality, writing in itself should be freed from such instrumental considerations. Put differently, although Li acknowledges that writing history, and in this particular case, the gazetteer of an academy, carries a mission of providing readers with moral-political lessons, the task of a writer of history is not to forcefully instill moral instructions in the minds of the readers. Rather, it is only through depicting history in the most genuine and objective way that the author can help the readers to clearly see the historical lessons to be learned. Indeed, reading through this gazetteer that Li Mengyang com­ piled, one gets the impression that he tried to record the various details of the academy as faithfully as he could. In Li’s other writings that belong to the category of history, such as biographies 12. The Zhongnan shortcut (Zhongnan jiejing 終南捷徑) is a term coined during the Tang dynasty for the tactic of choosing the life of a recluse in order to gain a reputation, in the hope of it will lead to being recommended for an official post. 13. Li Mengyang, “Chongxiu Bailudong Shuyuan zhi xu.”

pro se 235 and tomb inscriptions, he also regularly sought to assure his readers that he practiced what he preached. Although Li would pass moral judgments on the subjects of his writings, readers could still sense that he was trying his best to narrate as if he were a painter upholding the ideal of realism. Even when he was compiling the family genealogy discussed in chapter 6, in which he was required to write about his own ancestors and lineage members, Li insisted on his willingness to expose the shortcomings of his past and present kinsmen without hesitation.14 The most notable display of Li Mengyang’s commitment to literary realism can be found in his travel writing (youji 遊記). In the “Account of a Visit to Mount Lu” (“You Lushan ji” 遊廬山記), one of his most highly regarded essays, Li provides a vivid account of the various scenic spots he visited when he was touring the site of the White Deer Grotto Academy. Like a tour guide, he leads readers to appreciate scenes with his near-pictorial descriptions and clear directions. More important, the essay has two distinctive traits that attest to Li’s mindset as an observer and a recorder. First, he identifies with precision prominent historical figures associated with each spot, giving temporal depth to his narrative. Readers are told, for instance, that there are two stone inscriptions beside a pathway, one having been inscribed during the Southern Song with characters that were already unreadable, and the other inscribed by a Lü Shizhong 吕師中 (n.d.) in the Yuan. Readers also learn that the famous tea connoisseur Lu Yu 陸羽 (773–804) had tasted the water of the Gulian 谷簾 Lake, that the Northern Song poet Huang Tingjian had once resided in the Yuan­ tong 圓通 Monastery, and that Zhu Xi had once visited the Zhegui 折桂 Monastery.15 Second, citing his own intimate encounters with the surroundings, Li clarifies certain popular misconceptions about the 14. Of course, we cannot accept Li Mengyang’s claim of objectivity without reservation. The way that Li presents his genealogy gives readers the impression that his own line made the utmost sacrifice for the lineage, while members of the other lines were often less than noble and would sometimes bring harm to the lineage. 15. Li Mengyang, “You Lushan ji” 遊廬山記, KTJ, 48.1b–5a.


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actual site of White Deer Grotto, which was in a remote location not readily accessible to visitors: Both Li Bai and Zhu Xi had not reached the site, and thus no one knew the [exact location of] the grotto and people simply pointed to the Field of the Sleeping Deer beside the academy and took it to be the grotto. This is regrettable. Although Wang Yi’s travelogue did briefly refer [to the correct location], he got it only from some legends. Moreover, Wang’s account states that the Xunzhen Temple is at the back of the White Deer Grotto. This is wrong. 李白朱子皆莫之至,而人遂亦莫知其洞,所顧輒以書院旁鹿眠場者當 之,可恨也。斯雖畧見於王褘遊記,然渠亦得之傳聞。又以尋真觀列之 白鹿洞後,誤矣。16

In this essay Li Mengyang demonstrates his strategy of providing concrete evidence to substantiate his own observations. True to his self-prescribed role of faithful observer and recorder, Li makes his case by claiming that he is the only one who has personally visited a site that others only thought they had reached. Overall, the tone of this piece is intimate and yet detached. It is intimate because Li adopts the approach of close-up observation in portraying his surroundings, and detached because Li maintains his stance as observer and recorder, without describing personal sentiments or thoughts against the backdrop of the splendid landscape. I mention this because authors writing essays in the travelogue tradition often blend their intellectual, aesthetic, and emotional selves with their spatial settings. Take, for instance, the great Tang writer Liu Zongyuan 柳宗元 (773–819), who crafted landscape essays during his exile in Yongzhou 永州. Yu-shih Chen argues that “from his many visits to the scenic sights of Yungchou, Liu Tsung-yuan left a sizable body of essays and poems that are vividly descriptive not only of what he saw but also of the feelings and thoughts that informed his heart.”17

16. Li Mengyang, “You Lushan ji,” KTJ, 48.1b–5a. 17. Yu-Shih Chen, Images and Ideas in Chinese Classical Prose, p. 82.

pro se 237 This tradition of travel writing captured the imagination of late sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century writers in an unprecedented manner. As shown by Stephen McDowall in his study of the writings of Qian Qianyi 錢謙益 (1582–1664) about his journey to Yellow Mountain (Huangshan 黃山) and the intellectual context within which he wrote those pieces, late Ming connoisseurship of the landscape in literary writing and art revealed the deep concern felt by many in the Jiangnan literati community as their identity was threatened by merchants who were becoming more aggressive in imitating the lifestyle and tastes of the literati. McDowall argues that travel writing provided opportunities for the literati to redefine their selfhood and reassert their cultural supremacy. Readers of such works are told that only a true connoisseur, in contrast to a casual or “vulgar” tourist, can appreciate the historical and cultural richness of a scenic spot and the profound meaning that it has for a learned individual. In these writings, the authors are intimately entangled with the landscape and the cultural tradition associated with it. Emotions aroused by the aesthetics of the surroundings, anxiety over one’s mortality, and spiritual and religious enlightenment are all expressed through the authors’ unmediated encounters with the landscape.18 Similarly, the writings of Xu Xiake 徐霞客 (1587–1641), the famous travel writer from the southern metropolitan region whose works were collected in the form of diaries, exhibit his commitment to ex­ pressing an emotional self in response to the landscape he encountered during his trips across the empire.19 In contrast, although Li Mengyang shared with Liu Zongyuan and the late Ming writers a sharp observation of his surroundings and great literary skill in depicting them, he did not use the opportunity of writing about his trips to engrave his aesthetic and emotional self on the landscape the way late Ming Jiangnan writers did. This is quite a different strategy from the one we find in Li’s works of poetry about the same location. See, for instance, his “Autumn Evening on Mount Lu” (“Lushan qiuxi” 廬山秋夕): 18. McDowall, Qian Qianyi’s Reflections on Yellow Mountain. 19. Ward, Xu Xiake.


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The cold air in the gully arrives early And the gusts get stronger as the sun sets. When Mars descends [in the West] the season of the sweet olive is coming to an end, When frost comes, the lavender withers. Grasshoppers gather at my residence beside the gully, Grain and millet cover the dividing lines in the field. Worries pile up by themselves as I feel for the things [in the surroundings]. As I try to seek comfort, how could my emotions be held back? As years pass by[,] my body is getting old; Abandoned by the times, I am the laughingstock of the world. Feeling distressed, I can’t sleep at night; Sitting up, all thoughts lead to sorrow. The cliff slanting, with the moonlight flowing westward As day breaks on the mountain, the pine tree is still concealed, But the howling of the monkeys may now be heard As I go for a fungus-plucking trip. 山壑寒氣早,日夕風色緊。 火流桂將歇,霜至蕙草隕。 蟋蟀集澗館,禾黍被疆畛。 感物憂自攢,排遣情詎忍。 年徂身與衰,時棄世所哂。 躊躇夜不寐,起坐萬念軫。 崖傾月西流,嶂曙松猶隱。 嗷嗷露猿啼,行行采方菌。20

If Li the prose writer who wrote about Mount Lu was an objective observer and recorder, then Li the poet was a sentimental person whose intense feelings about his surroundings and his destiny were easily aroused by the scenery and objects that he encountered. It is as if the poet’s self is inscribed on the landscape rather than detached from it.

20. KTJ, 13.8b. We will discuss Li Mengyang’s poetics in greater detail in the next chapter.

pro se 239 Yet alongside the historically minded Li Mengyang, who was primarily concerned with getting the facts right in writing his travelogues, there was a philosophically minded Li Mengyang who wrote argumentative prose to clarify his stance on a variety of political, cultural, and intellectual topics. In contrast with Li Mengyang the observer and recorder, who maintained a distance from the subjects that he depicted, Li Mengyang the thinker sought to impose his intellectual self on the topics of discussion. We have already seen how Li used letters and prefaces to engage with his readers. Next we will consider a category of argumentative treatises that he placed in the “miscellaneous writings” (zawen 雜文) section of his literary collection: the dialogues (dui 對). The three dialogues contained in Li Mengyang’s literary collection may remind readers of the great pre-Qin philosophical works, especially the Zhuangzi. In such works, two characters, either fictive or real, are often placed in a question-and-answer session that the author uses to communicate philosophical ideas. In “A Dialogue about Horses” (“Madui” 馬對), Li sets up a dialogue between a certain Master Qin (Qinzi 秦子) and a Master Yuzhi (Yuzhizi 郁郅子).21 It begins with a somewhat lengthy narrative on how the two men became neighbors in Beijing after the former injured his leg by falling off a horse and the latter came down with a cold, which is not directly related to the main topic of discussion. But what follows is a strange conversation between the men about Master Qin’s injury. The dialogue starts with Master Qin saying that he is a southerner who knows very little about horses, so whenever he needs to travel, he has to rely on other people’s horses. The accident occurred because he was not familiar with the quality

21. “Master Yuzhi” was probably a reference to the author himself. In another essay, Li Mengyang set up a dialogue between Kang Hai and Duan Jiong 段炅 (jinshi 1505). The topic of discussion was the illness of Master Yuzhi, and the tone of the essay suggests that the author was using Master Yuzhi to refer to himself. See Li Mengyang, “Yuzhizi jie” 郁郅子解, KTJ, 61.11a–12b. Moreover, Yuzhi is the older name for Li’s hometown, Qingyang, in what is today Gansu.


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and temperament of the horse that he was riding. This sparks a series of questions from Master Yuzhi: Master Yuzhi exclaimed, “How strange are your words! Now, could you become familiar with all the horses in the world?” [Master Qin] answered, “No.” “Could you thoroughly understand the pros and cons of every horse in the world before using other people’s horses?” “No.” “If you can’t do either, could you do without horses for the rest of your life?” “This can’t be done either.” “Which part of the body was injured after falling from this horse?” “My feet were injured.” “How lucky! If you had injured your internal organs and your veins, twisted your neck, bumped your head, poked your eyes, or broken your teeth, would you still be able to rise immediately after the fall? How dangerous! How dangerous!” Master Qin was frightened and turned pale after hearing these words. With a soft voice, he asked, “What should I do then? Could you please enlighten me?” 郁郅子曰:“異哉言也。且子能盡習天下之馬乎?” 曰:“不能。” “能盡解其良惡而後假乎?” 曰:“不能。” 曰:“二者既不能矣,子能終身棄馬乎?” 曰:“又不能。” 曰:“子墮馬何傷?” 曰:“傷足。” 曰:“幸若是。鄉使傷藏絡、捩脰、礚腦、抉眥、毀齒,子尚能即起 邪?殆哉殆哉!” 秦子聞之,讋慴無人色。呫呫語曰:“奈何?先生幸以教之!”22

The dialogue proceeds with Master Yuzhi giving a long speech about horse physiognomy. He cites the famous story of Bole 伯樂, the legendary master judge of horses, to illustrate the steps entailed 22. Li Mengyang, “Madui” 馬對, KTJ, 61.9a–11a.

pro se 241 in acquiring prefect knowledge about horses. The making and discovery of a horse of the topmost tier (qianlima 千里馬) relies on three factors: Heaven, which gives birth to all things; Earth, which nurtures all things; and the existence of a master of horse physiognomy. It is the third factor that determines whether a topquality horse will have the opportunity to put its talent to use or simply live and die like an ordinary horse. Readers familiar with the story of Bole will immediately recognize that Li Mengyang was alluding to a similar piece written by Han Yu.23 In fact, some comments, such as “top-quality horses come along often, while [masters of horse physiognomy] like Bole appear only once in a long while” (qianlima chang you er Bole buchang you 千里馬常有,而伯樂不常有), are borrowed directly from Han’s essay. Both Han and Li used the story of Bole to under­ score the need for an enlightened ruler to be able to appreciate talented men and rescue them from obscurity. But Li goes a step further by arguing that the appreciation and cultivation of such talents alone is not enough; the ruler must put those with talent in positions that enable them to fully realize their potential. Another important difference between Han Yu’s monumental essay and Li Mengyang’s dialogue is in the style of the narratives. From start to finish, Han adopts a third-person perspective in putting forth his argument. In contrast, Li’s dialogue not only records a conversation but also provides the settings in which the conversation takes place. Toward the end, after the conversation has ended, he shifts the narrative to a third-person perspective, recounting Master Qin’s failure to earn an official post in which to put his talent to use. When Master Qin finally decides to take a teaching position in a small county in Hunan, he comes to bid Master Yuzhi farewell. The narrative shifts again to dialogue mode, with Master Yuzhi comparing Master Qin’s fate to that of the qianlima who live out their lives in obscurity, like normal horses. Compared with Han Yu’s straightforward narrative, Li infuses the reasoning with descriptions of a personal encounter and presents the narrator as a man of wisdom, like those in the 23. Han Yu, “Zashuo” 雜說, in Han Changli wenji jiaozhu, 1.20.


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Zhuangzi. Readers could certainly infer that Li felt for Master Qin in his misfortune, for Li was in a similar situation, having had his talent overlooked by the emperor. Indeed, Li could easily grow emotional over his own misfortune. But the narrative strategy he employs is one that tries to turn personal grievance into a rational discussion; it is as if the author, taking up the role of Master Yuzhi, is an engaging thinker and teacher using his own experience to teach his readers about life. Examples of Li Mengyang’s prose in which he reveals emotion include those devoted to his family members and close friends. Even these pieces, however, are written in a detached tone. For instance, in the tomb inscription written for his late wife, Li provides a moving account of how he misses her: With tears in his eyes, Master Li told someone, “I knew my wife only after she died.” The person asked, “Why do you make such a remark?” Master Li said, “In the past when I immersed myself in learning, trying for an official career, I did not have to be concerned with household affairs. Nowadays if I don’t ask, the affairs will not be taken care of. [In the past] when we entertained guests, they would be fully satisfied. Nowadays the guests do not come. Even if they come, they will not be satisfied. In the past I would not see household items lying around, but now they are everywhere, not properly kept and easily broken. In the past, vinegar, paste, salt, and fermented beans were never lacking; nowadays the supply always runs out. [In the past,] the chickens, ducks, goats, and pigs were fed in a timely manner; now they are not fed on time and as a result [they] are getting thinner by the day. When my wife was around, everyone in the family would behave properly, and the door would not be locked even when I went out in the evening. Nowadays, the door is always locked and you can hear playful laughter from within. In the past I never had the experience of wearing dirty clothes, now if I don’t order [the servants] to clean the clothes, they will be left unclean. [In the past] my wife would personally attend to tailoring work, and although it was not her intention to be a seamstress, the pieces that she produced were all

pro se 243 masterpieces. Now my clothes are all tailored by others and the quality is ordinary. In the past whenever I felt angry about events in history and the present day and found it hard to tell my friends, I would tell my wife. Now when I enter the room, I have no one to speak with. This is why I said, ‘I knew my wife only after she died.’” 李子哭語人曰:“妻亡而予然後知吾妻也。 人曰:“何也?” 李子曰:“往予學若官,不問家事,今事不問不舉矣。留賓酒食,稱 賓至。今不至矣。即至,弗稱矣。往予不見器處用之具,今器棄 擲,弗收矣,然又善碎損。往醯醬鹽弗乏也,今不繼舊矣。雞鴨 羊豕時食,今食弗時,瘦矣。妻在,內無嘻嘻,門予出即夜弗扃 也。門今扃,內嘻嘻矣。予往不識衣垢,今不命之澣,不澣矣。縫 剪描刺,妻不假手,不襲巧,咸足師。今無足師者矣,然又假 手人。往予有古今之愾,難友言而言之妻,今入而無與言者。故 曰:妻亡而予然後知吾妻也。”24

This touching confession vividly depicts Li Mengyang’s sense of loss, yet by adopting a third-person (Master Li) perspective and framing the narrative as a dialogue, it seems as if the author is trying to explain rather than to express his own sorrow. Through this narrative approach, the fond and intimate memory of his wife is diluted and the intense emotion of the author rationalized. The samples of prose writing examined in this chapter show that, for Li Mengyang, prose could serve as a device for recording what the author observes, or for philosophizing about what the author experiences and ponders. Rarely distinct in Li’s prose is an aesthetic and emotional self, a self that makes sorrow or joy explicit through his encounter with the external world. The next chapter will discuss Li’s explanation for why poetry was more suited for that role, and how he tried to substantiate his theory with his own poetic compositions.

24. Li Mengyang, “Feng Yiren wangqi Zuoshi muzhiming” 封宜人亡妻左 氏墓志銘, KTJ, 45.6b–9b.

eight Poetry


n a piece dedicated to his friend the Huizhou merchant-poet She Yu 佘育 (n.d.), who took the sobriquet Recluse of Hidden Dragon Mountain, Li Mengyang gives a vivid account of how She engaged in commerce with dignity and refused to submit to the powerful. Li also recounts how She took on the role of a literatus, stressing his commitment to learning the art of literature: When the Recluse was doing business in Song and Liang [near present-day Shangqiu 商丘 and Kaifeng 開封 in Henan], he was still learning to write poetry in the Song style. During a visit to Liang, Master Li told the Recluse that “no [good] poetry [was produced during] the Song period.” The Recluse then abandoned Song poetry and started learning from the Tang. He once asked what was lacking in the Tang. [Master Li] said, “No [good] rhapsody [was produced during] the Tang period!” Then [the Recluse] asked about the Han. [Master Li] said, “No [good] sao-style verse [was produced during] the Han period.” The Recluse, on that note, again tried to learn rhapsody and sao-style verse from before the Tang and Han periods. 山人商宋、梁時,猶學宋人詩。會李子客梁,謂之曰:“宋無詩。”山人 於是遂棄宋而學唐。已問唐所無,曰:“唐無賦哉!”問漢,曰:“無騷 哉!”山人於是則又究心賦、騷於唐漢之上。1

1. Li Mengyang, “Qianqiu Shanren ji” 潛虬山人記, KTJ, 48.9b–11b.

p oe t ry 245 Here again we find Li using the dialogue form to portray him­ self as a man of wisdom who is giving advice to an enthusiastic student. The genres discussed here are poetry and other forms of rhythmic writing, and they best illustrate Li’s archaist vision. Li Mengyang’s extant works do not allow us to systematically investigate his theory of rhapsody and sao-style verse, although thirtyfive rhapsodies are extant.2 The discussion in this chapter will focus on poetry (shi). Compared with his other intellectual endeavors, Li Mengyang’s theory of poetry has been well studied, and it is not necessary to repeat the findings of previous scholarship here. Instead we will examine Li’s theory and practice of poetry with reference to his overall intellectual scheme as laid out in the previous chapters, including his views on cosmology, human nature and existence, politics, history, ritual, and prose writing. Two key questions will guide us. First, if Song poetry was not worth mentioning, then where was a student to look for models and why were those models more worthy of emulation? And second, how did Li put his theories of poetry into practice in his own compositions?

The Defects of Song Poetry and the Remedies If, as Li argues, no good poetry was produced during the Song, an aspiring poet had to go further back in time to search for models worth studying. But what were poets to learn from those past models? To answer this question, we turn to Li’s most important contribution to the study of poetry, which also happens to be the most controversial. Li’s claim was so powerful and yet so difficult to comprehend that even his close associate He Jingming, another key figure in initiating the archaist movement, saw fit to disassociate himself from it. He’s decision triggered forceful rebuttals from Li, and the product of their debate is a collection of letters in which each man defends his own stance. While their exchange 2. For a study of Li Mengyang’s theory and works of rhapsody, see Zhu Yijing, “Li Mengyang cifu yanjiu.”


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has been substantially studied, it will be helpful to review the main points of their argument here.3 Li and He’s exchange took place around 1515.4 The first letter from Li Mengyang is now lost, but its apparently supercilious attitude was what prompted He Jingming to send a reply declaring his independence in the field of poetry. In response, Li wrote two more letters to reinforce his argument. These three extant letters and the debate they record became a landmark in Ming literary history.5 Liao Kebin has nicely summarized how scholars of later generations understood the debate. Some, such as Qian Qianyi, thought the controversy arose because each man was protecting his own fame, and that there was actually nothing substantial being debated. Others perceived the disagreement as being about preferences for different poetic styles. Li Meng­yang was said to favor poetry that is condensed, reserved, and elegant, while He Jingming was said to favor poetry that is lucid, bright, and clear. But a more influential reading of the debate holds that Li stressed the importance of adhering strictly to the ancient styles while He emphasized the inevitability of transfor­mation.6 This view has dictated the interpretation of the archaist vision of the Former Seven Masters in general, and Li Mengyang in particular, in standard textbooks of Chinese literature. It is a view so influential and yet distorted that more committed scholars, such as Guo Shaoyu and others who followed, have spent decades trying to debunk it, with only partial success.7 To be fair, some of Li Mengyang’s own defense against his critics, if taken out of context, certainly runs the danger of being 3. Some exemplary studies are: Ma, “Lue tan Ming Qizi de wenxue si­ xiang yu Li He de lunzheng”; Yokota, “Mindai bungakuron no Tenkai,” Part 1; Jian, “Li-He shilun yanjiu”; Liao, Fugupai yu Mingdai wenxue sichao; Bryant, The Great Creation, pp. 388–427. 4. For the dating of these letters, see Bryant, The Great Creation, p. 388n1. 5. The field is indebted to Daniel Bryant for meticulously translating the three letters into English in full. See Bryant, The Great Creation, pp. 401–15. 6. Liao, Fugupai yu Mingdai wenxue sichao, vol. 1, pp. 218–19. 7. Guo Shaoyu, Zhongguo wenxue piping shi, pp. 297–304.

p oe t ry 247 construed as advocating mindless imitation of ancient styles. For instance: Those who belittled me would certainly say, “How can this Li be considered an excellent writer? He can only preserve antiquity and follow it foot by foot and inch by inch. . . .” The halls built by such ancient artisans as Chui and Ban were not entirely similar, nor were their doors the same. But when it came to their making square corners and rounded curves, they could not do without compasses and squares. What was this? Compass and square are fixed rules. My “feet and inches” are surely a matter of fixed rules as well. 短僕者必曰:“李某豈善文者,但能守古而尺尺寸寸之耳……”古之 工,如倕、如班,堂非不殊,戶非不同也,至其爲方也,圓也,弗能舍規 矩。何也?規矩者,法也。仆之尺尺而寸寸之者,固法也。8

The analogy between poetry and the work of artisans is informative. Even if great masters like Chui and Ban differ in their architectural styles, there exist some fixed rules that they must abide by. Li Mengyang perceived his main mission as delineating the fixed rules of poetry, embodied by the great poets of the past but now lost, that all writers across time and space must follow “foot by foot and inch by inch.” For this reason, he directed harsh criticism at He Jingming, who believed that learning from the past meant only learning the ideas of the great poets in history, rather than adhering to their rules of composition. As Daniel Bryant puts it very clearly, He’s position was that “by careful study of excellent poems of the past, one learns how to express one’s own emotions and visions, perhaps in forms quite unlike those of antiquity.” In comparison, Li viewed learning from the past as learning the forms: “For Li, the point in studying the masters of antiquity and writing in their forms lies in the consonance between

8. Li Mengyang, “Bo Heshi lunwen shu” 駁何氏論文書, KTJ, 62.6b–10a. Translation taken from Bryant, The Great Creation, p. 409, with names changed to pinyin orthography.


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the forms and the fundamental principles underlying human experience.”9 Li’s declaration, if read casually and in isolation, could certainly give the impression that he was obstinately opposed to creative innovation and urged aspiring poets merely to imitate the established poetic forms of the ancients. The key to discerning and appreciating Li’s view lies in understanding what he meant by the set of “fixed rules” (fa 法). And to understand that, we need to go back to the question of why he thought Song poetry was second rate. Here, it is useful to revisit the passage quoted at the beginning of chapter 7. Li Mengyang’s main complaint against Song poetry was that the poets of that period tended to ignore the essential characteristics of poetry and insist that it had to discuss universal patterns and principles, topics best approached through prose. But what exactly are poetry’s essential characteristics? The key word in the passage quoted earlier is diao 調, which Li Mengyang thought was lacking in Song poetry. Some scholars have argued that diao refers to a kind of poetic perfection achieved when all phonetic and linguistic attributes are skillfully combined in the production of a poem.10 But among all the poetic attributes, there is still something more fundamental, which Li Mengyang identifies in the preface to a collection of poetry by Lin Jun 林俊 (1452–1527): Master Li sighed while reading the poetry of Master Lin from Putian, “Alas! Now I know that poetry [could be read for] observing [the true character] of a person.” Master Chen from Shifeng said, “But can’t an evil person fake uprightness by writing? Can’t a weak person fake determination by writing? Can’t an anxious person fake calmness by writing? Can’t a grumpy person fake evenness by writing? How can one observe [the character of] another person by reading his poetry?” Master Li said, “What you have just referred to are words, and not what I meant by poetry. Poetry is a mirror for [showing the true character of] a person. When one’s intent is

9. Bryant, The Great Creation, p. 417. 10. Chen Guoqiu, Mingdai fugupai Tangshilun yanjiu, p. 26.

p oe t ry 249 activated, he would definitely put it into words. [One’s intent] will last when put into words, and it will be [accompanied] by sound [through singing] when it lasts, and melody [will be produced to structure] the sound. If the melody is harmonized and resonance is created, and when sound lasts and abides by the rules, one’s words will correspond to one’s intent. [If these words] are organized into a text, poetry is then produced. Therefore, I said, ‘What I meant by poetry is not merely words.’ As such, one who speaks in an upright manner doesn’t necessarily show that he is upright by heart. One who speaks of determination doesn’t necessarily show that his has demonstrated determination [through the expression of] his vital energy. One who speaks in an even manner doesn’t necessarily show that the tune [in which he sings] is even. One who speaks in a calm manner doesn’t necessarily show that his thoughts are calm. One who speaks in a concealed manner doesn’t necessarily show that he could conceal his emotions. If we could observe a person’s heart by investigating his emotion, the tunes that he sings with, and his thoughts and vital energy, there will be no one left unexplored. Therefore we say that poetry is a mirror for [showing the true character of] a person.” 李子讀莆林公之詩,喟然而嘆曰:“嗟乎!予於是知詩之觀人也。”石 峯陳子曰:“夫邪也不端言乎?弱不健言乎?躁不冲言乎?怨不平言 乎?顯不隱言乎?人烏乎觀也?”李子曰:“是之謂,言也,而非所謂詩 也。夫詩者人之鑒者也。夫人動之志,必著之言,言斯永,永斯聲,聲 斯律。律和而應,聲永而節,言弗暌志,發之以章而後詩生焉。故詩者 非徒言者也。是故端言者未必端心,健言者未必健氣,平言者未必平 調,冲言者未心冲思,隱言者未必隱情。諦情探調,研思察氣,以是觀 心,無庾人矣。故曰:詩者人之鑒也。”11

Composing poetry is not only about putting one’s intent into words. More fundamentally, it is the art of turning those words into lyrics with a corresponding melody. Song poetry failed precisely because it abandoned the musical aspect of poetry. For Li, it is only with chanting that poetry gains the power to stimulate the emotions of the poet and his audience. As the majority of Song poetry, even that composed by distinguished poets such as Huang 11. Li Mengyang, “Lingong shixu” 林公詩序, KTJ, 51.3b–5a.


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Tingjian and Chen Shidao, was written in such a way that it could not be chanted, it lost the most valuable aspect of the genre. Following this line of argument, the remedy for such poorly written poetry is to restore the pre-Song practice of producing poetry as a musical endeavor rather than as only written text. If chanting is central to poetry, it naturally follows that the most important task in formulating a theory of poetry is to differentiate good melodies from bad ones. Jian Jinsong has also shown that although the set of fixed rules for poetry (fa) in Li’s theory could refer to general rules guiding the overall structure of poetry, in fact it refers more specifically to the rules for tunes (yindu 音度). In other words, when Li stresses the importance of following closely the fixed rules of poetry, he is referring to the sonic features more than the written structure.12 Even if this is the case, one could also argue that a good poet should be able to break away from fixed phonetic rules and freely explore the tonal aspects of poetry. But this is a position that Li would not accept, for in his understanding of fa, the correct musical expression comes from nature and is not subject to human manipulation. In contrast to his views on government (see part 3), for Li, what is “correct” in poetics is what is “natural.”13 This view is shown most clearly in a passage where he discusses the pronunciation of a number of characters. In the case of characters such as dong 東 versus dong 冬, or qing 青 versus qing 清, Li holds that the rules of fanqie 反切 mandate that the characters in these pairs should be pronounced differently.14 Apparently in Li’s time, 12. Jian, Mingdai wenxue piping yanjiu, pp. 229–32. Jian, “Li-He shilun yanjiu,” pp. 152–66. 13. Yamaguchi Hisakazu has argued that the ideas of the Ming literary archaists—including Li Mengyang—about establishing poetic norms based on nature are very similar to the way the Cheng-Zhu school established ethical and social norms. See Yamaguchi, “Mindai fukukoha setsu no shisō igi.” While I agree that Li’s idea of poetry was indeed informed by his conception of nature, his concept of nature and norms is very different from that of the Cheng-Zhu masters. 14. Fanqie is a sound gloss system that takes the consonant of the first character and the vowels of the second character to denote the pronunciation of a given character. For instance, we could use qi zhu fan 七住反 to denote the pronunciation of qu 取.

p oe t ry 251 as in the standard Mandarin of today, they were pronounced the same way. On the other hand, with pairs like yu 虞 versus mo 模 and ma 痲 versus zhe 遮, Li argues that the characters should have the same pronunciation. The variations, Li concludes, were caused by human error, but some people had instead blamed the inconsistency of phonetic rules. That is absurd, Li claims, for the rules are determined by nature: The pronunciation [of a character] is naturally completed when the main vowels and the subordinate ones mutually produce one another and are interchanged by the five tones. The wise could not add anything to it and the foolish could not subtract anything from it. . . . Based on the opinions of past scholars, contemporary scholars claim that the four tones were invented by Shen Yue [沈約 (441–513)], and without thorough investigation, they start to establish precepts for teaching students. What they are unaware of is the fact that such tonal rules have a long history, and Shen Yue simply standardized the rules through comparison. 韻母子相生,五音互之,自然而成聲。智不能加,愚不能損……今人 因前人云:四聲出於沈氏,遂不復根究便立訓教人,不知玆韻其來已 遠,沈特校定之耳。15

The reference to Shen Yue underscores an important claim by Li Mengyang, that although Shen had often been credited with inventing the correct tonal rules, he had simply standardized the rules by identifying and fixing the errors against correct tonal expression. By pointing out that such correct expressions have a long history, Li undermined the notion that the rule was invented by a single great historical figure, suggesting instead that it was a natural phenomenon discovered by man. The case is as true for fa as for the fixed rules of poetic creation. When writing poetry, a poet must abide by fa because it is not something invented but was discovered and extracted from the natural patterns of tonal expression. How could Li Mengyang be certain that the fa is correct? This is the same as asking how he could assert that abiding by fa is 15. Li Mengyang, “Lunxue shang,” KTJ, 66.3a.


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natural while opposing it is unnatural. Li provides no detailed or systematic technical explanation; instead he invokes the idea of resonance to justify his position. It seems that Li believed one could sense whether a poet’s composition was in compliance with fa through the reader’s and the audience’s emotional response to and resonance with the work when chanted. In the end, what really matters for Li is whether the emotional self is conveyed genuinely. A good poet, he said, must ensure that his verses can be sung in such a manner that “the one who chants it can express his feelings in a free-flowing manner and the listeners will be touched.” But wherein lies the moving power of poetic tunes? In his preface to Lin Jun’s collection of poetry, Li Mengyang indicates that the human heart is central to poetic creation. The following passage provides further explanation: Emotions are stirred by what one encounters. . . . Therefore what one encounters are things, and things are where emotions [reside]. Emotions will touch the heart when being stirred, and when the heart is touched, [the things] will interact with one’s spiritual consciousness. Interaction [is achieved] when the sound is produced according to where [emotions] reside. . . . Therefore, there is nothing under Heaven that could sprout without roots, and there is no gentleman who will express his emotions without a cause. Sorrow and happiness are hidden within and later respond to contacts with the external. Therefore, [feelings about] what one encounters are subject to one’s emotions, and poetry is produced through [writing about] what one encounters. 情者,動乎遇者也……故遇者物也,物者情也。情動則會心,會則契 神,契者音所謂隨寓而發者也……故天下無不根之萌,君子無不根之 情。憂樂潛之中而後感觸應之外,故遇者因乎情,詩者形乎遇。16

Things (including external objects and events) act as stimuli, arousing the emotions that lie within the human heart. Once aroused, a gentleman will naturally wish to express his emotions through singing, and poetry enables him to sing, with the meanings 16. Li Mengyang, “Meiyue xiansheng shixu” 梅月先生詩序, KTJ, 51.6a–7a.

p oe t ry 253 supplied by the text. In the process, the psychological (emotional) and the formal (melodic and textual) aspects of poetry correspond naturally and are fused into a coherent whole. What Song poetry lacks is genuine emotion and corresponding melody. As a result, it is dry and dull. In a preface to a collected volume of poetry written during a Chongyang 重陽 festival banquet hosted by a military officer, Li Meng­yang elaborates on the correlation between poetry and emotion: [Confucius said,] “Poetry could be used for observing.” How true this is! [All men] under Heaven think differently but their destina­ tion is the same. As such, men could be different, but their hearts will meet; words could be different, but [in expressing] emotions they are the same. Therefore, the heart is that which creates happiness, while emotion is that which creates words. Therefore, people are differentiated by civil or military careers, by high or low status, by the bluntness or sharpness of the [events that they encounter] at some point in time, by the smoothness or blockage of their fortunes. Coming before or after, being older or younger, this is the hierarchy of human [society]. One’s opportunity to serve or not to serve, and one’s prominence or obscurity, is determined by Heaven. Therefore when they [put their emotions into] words, they differ in either being straightforward or twisting, and in being sorrowful or happy. When the circumstance is the same but the paths chosen are different, [this is the result of] having the same encounter but each responding in a different way. But when speaking of emotions, there is no difference. Why? Because [emotions] are all produced by the heart. This is the basis [on which Confucius] made the claim that “poetry could be used for observing.” 詩可以觀,豈不信哉!夫天下百慮而一致,故人不必同,同于心;言 不必同,同于情。故心者所為懽者也,情者所為言者也。是故科有文 武,位有崇卑,時有鈍利,運有通塞。後先長少,人之序也;行藏顯 晦,天之畀也。是故其為言也,直宛區,憂樂殊。同境而異途,均感而 各應之矣。至其情則無不同也。何也?出諸心者一也,故曰:“詩可 以觀。”17 17. Li Mengyang, “Xu jiuriyan ji” 敍九日宴集, KTJ, 59.12b–13a.


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In this preface Li Mengyang tries to rationalize the publication of a collected volume of poetry whose authors were of diverse backgrounds and status. He invokes the concepts of sameness (tong 同) and oneness (yi) to underscore the fact that the genre of poetry has certain qualities to which all men can relate, regardless of their background, status, and fortune. The “sameness” and “oneness” of poetry lie in the fact that good poetry is always the product of genuine expressions of human emotion (qing), which is in turn generated by movements of the heart (xin 心).18 But when Li invokes such concepts he does not assume, like his Song predecessors, that the human world is ontologically united. Rather, as we established in chapters 3 and 4, Li held the view that the natural and the human worlds are originally and essentially diverse, and that harmony and order can be brought about only by relying on the power of political authorities. On a personal level, poetry does provide an arena in which individuals may connect and resonate emotionally with one another. However, this does not imply that the ultimate objective of an enlightened individual is to discover, through individualistic expression, the ontological source of unity through poetry. Such was the position of Su Shi, as expounded in chapter 2. On the contrary, as Liao Kebin has rightly pointed out, Li believed that although the seeds of emotion are present in the heart of every man, because their expression will vary depending on the individual’s experience, the poetry produced must therefore be different.19 The concepts of sameness and oneness in Li’s theory of poetry therefore denote a shared emotional platform based on qing, rather than an ideal state of unity in the Song sense. In his recent study of the poetry of eighteenth-century Japan, Peter Flueckiger points out that poetry occupied a prominent place in the intellectual discourse on the Japanese “ancient learning” (kogaku 古學) movement. The movement took off at a time when the value system and the political and social order presided 18. Hou Yawen, Li Mengyang de shixue yu he tong wenhua sixiang, pp. 90– 100. 19. Liao, Fugupai yu Mingdai wenxue sichao, vol. 1, p. 184.

p oe t ry 255 over by the samurai class were threatened by rapid urbanization and commercialization. New ways of defining a harmonious society were needed, and the kogaku advocates believed that the answers could be found in ancient China or Japan, where ideal societies with perfect order once existed. For Ogyū Sorai (1666– 1728), in particular, the ancient Way was essentially political and cultural, rather than metaphysical as Zhu Xi professed. Therefore, he paid special attention to delineating the nature of human emotion and how poetry could serve as a device for both expressing emotion and mitigating it to suit social norms. Flueckiger convincingly argues that “Sorai conceives of unity as a unity in diversity, with the need to recognize the existence of diverse capacities (whether in the sages’ creations, or in individual people) being specifically related to the need to uphold the practical orientation of the Way.”20 Sorai was deeply inspired by Ming archaist movements, especially the poetics of Li Panlong and Wang Shizhen, who in turn were influenced by Li Mengyang, so we detect many similarities between Sorai’s and Li Mengyang’s ideas. As it did for Sorai, the discourse on qing provided Li with a common denominator for justifying the existence of diversity without having to accept idiosyncrasy. On a formal level, Li’s theory also sought to account for diversity in poetic forms. To illustrate this, one could draw on his discussion about his own experiences in learning poetry:21 Master Li recounted, “There was a Wang Shuwu22 at the county of Cao who said that poetry is the natural sound of Heaven and Earth. Today, the drumbeats and chanting along the streets and alleys, the laments when one is exhausted from work and the chanting when one is healthy, and [the] occasions when one sings and others follow, these are all real, and are what are meant by “airs.” Confucius 20. Flueckiger, Imagining Harmony, p. 112. 21. The two passages that follow are from Li Mengyang, “Shiji zixu” 詩集 自序, KTJ, preface, 1a–6b. 22. Wang Shuwu, whose formal name was Chongwen 崇文, was Li Mengyang’s colleague at the Ministry of Revenue, and they were from the same jinshi cohort.


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said, ‘When proper ritual is lost, we could look for it in the countryside.’ Nowadays real poetry exists among the commoners. Yet the literati and scholars often engage in writing rhymed words and [absurdly] call it poetry.” 李子曰:“曹縣蓋有王叔武云。其言曰:夫詩者,天地自然之音也。今 途咢而巷謳,勞呻而康吟,一唱而群和者,其真也,斯之謂風也。孔 子曰: ‘禮失而求之野’ ,今真詩乃在民間,而文人學子顧往往為韻 言,謂之詩.”

In this dialogue, Wang Shuwu seems to invoke a populist view and castigates the learned for taking away the real essence of poetry. Instead of reproducing the “natural sound” of Heaven and Earth in real poetry, the learned produced rhymed words. Li Mengyang did not agree with Wang’s assessment initially, and he pointed to the folk songs that he heard in northern China and complained that they were filled with “barbaric” tunes of the Jin and Yuan dynasties. In response, Wang insisted that even “barbaric” tunes are better than the works of the literati and scholars: Master Wang said, “What is real is the generator of sound and the origin of emotions. In ancient times, every country differed in its ‘airs,’ and the tunes were produced based on these customs. Since now the custom has witnessed the age of barbarians, how could the songs not be barbaric? Therefore what I mean by real is a reference to the generator of sound and the origin of emotions, rather than a distinction between elegance and coarseness. Moreover, if you listen carefully, do not the tunes being composed make the listeners sing along, and move them suddenly? We do not know where the tunes come from, yet regardless of whether the pieces are long or short, fast or slow, none is inharmonious. Who could have done this?” Upon hearing this, Master Li, gasping with enthusiasm, said, “How great! [The world] has not heard [such tunes] since the Han dynasty.” Master Wang said, “Poetry has six principles, the most important of which are ‘comparison’ and ‘stimulus.’ [The poetry by] literati and scholars is lacking in the principles of ‘comparison’ and ‘stimulus’ and is mostly straightforward. Why is that so? The

p oe t ry 257 reason lies in the fact that their poetry lacks emotion and yet they focus mostly on crafting words. Although an intelligent man on the street may be uncultivated, his singing, drumming, laments, and chanting, and the way he sings while walking and sitting, the way he moans while eating and sleeping, and the way he sings and others follow, none of these is without [the principles] of comparison and stimulus, and all of these are outward expressions of his emotions. From this we could observe the meaning [of poetry.] This is what I meant by saying that poetry is the natural sound of Heaven and Earth.” Master Li said, “Although this is the case, what you have just talked about is only the category of ‘Airs.’ If we consider the categories of ‘Elegances’ and ‘Lauds,’ are these not written by the literati and the scholars?” Master Wang said, “These kinds of tunes have been lost for a long time. Even [when occasionally] a few writers will emerge, the decline [is obvious].” As a result of the conversation, Master Li [for a moment] became sad and lost but was immediately awakened, and he abandoned the modern styles of the Tang and learned to write the oldstyle ballads of Li Bai and Du Fu. Master Wang said, “This is just a technique of riding wildly.” Master Li then started learning from the poetry of the Six Dynasties. Master Wang said, “This is just a leftover of the flowery style.” [Master Li] then learned to write in the Wei-Jin style. [Master Wang] said, “[This is] setting words side by side and giving them meanings; you are being too deliberate.” [Master Li] then began to write rhapsodies. [Master Wang] said, “[What you are doing] differs from the [original] intent of [the old rhapsodies] but still imitates their words, [and you are just following their] footpaths.” [Master Li then] learned to write songs for lute and ancient ballads. [Master Wang] said, “This looks alike, but is nothing but garbage.” [Master Li] then learned to write in the fourcharacter [style of the Book of Songs], traveling freely between ‘Airs’ and ‘Elegances.’ [Master Wang] said, “Now this is close, but such writings are useless, you should stop now.” Upon hearing this, Master Li felt sad and had no rebuttal. Thus he copied his own poetry and kept it in a box. Now twenty years have gone by, and someone has had the poetry published and circulated. When Master Li heard about it, he felt frightened


e x pr e s si ng t h e se l f and ashamed, and said, “My poetry is not real poetry. It is what Master Wang termed the rhymed words of literati and scholars. It is what he meant by [literary products] lacking in emotion but with crafted words.” Nevertheless, it was written during the Hongzhi and Zhengde eras, so I named the collection Hongde ji. I have always wanted to revise it with the intention of finding the real [essence of poetry.] But I am old now. Master Zeng once said, “If one feels that there is still something that he has not yet achieved, this is called learning.”

王子曰:“真者,音之發而情之原也。古者國異風,即其俗成聲。今 之俗既厯胡,乃其曲烏得而不胡也?故真者,音之發而情之原 也,非雅俗之辯也。且子之聆之也,亦其譜而聲者也,不有卒然而 謠,勃然而訛者乎?莫知所從來,而長短疾徐,無弗諧焉,斯誰 使之也?” 李子聞之,矍然而興曰:“大哉!漢以來不復聞此矣。” 王子曰:“詩有六義,比興要焉。夫文人學子比興寡而直率多,何也? 出于情寡而工于詞多也。夫途巷蠢蠢之夫,固無文也,乃其謳 也,咢也,呻也,吟也,行呫而坐歌,食咄而寤嗟,此唱而彼和, 無不有比焉,興焉,無非其情焉。斯足以觀義矣。故曰,詩者,天 地自然之音也。” 李子曰:“雖然,子之論者風耳。夫雅頌不出文人學子手乎?” 王子曰:“是音也,不見于世久矣。雖有作者,微矣。” 李子於是憮然失已,灑然醒也。于是廢唐近體諸篇而為李社歌行。王 子曰:“斯馳騁之技也。”李子于是為六朝詩。王子曰:“斯綺 麗之餘也。”于是詩為晉魏,曰:“比辭而屬義,斯謂有意。”于是 為賦騷,曰:“異其意而襲其言,斯謂有蹊。”于是為琴操古歌 詩。曰:“似矣,然糟粕也。”于是為四言,入風出雅,曰:“近之 矣,然無所用之矣。子其休矣。” 李子聞之,闇然無以難也。自錄其詩,藏篋笥中,今二十年矣。乃有刻 而布者,李子聞之,懼且慚。曰:“子之詩,非真也。王子所謂文 人學子韻言耳。出之情寡而工之詞多者也。”然又弘治、正德 間詩耳,故自題曰《弘德集》。每自欲改之以求其真,然今老 矣。曾子曰:“時有所弗及,學之謂哉。”

Li Mengyang eventually accepted Wang Shuwu’s argument, leading the Japanese scholar Yoshikawa Kōjirō to argue that one important aspect of the mid-Ming archaist movement was its appreciation of the rhymes of the common people, mainly owing

p oe t ry 259 to the fact that the archaist masters, particularly Li Mengyang, were all from humble backgrounds.23 Whether Li was motivated by a sense of class consciousness in his praise for the rhymes of commoners remains to be seen, but as it will become clear, Li was not trying to adopt a populist stance by remaining at a distance from the poetic ventures of the learned. Instead, he was trying to engage the learned in a subtler manner through a renewed understanding of poetry. We should now be familiar with the rationale behind the reference to emotions and the sonic features of poetry. It is important to note how Li recounts his learning stages. Some scholars have opined that this preface was written during the last years of his life, when he was showing a sense of repentance and dissatisfaction with his previous quest for an archaist course that encouraged blind imitation.24 But others have shown more convincingly that Li was recalling his psychological transformation more than twenty years before, and that it was after that change that he began to embark on the pursuit of his archaist vision.25 Indeed, rather than seeing the preface as Li Mengyang’s words of repentance, the Ming dramatist Li Kaixian suggested it should be read as an outward expression of Li’s pride. Despite the humble tone of the preface, it was in fact Li’s way of telling his readers he was capable of moving freely between the styles of “Airs” and “Elegances.”26 I think Li Kaixian read the piece correctly, especially given the passage at the end, where Li Mengyang laments that he is running out of time to right the wrongs. This is another way of saying that after twenty years of ceaseless learning, he knows the secret to authentic poetry and is able to instill the true spirit of poetry 23. Yoshikawa, “Ri Bōyō no Ichi Sokumen.” Matsumura Takashi posits that Li spoke approvingly about the poetry of the common people because he was disillusioned by the ability of the literati class to bring propriety (li 禮) back to the political order of his time. See Matsumura, “Ri Bōyō shiron.” 24. Guo Shaoyu, Zhongguo lidai wenlun xuan, pp. 57–58. 25. Liao, Fugupai yu Mingdai wenxue sichao, pp. 199–202. 26. Li Kaixian, “Li Kongtong zhuan” 李崆峒傳, in Li Zhonglu xianju ji, Wenji, 10.51b. See also Jian, Mingdai wenxue piping yanjiu, pp. 206–8.


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in the various poetic forms that he has mastered. This is therefore not a call for the learned to abandon poetry and let the common folk take over the genre, nor a claim that the only true poetic forms are found in the Book of Songs, whereas the various forms created since the Han dynasty have no true value. On the contrary, Li perceives diversity in poetic forms to be a natural development in poetry, each form having an inherent quality worth preserving. But since the era of the Book of Songs, only a handful of enlightened poets had been able to produce works that could bring out the best in each form. As a result, Li believed, poetry in general had degenerated over time into meaningless word games in the hands of mediocre literati. The task, then, was to discover authentic quality (qiu qi zhen 求其真) through learning from the best. This was true even for the poetic style of the Six Dynasties that Li was particularly skeptical about: People have been saying that literary styles follow the same ups and downs of the fortunes of dynasties, and because the Six Dynasties were [weak states] barely surviving on corners of territory, their literary styles were understandably weak. It has also been said that the art of calligraphy faded during the Jin period. However, Li Bai and Du Fu both held Bao [Zhao 照 (414–66)] and Xie [Lingyun 靈運 (385–433)] in high regard and often borrowed phrases in full from Bao and Xie in their own writings. Emperor Wu of the Liang dynasty once said that the calligraphy of Yishao [Wang Xizhi 王羲之 (303–61)] resembled a dragon leaping and a tiger crouching, and he ordered later generations to cherish Wang’s calligraphy. How should we make sense of such actions? It has been a hundred years [since our Ming dynasty began to] cultivate the people and the literati, and they mostly learn and follow the literary style of the Six Dynasties. This is especially true at the Southern Capital. Those whom I know of include Gu Huayu [Lin 璘 (1476–1545)], Shengzhi [Zhu Yingdeng], and Yuanrui [Liu Lin 劉麟 (1474–1561)]. The Southern Capital is located in the region that belonged to the territories under the rule of the Six Dynasties, and it is only natural that these gentlemen would follow and learn the literary styles of the Six Dynasties. [But] Tingshi [Bian Gong] was a native of Qi [Shandong], and he could not avoid [learning

p oe t ry 261 the Six Dynasties’ style]. Why is this so? Generally speaking, the tune of Six Dynasty poetry is sorrowful, and therefore it could degenerate into a style that is lacking in spirit. [Six Dynasties] calligraphy is pretty and free-flowing, and therefore it could [risk the danger of] degenerating into a style that is obsequious. . . . It is only natural that when one strives to move upstream, one cannot but put one’s self in some dangerous situations. Therefore, it is apparent that if one strives [in poetry] to master [the ancient styles of] sao and Elegances, and [in calligraphy to] master [the ancient styles of] zhou and jie, one has to do it by first going through [and mastering the Six Dynasties’ styles]. 說者謂文氣與世運相盛衰,六朝偏安故其文藻以弱。又謂六書之法 至晉遂亡。而李杜二子往往推重鮑謝,用其全句甚多;梁武帝謂逸 少書如龍躍虎臥,歷代寶之,永以為訓。此又何說也?今百年化成人 士,咸於六朝之文是習是尚,其在南都為尤盛。予所知者,顧華玉、升 之、元瑞皆是也。南都本六朝地,習而尚之固宜。庭實齊人也,亦不免 何也?大抵六朝之調悽宛,故其弊靡;其字俊逸,故其弊媚……夫泝 流而上,不能不犯險者,勢使然也。茲欲游藝於騷雅籕頡之間,其不 能越是以往,明矣。27

The fact that the poetic style of the Six Dynasties was so popular, and that a northern writer (Bian Gong) was also learning it, prompted Li Mengyang to put forth a theory to explain the phenomenon. While this particular literary style was weak and learning it posed risks, he said the best poets, “such as Bao Zhao and Xie Lingyun,” could nevertheless overcome its weaknesses and bring to light its distinctive features, and that their accomplishments were seen as worth emulating, even by such legendary figures as Li Bai and Du Fu, whom Li Mengyang admired. Li’s exposition of Six Dynasties poetic styles thus clearly suggests that he saw true value in the era’s poetry and believed that if one aspired to revive the learning of ancient poetry, one could not afford to ignore such qualities. The same argument could be applied to the poetic forms of other historical periods listed in the preface of Li’s own literary collection. In short, Li was insisting that the existence of a certain 27. Li Mengyang, “Zhangyuan jianhui shi yin” 章園餞會詩引, KTJ, 56.11b– 13a.


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form, no matter how inferior compared with others, had to be taken seriously because its inherent quality was a genuine reflection of the conditions of a particular historical moment. It was necessary for a poet who aspired to become the best to try to comprehensively and skillfully reveal the values of all poetic forms through his compositions, just as Li himself tried to do. But by the Ming era, every existing poetic form had already gone through a long history of development. Where, then, could one find the finest poetry written in a particular form? From his claims that no good poetry was produced during the Song period, no good rhapsodies were produced during the Tang, and no good sao-style verse was written during the Han, it seems that Li Mengyang was suggesting that the best poetry written in a particular form was written mainly when the form was first created. Guo Shaoyu argues that where literary form is concerned, Li actually held a fundamentalist viewpoint, perceiving later developments within the scope of a particular form as less than ideal.28 Li’s position is open to interpretation, for he does not provide an explanation for his view. Perhaps he was making a general observation, that the closer one gets to the point in time when a new form was created, the more likely one is to find works that reflect the authors’ true emotions. With the passing of time, Li saw a greater tendency for particular poetic forms to be reduced to lifeless formulas in the hands of the learned, who ended up merely arranging emotionless words. But despite such trends, occasionally one can still find an enlightened poet who is able to overcome the danger and employ any form, old or new, effectively because he understands the relations between the sonic elements and self-expression in poetry. Therefore, although Li has a clear preference for the older forms over the more recent ones, he does not dismiss any existing form, as Jian Jinsong has shown. Instead, he identifies the exemplary poets who brought the poetic forms of each historical period to their height. Those poets and their works are the models that an aspiring student of poetry should emulate.29 28. Guo, Zhongguo wenxue piping shi, pp. 341–42. 29. Jian, “Li-He shilun yanjiu,” pp. 131–49.

p oe t ry 263 Such great poets have been scarce throughout history, and contemporary poetry, as Li Mengyang insists, was marred by excessive literary intervention that took the natural flow of emotion out of poetic endeavors. But not all hope was lost, for one who wished to join the ranks of great poets of the past could still learn how to do so by observing how the common folk expressed their emotions through chanting. By venturing into the field of ancient folk songs, which could be broadly grouped in the category of “ballads” (yuefu 樂府), Li Mengyang made a conscious effort to put his own theory into practice.

Finding One’s True Self through Replication The definition of yuefu poetry has been a matter of debate throughout the course of Chinese literary history.30 For our purpose, we will follow the definition of yuefu that includes subcategories like “songs for lute and ancient ballads” (qincao gugeshi 琴操古歌詩), as identified in Li’s preface to his own poetry collection. Regardless of their names and diverse styles, these poems share a common feature: they are written in a form that mimics the verses of folk ballads, tunes. Yuefu represents a significant part of Li Mengyang’s poetic works overall. The particular edition of his literary collection used as the primary reference for this book contains 120 pieces written in the yuefu style. This volume of work made Li one of the most prolific writers of yuefu poetry of his generation.31 Li Mengyang and his archaist comrades may not have been the first in the mid-Ming period to pay attention to yuefu. It seems that it was the towering figure Li Dongyang who composed a series of yuefu that paved the way for the form to return to the

30. For a detailed discussion of the category of yuefu and its scope, see Wang Y, Yuefu tonglun, pp. 43–86. For a discussion in English, see Birrell, Popular Songs and Ballads of Han China. 31. Li Mengyang’s yuefu poetry is contained in volumes 6–8 of KTJ.


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attention of Ming literati.32 But Li Dongyang advocated writing yuefu in a concrete and refined style (zhi er bu li 質而不俚), and his actual compositions mainly address historical themes. 33 As such, he diluted the folk element in yuefu and turned the form into an art of the literati. This vision of yuefu differed significantly from that of his protégé Li Mengyang, who chose to depict the lives, experiences, and feelings of the common people in his work. Consider the following: It is the eleventh month of the year and the season is winter Our boat is stuck in the middle of a branching stream Bitter wind gusts from the north Rain and snow fall continuously Freezing, the birds have fallen silent Nightfall in the sandbank village is solemn. The boatman laments, “My clothes are thin and my stomach is empty, The current flows swiftly, And the boat cannot be controlled.” I feel a deep sorrow in my heart And wish that we could have wings to rely upon. 冬十一月 阻舟徐汊 朔風北來 雨雪紛下 禽鳥凍寂 洲村肅夜 纜夫來言 衣單腹餓 波流洄洄 促船難駕 我心悽惻 羽翼儻假34

32. Wang Huibin, Tanghou yuefu shishi, pp. 289–93. 33. Li Dongyang, “Ni Gu yuefu yin” 擬古樂府引, in Li Dongyang ji, vol. 1, p. 1. Huang Zhuoyue, Ming zhonghouqi wenxue sixiang yanjiu, p. 63. 34. Li Mengyang, “Yuxuequ” 雨雪曲, KTJ, 6.8b–9a.

p oe t ry 265 Stuck in the middle of nowhere, on a winter night in adverse weather, the poet starts by describing his surroundings. Unlike the objective and distant observer in Li Mengyang’s prose travelogue, discussed in chapter 7, here the poet is an intimate participant in the environment, his emotions triggered by the chilly atmosphere and the sufferings of the boatman. Throughout the narrative, the poet’s selfhood is maintained in a way that exemplifies Li’s theory of poetry: “What one encounters are things, and things are where emotions [reside]. Emotions will touch the heart when stirred, and when the heart is touched, [the things] will interact with one’s spiritual consciousness.”35 In some of his yuefu, Li Mengyang tries to replicate the voices of the common people. In such pieces we find the poet abandoning the perspective of a literatus and instead narrating in the voice of an ordinary farmer or a deserted wife.36 See, for instance “The Song of Crying to Heaven”: Holding a bow and carrying a dagger, Who is this person who roams around? He snatched my wife and burned down my house. I informed the authorities but they vented their anger on me. Who is this carefree person? He kills people when he leaves his house And rides a horse in cities and markets. “Who are you?” “Who gave you permission to ride a horse?” He came with a blade, He came with a blade. He killed my father and brothers. If I encounter him again I will definitely kill this lowly fellow. He replies, “I am a former rebel who is now pacified and enlisted by order of the emperor’s edict.” Alas! 35. Li Mengyang, “Meiyue xiansheng shixu,” KTJ, 51.6a–7a. 36. Huang Zhuoyue, Ming zhonghouqi wenxue sixiang yanjiu, pp. 61–83.


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How helpless am I, how helpless am I! He is not a government official, Yet when he is suffering from hunger, the state will provide aid. He is allowed to ride a horse when he travels. [Meanwhile,] I have to pay rent and serve corvée labor in great misery. Why, then, should I not become [a rebel] like him? 彎弓兮帶刀 彼誰者子逍遙 牽我妻放火 我言官府怒我 彼逍遙者誰子 出門殺人 騎馬城市 汝何人 誰教汝騎馬 胡不彼而 持刃來 持刃來 彼殺我父兄 我今遇之 必殺此傖 彼答言 奉黃榜招安 嗟嗟 柰何柰何 彼不有官 饑官賑之 出有馬騎 我有租有猺有役苦楚 胡不彼而37

Writing from the perspective of a commoner suffering at the hands of a surrendered rebel and complacent officials, the poet paints a vivid picture of a harsh situation faced by ordinary people. Throughout the poem, the poet’s self is concealed but not absent. 37. Li Mengyang, “Jiaotiange” 呌天歌, KTJ, 8.8b.

p oe t ry 267 In his introductory remark leading to the poem, Li Mengyang explains the motivation behind the composition: “‘The Song of Crying to the Heaven’ was composed by pacified refugees. I was saddened upon hearing it, so I brought the words together and [rewrote the piece with] the corresponding tunes” 呌天歌者,撫民 之所作也。余聞而悲焉,撮其詞而比之音。38 Although the poet chose to adopt a tune with a folk origin and to retain the voice of the original narrator, his intervention is apparent. He chose the song precisely because it was able to arouse melancholy. Note that the poet responded emotionally to the poem not when reading the text but when listening to what was sung. This sort of bonding between the singer and his audience was considered by Li to constitute the foundation of real poetry. We can of course read those of Li’s poems with similar themes as manifestations of his noble intent to give voice to the voiceless, as some scholars have opined. 39 Indeed, as we saw in chapter 6, Li explicitly stated that collecting folk songs could serve the political purpose of revealing and understanding the customs of a place and thus finding the best way to govern it. I would suggest, however, that a more fundamental concern for Li was to help students of poetry find their true voice through learning from the way folk songs articulate emotions. The famous piece “Ballad of Old Man Guo” might best illustrate Li’s purpose: The sun is hiding behind the red clouds in the east and the river is flowing from the west. In the wild, a bird rests and weeps on a lonely tree. It moves and pecks, sounding extremely sorrowful. The misery resembles a plaintive voice, causing the listeners to feel depressed. What the bird is crying for is not entirely discernible, even if we pay close attention, But it seems to be calling for Old Man Guo and his wife.

38. Li Mengyang, “Jiaotiange” 呌天歌, KTJ, 8.8b. 39. Guo Ping-an, “Li Mengyang yanjiu,” p. 144.


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The first call is for Old Man Guo, followed by a call for his wife. Every family is planting grain, Planting grain in the field. Who was asking that the spiral snails be collected from the field? Old Man Guo wanted the shells to be grilled For his wife to offer to the guests that they received. But when the guests arrived They found that Old Man Guo’s newly wedded daughter-in-law had stolen and eaten the snails. Just as Old Man Guo prepared to scold his daughter-in-law, His wife started yelling at her, Accusing her of wearing gold hairpins and silver accessories whenever she leaves the house. Old Man Guo, with his dry lips and scorched mouth, tried to save his daughter-in-law from the scolding, but to no avail. The bird continues to circle the tree and cries until nightfall. 赤雲日東江水西, 榛墟樹孤禽來啼。 語音哀切行且啄, 慘怛若訴聞者淒。 靜察細忖不可辯, 似呼郭公兼其妻。 一呼郭公兩呼婆, 各家栽禾, 栽到田塍, 誰教撿取螺。 公要螺炙, 婆要攝客。 攝得客來, 新婦偷食。 公欲罵婦, 婆則嗔婦, 頭插金行帶銀。 郭公唇干口燥救不得, 哀鳴繞枝天色黑。40

40. Li Mengyang, “Guogongyao” 郭公謠, KTJ, 6.2b–3a.

p oe t ry 269 This piece provides readers with a glimpse of the everyday life of a peasant family. The financial hardship that resulted in the strife between Old Man Guo’s wife and their daughter-in-law is described from a third-person perspective, but even then the poet as an invisible observer is neither detached nor indifferent to the events as they unfold. Clearly, the cries of the bird and the sorry state that the family is in struck a chord with the poet, prompting him to record the verses as faithfully as he could: Master Li said, “It has always been said that after [Confucius came out with] an abridged edition of the Book of Songs, no real poetry has been produced. In fact, what hasn’t been produced is poetry written in the style of Elegance[s]. As for the Airs style, since it has its origin in folk tunes, how could we claim that it has vanished? Here I document a folk song, so that people will know real poetry really does exist among the commoners. Alas! If one isn’t [Zhong] Ziqi, how could we expect him to understand the imagery of flowing water and mountains in [Bo Ya’s] tune?” 李子曰:“世嘗謂刪後無詩。無者謂雅耳。風自謠口出,孰得而無之 哉?今錄其民謠一篇,使人知真詩果在民間。於乎!非子期孰知洋洋 峩峩哉?”41

“Ballad of Old Man Guo” was thus recorded to affirm Li Mengyang’s contention that real poetry could still be found among the commoners, even though the learned had lost it. The emphasis here is therefore not on the actual lived experiences of the Guo family, but on how poetry could be composed in order to bring such experiences to life and to move the hearts of readers. The last sentence in Li’s commentary is an allusion to the famous story of Bo Ya 伯牙 and Zhong Ziqi 鍾子期. It was said that Zhong could discern what Bo Ya was thinking of (mountains or flowing waters) by simply listening as Bo played the zither. Zhong was thus a person who truly “knows the tune” (zhiyin 知音), in the Chinese tradition. Apparently Li Mengyang was using the story to claim that he was the zhiyin who truly knew the value of folk 41. Li Mengyang, “Guogongyao” 郭公謠, KTJ, 6.2b–3a.


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songs. But who should appreciate such a value the most? Obviously, Li was speaking to the learned. While documenting folk songs can help to highlight the grievances of the common people, Li’s ultimate concern was actually to help the contemporary literati rediscover their authentic voices. Note that the piece depicts in a rather detailed manner the cry of the bird. This seems to serve as a reminder that one’s emotions could be aroused by the sounds of nature, a central idea in Li’s theory of poetry. Since the tunes of folk songs follow the sounds of nature most closely, according to Li, the effort of replicating them ensures that a literati poet who has been following the undesirable practice of turning poetry into a game of words can come to appreciate the workings of nature and their relationship to his emotions. With such an intimate understanding, the learned poet can reflect on his methods of poetic composition and produce poetry comparable to the Elegances, using the various poetic forms available. It was therefore Li Mengyang’s belief that replicating the songs of the common folk did not require a poet to surrender his own selfrepresentation. On the contrary, it was the necessary first step in a process of self-discovery and self-expression. In Li Mengyang’s formulation, then, connecting the self with nature in an era when true poetry has been lost among the literati requires working through folk songs as the foundational medium. Unlike Li Dongyang, Li Mengyang saw value in replicating folk tunes in their purest form, without the intrusion of language that might be more refined and elegant. His insistence on this earned him the negative reputation of being a mere imitator, a second-rate poet capable of producing only coarse verses. At the same time, Li’s analysis of the relationships among the poetic self, literary forms, and nature was so profound and relevant that the intellectual world of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries could not afford to ignore it. These are the issues we will take up in the conclusion.

conclusion Toward an Understanding of Li Mengyang’s Legacy


first read about Li Mengyang and the Former Seven Masters when I took a survey course on the history of Chinese literature during my undergraduate days. The linear narrative in the textbook depicted Li and his comrades as both “progressive” and “conservative.” They were progressive because their appeal for restoring the ancient styles in literature posed a strong challenge to the weak and excessively elegant “Cabinet style,” which was filled with court-centered language to flatter the emperor and members of the nobility. They were conservative because, as the textbooks would have it, they advocated blind imitation of the ancient styles and thus delayed the coming of a truly creative age when individuality and innovation in literary composition could be celebrated. The next time I read about Li Mengyang, I was working on a book-length study of the history of the literati of Guanzhong, a historical and cultural name for Shaanxi province. Although Li’s family had moved to Henan, it was originally from Qingyang, which was under the administration of Shaanxi in Ming times. Using the family connection to Shaanxi, Li took the Shaanxi provincial examination, ranking first among the successful candidates. That success guaranteed him a chance at the metropolitan examination three years later, which he also passed. Despite Li’s Guanzhong roots I omitted him from the discussion in my study because my main focus then was on the literati who were associated with

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the Daoxue Neo-Confucian tradition. Still, the fact that three of the Former Seven Masters—Li, Kang Hai, and Wang Jiusi—were Shaanxi natives did not escape my attention. A further probe revealed that six of the seven were northerners. It became apparent that I should pay attention to the regional factors that might have influenced the fugu movement in the mid-Ming period. A closer reading of Li Mengyang’s work confirmed my initial speculation. References to the senior grand secretary Liu Jian, a northerner who favored classical studies over poetry, appear in an entry in Kongtongzi as well as in an account of Zhu Yingdeng’s life that Li wrote as a tomb inscription, and in the chronicle about Li written by Zhu Anxian. The frequent mentions of the episode involving Liu Jian in Li’s own writings, and in others’ writings about him, suggest that the north-south dynamic and its implications for the division of literati learning were major concerns for Li and many of his contemporaries. I therefore decided to study Li’s overall intellectual scheme by situating it, and its reception among later generations, within the context of regional disparity and the fragmentation of literati learning after the mid-Ming period. I have divided my discussion of Li Mengyang’s thought into three main sections. His theory about how the cosmos works and how it affects the human world, his views on how literati learning should be tailored to serve the state, and his insistence that the art of literary writing is an independent pursuit for expressing selfhood were the three pillars of his intellectual vision. In the end, it was the third pillar that earned him the reputation for which he is remembered. In this concluding chapter, I argue that Li’s conceptions of cosmology, ethics, and statecraft studies essentially failed on two levels. First, they failed to address the concerns of the southern literati communities whose voices since the late sixteenth century had dictated how endeavors of the literati should be appreciated. Even in the field of literature, where Li was taken seriously and garnered strong support, his critics were many and vocal. Again, this had something to do with the regional differences, real and perceived, that existed during the Ming dynasty. Second, while Li Mengyang was clearly a pioneer in challenging the Daoxue claim about the unity of knowledge, arguing for the

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existence of multiple truths and thus the validity of having different branches of learning to serve different purposes, his way of dividing knowledge and learning was incongruent with prevailing late Ming practices. To illustrate this, we will look at how Li was featured or not featured in major late Ming compilations on the different categories of learning.

Establishing a “Confucian” Community and Defining Its Moral Concerns Two major seventeenth-century works on the Ming Daoxue tradition—Transmission of the Lineage of the Sages’ Learning (Shengxue zongchuan 聖學宗傳, completed in 1605), by the southerner Zhou Rudeng 周汝登 (1547–1629), and Transmission of the Lineage of the Learning of Principle (Lixue zongchuan 理學宗傳, completed in 1666), by the northerner Sun Qifeng 孫奇逢 (1585–1675)—left Li Mengyang out completely. More significantly, Li is not featured even in similar seventeenth-century compilations by scholars from Shaanxi and Henan, where he had ancestral ties.1 Li’s absence from anthologies compiled by northern and southern scholars alike might give the impression that he had not participated in the kinds of discourse that intrigued the more philosophically minded intellectuals. But as we have seen, that was not the case. In fact, Li devoted the last years of his life to writing the Kongtongzi, which was understood by the people close to him as a response to the crises faced by the Learning of Principle (Lixue 理學) approach.2 It is thus clear that while Li had wanted to engage with the Daoxue tradition, he failed to attract the interest of the intellectual world. One reason for this neglect may be the fact that Li Mengyang simply did not write enough on philosophical issues. Apart from 1. See Feng Congwu et al., Guanxue bian (fu xubian), and Tang Bin, Luo­ xue bian. 2. See Zhu Anxian, “Li Kongtong xiansheng nianbiao,” KTJ, appendix 1.3a–15a.

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the Kongtongzi, he did not produce any work on the classics that engaged explicitly with Daoxue discourse. Instead, he was known mainly as a literary figure (wenren). Li’s omission from the Dao­ xue compilations reflects the custom at that time of compartmentalizing knowledge and assigning individuals to different fields of learning. Surely, thinking of Daoxue and literature as two separate fields was not a late Ming invention. The official practice in the late Yuan of separating Daoxue, literature (wenyuan 文苑), and “miscellaneous scholarship” (rulin 儒林) in the biographical section of the Song standard history is just one example of how knowledge was compartmentalized before the Ming. Yet as the compilers made clear, in the perfect world of antiquity, the dao, as expounded by Daoxue discourse in their day, was actually omnipresent in government, education, and the everyday lives of the people, and therefore Daoxue as an independent mode of learning did not exist. It was only after the teachings of the sage-kings were lost and heterodox teachings began to spread that a group of enlightened scholars stepped forward to bring to light the essence of true learning. The Song dynasty stood out because it produced the first generations of enlightened scholars after the Three Dynasties.3 For the compilers, having to write a history with separate sections devoted to different modes of learning was actually a sign that they were living in a less than ideal world. When Song Lian and his Jinhua associate Wang Yi 王禕 (1321–72) were tasked with compiling the Yuan standard history in the early years of the Hongwu reign, they dedicated only one section—entitled “‘Confucian’ Learning” (“Ruxue” 儒學)—to the history of Yuan scholarship, for they believed that wen and classical studies (jingyi 經義) were both essential for illuminating the Way.4 As Peter Bol rightly argues in his case study of the construction of Jinhua cultural tradition, despite the fact that the literati were constantly confronted with the reality of a disjointed world, pursuing inclusiveness and fusion seemed to be a more common 3. Tuo’tuo, Song Shi, 427.12709–10. 4. Song Lian et al., Yuan Shi, 189.4313.

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way of organizing the different fields of learning. It was only in the late Ming period that the quest for unity and coherence started to give way to notions of diversity and fragmentation. 5 But the fact that Li Mengyang fell victim to the way late Ming intellectuals compartmentalized knowledge cannot fully explain why he was also omitted from Huang Zongxi’s seminal work on Ming dynasty Confucianism, Cases of Ming Scholars (Mingru xue’an 明儒學案, completed in 1676). This omission is worth noting because, compared with the other works already mentioned, Huang’s work was intended to display the complexity of the Ming intellectual world. Although Cases of Ming Scholars reflects Huang’s own philosophical bias and sectarian concerns, heavily privileging the “schools” that he thought had correctly represented Wang Yangming’s teachings, it differs from the other anthologies in that it invites the reader to look beyond the narrowly defined Daoxue camps of Cheng-Zhu and Lu-Wang to discover other modes of thought that could be placed within the tradition of “Confucianism” (Ru).6 Thus we find in the Cases eccentric thinkers such as Li Mengyang’s friend Wang Tingxiang, who was excluded by Zhou and Sun.7 Yet Li was still unable to secure a place in Huang’s expanded version of Confucianism. In this instance, his lack of philosophical writings and the persistent perception that he was a wenren may not be the entire explanation, for the Cases does include individuals who seem not to have any such writings to cite. For instance, from the same province of Shaanxi, Zhou Hui 周蕙 (n.d.), Li Jin 李錦 (1438–86), and others are included, even though they left no record of substantial writings. There are also individuals such as the Suzhou publisher Huang Xingzeng, whom we met in chapter 1. Huang took great pride in his own literary accomplishment and yet lamented that he was perceived simply as a wenren by his peers in the Wang

5. Bol, “The ‘Localist Turn’ and ‘Local Identity.’” 6. Wilson, Genealogy of the Way, pp. 184–92. 7. Huang Zongxi, Mingru xuean, 50.1a–6b.

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Yangming circle.8 Apparently these individuals are in the Cases for other reasons. In his study of the Shanxi scholar Xue Xuan’s intellectual heritage, Khee Heong Koh has demonstrated that up until the mid-Ming period, northern and southern Daoxue scholars had very different understandings of their relationship to the tradition. In many southern regions, a prevalent conception of Dao­ xue, seen especially clearly in the Jinhua approach, postulated that participation in the Daoxue tradition required joining a community characterized by master-disciple relationships in which the lines of transmission of learning could be traced. In contrast, northern Daoxue scholars, such as Xue Xuan, did not see a need to highlight the existence of such networks. Rather, they believed that one could grasp the true teachings of the sages and worthies by reading the classics and other surviving works directly, or through formal education in the state school system, without having to become a member of a certain private network of learning. Therefore, although Xue, as well as Cao Duan of Shandong, did attract students, followers, and admirers, they did not, like their southern counterparts, envision such networks as vital to the transmission of true learning and the establishment of a moral society. For them, the state was to take the lead in transmitting true learning in society, rather than unofficial but institutionalized assemblies of learned men, such as the private academies that were prevalent in the south.9 In this sense, Huang Zongxi’s Cases is definitely an exemplar of the southern model. Zhou Hui and Li Jin secured a place in the Cases because Huang was able to trace both men’s affiliations with Xue Xuan through a few generations of master-disciple linkages. Despite their lack of written work, both men were credited with receiving and transmitting the teaching of Xue within the format of an intellectual lineage—called the Hedong school by Huang, a label not used by Xue himself nor by anyone before 8. Huang Xingzeng, “Linzhong zizhuan” 臨終自傳, in Wuyue Shanren ji, 38.850–51. 9. Koh, A Northern Alternative, pp. 40–48.

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Huang, for that matter. Similarly for Huang Xingzeng, although he was seen primarily as a wenren by many of his contemporaries, he was nevertheless deeply involved in the intellectual activities of the Wang Yangming communities and his identity as a disciple of Wang was never disputed. It was thus Huang Zongxi’s understanding of what constituted a Ru community that created the Hedong school and determined the inclusion of Zhou Hui, Li Jin, and Huang Xingzeng in the Cases. More generally, in the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries when works on the history of intellectual lineages, similar to the Cases, began to mushroom throughout the empire, this southern model had become the dominant form for depicting the transmission of true teachings, replacing the alternative articulated by early Ming northern thinkers such as Cao Duan and Xue Xuan, even in the works produced by the northerners. This was one of the main reasons for the omission of Li Mengyang from all such compilations by both northern and southern scholars, for Li’s personal networks did not reflect membership in any intellectual school of this sort. And without having done a substantial amount of writing on philosophical issues, which could have earned him a place, as Wang Tingxiang did in the “miscellaneous scholars” (zhuru 諸儒) sections of the Cases, Li’s contribution to this field was quickly forgotten. Works similar to the Cases began to flourish in this period partly because the intellectual world had to improvise ways for defining true learning against the background of Wang Yangming’s powerful challenge to the Cheng-Zhu orthodoxy.10 As we saw in chapter 1, the rise and spread of Wang Yangmingism was by and large a southern phenomenon. It had attracted such a huge following there by the mid-sixteenth century, and its advocates were so successful in promoting it on the national level that even northern scholars could not afford to ignore its basic philosophical claims, although true followers of Wang were so few in the north that even Huang Zongxi had difficulty identifying them. The question, then, is: How do we account for the popularity of Wang Yangmingism in the south? To understand why Wang’s 10. Wilson, Genealogy of the Way.

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philosophical vision was especially attractive to the southern literati, we will examine it against the background of the rise of qi as a philosophical concept during the Ming period. In the twentieth century, some Marxist-oriented scholars argued that there was a mode of thought in the Ming championed by the likes of Luo Qinshun, Wang Tingxiang, and Wang Fuzhi 王夫之 (1619–92) that took qi as its central concept and provided a materialistic challenge to the idealism of Daoxue.11 But to argue that there was an independent group of progressive thinkers in the Ming who advocated materialism by employing qi is to allow contemporary ideological bias to dictate our understanding of intellectual transitions in history. Nevertheless, there was indeed a new intellectual trend that sought to reinterpret qi and its relationship to other philosophical concepts. A quick survey of the writings of major thinkers from Li Mengyang’s generation reveals that the interest in qi was taken up by thinkers of all philosophical affiliations.12 A major factor that propelled leading mid-Ming philosophers to rethink the role of qi was their skepticism about the ability of the orthodox Cheng-Zhu philosophy to provide guidance for achieving the ideal of unity. This was true even for Luo Qinshun, who attempted to fine-tune Daoxue philosophy from within the tradition. Luo questioned Cheng-Zhu’s dualistic interpretation of the li-qi relationship, insisting instead that li was simply the natural pattern generated by the endless cycles of qi movement that produce the myriad things. Luo’s philosophy thus gave real value to the physical world created by qi. With this came an emphasis on the importance of sensory knowledge in understanding the world and one’s nature.13 11. See, for instance, Zhang Dainian, Zhongguo weiwu zhuyi sixiang jianshi. 12. For a detailed discussion of the interpretations of qi in Ming thought, see Wang Junyan, Wang Tingxiang yu Mingdai qixue. 13. Wang Junyan, Wang Tingxiang yu Mingdai qixue, pp. 302–16. For a concise account of Luo Qinshun’s philosophy and its place in Ming intellectual history, and also a thorough review of the leading modern scholarship on Luo’s thinking, see the introduction in Bloom, Knowledge Painfully Acquired, pp. 1–47.

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The emphasis on the primacy of qi as a source of creation that, through its ceaseless revolution, produces the varied phenomenal world, did not lead Luo Qingshun to conclude that the state of diversity and difference should be accepted as it is. As Young­ min Kim has noted, Luo was unequivocal in maintaining that the movement of qi followed a natural ordering principle of li through which the seemingly fragmented phenomenal world could be organized to achieve a state of unity and coherence. Perceiving li in such a way allowed Luo to claim that a perfect world would be one in which all things are united in a coherent manner, despite the fact that each individual concrete thing has its own particularity. The key to realizing such an ideal world lies with individuals who are determined to undergo a rigorous process of self-cultivation. The process involves, above all, training the mind to methodically examine the diverse manifestations of the phenomenal world in order to discover the unity of the ultimate principle. For this reason, Luo harshly criticized the form of learning that was obsessed with the particular while losing sight of the fundamental, labeling it as “vulgar” (su 俗).14 Thus, although Luo Qinshun disagreed with mainstream Cheng-Zhu teaching that posited a dualistic view of li and qi, he remained firmly in the Daoxue tradition with his unwavering belief that a morally cultivated self was essential for realizing the ultimate state of unity and coherence. Similarly, the leading thinkers with whom he disagreed, most notably Chen Xianzhang, Zhan Ruoshui 湛若水 (1466–1560), and Wang Yangming, also did not depart from Daoxue’s fundamental concerns despite their challenges to the Cheng-Zhu position, as evidenced by the fact that they all shared Luo’s discontent with the so-called vulgar learning that disengaged knowledge acquisition from moral self-cultivation. Chen Xianzhang’s method of self-cultivation that privileged quiet sitting, and his insistence that the eternal truth is contained in the mind and transcends the phenomenal qi, was a direct response to vulgar learning. He intended to refocus learning from 14. Kim, “Luo Qinshun and His Intellectual Context.”

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the acquisition of external knowledge back toward the self. But Luo saw the influence of Chan Buddhism in this approach, in its separation of the self from the world. Interestingly, Luo made no distinction between the teachings of Chen and those of his student Zhan Ruoshui in his critique, even though Zhan clearly had a very different understanding of qi that led to a very different method of self-cultivation.15 Zhan Ruoshui opined, much as Luo Qinshun had, that nothing in the world is not formed by qi, and that what is called li, or tianli 天理 (heavenly principle), is none other than the natural flow of qi that concurs with the norm. Because tianli is not some abstract ontological concept but the appropriate movement of qi, it can therefore be embodied and appreciated in any time and place by anyone wishing to engage in moral self-cultivation. This is possible because the consciousness of the mind is also the product of qi and can therefore resonate and form one body with all things. By emphasizing the primacy of qi in producing the external world as well as the responsive function of the mind, Zhan tried to provide a theory of ethics capable of explaining how the moral self could unite the fragmented phenomenal world.16 In this sense, Zhan’s theory greatly resembles that of Luo Qinshun. The main difference lies in their interpretations of xin, the mind. Put briefly, Luo’s xin is more cognitive, as its main function is to conduct intellectual inquiry, while Zhan’s interpretation is more intuitive, in that he pays more attention to the responsiveness of the mind when encountering the external world. It is for this reason that Luo put Zhan in the same camp as Wang Yangming. Yet viewed from Wang Yangming’s perspective, Zhan Ruo­ shui’s concept failed to acknowledge that the responsiveness of the mind is in itself the manifestation of tianli, meaning Zhan was unable to completely grasp the true meaning of unity. Wang believed that he had found the real foundation for reaching perfect unity: the key was the learned individual’s ability to fully develop 15. Kim, “Luo Qinshun and His Intellectual Context.” 16. Wang Junyan, Wang Tingxiang yu Mingdai qixue, pp. 335–53. Kim, “Redefining the Self’s Relation to the World,” pp. 116–71.

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his moral mind, inherited from Heaven, through self-cultivation aimed at eliminating desire. Wang disagreed with Luo Qinshun and others because he thought they were trying, by reworking the concept of qi, to place knowledge of the external world above cultivating the self. Nevertheless, qi still plays an important role in Wang’s philosophy. In fact, the central concept in Wang’s theory, the innate knowledge (liangzhi 良知) that the moral mind possesses, can be seen as qi: “The innate knowledge is one. We call it spiritual based on its magnificent function, and we call it qi based on its flow.”17 Elsewhere, Wang maintained that he was referring to the notion of emotions (qing) when he talked about “flow.”18 But innate knowledge is also li: “Speaking from the perspective of principle, [the mind] is called li.”19 Introducing the concept of qing and equating it with the flow of qi gives liangzhi, the ontological source of morality in Wang’s philosophy, a corporeal presence compared with the more abstract li in Cheng-Zhu doctrine. The unity and coherence that Wang’s philosophy promised could be intuitively and readily felt, without the kind of painstaking intellectual endeavor that defined Luo Qinshun’s vision of learning. However, Wang still shared with Luo the general Daoxue belief that the key to establishing a moral world of perfect unity lay in perfecting the innate moral quality of the self. The discourses on qi by leading thinkers surveyed thus far highlight several important trends that emerged during the midMing period. First, the challenge posed by the supposedly vulgar learning increasingly demanded that Daoxue adherents justify claims of moral knowledge based on the idea of an abstract li. This propelled intellectuals who accepted the Daoxue position to place morality on more concrete and tangible grounds. Rather than articulating morality through the principle of li, the reinterpretation of qi allowed mid-Ming philosophers to put forth a 17. Wang Yangming, Chuanxi lu 傳習錄, in Wang yangming quanji, p. 62. 18. Wang Yangming, Chuanxi lu, in Wang yangming quanji, p. 111. 19. Wang Yangming, Chuanxi lu, in Wang yangming quanji, p. 43.

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theory of morality that engaged more positively with the phenomenal world and human feelings. Second, so-called vulgar learning was actually an approach to learning that focused on acquiring knowledge of the particular without presupposing the existence of a universal principle. 20 As such, it undermined the basic Daoxue commitment to unity, coherence, and universality, and mid-Ming Daoxue theorists of qi had to reassert that the ideal state of unity, coherence, and universality could still be achieved if men were committed to cultivating the self morally so as to align with normal patterns of qi movement. Third, the heated debates among Luo Qinshun, Zhan Ruo­ shui, and Wang Yangming concerning the nature and role of the mind and its relationship to li and qi underscored the urgency of reconceptualizing the individual as a moral agent. These debates occurred at a time when individuality, displayed through concrete human experience and the spontaneous expression of feelings, was preferred over conforming to standard norms.21 At the same time, intellectuals who defined their learning along the lines of Daoxue-style moral philosophy still had to identify common ground on which morality could be substantiated and realized. Apparently, given the rise of the individual, the traditional assertion that human nature is the manifestation of the omnipresent and universal li was insufficient. The mission of Luo, Zhan, and Wang was thus to rework the notion of the self to synchronize it with the idea of having a shared moral premise, so that individuality would not slip into idiosyncrasy. In retrospect, Wang Yangming was the most successful in convincing the intellectual community that his philosophy of the self was the right answer to the intellectual crisis. Not only did Wang’s theory allow individuals to claim moral autonomy and knowledge of the Way in an unmediated manner, it also promised that such autonomy was the key to connecting with other human 20. Kim, “Luo Qinshun and His Intellectual Context,” pp. 371–79. 21. Shimada Kenji notes this and deems it a “modern” trend, albeit a failed one. See Shimada, Chugoku ni okeru kindai shii no zasetsu.

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beings and the larger world. In Wang’s vision, seeing the self as moral agent enables an individual to exert his subjectivity in a more direct manner, assuming the responsibility of bringing unity and coherence to the world without having to rely on external authorities, set rules, or standards. Even after the court prohibited the spread of “false learning” incongruent with the ChengZhu orthodoxy—clearly a ban targeting the intellectual activities of Wang Yangming and his followers—Wang Yangmingism continued to proliferate rapidly. The overwhelmingly positive reception Wang Yangming’s position received was, however, a largely southern phenomenon. At the same time that Wang Yangmingism was proliferating in the south, the northern Daoxue communities were instead looking to the Shaanxi master Lü Nan 呂柟 (1479–1542). Lü received the top score on the metropolitan examination in 1508, and as a result of his success he went on to hold several local and court positions. When he was serving as the assistant prefect of Xiezhou, Shanxi, he had the opportunity to lecture, and attracted many students. But his lectures in Nanjing, undertaken while he held some not overly demanding official posts, were what captured the attention of southern literati and earned him national fame as a great thinker and educator. His disagreement with Wang Yangming was well known, and it was said that he took half of the entire intellectual community away from Wang.22 This may have been an exaggeration, but there is no question that Lü presented a powerful challenge to Wang Yangming, and his teaching was perceived by many as being distinctive. As a northwesterner, Lü was often regarded as the great synthesizer of the Shanxi-Shaanxi Dao­ xue tradition, carrying the torch passed down by Zhang Zai in the Song, Xu Heng (received from Zhu Xi) in the Yuan, and Xue Xuan in the Ming.23 22. This observation was made by Liu Zongzhou 劉宗周 and was recorded in Huang Zongxi, Mingru xuean, “shishuo” 師說. 23. For how Lü was being classified in Ming discourses about Daoxue genealogies, see Koh, A Northern Alternative, pp. 136–40. Ong, Men of Letters within the Passes, pp. 158–62.

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Like his southern counterparts, Lü sought a tangible explanation of the li-qi relationship. Li, he proclaimed, is not a separate entity that exists independent of qi. Rather, li is simply the appropriate and principled expression of qi. Likewise, human nature is not a separate entity but is embedded in qi, which is in turn expressed through emotions. When one is able to express one’s happiness, anger, sorrow, and delight in the most appropriate and principled manner, that is good. If one allows emotion to run to excess, however, it becomes evil. There is therefore no absolute distinction between good and evil. One has to be attentive at all times, not only to examine one’s inner thoughts but also to check one’s outward behavior and actions against the ritual codes.24 Lü Nan further argued that only the sages could have invented the ritual codes, for their minds were in coherence with the heavenly principle. As for the rest of humankind, even those as virtuous as Zisi, the best way to live was to abide by the ritual codes (shouli 守禮).25 Thus a higher moral authority had prescribed ritual for righting the conduct of members of the literati community. That being said, the ideal of becoming a sage remained within reach for the literati, as they were blessed with a good “qiconstitution”: The master said, “Being a literatus is prestigious on five counts. [When viewed from the perspective of] producing things, the qi of Heaven-and-Earth operates in an equal manner. But at the same time it bestows the highest favor on the literati. The first source of prestige for a literatus lies in the fact that he is born a human and not any grass, tree, bird, or beast. The second source of prestige is that he is born a Chinese and not a barbarian; the third being that he is born a Chinese man and not a Chinese woman; the fourth being that he is born a literatus and not a farmer, artisan, or a merchant; the fifth being that, as a literatus, he can attain as high a status as Yao, Shun, the Duke of Zhou, and Confucius, or, less impressive, the status of Yan Yuan, Zengzi, Zisi, and Mengzi.”

24. Wang Junyan, Wang Tingxiang yu Mingdai qixue, pp. 354–69. 25. Wang Junyan, Wang Tingxiang yu Mingdai qixue, pp. 354–69.

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先生曰:“士有五貴。天地之氣,生物則均也,獨厚於士。是故不為草 木鳥獸,為人,一貴;不為夷狄,為中國人,二貴;不為中國人之女,為 中國人之男,三貴。不為中國男之農工商賈而為士,四貴;夫為士則上 26 可以為堯、舜、周、孔,下可以為顏、曾、思、孟,五貴。”

All things in the world, including human beings, are created by qi and thus share a common source. Yet the focus here is on disparities in species, ethnicity, gender, and class. Elsewhere Lü Nan also argued that men differ in their qi-constitution, and that rarely could one find a person with the perfect qi-constitution to fully realize his moral potential. Others had to painstakingly learn and strive to perfect themselves.27 A strong sense of social and moral hierarchy was thus built into the discourse on cosmology and ethics. This is in line with Lü’s conviction that a higher moral authority was needed for devising institutions and ritual codes to guide the world. The privilege that Lü granted the literati class is significant, for it shaped the way he envisioned the role of a literatus: Xi asked, “What are the delights that a gentleman may have?” The master said, “A gentleman will feel delightful about five things, which are the extension of the three delights [listed by Men­cius]. The first is to be upright and self-complete, so as to be a model for the country. The second is to uphold and practice the teachings of the classics, so as to prepare oneself as a literatus for the country. The third is to investigate and differentiate between good and evil, so as to prepare oneself for assuming an official post for the country. The fourth is to ensure that instructions are carried out and the government is stable, so as to nurture the people for the nation. The fifth is to bestow rewards and honor one’s parents, so as to cul­ tivate the right customs for the country.” 璽問:“君子之所樂如何?”先生曰:“君子有五樂,皆三樂之緒也。一 曰方正自遂,為國作紀,二曰履經奉典,為國作士,三曰廉淑別慝,為 國作官;四曰教行政安,為國作民;五曰垂勳昭親,為國作風。”28 26. Lü Nan, Jing ye zi neibian, 1.1. 27. Lü Nan, Jing ye zi neibian, 27.283–84. 28. Lü Nan, Jing ye zi neibian, 1.10.

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The three delights outlined by Mencius are: (1) one’s parents are alive and one’s brothers are well; (2) one is not ashamed to face Heaven above and man below; and (3) one has the good fortune of having the most talented pupils in the world.29 These sources of delight are apolitical, and relate to a gentleman’s dignity and his roles as a son and a teacher. Lü Nan’s “extension” to five delights redefines the role of a gentleman as political, stressing his responsibility to the government and the state. Although the state occupies a critical position in Lü Nan’s intellectual scheme, in the end he stayed true to the basic Daoxue premise that a literatus could aspire to be a sage and to unite all things under Heaven if he remained truly committed to the learning of moral self-cultivation. In contrast, the eccentric thinker Wang Tingxiang of Henan articulated a radical position that stripped away the innate moral attributes of the individual as defined by Daoxue. Wang viewed the cosmos as essentially diverse. At the core of his theory is the notion of the original qi (yuanqi 元氣), which contains countless and varied seeds of qi (qizhong 氣種) that give distinct features to the myriad things in the world when they are created. Since each and every “seed” is different, qi as the source of creation is therefore diverse in its original state. Wang went so far as to claim that because li is none other than the natural rule of qi movement, and because qi are many (qiwan 氣萬), li must also be many (liwan 理萬). Unlike the other thinkers discussed so far, Wang made no attempt to argue from an ontological perspective that all things are inter-connected or that the capacity to achieve such unity is inherent in human nature. Human nature, in his opinion, was equally prone to receiving the evil forces of qi. He therefore refused to grant that the individual was the key to realizing the ideals of unity and coherence. Instead, he looked to political authorities to create institutions that could put a dangerously diverse world in order. Given his distrust of human nature, Wang chose to place his faith in the state to ensure that society would not break apart.30 29. Lau, Mencius, 7.20, p. 185. 30. Ong, “The Principles Are Many.”

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Collectively, the thinkers surveyed thus far shared a common conviction that li was tangible, in the sense that it was either one with qi or a principled movement of qi. In stripping li of its abstract, even mystic characteristics, leading mid-Ming thinkers wanted to place the focus of creating an ideal society on the phenomenal world and actual human conditions created by qi. It is in this respect that Li Mengyang departed from the mainstream interpretations of the time. Despite disagreements about how shared values could be obtained, the majority of the leading thinkers in the early sixteenth century put forth theories of qi that presupposed that the workings of the universe and its relationship with the human realm were simultaneously secular and tangible. In contrast, Li’s cosmic theory, as discussed in part 2, assumes the cosmos is not only diverse and irregular but also controlled by supernatural and incomprehensible forces that are concealed from man’s intellect. Moreover, the cosmos constantly witnesses intense competition between yin and yang, and without the intervention of a higher authority the forces of yin would overpower those of yang, resulting in widespread evil in society. In many of Li’s writings, he emphasizes the mysterious power of the higher authority. In a sociopolitical context this higher power resides in the ruler, and Li insists there is a strong indication of cosmic resonance that is real but inexplicable, thus giving the ruler a semidivine presence. This stands in stark contrast to the general perception of emperorship among late Ming intellectuals. Even someone like the highly controversial senior grand secretary Zhang Juzheng 張居正 (1525–82), sometimes described as a “Confucian Legalist” whose reforms attempted to implement despotic rule under an all-encompassing imperial authority, had a rather different view of emperorship. 31 In his study of the Dijian tushuo 帝鑒圖説 (Illustrated explanations of the mirror of the emperors)—a book that Zhang compiled for the purpose of lecturing the emperor— Li-chiang Lin points out that Zhang wanted the emperor to respect 31. Crawford, “Chang Chü-cheng’s Confucian Legalism.” Mizoguchi, Chū­ goku zenkindai shisō no kussetsu to tenkai, pp. 250–51.

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his tutor and mentor. Through a careful analysis of the images of the emperors depicted in some of the illustrations in the work, Lin also argues that “what Zhang regarded as the proper gestures for a model emperor should reveal his humanity and modesty.”32 In other words, although Zhang Juzheng employed the conventional discourse when discussing the nature of emperorship, that Heaven bestowed its mandate on the ruler, there was nothing particularly divine about his ideal ruler or mysterious about the heavenly mandate. Given that this was how the nature of emperorship was commonly understood in the late Ming period, it is not surprising that Li’s semidivine ruler was largely ignored. Following almost naturally from Li Mengyang’s emphasis on the divine quality of the ruler was his insistence that the most important task of a literatus was to serve the ruler and the state diligently. As we saw in part 3, the institutions and programs of learning that Li devised for the literati were very much orientated toward fulfilling the agenda of the state. It is in this regard that we can see that Li shared certain assumptions about political authority and the state with his northern friends. Despite holding vastly different views about the nature of the state and the role of the literati within it, Lü Nan and Wang Tingxiang saw serving the state as the ultimate goal of a learned man. In contrast, for southern Daoxue thinkers such as Luo Qin­ shun, Zhan Ruoshui, and Wang Yangming, their understanding of qi allowed them to make two claims at once. First, that a moral self is the building block for a perfect social order, and the key to realizing the moral self lies in activating the mind rather than relying on established norms or the state (although they had very differ­ ent understandings of the nature and function of the mind). And second, that since all men share the same qi and are equally capable of moral behavior, forming a community in which like-minded individuals are connected through teacher-student relations and can learn from one another would provide the fundamental 32. Li-chiang Lin, “The Creation and Transformation of Ancient Rulership,” quotation on p. 342.

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structure for building a moral world. Both claims led these southern scholars, committed to finding and establishing the perfect social order, to conclude that participating in the state system was not entirely necessary. The rapid spread of the “discussing learning” (jiangxue) activities, most closely but not exclusively associated with Wang Yangmingism, led to the emergence and florescence of literati societies, most notably the development of the Donglin 東林 as a social movement (rather than a label for a political faction). Because the Donglin movement and other late Ming literati societies have been substantially studied, I need highlight here only the fact that many were motivated by a strong commitment to Daoxue idealism, in the form of either Zhu Xi-ism or Wang Yangmingism. In their pursuit of an ordered world, although they did not hesitate to fight for key government positions or to control and use state machinery to achieve various ends including suppressing their political opponents, they had more faith in the unofficial communities they formed. 33 The popularity of these societies in the south could be attributed to a number of factors, but apparently they were at least partly driven by this intellectual trend.34 Historians have found only sporadic accounts of a handful of literati associations in the north, operating on a much smaller scale.35 Of course it is important to remember that not every northerner was statist and not every southerner the opposite. For one thing, as Ono Kazuko has shown, even though Zhang Juzheng and his suppression of those unofficial literati societies received the strongest support from Shanxi officials of a merchant family background, he was still a southerner (from Huguang) with a very 33. Elman, “Imperial Politics and Confucian Societies.” 34. In tracing the origins of what he called the “regionalization of Confucian learning” (ruxue diyuhua 儒學地域化) in nineteenth-century China, Yang Nianqun argues that Daoxue’s challenge to state orthodoxy was an important factor, giving rise to the prosperity of regional communities of Confucianism in the south. The trend, according to Yang, began in the Song but culminated in the late Ming. See Yang Nianqun, Ruxue diyuhua de jindai xingtai, pp. 35–81. 35. Xie, Ming-Qing zhi ji dangshe yundong kao, pp. 140–47.

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statist mindset. 36 The existence of exceptions notwithstanding, the general divide between the perspectives of northern and southern literati had a long history, going back to at least the thirteenth century and continuing through the early Ming (see chapter 1). Our survey of major mid-Ming thinkers in this section shows that this general north-south divide was still apparent during Li Mengyang’s generation. However, all indications suggest that, starting in the mid-sixteenth century, the southern narratives began to dominate the discourse on morality and politics, pushing northern voices to the margin. Therein, perhaps, lies one of the reasons for Li Mengyang’s complete marginalization, for his state-oriented vision was unable to speak to the concerns of south­ ern scholars, most notably Huang Zongxi, in which intellectual communities were founded on notions of morality unrestricted by the state system.

The Rise of Statecraft Studies and the Redefinition of Literati Learning Toward the end of the Ming dynasty, when internal and external crises were escalating, a group of reform-minded intellectuals, mainly core members of the prestigious Restoration Society (Fushe 復社) from the Jiangnan region and its various subordinate societies, notably the Incipience Society (Jishe 幾社), got together to compile the gigantic work Collected Writings on Statecraft of the Ming Period (Huang Ming jingshi wenbian 皇明經世文編). They sought to redefine literati learning by emphasizing the primacy of “practical” knowledge essential for dealing with national policies and daily administration. The volume’s editors deliberately ignored Daoxue’s definition of morality and showered praise on its archenemy, Zhang Juzheng.37 This monumental work in particular has led modern scholars to argue that seventeenth-century 36. Ono, Minki tōsha kō, pp. 89–101. 37. See, for instance, the preface by Xu Fuyuan 徐孚遠 (1599–1665) in Chen Zilong et al., Ming jingshi wenbian.

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China witnessed the rise of statecraft studies, and that with the new enthusiasm for practical administrative affairs, Daoxue’s political program, characterized by the notion of “transforming through education” (jiaohua 教化), was gradually replaced by a new focus on solving practical problems.38 In retrospect, there was indeed such a shift in intellectual orientation, but the line was never clear-cut.39 Moreover, despite showing little interest in the kind of philosophical discourse that defined Daoxue, Chen Zilong 陳子龍 (1608–47), the main editor, did not entirely dismiss Daoxue’s relevance to moral cultivation.40 Therefore, rather than seeing statecraft studies and Daoxue as two mutually exclusive modes of learning, with the former replacing the latter over the course of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, it would be more useful to ask: How did leading seventeenth-century scholars’ interest in jingshi (literally, “ordering the world”) redefine literati learning, and what can it tell us about the reception of Li Mengyang’s political ideas in this period? Given that Li Mengyang included political involvement and service to the state among his major recommendations for the literati, we would expect him to have written extensively on political issues and to be significantly featured in the Collected Writings. Surprisingly, only two pieces of Li’s writings were selected for the volume. One is the 1505 memorial that Li submitted to Emperor Xiaozong (r. 1487–1505) after the latter’s call to “speak up” on current political situations (see chapter 1). The remarks by the compilers indicate that they found Li’s harsh criticism of the eunuchs 38. Li Jixiang, “Jingshi guannian yu Song-Ming lixue.” 39. For discussions on the shift from Daoxue to jingshi and the complex relationship between the two, especially in the seventeenth century, see Hao Chang, “On the Ching-shih Ideal in Neo-Confucianism”; Zhang Hao, “SongMing yilai rujia jingshi sixiang shishi”; Metzger, “Ching-shih Thought”; Yama­ noi, “Mimmatsu Shinsho ni okeru keisei chiyō no gaku,” pp. 135–50; Wang Jiajian, “Wan-Ming de shixue sichao”; Yingshi Yu, “Toward an Interpretation of the Intellectual Transition in Seventeenth-Century China”; Lin Bao­ chun, Jingshi sixiang yu wenxue jingshi, pp. 39–44; Rowe, Saving the World, pp. 140–41. 40. Chen Zilong, “Da Dai Shifang” 答戴石房, in Anyatang gao, 18.1228–31.

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and imperial relatives especially intriguing.41 As these early seventeenth-century scholar-officials were struggling with similar crises, it is not surprising that they would applaud Li Mengyang’s criticism of those power holders who operated outside the regular bureaucracy. It is as if they saw Li primarily as a spokesperson for the bureaucracy, one who found its authority being constantly eroded by certain privileged groups with personal connections to the throne. Besides this memorial, the only other piece in the Collected Writings authored by Li Mengyang is his memorial on the salt trade, which was also discussed in chapter 1. In comparison with Li’s two citations, twenty-four pieces by Wang Yangming are included in the collection, and several of Li’s close affiliates, including He Jingming, Kang Hai, Wang Jiusi, and Wang Tingxiang, had more pieces of their writing selected for the compilation. Considering that Li was often regarded as the leader of this group, his near absence in the Collected Writings warrants some explanation. Li Mengyang’s advocacy of a strong state to regulate society for the common good propelled him to insist that a literatus’s natural role was to serve the monarch and the state. Thus literati learning, as Li envisioned it, should prepare students to serve the state diligently and competently. This was also how the compilers of the Collected Writings viewed literati learning. The overall vision of learning as presented by the Collected Writings is a statist one, focusing on serving the emperor in the capacity of government officials.42 Given the similarities in their visions, why were the writings of Li that we discussed in part 3 omitted by the compilers? The answer has to lie in how the compilers envisioned jingshi as a branch of literati learning. The term jingshi had a long tradition, but it was only in the Song that some authors began to use it in the titles of their work. Evidence from the Song-Yuan period thus suggests that jingshi was by and large not considered a distinct branch of literati learning 41. Chen Zilong et al., Ming jingshi wenbian, 138.1372a. 42. Dai Wenhe, “Wan-Ming jingshi juzhu ‘Huang-Ming jingshi wenbian’ jiqi xiangguan wenti yanjiu,” pp. 53–61.

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about the practical affairs of government, although thinkers of different intellectual inclinations did take knowledge about statecraft seriously.43 Beginning in the mid-Ming, not only did works with the term jingshi or jingji 經濟 in the title proliferate (the latter being shorthand for jingshi jimin 經世濟民, literally “ordering the world and relieving the people”), but increasingly scholars wrote about jingshi as a special form of learning independent of, for instance, Daoxue or literary studies. The keyword here is “independent,” for late Ming jingshi discourse generally did not attempt to replace or incorporate Daoxue’s quest for the Way or the pursuit of literary excellence. Rather, it focused on reminding the literati that jingshi should be taken seriously as a discrete subject of learning. In stark contrast to the Southern Song Zhedong position on government surveyed in chapter 2, jingshi as statecraft studies in a late Ming context consisted of a separate knowledge system and a distinct approach of inquiry that sought to disentangle practical experiences of public administration from philosophical and theoretical exploration. Occasionally scholars would work to fuse public administration, historical studies, exegesis of the classics, moral cultivation, and literary pursuit into a coherent program of learning. But more often than not, intellectual synthesis was conducted on the premise that each branch of learning should be separately pursued. In the end, while seventeenth-century scholars continued to use the language of unity (yi) to depict the ideal state of knowledge, what most of them had in mind was actually a broad range of literati learning in which different branches of knowledge ideally coexisted, but with discernable distinction and diverse purposes.44 Such an approach is exemplified in the compilation of the Collected Writings: There are both fixed principles and ever-changing affairs in the world. The distinction between good and poor government all begins with words about rectifying the mind and making the intention 43. Liu Liankai, “Tang Zhongyou de shixue sixiang.” Su Zhenshen, Yuan zhengszhu Jingshi Dadian zhi yanjiu. 44. Yu Hongliang, Ming-Qing zhiji jingshi zhi xue yanjiu, pp. 67–80.

294 c onc lu sion sincere, and associating oneself with virtuous men and keeping a distance from evil men. However, the idea is simple and straightforward and could be articulated with a few words. Therefore, in this collection we have selected a few dozen articles by the great ministers and upright scholars whose duty was to converse with their monarchs in the inner palace, as representative of the entire corpus. As for the ever-changing affairs, every generation has a differ­ent system and everyone follows different teachings. Thus, if we do not examine each affair thoroughly, how could we arrive at the standards for evaluating the merits and demerits of each system? 天下有一定之理。有萬變之事。正心誠意之言,親賢遠佞之說,治忽 之分,罔不由茲,然義簡而直,數語可盡。故集中惟元臣正士,入告我 后者,載數十首,以槩其餘。至於萬變之事,代不同制,人各異師,苟 非條析講求,何以規摹得失?45

The knowledge of “fixed principles” refers to the kind of learning that defined Daoxue and its application in the “classics mat” (jingyan 經筵) tradition, in which a renowned Daoxue scholar-official would be appointed to lecture the emperor on topics of moral self-cultivation.46 This sort of knowledge was important for the compilers, for it was their conviction that the quality of a ruler would determine the quality of his government. But such principles could be explicated rather easily, as they are straightforward and uncomplicated. In comparison, addressing the “ever-changing affairs” required many other kinds of knowledge. The distinction made between “fixed principles” and “ever-changing affairs” suggests that for Chen Zilong and his peers, even as a category, jingshi knowledge should be divided into two different types: (1) the ethically inclined theory of emperorship, and (2) the complex web of knowledge about public administration. Very clearly, the two aspects were viewed as two different jingshi approaches with different sets of assumptions and priorities, and more weight was given to the latter in the compilation. 45. Chen Zilong et al., Ming jingshi wenbian, “general notes” (fanli 凡例). 46. De Bary, Neo-Confucian Orthodoxy, pp. 28–29.

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Moreover, the compilers also made a distinction between literary and jingshi knowledge: The colorful writings of the literary figures of our dynasty are unquestionably elegant, but if we search among them for material on ordering the world and relieving the people, out of ten pieces we can hardly find one or two. As for the pure talent of Song Lian, the uprightness of Li Mengyang, the competency of Wang Ting­ xiang, and the broad knowledge of Wang Shizhen, weren’t they out­standing talents and leaders in the learning of relieving the world? But among this group we can hardly find anyone with comprehensive talent who could be regarded as representative. As for the rest, such as Qiu Jun, Huo Tao 霍韜 [1487–1540] Feng Qi 馮琦 [jinshi 1577], and Xu Guangqi 徐光啟 [1562–1633], their learning was deep and profound and fit to be put into practice. The former were masters of words while the latter were the standards for application. 本朝文士,風雲月露,非不斐然,然求之經濟,十不一二。至若宋文憲 (濂)之精粹,李空同(夢陽)之諒直,王浚川(廷相)之練達,王弇州 (世貞)之博識,寧非卓爾之姿,濟世之彥哉?罕有通才,未當一槩。其 他若丘文莊(浚)、霍文敏(韜)、馮文敏(琦)、徐文定(光啟),學術 淵深,足為世用。一稱立言之家,一為實用之準。47

It is clear from the distinction made in this passage that the compilers saw literary writing as an artistic pursuit as being separate from practical knowledge for ordering the world. While the Collected Works focused on elucidating the learning of jingshi, the compilers, being leading literary figures themselves, did not dismiss literary pursuits. They merely opined that aside from literary skill, most literary figures lacked applicable knowledge for solving the actual problems of the world. Even among the best of them, from Song Lian to Wang Shizhen, even though their talent and character may have been beyond reproach, their knowledge was still limited. In this collection, however, the compilers wished to feature the great officials who had established themselves with their 47. Chen Zilong et al., Ming jingshi wenbian, “general notes.”

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knowledge of practical affairs rather than their literary skills. The demarcation between mastering “words” and setting the standards for “application” points to a particular approach for dividing knowledge into different fields of study; there was no attempt by the compilers to argue that literary pursuit and practical knowledge of government should be fused for serving the same goal. In regard to Li Mengyang, the compilers held his upright character in high esteem, and it was by this measure that they ranked him an outstanding talent and a man worth relying on for ordering the world. But other than that, they did not find his proposals for political reform particularly inspiring. They also ignored Li’s vision of learning that emphasized the technique of rule and evoked a utilitarian view of ritual, history, and literary writing, for this was not what the late Ming jingshi scholars had in mind when they appealed for specialized knowledge of public administration. Although Li had held a more diversified understanding of literati learning in his challenge to the unitary approach of Daoxue, the majority of his writings about the techniques of rule, and how ritual, history, and literature could relate to government, still privileged knowledge of general principles for rulership and government over having piecemeal knowledge of routine works of the administration. This view received less attention from the com­ pilers, whose intention was mainly to underscore various types of applied knowledge of public administration for dealing with “ever-changing affairs,” rather than to expound on the “fixed principles.” This may be the reason why, out of Li’s many political writings, only the two aforementioned memorials were selected for inclusion in the Collected Works, for in each of them Li at least tried to address certain specific administrative issues rather than simply ascertaining general principles of good government. Regarding the rise of jingshi as an independent category of learning, the vision of knowledge that the Collected Works presented may be indicative of the Jiangnan intellectual trend of the time, but its state-centered orientation was more complicated. As Harry Miller points out, for this group of reform-minded literati, the desire to serve the state was motivated by a sense of guilt over the prolonged neglect of state affairs by the literati class. Put

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differently, the compilation of this great work on statecraft was an attempt to reverse the declining interest among the literati in seeing things from the state’s perspective. Moreover, even among those who contributed to the work, enthusiasm for serving the state was not universal. For example, Miller writes, “Zhang Pu’s preface refers much more to the scholarship of the ‘dedicated literati’ than to their need to serve the emperor.”48 In short, the Collected Works emerged during a critical moment in the history of the dynasty, and the importance it assigned to participating in the state system was clearly an exception rather than a representative example of the prevailing trend in the south. More important, the fact that the compilers were all key members of prominent Jiangnan literati societies indicates that they valued unofficial assemblies of learned men. They did not perceive creating an unofficial space for public discussions among the literati as a threat to the authority of the state. It was within this broad intellectual trend of championing the unofficial public engagement of the literati that Huang Zongxi wrote his Waiting for the Dawn (Mingyi daifang lu 明夷待訪錄).49 In modern times, this work on statecraft is known first and foremost for its outright attack on autocracy and its challenges to the moral and even the political authority of the monarch, so much so that de Bary has described it as a monumental work in the tradition of “Neo-Confucian liberal thought.”50 Huang accepted the view that practical knowledge of government was extremely important, but he refused to adopt the statist position that the purpose of learning was primarily to serve the imperial order. It is against this background that we can make sense of late Ming intellectuals’ rejection of Li Mengyang’s prescriptions for solving the problems that they faced in politics, for Li’s political theory did not agree with the late Ming vision of jingshi as a category of learn­ ing, and his statist vision was far removed from the prevailing discourse of learning in the south. 48. Miller, State versus Gentry, pp. 157–58, quotation on p. 158. 49. Struve, “Huang Zongxi in Context.” 50. De Bary, Liberal Tradition in China, p. 85.

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Reconceptualizing the Literary Self In addition to Cases of Ming Scholars and the Collected Writings on Statecraft of the Ming Period, southerners in the seventeenth century also compiled monumental works on prose and poetry that have shaped our understanding of the Ming literary world. The Sea of Ming Prose (Ming wenhai 明文海), a gigantic work consisting of more than 480 juan, or volumes, and comprising roughly 4,500 pieces of prose by Ming authors, was completed by Huang Zongxi in 1694, after twenty-six years of work.51 For poetry, Qian Qianyi’s Collected Poems of the Successive Reigns (Liechao shiji 列朝詩集), published in 1652, provides the most comprehensive and yet strongly opinionated reviews of Ming poets and their works. Before Qian, Chen Zilong, Li Wen 李雯 (1607–47), and Song Zhen­g yu 宋徵輿 (1618–67) published the Selections of Ming Poetry (Huang Ming shixuan 皇明詩選) in 1633. Around 1705, Zhu Yizun 朱彝尊 (1629–1709) published Anthology of Ming Poetry (Ming shizong 明詩綜). These works, all by southerners, collectively put Li Mengyang’s two major forms of writing, prose and poetry, in the perspective of Ming literary history. Unlike in Cases, in which Huang Zongxi omits Li Mengyang completely, Li seems ubiquitous in Sea of Ming Prose and Huang’s other pieces of literary criticism, but he is generally portrayed in a negative light. In fact, Li was so important that Huang made use of every opportunity to condemn the adverse impact Li’s approaches had on Ming literary development. In the preface to Cases of Ming Prose (Ming wen’an 明文案), an early draft of Sea of Ming Prose, Huang argued that there were three peaks in the development of prose essays throughout the Ming. The first was at the beginning of the dynasty, when many were living in seclusion and not taking part in the civil examinations. The second occurred in the mid-sixteenth century, when “two or three gentlemen” successfully reversed the first installment of the archaist 51. According to some traditional opinions the original work consisted of 600 juan, but this was refuted convincingly in Wu Yumei, “Ming wenhai zhu wenti kaoshu.”

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movement. The third was during the Chongzhen 崇禎 reign (1628–44), when the authority of the second-generation archaist masters Wang Shizhen and Li Panlong collapsed and “scholars who vowed to comprehend the classics and learn the ancient ways” could finally see and hear clearly.52 The period that concerns us most is the second stage. The “two or three gentlemen” cited here represent the loosely connected group of literati retrospectively labeled the Tang-Song school (Tang-Song pai 唐宋派)—including Wang Shenzhong 王慎中 (1509–59), Tang Shunzhi 唐順之 (1507– 60), Gui Youguang 歸有光 (1506–71), and others—who were so named because they were thought to champion the Tang and Song writers disparaged by Li Mengyang and his peers. It was only after these gentlemen suppressed the influence of Li that Ming prose witnessed a positive development. Similarly, in the third stage, it was after the second phase of archaism, led by Wang Shizhen and Li Panlong, subsided that Ming literati were able to write freely. Why was Huang Zongxi so opposed to the archaist movement in general, and what were his main complaints against Li Mengyang in particular? Within what intellectual context and under what literary principles was Huang working when he issued his harsh criticism? Comments by the Siku Quanshu editors on Huang’s intent shed some light on the matter: In regard to Ming essays, after the ascendancy of He Jingming and Li Mengyang, writers of the world had learned to blindly follow [past writings] and plagiarize. The fault became especially severe after the Jiajing [1522–66] and Longqing [1567–72] reigns. Huang Zongxi’s intent in compiling [the Sea] was to get rid of imitation, remove reliance [on past models] and champion works that carry deep feelings. He also wished that we could use the Sea to study the general features of the institutions, documents, and personages throughout the Ming dynasty. Therefore he also included works that are less serious and more informal, and for that, [Huang] could be faulted for being too loose in his selection criteria.

52. Huang Zongxi, “Ming wenan xu” 明文案序, in Huang Zongxi quanji, vol. 10, p. 18.

300 c onc lu sion 明代文章,自何、李盛行,天下相率为沿袭剽窃之学。逮嘉、隆以 後,其弊益甚。宗羲之意,在於扫除摹拟,空所倚傍,以情至为宗。又 欲使一代典章人物,俱藉以考见大凡。故虽游戏小说家言,亦为兼收 并采,不免失之泛滥。53

Central to Huang Zongxi’s emphasis on “feeling” (qing) and his objection to imitation was a commitment to redefining a writer’s self and his relation to his works against the paradigm set up by Li Mengyang and the other archaist masters. To overcome the mistakes of his literary nemeses as he understood them, Huang insisted that a writer had to be able to express his selfhood through qing before he could move his readers with his prose: Prose essays should be written mainly based on principles [li], but if [the authors’] feelings are not deep, the prose that they produce will only be a [lifeless] shell of the principled [ideas]. . . . Whether in ancient times or in the present, there has always been a kind of prose that will last forever, and it truly manifests the line “Heaven would grow old if it had feelings.”54 In this world, there is no lack of essays that appear to be magnificent and upstanding, and people tend to regard them as great prose, but if we look deeply, we realize that within them there is nothing that could move the reader’s feelings. They are the sort of things that, if cut open, turn out to have no substance. 文以理為主,然而情不至,則亦理之郛廓耳……古今自有一種文章 不可磨滅,真是“天若有情天亦老”者。而世不乏堂堂之陣,正正之 旗,皆以大文目之,顧其中無可以移人之情者,所謂刳然無物者也。55

Given Huang’s Daoxue affiliation, it is tempting to read his underscoring of li in this passage as an attempt to subordinate literary pursuits to moral cultivation. But his concurrent emphasis on qing calls for a more sophisticated reading on his position. I 53. Ji Yun et al., Siku Quanshu zongmu tiyao, 190.1729. 54. This is from the poem “Jintong xianren ci Han ge” 金銅仙人辭漢歌, by the Tang dynasty poet Li He 李賀 (790–816). 55. Huang Zongxi, “Lunwen guanjian” 論文管見, in Huang Zongxi quanji, vol. 2, p. 271.

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have chosen to translate qing as “feelings” in these passages, but qing in the late Ming received unprecedented interest from all quarters of the intellectual world; some even raised its status to the equivalent of li in the Daoxue tradition. While Huang was far from being a single-minded champion of the cult of qing, never promoting it at the expense of moral principles, as prescribed by the orthodox Cheng-Zhu position, he nevertheless operated within such an intellectual atmosphere. 56 In prose writing, the late Ming period witnessed a new trend in literary criticism that favored a style of essay that has come to be known as xiaopin 小品 (“small items”). As shown by Philip Kafalas’s study of Dream Reminiscences of Tao’an (Tao’an mengyi 陶庵梦忆) by Zhang Dai 张岱 (1597–1685), late Ming usage of the term revealed a complicated picture, as it could be employed to denote very different types of compositions, quite different from the modern (post–May Fourth) perception of xiaopin as a welldefined literary genre. Nonetheless, the popularity that xiaopin enjoyed as a literary concept did signal that a certain way of writing one’s self into prose essays had begun to receive greater approval from readers—a self that was more personal than collective, more aesthetic and emotional than moral and intellectual, and more liberal than formal. The trend had everything to do with the late Ming philosophical reorientation that saw writers and literary critics alike reworking and repackaging Wang Yangming’s notion of the self and individuality into literary composition.57 It was precisely this late Ming rise of a particular understanding of selfhood that informed Huang Zongxi’s theory of prose writing, bringing to the forefront the significance of expressiveness in literary composition. To quote again from the preface to the Cases of Ming Prose: So long as the author’s feelings are deep, none of his writings will be of inferior quality. Thus, in this world the conversations and chats in the streets, collective cries and laments are all literary 56. Struve, “Huang Zongxi in Context.” 57. Kafalas, In Limpid Dream, pp. 119–42.

302 c onc lu sion works, and wandering women, farmers, gentlemen of the [lake and river] waves, and military sojourners, all of these are litterateurs. 凡情之至者,其文未有不至者也,則天地間街談巷語、邪許呻吟,無 一非文,而遊女、田夫、波臣、戍客,無一非文人也。58

Literary expressiveness rises above class, gender, and all other societal distinctions, for even the common folk, both men and women, are capable of expressing their feelings through words. This egalitarian view of wen created a common ground based on qing, suggesting why and how human sentiments and expressions could be shared through literary endeavors. At the same time, outstanding men in any given age possess powerful mental attributes that separate them from the rest: Never has there been an instance where the spirit of outstanding men found nowhere to reside. Laozi’s and Zhuangzi’s philosophy of the Way and Virtue, Shen Buhai’s and Han Fei’s theory of law and names, Zuo Qiuming’s and Sima Qian’s history, Zheng Xuan’s and Fu Qian’s classical studies, Han Yu’s and Ouyang Xiu’s prose, Li Bai’s and Du Fu’s poetry, all the way down to Shi Kuang’s theories of music, Guo Shoujing’s calendric theory, and Wang Shifu’s and Guan Hanqing’s drama scripts: these were where the spirits of all these figures resided. 從來豪傑之精神,不能無所寓。老、莊之道德,申(不害)、韓之刑 名,左、遷之史,鄭、服(虔)之經,韓、歐之文,李、杜之詩,下至師 曠之音聲,郭守敬之律曆,王實甫、關漢卿之院本,皆其一生之精神 所寓也。59

Here, Huang Zongxi refers to the outstanding figures in various fields of learning. From the great poets (Li Bai, Du Fu) to the great essayists (Han Yu, Ouyang Xiu) and great playwrights (Wang Shifu, Guan Hanqing), it was their individuality that made 58. Huang Zongxi, “Ming wen’an xu,” in Huang Zongxi quanji, vol. 10, p. 18. 59. Huang Zongxi, “Jin Xiongfeng shi xu” 靳熊封詩序, in Huang Zongxi quanji, vol. 10, p. 59.

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them great. Through their works, they thoroughly expressed the distinctive “spiritual essences” that defined their lives as literary masters. Hence, for Huang, literary writing is to be pursued only in a manner that takes into account one’s unique temperament and soul: “Words without feeling may be glamorous on the outside but are dry within. If the soul of writing cannot be conveyed, then it is nothing more than the costume of an actor.”60 We might also consider the following passage: I have been saying that literary skill is not something that a scholar should commit himself to, but there has never been a case of a [true] scholar who cannot write. Now when a person sees [the writing of a true scholar] that lacks the appearance of [supposedly good writing] and looks dissimilar to that of Ouyang Xiu, Zeng Gong, the Shiji, or Hanshu, and if he says that it is not a good piece of writing, then this person is precisely the sort to whom we should not entrust this culture. Only the writings of the following gentlemen— Zhou Dunyi, the Cheng brothers, Zhu Xi, Lu Jiuyuan, Chen Xian­ zhang, and Wang Yangming—could be on par with those of Ouyang, Zeng, the Shiji, and Hanshu, suspended between Heaven and Earth. This is because only after one avoids taking literary skill as one’s learning can one finally write well. At the time when He Jingming and Li Mengyang were promoting literary learning, Wang Yangming initially sang the same tune, but he discarded it in the end. From He and Li to the followers, all lamented that Wang did not complete [his literary pursuit]. Even those who knew Wang thought that the reason he departed from He and Li was owing to his refusal to see himself as a literary figure. How could they have known that Wang’s [rejection of the approach of He and Li] was precisely because he had a profound understanding of literary writing? If Wang had pursued the learning of He and Li, even if he had attained the highest order, what he eventually achieved would have been no more than the literary accomplishment of He and Li. But viewed retrospectively, at what level are Wang’s writings? How could this be something that He and Li ever hoped to achieve?

60. Huang Zongxi, “Li Gaotang xiansheng muzhiming” 李杲堂先生墓誌 銘, in Huang Zongxi quanji, vol. 10, p. 401.

304 c onc lu sion 余嘗謂文非學者所務,學者固未有不能文者。今見其脫略門面,與 歐、曾、《史》《漢》不相似,便謂之不文,此正不可與於斯文者也。濂 溪、洛下、紫陽、象山、江門、姚江諸君子之文,方可與歐、曾、《史》 《漢》並垂天壤耳。蓋不以文為學,而後文始至焉。當何、李為詞章之 學,姚江與之更唱叠和,既而棄去,何、李而下,嘆惜其不成,即知之 者,亦謂其不欲以文人自命者,豈知姚江之深於為文者乎?使其 逐何、李之學,充其所至,不過如何、李之文而止。今姚江之文果何 如!豈何、李之所敢望耶?61

This passage is one of several places where Huang Zongxi makes the claim that wen does not have to be pursued, and that a scholar who aspires to become a good writer should instead focus on learning. But as our discussion has established, Huang is not suggesting that literary pursuits are inconsequential. When Huang argues that literary writing and the Way should be one, he is not claiming that literary writing should be taken up only if it can serve the sole objective of fulfilling a universal Way. Nor is he claiming that since there is only one Way, there can be only one acceptable way of writing. On the contrary, he considers wen to be indispensable, growing out naturally from one’s self, with its essence crystallized in the notion of “mind-and-heart.” To produce good wen, one must commit to cultivating the self, both emotionally and intellectually. In a famous preface in which he discusses the relationship between learning and writing, Huang provides a broad survey of the Song-Yuan intellectual landscape. The figures he covers include Daoxue thinkers, classicists, historians, and literary masters. According to Huang, they were able to produce great writing because they were deep in their respective “traditions of learning” (xuetong 學統).62 This seems to endorse the existence of multiple modes of learning. The emphasis on feeling and soul also unequivocally calls on the writer to exhibit his individuality rather than to conform to any grand literary theory or 61. Huang Zongxi, “Li Gaotang wenchao xu” 李杲堂文鈔序, in Huang Zongxi quanji, vol. 10, pp. 26–27. 62. Huang Zongxi, “Shen Zhaozi Geng Yancao xu” 沈昭子耿岩草序, in Huang Zongxi quanji, vol. 10, p. 56.

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practice. This conception of the self and its relation to wen is thus different from, and much broader than, the moral view of subordinating wen to moral self-cultivation, as embedded in Zhou Dunyi’s famous statement, “Wen is a vehicle of dao.”63 As Huang Zongxi understood it, the fault of Li Mengyang (and He Jingming) lay precisely in the fact that they had enticed generation after generation of aspiring writers to focus singlemindedly on perfecting their literary skills. Writers were told by the archaist masters to learn to follow, step by step, the methods and language laid down by great writers of the past, for that was the only acceptable and correct way of writing.64 In the end, such writers became obsessed with engaging in mindless, lifeless, and thus “selfless” imitation of the forms that they were told were the great masterpieces of the past, without learning that good writing originates from deep within one’s self. Huang Zongxi’s perception of Li Mengyang’s position was representative of how many perceived the archaist course from the mid-sixteenth century onward. In the domain of prose, in particular, Li’s writings were criticized mainly because they mimicked great literary models in form but lacked soul. Now, as we have seen, to accuse Li of encouraging imitation is to miss the core of his literary theories. Let us briefly revisit Li’s theory and practice of prose writing to compare it with Huang’s ideal. The first important point to remember is that sometimes Li Mengyang did not make a distinction between prose and poetry in his usage of the term wen, and when he did, he sometimes made critical comments. For instance, he argued that if a writer wished to discuss “principle” (li) exclusively, he should use prose rather than poetry. Inherent in this argument was Li’s strong conviction that poetry should be reserved mainly for expressing one’s sentiments and feelings. Prose, on the other hand, should be used for recording observations as faithfully and objectively as possible 63. Zhang Heng, “Shicong Huang Zongxi de sixiang quanshi qi wenxue shijie.” 64. Huang Zongxi, “Gengxu ji zixu” 庚戌集自序, in Huang Zongxi quanji, vol. 10, pp. 8–9.

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and for intellectual discourse. Therefore, it was not wrong for the advocates of Song Learning to use prose when discussing li. It was wrong, however, for them to try to inject the lofty language of li into their writing at every possible instance, thus obscuring the real picture of the subject matter. In practice, as a writer of prose essays who cherished objectivity and accuracy, Li by and large tried to remain some distance from the subjects of his writing, and his emotional self was often suppressed. He strongly believed that it was only through poetry, rather than prose or other forms of nonpoetic composition, that the author’s genuine personality could be revealed and thus observed. Apparently Li Mengyang’s opinion about how prose should be written and what functions it could serve ran contrary to the prevailing view during the late Ming that valued what Wai-yee Li has so aptly called “the rhetoric of spontaneity.” Yet in articulating spontaneity, which is supposed to transcend all types, distinctions, conventions, and hierarchies in writing, late Ming writers ironically ended up creating a set of behaviors and prototypes for thinking and writing that reinforced a heightened sense of division.65 As a consequence, the writers whose literary behavior did not fit the rhetoric of spontaneity were portrayed in a negative light, as in the case of Li Mengyang and the other archaist masters. One division that was made by late Ming literati—only tangentially alluded to by Wai-yee Li in her discussion of the Gong’an school’s reference to the “style of Chu” (chufeng 楚風) but apparent in our discussion so far—was a regional one.66 For instance, in his comment on Huang Xingzeng, Huang Zongxi notes that Qian Qianyi disliked Huang Xingzeng because he thought Huang had been led astray by Li’s “northern learning” (beixue 北學). Huang Zongxi disagreed with Qian’s assessment, not because he disagreed with labeling Li’s view as beixue, but because he felt that Huang Xingzeng actually had a writing style that was clearly different from that of Li.67 In other words, Huang did not think it 65. Wai-yee Li, “The Rhetoric of Spontaneity.” 66. Wai-yee Li, “The Rhetoric of Spontaneity,” pp. 40–41. 67. Huang Zongxi, Mingru xuean, 25.4ab.

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was wrong to give a regional label to Li’s approach, but thought it was wrong to associate Huang Xingzeng with that label. Again, to label Li Mengyang’s literary theories and practices as “northern” is to oversimplify the entire issue. But we will not be able to fully understand Li’s reception in the late Ming period if we completely ignore the realities and perceptions of the regional divide faced by late Ming intellectuals. Going back to xiaopin for instance, the famous anthology by Lu Yunlong 陸雲龍 (fl. 1628) and Ding Yunhe 丁允和 (n.d.) published in 1633 consists of xiaopin essays by sixteen late Ming writers, out of whom fifteen were southerners, most of whom were from the prosperous Jiangnan region.68 Thus it was mainly Jiangnan’s literary taste— and southern taste more generally—that crafted the “rhetoric of spontaneity,” which eventually came to define late Ming prose as we know it. This was also true for poetry, even especially so. In fact Qian Qianyi’s monumental collection of Ming poetry, Collected Poems of the Successive Reigns, reflects such a mentality. But it is important to note that Qian did not employ a clear-cut north-south divide in envisioning the regionalization of Ming poetry. The poetry compilation was, rather, motivated by Qian’s strong sentiment for the poetic traditions, as he understood them, of his home­ town of Suzhou; “Our Wu” (wuwu 吾吳) was the term that Qian frequently employed to denote the region and its traditions. Now Suzhou was of course not the only southern region. Indeed, Qian was extremely hostile to the so-called Jingling school, whose core members, Zhong Xing 鐘惺 (1574–1624) and Tan Yuanchun 譚元春 (1586–1637), were natives of Jingling in Huguang. Moreover, not all poets within the Suzhou community upheld the Wu tradition as defined by Qian (Xu Zhenqing and Wang Shizhen were prominent

68. Lu Yunlong, Huang-Ming shiliujia xiaopin. The only northerner from the mix of authors was Wen Xiangfeng 文翔鳳 (jinshi 1610) from Shaanxi. Nine of the remaining fifteen authors came from the Jiangnan region of Zhe­ jiang and Jiangsu. They were joined by four from the middle Yangzi region, one from Jiangxi, and one from Fujian. Cf. Yin, Xiaopin gaochao yu wan Ming wenhua, pp. 9–10.

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examples), and not all nonnative Suzhou writers were criticized by Qian, as evidenced by his approval of the so-called Gong’an school, whose core members included the three Yuan 袁 brothers from Gong’an, also associated with Huguang. Nonetheless, Qian’s labeling of Li Mengyang’s approach to poetry—which he admired greatly during his youth but found extremely annoying in his later years—as “northern learning” reflects the perception of regional disparity that captured ­seventeenth-​­century scholars’ attention.69 It is therefore not surprising to find early Qing leading scholars and literary critics, such as Zhu Yizun and Wang Shizhen, criticizing Qian based on their understanding of regional disparity. Here we have Zhu’s reply to a letter from Wang: I have read your letter twice. The part where you discuss the different schools of Ming poetry is truly able to enlighten the uninformed and gives a good summary of the rise and fall of ages, complete with a detailed description of the orthodox line and the deviation from it in poetry. Every word is so illuminating. As for your critique about the general fallacy of the compilers [of Ming poetry, you mention that] they are usually harsh on the ancients but lenient toward contemporary writers, and they are usually more focused on the poets from the south and the east while neglecting those from the north and the west. For this, I will definitely remember your words and try my best to rectify it. 兩誦來書,論及明詩之流派,發蒙振滯,總時運之盛衰,備風雅之正 變,語語解頤。至云選家通病,往往嚴於古人,而寬於近世;詳於東 南,而略於西北。輒當紳書韋佩,力矯其弊。70

Although Zhu Yizun and Wang Shizhen were discussing “the compilers” in general here, the obvious target was actually Qian Qianyi, whom Zhu identifies later in the letter. The result of Zhu’s rectification was the publication of An Anthology of Ming Poetry, in which Zhu reversed the judgment of Qian in many cases.71 69. Zhou Xinglu, “Qian Qianyi yu Wuzhong shixue chuantong.” 70. Zhu Yizun, “Da Xingbu Wang Shangshu lun Mingshi shu” 答刑部王尚 書論明詩書, in Pushuting ji, 33.31b–32b. 71. Jiang Yin, “Zhu Yizun de Mingshi yanjiu.”

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However, Zhu’s rejection or revision of Qian’s position did not lead him to question the validity of Qian’s approach of imposing regional labels on Ming poetry. The two parted only in how they employed the regional labels. While Qian’s endorsement of the Suzhou tradition did not explicitly draw a clear line between north and south, Zhu’s revision had the effect of making the line more definite and apparent. In the passage just quoted, Zhu pitches the north and west collectively against the south and east, but it is clear that the main distinction that he wanted to make was between north and south, for he continues in the letter to lament over the fact that the northern poets and their works were underrepresented in the Ming poetic landscape (seven out of ten poets were southerners, we are told). Of course Qian and Zhu were writing within a long tradition of framing discourse about poetry within perceptions of regional disparity. When Xu Zhenqing first became acquainted with Li Mengyang through correspondence around 1505 in Beijing, the issue of regional differences immediately surfaced. In his reply to Xu’s letter requesting a meeting, Li first claimed that he was one of the “lowly western folk” (xibiren 西鄙人) with little knowledge but a love of poetry, and that he was delighted that an outstanding young man from Suzhou whom he knew only through his work was coming to meet him personally. But after receiving Xu’s letter, Li writes, he was hesitant, for he was unsure whether Xu shared his understanding of poetry. What led Li to hesitate was Xu’s expression of hope about being able to join Li in compos­ ing poems in the manner of the late Tang poets Pi Rixiu 皮日休 (fl. 834–83) and Lu Guimeng 陸龜蒙 (fl. 881). According to Li, the fault with Pi and Lu, and also with the duo of Yuan Zhen 元稹 (779–831) and Bai Juyi 白居易 (772–846), as well as Han Yu and Meng Jiao 孟郊 (751–814), was that they treated poetry as a game for showcasing their wit and mastery of the poetic rules through composing linked verses (lianju 聯句). This was unacceptable to Li, who argued that poetry was a serious pursuit for “expressing one’s aspiration and harmony with the Way.”72 72. Li Mengyang, “Yu Xushi lunwen shu” 與徐氏論文書, KTJ, 62.3a–5a.

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The reference to Pi Rixiu and Lu Guimeng in Xu Zhenqing’s original letter is indicative of Xu’s regional consciousness, for it was during their days together in Suzhou that Pi and Lu produced poetry that attested to their friendship and also their poetic inclination. It was because of this that both men were generally highly regarded by members of the Suzhou literary community in the Ming dynasty.73 As we saw in chapter 8, while Li Mengyang did not completely dismiss the Six Dynasties flavor in the poetic tradition of the southern metropolitan region, he had strong reservations about what that tradition stood for, so much so that he felt compelled to explain how an established northern poet such as Bian Gong would find the Six Dynasties style attractive. In a similar vein, by flashing his “westerner” identity in this exchange with Xu, Li undermined the Suzhou position that Xu valued. At the heart of their correspondence lay different understandings of the nature of true poetry, but in this letter the differences are framed subtly within a discourse about the incompatibility of the two regions’ poetic traditions. The contrast between what Li Mengyang believed to be true poetry and the Suzhou approach was explained by poetry’s relationship to the self and to the ideal of harmony. Here, we shall leave aside the question of whether Li’s appraisal of the Suzhou tradition was fair. What is important is to note that in Li’s view, good poetry is inevitably linked to the poet’s true self and has the power to resonate with readers, arousing their feelings and achieving a connection between the poet and his audience. Collectively, then, true poetry could reflect the customs of the day, enabling the government to understand the world that it governed. Such sentimental, aesthetic, and utilitarian functions are all features of true poetry in which the poet’s genuine qing is expressed (see chapters 6 and 8). Unlike his approach to prose, qing was foundational for Li’s theory and practice of poetry, and it allowed him to underscore individuality in poetic composition without having to subscribe to idiosyncrasy. What Li did with poetry, then, was very similar to what Wang Yangming did with 73. Cui, “Xu Zhenqing, Li Mengyang lunbian kaoxi.”

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moral philosophy. Li’s understanding favored a more individualistic expression of morality, emotion, and aesthetics but still emphasized a shared premise on which political, social, and cultural harmony could be built. Unlike his other theories of learning that failed to inspire the literati community, Li’s theory of poetry was widely circulated, discussed, and debated. The strongest endorsement of it came in two phases. During the second half of the sixteenth century, when the so-called Later Seven Masters took center stage, Li Mengyang’s idea that genuine qing could be expressed only if a poet used the correct methods to get the poetic forms right was considered to be one of the most powerful literary persuasions ever articulated. As diverse and sometimes even conflicting as their literary outlooks may have been, the generation of archaist masters did share a common conviction about the importance of paying attention to the formal aspect of poetry. In a famous piece written in 1552 to send off his young friend Wang Shizhen, the authoritative Shandong figure Li Panlong, one of the two northerners in the Later Seven Masters group, launched an attack on Wang Shenzhong and Tang Shunzhi, criticizing them for letting concern over “principle” (li) override the concern for perfecting the words in literary composition. Wang and Tang were part of the first literary generation inspired by Wang Yangming. They believed that literary composition should be undertaken primarily for illuminating the moral mind, a position Li Panlong and Wang Shizhen could not accept. Instead, they looked to Li Mengyang, who was equally troubled by the fact that Daoxue language had permeated literature in contemporary times. Interestingly, Li Panlong ends this piece with an explanation of why a leader such as Li Mengyang was hard to come by: Although it is in the nature of the people from Qi and Lu [i.e., Shan­dong] to be engaged in literary studies,74 the tradition was 74. This was paraphrased from the Shiji, where Sima Qian tries to explain why scholars of the state of Lu were still ceaselessly engaged in music and ritual when Liu Bang’s army approached during the battle with Xiang

312 c onc lu sion discontinued from the Qin-Han period onward. Even in Guan and Luo [Shaanxi and Henan], prominent families had to undergo gradual cultivation and await the appearance of a kingly figure [in the literary domain]. Therefore it would be too much to ask for one to appear every five hundred years. Wu and Yue [i.e., the Jiangnan region] have experienced few wars and therefore the streets are filled with books, and young and established scholars are all exposed to [these rich collections] and engage in [literary studies.] Yet it is hard to distinguish those of low quality, and to rise above the average has become difficult. As such, if [we identify] a talent who could reach the rank of Xianji [i.e., Li Mengyang], then how could we not encourage him to fully realize his potential? 齊魯之間,其於文學雖天性,然秦漢以來,素業散失,即關洛諸世 家,亦皆漸由培植,竢諸王者,故五百年一名世出,猶為多也。吳越尠 兵火,詩書藏於阛闠,即後生學士,無不操染。然竽濫不可區別,超 乗而上,是為難耳。故能為獻吉輩者,乃能不為獻吉輩者乎?75

Here again we notice a tendency to employ the north-south divide for explaining literary developments. Leading literary figures failed to emerge from the northern regions consistently because, Li Panlong posited, social conditions had been unfavorable since the Qin-Han period. In comparison, Jiangnan had been able to avoid large-scale destruction, and as such it had developed into a culturally prosperous region. Yet true leaders were also rare there. Li Panlong did not specify the reason for such a shortage, but given the context, Luo Zongqiang is probably right to argue that Li was criticizing the undesirable literary culture and practices of Jiangnan.76 Clearly Li saw himself as the next Li Mengyang, and he hoped that Wang Shizhen, a native of Suzhou, could carry the torch—although that would require Wang to rise above Jiangnan customs and revive the tradition that Li Mengyang represented. In response, Wang Shizhen accepted Li Panlong’s Yu. The term wenxue 文學 in the Shiji refers not just to literature but to “culture” in general. However, here Li Panlong was obviously referring to literary studies. 75. Li Panlong, “Song Wang Yuanmei xu” 送王元美序, in Cangming ji, 16.9b. 76. Luo Zongqiang, “Du ‘Cangming xiansheng ji’ shouji.”

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encouragement and lamented how the ignorant Suzhou literati had wrongly criticized Li Mengyang for promoting imitation in literary writing.77 The second phase of strong endorsement for Li Mengyang’s theory of poetry came several decades after Wang Shizhen’s passing, in the form of a concerted attempt to reverse the poetic practices of the Gong’an and Jingling schools. We have seen that when Chen Zilong compiled the Collected Writings on Statecraft of the Ming Period, he almost completely ignored Li. But when Chen, Li Wen, and Song Zhengyu—known retrospectively as the Three Masters of Yunjian 雲間, named after their hometown (presentday Shanghai)—compiled the Selections of Ming Poetry, Li was regarded as a role model. Interestingly, the difference between the positions of Li and the Gong’an and Jingling schools was again recast with a regional twist by Chen Zilong in a poem dedicated to Fang Yizhi 方以智 (1611–71): The loneliness of both of us, men with otherworldly talent, is lasting, and the literary garden is deserted, extending to the end of the ancient hills. Beidi [Li Mengyang] was known many years ago for [his promotion] of Han dynasty style, but now the southern regions are filled with the Chu style. How could that produce elegant music for decorating the Jade Lake? Only minor words crafted for amusement in the Jade Tower survived. I am rather tired of the dry verses of this world, and I try to cut the clouds and moon to paint the autumn color of the ninth month. 仙才寂寞兩悠悠,文苑荒涼盡古丘。 漢體昔年稱北地,楚風今日滿南州。 可成雅樂張瑤海?且剩微辭戲玉樓。 頗厭人間枯槁句,裁雲剪月畫三秋。78 77. Wang Shizhen, “Yu Li Yulin” 與李于鱗, in Yanzhou sibu gao, 117.2a–3b. 78. Chen Zilong, “Yu Tongcheng Fang Mizhi yu hushang, gui fu xiangfang, zeng zhi yi shi” 遇桐城方密之於湖上,歸復相訪,贈之以詩, in Chen Zilong shiji, p. 415.

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Beidi was the name of Li’s hometown of Qingyang during the Han period, but it can also literally mean “the northern region.” Chen Zilong was obviously merging the two meanings when he contrasted the term with nanzhou (the southern regions). “Chu style” is a reference to both the Gong’an and Jingling schools, alluding to the fact that the leading members were all Huguang natives. The poem makes several claims about Ming poetry in the early seventeenth century. First, it points to the influence that the Gong’an and Jingling approaches had on the entire literary landscape of the south, having replaced the northern archaist orientation of earlier periods. Second, the last two lines bring forth Chen’s distaste of poems written in aesthetically unappealing language. Like Li Panlong and Wang Shizhen, Chen found Li Mengyang’s attention to the formal aspect of poetry intriguing, for it was only though such forms that qing could be conveyed properly. For this reason, Chen Zilong and the other Yunjian poets accepted Li Mengyang’s famous claim concerning the lack of good poetry in the Song period, as they understood Song poetry to be lacking in qing and poor in form and style. But this was not the only merit they saw in Li’s poetics. For the Yujian poets who led the reformminded Incipience Society, although poetry should not be reduced to political statements, it nonetheless carried a serious purpose. The Gong’an and Jingling theories failed because in pursuing individualistic expressiveness, they detached the poet from reallife issues, rendering poetry useless and suitable only for personal entertainment. This brings us to the third point raised in Chen’s poem. By polarizing “elegant music” and “minor words,” the remedy suggested by Chen would have been to restore the orthodox ideal of ancient poetry—best exemplified by the Book of Songs and promoted by the archaist masters—that envisioned a shared premise for the expression of diverse human sentiments. Harmony, rather than eccentricity, should be pursued for the common good.79 When comparing Chen’s love “poetry” (shi) with his “lyrics” (ci), Kang-i Sun observes that Chen had embodied the 79. Liu Yonggang, Yunjianpai wenxue yanjiu, pp. 41–55.

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traditional view—“shi is sublime, while ci is seductive”—in a reflective manner, and that “the basis of his love poetry in shi is still the concept of qing, but qing is treated here from a radically different viewpoint. Sensual (even erotic) these shi poems are, without doubt, but their sensuality is very much abstracted and idealized as compared to the ci songs of passion. It is a profoundly reflective poetry well suited to the grand style of the orthodox shi.”80 The three waves of archaist movement—from Li Mengyang’s generation, to that of Li Panlong and Wang Shizhen, and eventually to the Yunjian poets—emerged from very different intellectual environments, and the actual theories and practices of individuals associated with the movements differed greatly. Yet a constant thread that ran through the three phases of archaism was the belief that the common ground for bringing together and harmonizing individual sentiments and expressions should be located in the forms of poetry. Qing and the poetic self as defined by such a theoretical framework are essentially political, social, and cultural. In contrast, the critics of archaism tended to define the poetic self and its expression of qing with an ontological lens. As mentioned earlier, the first powerful challenges to Li Mengyang’s vision to have a lasting effect were launched by Wang Shenzhong and Tang Shunzhi, and also Mao Kun 茅坤 (1512–1601) and Gui Youguang. The four are often grouped under the label of the Tang-Song school for promoting the ancient-style prose of the TangSong period. However, such a forced association is highly problematic, for it ignores the fact that some “members” hardly knew each other and also that their literary views were extremely diverse, not to mention that their literary heroes went far beyond the writers of the Tang-Song period. Nonetheless, for shorthand purposes it is still useful to discuss their criticism of the archaist movement collectively, for it represented a shift in literary vision during the course of the sixteenth century. Although known more for their prose than their poetry, the Tang-Song masters’ literary theories validating the use of the 80. Chang, The Late Ming poet Ch’en Tzu-lung, p. 70, with terms changed to pinyin orthography.

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Daoxue language of philosophical discourse in both prose and poetry—especially as shown by Wang Yangming—did much to reorient the conception of selfhood toward a view construed to be morally autonomous.81 For instance, bense 本色 (original characteristic), the central concept in Tang Shunzhi’s literary theory, was derived from benxin 本心 (original mind-and-heart) in Wang Yangmingism. It called for a straightforward, unadorned expression of the self, defined first and foremost by the ontological and original state of the mind, uncontaminated by the things that it comes into contact with. The key to realizing this was to engage in self-cultivation aimed at eliminating human desires. The TangSong masters did not dismiss the importance of qing, nor did they ignore literary skill. What they rejected were the tendencies to express personal emotions in an unrestrained manner and to fixate on literary forms. Li Mengyang and the archaist masters were mistaken not because they wanted aspiring writers to learn from the best works of the past, but because, in believing that qing could be expressed only through the correct forms, they became obsessed with imitating the styles and language of past masterpieces, forgetting that genuine qing is but an extension of one’s innate nature.82 The Tang-Song masters were all closely associated with the rich Jiangnan region. It was through these southerners that Li Mengyang first gained his reputation for encouraging blind imitation, an accusation that would echo continuously throughout the Ming. Accompanying this negative assessment was the emergence of a literary concept: xingling 性靈 (innate sensibility). The term has a long history in Chinese literary criticism but became central in literary theories only in the late Ming period, championed forcefully by the influential Gong’an and Jingling schools. In pursuing their own quest for Chinese modernity, early twentiethcentury figures, most noticeably Lin Yutang, saw traces of Western romanticism in this new trend of literary thought. They believed 81. The exception here was Gui Youguang, who opposed Wang Yangming’s approach but nevertheless had high praise for Zhu Xi’s philosophy. 82. Huang Yi, Mingdai Tang-Song pai yanjiu, pp. 71–101.

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that Gong’an’s and Jingling’s attack on archaism was congruent with romanticism’s attack on new classicism in the Western context, for the late Ming also witnessed a sense of urgency in the movement to liberate the self from the constraints imposed by orthodox ideology. Xingling provided proponents of Chinese romanticism with a theoretical weapon for overthrowing the conservative and repressive literary culture of the time. Much has been done to debunk Lin Yutang’s oversimplified and perhaps Eurocentric depiction of the late Ming literary landscape.83 Nonetheless, Lin was on target when he focused on the notion of the self as embedded in various late Ming literary theories. Although working from very different premises and arriving at vastly different conclusions, the advocates of xingling literature shared the Tang-Song masters’ conception of a spiritually independent self. But while the Tang-Song masters still strove to establish a common moral platform on which the unity of the self and the world could be achieved, xingling theorists valued uniqueness, often at the expense of commonality. This was especially true for Yuan Hongdao 袁宏道 (1568–1610) of the Gong’an school, who grounded the true self of poetry in the emptiness of the mind, a mind that exhibits a childlike quality—a concept that Yuan clearly received from the iconoclastic figure Li Zhi—free from all sorts of constraints and deliberations. For Yuan, Li Mengyang and the archaist masters’ emphasis on learning the right forms and skills from the great literary models of the past was nothing more than an invitation to engage in mindless imitation.84 The xingling discourse took a turn when Zhong Xing and Tan Yuanchun of the so-called Jingling school began to embark on reversing what they thought was a negative trend encouraged by the Gong’an school. As a consequence of Gong’an’s tremendous influence, these Jingling critics lamented, the poetry of the day had become vulgar and lost all its aesthetic appeal. To rectify this, masterpieces of the past needed to be thoroughly studied. But the 83. For a review of Lin Yutang’s interpretation of the late Ming legacy, see Suoqiao Qian, Liberal Cosmopolitan, pp. 127–59. 84. Chou, Yüan Hung-tao and the Kung-an School, pp. 44–54.

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criteria for selecting masterpieces clearly valued the sovereignty of the poet over any shared experience that the archaist theories postulated. In fact, Zhong and Tan believed that the more detached the poet was from the world, the deeper (shen 深) his qing would be and the greater the chances that his readers would find his verses emotionally moving. Terms like “loneliness” ( gu 孤) and “isolation” ( jue 絕) appear frequently in their writings. Although they were committed to the study of great models of the past, it was never their intention to arrive at a universally accepted form or style. Instead, they were more interested in discovering what made a particular poem unique and irreplaceable.85 As for the Jingling scholars’ disapproval of the Gong’an stance, the key lay in their different understandings of xingling. For the Yuan brothers, xingling referred to the spontaneity of the ontological self. Good poetry is produced when the poet is able to freely reveal his subjectivity through the unmediated outflow of his sentiments. In contrast, Zhong Xing and Tan Yuanchun maintained that xingling is the product of deliberate self-cultivation aimed at achieving absolute independence of the self, disconnected from any emotion aroused by interaction with exterior factors.86 Our broad survey of major trends in late Ming literary criticism has established several major developments: (1) the weight of literary discourse shifted southward during the mid-sixteenth century, a change that people were acutely aware of and often spoke about, heightening their sense of a north-south divide; (2) a basic concern underlying the various theories of poetry was the redefinition of the writing self and its relation to the world, at a time when Daoxue’s grasp on literary writing was under heavy attack; and (3) selfhood was conceptualized as a matter of qing. The supporters and critics of Li Mengyang’s archaist course differed primarily in their opinion about whether literary form provided 85. Chen Guoqiu, Mingdai fugupai Tangshilun yanjiu, pp. 232–84. 86. Chou, Yüan Hung-tao and the Kung-an School, pp. 113–18. Huang Zhuoyue, Ming zhonghouqi wenxue sixiang yanjiu, pp. 249–55.

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the arena in which individualistic qing could be shared and individuals could be connected. When Li Mengyang began to question the Song approach to literary writing during the first decade of the 1500s, he was actually setting the stage for the next few generations of literary theorists to reconceptualize the self in relation to the nature of writing. While the utilitarian aspect of his theory stressed the role literary writing played in providing the government with “mirrors” for reflecting on the customs of the day, Li was equally concerned with the aesthetic aspect of self-expression. The two aspects are related but should not be conflated or confused. Such an assertion of selfexpression carves out a discrete space independent of the state’s grand objective for wen, one in which realization of the self, however defined, becomes the ultimate concern of learning. Compared with his other intellectual endeavors through which he sought to make literati learning an integral part of the state system, Li’s idea of wen encouraged the individual to value wen for itself. Kai-Wing Chow makes an insightful observation when he mentions Li Mengyang’s poetics in his study of print culture in the Ming-Qing period: Li Mengyang criticized the Taige [i.e., Cabinet-style] poets for imitating Song poetry and was not satisfied with Song Daoxue scholars’ view of poetry, which stressed moral principles [li]. . . . It is important not to confuse criticism of Song poetry with an ideological rejection of the Cheng-Zhu orthodoxy of the Ming government. Li’s criticism was primarily leveled from the perspective of writing poetry. He did not reject the “principles” of Confucian ethics as such, nor did he question the political center’s importance in maintaining the moral order.87

As Li Mengyang was not his main concern, Chow’s rendering of Li’s theory may be a little simplistic, yet he has correctly pinpointed the distinction that Li drew between the purpose of

87. Chow, Publishing, Culture and Power, p. 195.

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government and the art of writing.88 Let us now revisit one more time Li’s encounter with the senior grand secretary Liu Jian. In Li’s words, Liu would scold a youngster for learning poetry, labeling him as someone “not committed to the serious task.” The grand secretary held such a negative view of poetry because, Li claimed, he was a northerner and prided himself as an authority in classical studies. The distinctions made between classical studies and poetry, and between north and south, were products of deep-rooted perceptions about regional differences and division of knowledge. Li Mengyang was apparently trying to rectify the errors of both the Suzhou and the northern approaches to poetry as he saw them. The northerners, represented here by Liu Jian, were wrong in assuming that learning poetry was only for personal pleasure and therefore useless for government. At the other end, the Suzhou group was wrong to treat poetry as a game in which one could show off one’s cleverness with words. Li proposed that while poetry was first and foremost about self-expression, the methods for achieving that expression had to be sought formalistically, and that the correct poetic forms were nothing but the products of nature. Only when one’s qing was expressed correctly through those forms would poetry create resonance, allowing differences to be harmonized and individuality to be united for moving toward a common goal. Thus Li’s goal was to rise above regionalism and formulate a theory of poetry that could serve as a shared platform for communicating qing. Ironically, in the late Ming period Li’s vision was often perceived by his supporters and critics to be a northern perspective. As it was never Li’s intention to devise a northern model of poetry, this perception was an imagined one, fueled by a heightened sense of the north-south divide. At the same time, it is true that by the late Ming the disparity between north and south was widening, in terms of both the numbers of great theorists of poetry and well-known poets associated with each region, and the monumental works on poetry 88. Daniel Bryant has speculated that the creation of this separate space for poetry, independent of the state, was the result of poetry’s removal from the Ming examination curriculum. See Bryant, Great Recreation, pp. 399, 427.

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being produced. This was ultimately the reason behind the southerners’ success in dictating poetic discourse. In any case, Li Mengyang’s literary archaism provided the late Ming intellectual milieu with a theory and a vocabulary for building a concordant world based on a self that was defined through qing. It was a great intellectual vision, devised at a time when the Cheng-Zhu orthodoxy was becoming less and less convincing. In this respect, Wang Yangming shared many of Li Mengyang’s concerns and ideas, although the men approached the issue from very different angles. And as had been the case with Wang Yangming’s moral philosophy, Li’s literary theory attracted much attention because it regarded the art of writing as a serious pursuit even if it was independent of the daily administration of the government, and it valued commonality achieved through the effort of individuals, rather than through the top-down mechanisms of the state. All these ideas managed to speak to the concerns of the southern literati. It was through the narratives of the southern literati community, not the northern, that Li became a powerful figure in the field of literature, in both a positive and a negative sense. It was also owing to the way that he divided knowledge and envisioned a set of grand theories of rulership and government for the other branches of learning that he failed to inspire the southerners, and was thus by and large ignored as soon as southern voices began to define intellectual narratives in the late Ming. What we learn from Li’s case is that our understanding of the late Ming intellectual landscape is still very much dictated by the dominant concerns and rhetoric of the southern literati communities. More work needs to be done to uncover other voices, especially those from the north, that were sidelined or even silenced by the southern ascendancy.


The following sources are abbreviated as shown in the bibliography and chapter footnotes. CSJCCB

Congshu jicheng chubian 叢書集成初編 (Shanghai: Shangwu yinshuguan, 1935) KTJ Kongtong ji 空同集 (N.p.: 1602. Princeton University Library) SBBY Sibu beiyao 四部備要 (Shanghai: Zhonghua shuju, 1920–36) SKQS Wenyuange Siku quanshu 文淵閣四庫全書 (Taipei: Shangwu yinshuguan, 1983–) SKQSCMCS Siku quanshu cunmu congshu 四庫全書存目叢書 (Ji’nan: Qilu shushe, 1997) XXSKQS Xuxiu Siku quanshu 續修四庫全書 (Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe, 1995)


Li Mengyang’s Works Kongtong ji 空同集, 1531, 63 juan. Kongtong jinghua ji 空同精華集, Jiajing 嘉靖 (1522–66) edition, 3 juan of poetry. Jiajing ji 嘉靖集. Jiajing 嘉靖 (1522–66) edition, 1 juan of poetry. Kongtong ji 崆峒集, Ming edition, 21 juan of poetry. Kongtong ji 空同集, 1602, 66 juan, table of contents (mulu 目錄) 3 juan, appendix ( fulu 附錄) 2 juan. Held in Princeton University Library, this is the most complete edition of Li’s work and the edition I have used as the primary reference for this book. It is abbreviated as KTJ in the notes. Kongtong xiansheng ji 空同先生集, Ming edition. Reprint, Taipei: Weiwen tushu chuban youxian gongsi, 1976. 63 juan. Kongtong ji 空同集. In Wenyuange Siku quanshu 文淵閣四庫全書. Taipei: Shangwu yinshuguan, 1983–. Abbreviated SKQS. Yang Yiqing 楊一清. Shicong shigao 石琮詩稿 (Poetry of Yang Yiqing). Edited and commentary by Li Mengyang, 1526. 19 juan; wengao 文稿 (Prose essays of Yang Yiqing), 14 juan.

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academies (private), 64–65, 85, 168, 172–73 ancient-style poems, 108 antiquarianism, 3n4 antiquity, 84–86; forms of, 80; great accomplishments of, 77, 82; greatness of, 99–100; ideal order of, 84, 89, 112, 178; ideal world of, 120; and Renaissance intellectuals, 2, views of Song thinkers on, 71 antitraditionalist, 6 archaic writing, 23, 56 archaism, 4; phases of, 315; theory of, 57 archaist: literary movement, 5–9 passim, 24, 27, 70, 111, 255, 258–59, 298–99, 315; masters, 62, 111, 299–300, 305–6; and Later Seven Masters, 62; style, 57, 59; vision of, 4, 245–46, 259 ballads. See yuefu benevolence: and nurturing life, 137 bense (original characteristics), 316 benxin (original mind-and-heart), 316 Bi Gan, 187–88. See also Guan Longfeng Bol, Peter K.: on Daoxue and emperor­ ship, 147; on Hu Yingling, 8–9; on Jinhua cultural tradition, 274–75; on Jinhua Neo-Confucianism, 99; on Ouyang Xiu, 77 Book of Changes, 82; and Four Books, 119, 125; and Li Mengyang, 118, 120–24 passim, 129

Book of Documents, 77, 144, 199 Book of Odes: and Zhu Xi, 108 Book of Songs, 314 “border delivery” (kaizhong) system, 32 Boyi, 166 Bryant, Daniel: on He Jingming, 247 Buddhism: Chan, 14, 93; and Daoism, 74, 83 Burckhardt, Jacob, 11 bureaucracy: and quota system, 36, 38, 48, 105; and recommen­ dation system, 47. See also civil examination Cabinet style, 5, 53–54; and Li Dongyang, 111 Cai Qing (1453–1508), 168 Canglang shihua (Canglang’s discussions of poetry) (Yan Yu), 93, 107 Cao Jian (n.d.), 173 Cao Qing (1453–1508), 202 Cases of Ming Scholars (Huang Zongxi), 275–77 Chai Yuanyu (n.d.), 173 Chaling school, 5; and Li Dongyang, 55 Chen Liang (1143–94), 89 Chen Shidao (1053–1101), 219 Chen, Wen-yi: on literati culture, 65 Chen Xianzhang (1428–1500), 169 Chen, Yu-Shih, 236 Chen Zilong (1608–47), 291, 294 Cheng brothers, 84, 86, 120, 122 Cheng Hao (1032–85). See Cheng brothers

348 i n de x Cheng Minzheng (1445–1550), 108–9 Cheng Yi (1033–1107). See Cheng brothers Cheng-Zhu: on li, 126; philosophy, 278. See also Daoxue; Neo-Confucianism civil examination, 16–17, 36, 66, 93, 112, 168, 191; and Daoxue, 65; and Jiangnan scholars, 40; and Ouyang Xiu, 73; and regional quota system, 62; and shi, 72; and Suzhou, 59. See also regional quotas classical studies (jingyi), 274 classics, 22–29, 117, 124 “classics mat” (jingyan), 294 coherence (li), 85–87, 128, 305–6 community: intellectual, 282–83; literati, 61, 88, 97, 101, 112, 237, 284; schools, 177–78 (see also state school system). See also literary community; Suzhou community compact (xiangyue), 86 community granary (shecang), 64, 85 Confucian: school, 119, 125; temple, 167, 177 Confucianists: Han and Song, 194– 95. See also emperorship Confucius, 3, 90, 121–22, 152, 157– 58, 193–94, 233–34 cosmological patterns, 153 cosmology, 125, 128, 134, 135; theory of correlative, 145–46 cosmos, 125, 130, 142, 146, 286– 87; cosmos-human relations, 135, 138 cult: ancestral, 145; of qing (see ­under qing) cultivation. See self-cultivation culture: centralization of ideas and, 146; literati, 65; literary, 57; regional, 18; of Song intellectuals, 91 culturalists, approach of, 83 customs (su), 215

Danjō Hiroshi, 40–41 dao (Way), 77, 82–83, 87, 102, 152; and academies, 171–72; of ancient sages, 79, 91. See also oneness Daoxue, 8, 21, 64, 66, 90, 135; ­advocates, 9; discourse, 146; on Heaven-human relations, 74; on Heaven-and-Earth, 20; interpretations of classics, 170; program of, 84; spread of, 64; vision, 8–10 Dardess, John: on recommendation system, 47–48; on Yang Shiqi, 42 de Bary, William T.: on Daoxue ­masters, 146; on individualism, 10–11 De Weerdt, Hilde, 88–90 despot, 179, 181 dialogues (dui), 239–41 “discussing learning” (jiangxue), 67, 289 Dong Pu (n.d.), 172–74 Dong Qichang (1555–1636): on Wang Yangming, 14–15 Dong Zhongshu (179–104 bce), 145, 153–54 Dongli. See Yang Shiqi Donglin movement, 289 Dongshan Academy, 171, 172n11; and ritual, 173; and Zhu Xi, 174 Du Fu (712–70), 3–4 Duke of Zhou, 45, 121, 144 dynastic tradition, 65 education: fundamentals of, 166–67; role of, 66; vision of, 90. See also under literati Egan, Ronald: on Ouyang Xiu, 75–76 elites, 18; cultured elites (shi), 72; of Jiangnan, 40, 43, 52; political, 47; of Suzhou, 59. See also Jiangnan; Suzhou Emperor Ai (Western Han, r. 6–1 bce), 195 Emperor Chengzu (Ming, r. 1402– 24), 40, 102

i n de x 349 Emperor Renzong (Ming, r. 1424– 29), 36–44 passim Emperor Shizong (Ming, r. 1522–65), 144 Emperor Taizu (Ming r. 1368–98), 39–44 passim, 97, 99–101 Emperor Xian (1476–1519), 142–44 Emperor Xuanzong (Ming, r. 1426– 35), 36 Emperor Yingzong (Ming, r. 1436– 49; 1457–64), 47, 186–87 emperorship, 198, 287–88; Daoxue’s theory of, 146–47, 151, 198 enfeoffment (fengjian), 84. enlightenment dichotomy, 221 ethics, theory of, 161 eunuchs: and politics, 48–49; and Li Mengyang, 50–51 examination: quota system, 49; and recommendation system, 43; system, 38; writing, 103–4. See also civil examination; recommendation system fa (fixed rules), 248–52 factionalism, 48–49, 52, 69 “famous local officials” (minghuan), 167 Fan Ye (398–445), 224 Fang Xiaoru (1357–1402), 101–2 Five Classics, 118, 168 Five Elements, 127–28, 131, 136, 145 Flueckiger, Peter, 254–55 Former Kings, 140, 191–92; and collection of poetry, 215 Former Seven Masters, 5, 58–62 ­passim. See also under Shaanxi Four Books. See Five Classics. See also under Book of Changes Fuxi, 121 gazetteers (zhi), 233; of academy, 234; compilation of, 232; functions of, 205 genealogy, 204; compilation of, 34; of Li Mengyang, 30–33; method of

writing, 203; poetic, 94; of wen, 106 geomancy, 141–42 golden age, 8–9, 86, 153; of antiquity, 80 Gong’an school, 308; and Jingling school, 6–7, 313–18 passim Gosson, Stephen (1554–1624), 2 government: entry to, 42–43, 47; ­nature of, 193. See also rulership; emperorship Grand Secretariat: and Hanlin Academy, 5, 70–71. See also under Hanlin Great Learning, 201 Great Rites Controversy, 143 Green Sprout policy (qingmiao fa), 85 Guan Longfeng, 188; and Bi Gan, 187 Guan Zhidao (1536–1608), 11–12 Guo Shaoyu, 246 guwen (ancient-style prose) movement, 71, 83, 91 guwenci (ancient-style prose and ­poetry), 104–5. See also under Hanlin Han Qi (1008–75), 73 Han Yu (768–824), 241 Hanlin: academicians, 5, 105; community, 104; and guwenci, 105 Hanlin Academy, 70, 106. See also Grand Secretariat happiness ( fu), 148, 151 He Jingming (1483–1521), 245–47 Heaven, 144, 151–52; and human relations, 135–36, 138, 146; impact on human, 142–43; mandate of, 21, 138, 147, 152; son of; 144, 147; way of, 78; will of, 138, 140– 41, 148 heavenly principle (tianli), 28; and human desire (renyu), 159–60, 221 Hedong school, 65, 277; and Huang Zongxi, 276

350 i n de x He-Luo, 210, 212 Henan, 28, 31–33, 35, 170, 179, 190 Hengshan, 175 heterodox, 63, 274 hexagram, 12–23 Hezhong Academy, 166–67 hierarchy: between elders and the young, 190–92; of ruling class, 167; and social cohesion, 100 history, 205; purpose of, 234; study of, 22; value of, 207–8, 229; writing of, 223–27 passim; and Zhu Xi, 87 Hongwu reign (1368–98), 40–41 Hongzhi reign (1488–1506), 143 Hu Han (1307–81), 98 Hu Hong (d. 1161), 159–61 Hu Juren (1434–84), 173 Hu Yinglin (1551–1602), 8–9; on ­literary communities, 61–62 Huailutang shihua (Huailutang discussions of poetry) ( Yan Yu), 107–8 Huainanzi, 146 Huang Tingjian (1045–1105), 219 Huang Xingzeng (1490–1540), 58, 277 Huang Zongxi (1610–95), 275, 298– 300, 304–6 “human conditions” (renqing), 76, 158 human nature, 21, 76, 155–56, 160, 162, 215; and qi, 156. See also qing Huo En (1470–1512), 183–85 identity: construction and local tradition, 65; Jinhua, 99 imperial: relatives, 203; relatives and eunuchs, 48, 291–92; past, 98, 100; society, 85; state, 146; systems, 84; vision, 42 imperialistic characteristics, 135 Incipience Society ( Jishe), 290 incipient tendency ( ji), 210n32 individuality, 11, 23, 282 innate goodness, 86, 138, 195 innate knowledge (liangzhi), 281 innate sensibility. See xingling

intellectual lineage, 276–77 Intrigues of the Warring States, 206–7 “investigation of things” ( gewu), 87, 120 Jia Yi (201–168 bce), 145 Jiajing emperor (Ming, r.1521–67), 182–83 Jian Jinsong, 58, 60–61, 250 Jiangnan, 40, 297, 312. See also elites Jiangxi: and bureaucracy, 42; clique, 41, 52; school, 95n58 jiangxue. See discussing learning jing (reverence or seriousness), 197–98 Jingling school, 307. See also Gong’an school jingshi (classics and histories), 109 jingshi (ordering the world), 291–93, 295–97 Jingtai emperor (Ming, r. 1449–57), 46, 186 Jinhua: approach, 276; cultural tradition of, 274 Junchen, 202 Kang Hai (1475–1541), 51 King Wen, 121 kinship, 27, 68; organizations, 28. See also lineage organizations knowledge: different schools and, 112; pluralism of, 125, 130; unity of, 112–13 kogaku (ancient learning) movement, 254–55 Koh Khee Heong, 65, 276 Later Seven Masters, 6, 62 learning: goal of, 99, 112, 166; importance of, 200; objective of, 216; and perfect order, 100–101; and Song scholars, 132 Lee, Haiyan, 221 Lee, Pauline, 11 legitimacy (of the emperor), 144. See also rulership

i n de x 351 li (coherence). See coherence (li) li (patterns), 118, 120, 126, 128, 131, 133. See also qi Li Bai (701–62), 3–4 Li Dongyang (1447–1516), 5, 53–55, 106–11 Li Kaixian (1502–68), 57, 259 Li Kan (n.d.) 44–46 Li Panlong (1514–70), 311–12 Li Zhi (1527–1602), 10–12 Liao Kebin, 246, 254 Lin Jun (1452–1527), 248–49 Lin Yutang (1895–1976), 7, 316–17 lineage organizations, 28; and local society, 34. See also kinship literary realism, 235 literary vision: of Xu Zhenqing, 60 literati: education of, 92, 166; learning, 34n14, 57, 90, 96, 103, 108, 110, 168; tradition, 94 literati community: of Jiangnan, 237; of Zhedong, 97 Liu Ji (1311–75), 98 Liu Jian (1433–1526), 4–5, 320 Liu Jin (d. 1510), 49–51 Liu Sanwu (n.d.), 39 Liu Tsung-yuan. See Liu Zongyuan Liu Zongyuan (773–819), 236–37 local tradition. See under identity “local worthies” (xiangxian), 167 loyalty, virtue of, 166, 185 Lu Jia (fl. ca. 206–180 bce) Lü Jing (1475–1544), 167 Lu Jiuyuan (1139–92), 84–85, 303 Lü Nan (1479–1542), 283–84, 286 Lu Yi (1439–89), 110 Lu Zuqian (1137–81), 88–89 Luo Qingshun (1465–1547), 279–80 Marxist-oriented scholars, 278 Master Qinzi (Qinzi): and Master ­Yuzhi, 239–42 Master Yuzhi (Yuzhizi). See Master Qinzi May Fourth, 6–7

McDowall, Stephen, 237 Mencius, 78, 84, 136–37, 194, 286 Mencius (Book), 193 “method” (fa), 78 modernity, Chinese, 316 Mongols, 186 moral society, 101 morality, 136; of ruler, 152, 154 nanbeibang (“the scandal of the south­ern and northern lists”), 39–40 National University, 74 National University style, 73 nature, 146. See also human nature Neo-Confucianism: and Daoxue, 8; and Jinhua, 99 networks, 276; literati, 52, 64; personal, 277; social, 29 nonaction (wuwei), 196 Normal Way (Changdao), 74–75 north-south: divide, 19, 52, 63; split, 68 north-versus-south rhetoric, 39 Ogyū Sorai (1666– 1728), 255 oneness (yi), 82–83, 124–25, 254 ontological, 20, 23, 74 160–61, 280– 81, 316, 318 Ouyang Xiu (1007–72), 72–73, 75–76 palace examination, 39. See also civil examination parallel prose (pianwen), 73 poetic enlightenment, 96 poetic style: and north-south divide, 19; of Six Dynasties, 260–61, 310 poetry (shi), 63, 109–10, 159–60; composing of, 249–50, 252; as a device, 216; and emotion, 252–53; fixed rules of, 247–48 (see also fa); of Ming, 5–6; studying and writing of, 95–96; theory of, 93, 311 political cliques, 52 political power: and eunuchs, 48–49

352 i n de x qi (vital forces), 118, 122, 128–33 passim, 138–43 passim, 156, 160, 213; history of, 125–26; human body and, 136; and li, 278–79, 282, 284. See also li (pattern) Qian Qianyi (1582–1664), 237, 307–8 qing (sentiment), 23, 136, 154–56, 161, 215, 254; cult of, 221, 223, 301, 315; and self, 21, 315–16 Qiu Jun (1421–95), 169 populist, 195, 256, 259 quan (expediency), 193–95 quota system. See regional quota Rao Lu (1193–1264), 173 recommendation system ( jianju), 40–42, 46–47 regional: classification, 17; cliques, 48; disparities, 5, 61, 68 regional quota, 16–17, 36–38, 43– 44, 46, 52, 62; and bureaucracy, 38n21; and north-south split, 28, 43; purpose of, 28 relationship, master-disciple, 276 religious: practices, 166–67; space, 167, 179, 182 ren. See benevolence. Ren Han (n.d.), 172 Renaissance, 2–3, 8 reputation (diwang), 15 restoration (zhongxing), 144 Restoration Society (Fushe), 290. See also Incipience Society ritual, 173; ancient, 76; arrangement, 174; codes, 200, 284; family, 85; sacrificial, 201; and school shrines, 200; system, 77, 192. See also Dongshan Academy romanticism, Western, 316–17 rulership, 144, 182; legitimacy of, 149; Li Mengyang’s theory of, 192–95; techniques of, 198 sacrifices, 200, See also under ritual sage-kings, 86, 181

sagely tradition, 94; and yu, 182 sages, 76–78, 182; ancient, 77, 79 sameness. See oneness sandai (Three Dynasties), 72, 84–85 Schirokauer, Conrad: on history, 87 Schneewind, Sarah: on state and community schools, 178 self-apprehension, 168 self-cultivation, 84, 137, 139, 156 210n32; moral, 10, 98, 112, 122, 136, 146, 152, 170, 195, 197 self-examination, 215 self-reflection, 137 Shaanxi: and Former Seven Masters, 58, 271–72; scholars, 61 She Yu (n.d.), 244 Shen Yue (441–513), 251 Shi Jie (1005–45), 73–76 shrines, 177, 183n28; function of temples and, 188; and sacrificial rituals, 200; shrine of Yu Qin, 186– 87; and worship of Zhou Dunyi, 175–76. See also temples Shun, 78, 80, 149, 151; worship of, 166 Shuqi, 166 Sidney, Philip (1554–86), 1, 3 Sima Guang (1019–86), 16 Sima Qian (135–86 bce), 227–28 Six Classics, 79–80, 99, 106 Smith, Kidder, 120 Song learning, 102, 222 Song Lian (1310–80), 98–99 Song people, 133 Song poetry, 248 Song scholars, 132, 222; and death of poetry, 219 specialists, 91–92 state: apparatus, 64, 165; education, 177–78; and the family, 202–3; ­intervention, 17; orthodoxy, 8–9, 112; and shi, 72; system, 81 state school system, 172, 175, 178, 191; and state orthodoxy, 167 statecraft, 77, 89, 97, 291

i n de x 353 Su Shi (1026–1101), 81–83, 88, 94–95 Su Zhe (1039–1112), 82 Sun Deng (n.d.), 209–10 Suzhou: approach, 310; community, 59–60; tradition, 309 Taihe men, 42, 47 Tan Yuanchun (1586–1637), 317–18 Tan Zuan ( jinshi 1517), 210, 213 Tangong, 227–29 Tang-Song: masters, 316; school, 5, 299 Tang-Song transition: and Chinese life, 29 temperament (shengxing), 156–57. See also xing temples: illicit, 166–67, 179; purpose of, 182; and the state, 167; temple of Yu, 182–83 Three Dynasties. See sandai Three Kingdoms period, 209–10 Tian, Xiaofei, 15–16 tianli. See heavenly principle “transforming through education” (jiaohua), 291 travel writing (youji): of Li Mengyang, 235; of Liu Zongyuan, 236 Tu, Wei-ming, 13

Wang Shizhen (1526–90), 9 Wang Shuwu ( jinshi 1493), 255–56, 258 Wang Tong (584–617), 167 Wang Tingxiang (1474–1544), 286 Wang Yangming (1472–1529), 10, 12–15, 66, 282–83 Wang Yangmingism, 10, 66–67, 277 Warring States period, 230–31 Way. See dao weiyi (“awe-inspiring presence”), 198; as a ritual category, 199 well-field ( jingtian) system, 84 wen, 75–76, 80, 82, 102, 109–10, 220; and dao, 88, 319; of history, 227; Huang Zongxi on, 304–5; and literati learning, 226, writing of, 230–31 winds, 211, 215; and government, 208–10, 213; and local customs, 210 Wu Kuan (1435–1504), 104, 109 Wu Tingju (n.d.), 172 Wu Yubu (1392–1469), 103–4

virtue (de), 148, 166, 175; of a ruler, 154 vital forces. See qi vulgar learning, 282

xianda (worthy predecessor), 174 xiangshu (image and number) approach, 121 xiaopin (“small items”), 301, 307 xing. See human nature xingling (innate sensibility), 3, 316– 17 Xu Jie (1503–1583), 67 Xu Wan (jinshi 1505), 209 Xu Xiake (1587–1641), 237 Xu Zhenqing (1479–1511), 60 xun’an (regional inspector), 179 Xue Xuan (1389–1464), 65–66, 167, 276

Wang, Aihe, 144–45, 153 Wang Anshi (1021–86), 80–81, 85 Wang Ao (1384–1467), 41 Wang Jiusi (1468–1551), 61, 63, 272, 292

Yan Yu (ca. 1180–ca. 1235), 92–93, 95–97, 107–8, 110–11 Yan Yuan (521–481 bce), 86, 152 Yang Shiqi (1354–1444), 36, 38–39, 41–43,

universe, 120, 125; working of, 129 universal principle, 80, 83; of cosmology, 125 universal truth, 79, 108

354 i n de x Yang Yiqing (1454–1520), 53–55 yangdao (way of nurturing), 123 Yao, 78, 80 Ye Shi (1150–1223), 90 yili (philosophical) approach, 121 yin-yang, 130–31, 137–38, 155, 287 Yixing (673–737), 127 Yu, 149, 180 Yu Qian (1398–1457), 186–87 Yuan Hongdao (1568–1610), 317 Yugan County, 171–72 yuefu (ballads), 263, 265; writing of, 264 yulu (recorded sayings), 63 Zeng Gong (1019–83), 77–80, 87–88 Zengzi, 90 Zhan Ruoshui (1466–1560), 279–80 Zhang Han (1479–1565), 140 Zhang Juzheng, (1525–82), 287–88 Zhang Shi (1133–80), 159 Zhang Zai (1020–77), 84 Zhao Chongxian (n.d.), 171 Zhao Ruliang (n.d.), 171 Zhao Ruyu (1140–96), 171, 173–74 Zhedong: position on government, 293; vision of literati learning, 91 Zhedong scholars, 97–98

Zhedong thinkers, 112 Zhen Dexiu (1178–1235), 167, 197 Zhengde regime, 143–44 Zhengtong reign (1436–49), 178. See also Emperor Yingzong Zhong Xing (1574–1624), 317–18 Zhongling Academy, 175 Zhou Dunyi (1017–73), 84, 177 Zhou Hui (n.d.), 275–77 Zhou Zuoren (1885–1967), 6 Zhu Anxian (n.d.), 4; on Li Mengyang, 57 Zhu Su (1361–1425): and Li Mengyang, 33 Zhu Xi (1130–1200), 84–89, 121– 22, 126, 174; and Cheng Yi, 119, 123; critique of Hu Hong, 159, 160; and social program, 85; and Zhou Dunyi, 176–77 Zhu Xi-ism, 97 Zhu Yingdeng (1477–1526), 55–57 Zhu Yizun (1629–1709), 308 Zhu Youyuan, see Emperor Xian Zhu Yuanzhang, see Emperor Taizu Zhu Yunming (1460–1527), 60, 63 Zhuangzi, 139 Zisi, 90, 284 zong (honoring), 176

Harvard-Yenching Institute Monograph Series (titles now in print)

24. Population, Disease, and Land in Early Japan, 645–900, by William Wayne Farris 25. Shikitei Sanba and the Comic Tradition in Edo Fiction, by Robert W. Leutner 26. Washing Silk: The Life and Selected Poetry of Wei Chuang (834?–910), by Robin D. S. Yates 28. Tang Transformation Texts: A Study of the Buddhist Contribution to the Rise of Vernacular Fiction and Drama in China, by Victor H. Mair 30. Readings in Chinese Literary Thought, by Stephen Owen 31. Rememhering Paradise: Nativism and Nostalgia in Eighteenth-Century Japan, by Peter Nosco 33. Escape from the Wasteland: Romanticism and Realism in the Fiction of Mishima Yukio and Oe Kenzaburo, by Susan Jolliffe Napier 34. Inside a Service Trade: Studies in Contemporary Chinese Prose, by Rudolf G. Wagner 35. The Willow in Autumn: Ryutei Tanehiko, 1783–1842, by Andrew ­L awrence Markus 36. The Confucian Transformation of Korea: A Study of Society and Ideology, by Martina Deuchler 37. The Korean Singer of Tales, by Marshall R. Pihl 38. Praying for Power: Buddhism and the Formation of Gentry Society in Late-Ming China, by Timothy Brook 39. Word, Image, and Deed in the Life of Su Shi, by Ronald C. Egan 41. Studies in the Comic Spirit in Modern Japanese Fiction, by Joel R. Cohn 42. Wind Against the Mountain: The Crisis of Politics and Culture in Thirteenth-Century China, by Richard L. Davis 43. Powerful Relations: Kinship, Status, and the State in Sung China (960– 1279), by Beverly Bossler 44. Limited Views: Essays on Ideas and Letters, by Qian Zhongshu; selected and translated by Ronald Egan 45. Sugar and Society in China: Peasants, Technology, and the World Market, by Sucheta Mazumdar 49. Precious Volumes: An Introduction to Chinese Sectarian Scriptures from the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, by Daniel L. Overmyer 50. Poetry and Painting in Song China: The Subtle Art of Dissent, by Alfreda Murck 51. Evil and/or/as the Good: Omnicentrism, Intersubjectivity, and Value Paradox in Tiantai Buddhist Thought, by Brook Ziporyn

53. Articulated Ladies: Gender and the Male Community in Early Chinese Texts, by Paul Rouzer 55. Allegories of Desire: Esoteric Literary Commentaries of Medieval Japan, by Susan Blakeley Klein 56. Printing for Profit: The Commercial Publishers of Jianyang, Fujian (11th–17th Centuries), by Lucille Chia 57. To Become a God: Cosmology, Sacrifice, and Self-Divinization in Early China, by Michael J. Puett 58. Writing and Materiality in China: Essays in Honor of Patrick Hanan, edited by Judith T. Zeitlin and Lydia H. Liu 59. Rulin waishi and Cultural Transformation in Late Imperial China, by Shang Wei 60. Words Well Put: Visions of Poetic Competence in the Chinese Tradition, by Graham Sanders 61. Householders: The Reizei Family in Japanese History, by Steven D. Carter 62. The Divine Nature of Power: Chinese Ritual Architecture at the Sacred Site of Jinci, by Tracy Miller 63. Beacon Fire and Shooting Star: The Literary Culture of the Liang (502– 557), by Xiaofei Tian 64. Lost Soul: “Confucianism” in Contemporary Chinese Academic Discourse, by John Makeham 65. The Sage Learning of Liu Zhi: Islamic Thought in Confucian Terms, by Sachiko Murata, William C. Chittick, and Tu Weiming 66. Through a Forest of Chancellors: Fugitive Histories in Liu Yuan’s Lingyan ge, an Illustrated Book from Seventeenth-Century Suzhou, by Anne Burkus-Chasson 67. Empire of Texts in Motion: Chinese, Korean, and Taiwanese Trans­ culturations of Japanese Literature, by Karen Laura Thornber 68. Empire’s Twilight: Northeast Asia Under the Mongols, by David M. Robinson 69. Ancestors, Virgins, and Friars: Christianity as a Local Religion in Late ­Imperial China, by Eugenio Menegon 70. Manifest in Words, Written on Paper: Producing and Circulating Poetry in Tang Dynasty China, by Christopher M. B. Nugent 71. The Poetics of Sovereignty: On Emperor Taizong of the Tang Dynasty, by Jack W. Chen 72. Ancestral Memory in Early China, by K. E. Brashier 73. ‘Dividing the Realm in Order to Govern’: The Spatial Organization of the Song State, by Ruth Mostern 74. The Dynamics of Masters Literature: Early Chinese Thought from Confucius to Han Feizi, by Wiebke Denecke 75. Songs of Contentment and Transgression: Discharged Officials and

Literati Communities in Sixteenth-Century North China, by Tian Yuan Tan 76. Ten Thousand Scrolls: Reading and Writing in the Poetics of Huang Tingjian and the Late Northern Song, by Yugen Wang 77. A Northern Alternative: Xue Xuan (1389–1464) and the Hedong School, by Khee Heong Koh 78. Visionary Journeys: Travel Writings from Early Medieval and NineteenthCentury China, by Xiaofei Tian 79. Making Personas: Transnational Film Stardom in Modern Japan, by Hideaki Fujiki 80. Strange Eventful Histories: Identity, Performance, and Xu Wei’s Four Cries of a Gibbon, by Shiamin Kwa 81. Critics and Commentators: The Book of Poems as Classic and Literature, by Bruce Rusk 82. Home and the World: Editing the Glorious Ming in Woodblock-Printed Books of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, by Yuming He 83. Courtesans, Concubines, and the Cult of Female Fidelity, by Beverly Bossler 84. Chinese History: A New Manual, Third Edition, by Endymion Wilkinson 85. A Comprehensive Manchu-English Dictionary, by Jerry Norman 86. Drifting among Rivers and Lakes: Southern Song Dynasty Poetry and the Problem of Literary History, by Michael Fuller 87. Martial Spectacles of the Ming Court, by David M. Robinson 88. Modern Archaics: Continuity and Innovation in the Chinese Lyric Tradition, 1900–1937, by Shengqing Wu 89. Cherishing Antiquity: The Cultural Construction of an Ancient Chinese Kingdom, by Olivia Milburn 90. The Burden of Female Talent: The Poet Li Qingzhao and Her History in China, by Ronald Egan 91. Public Memory in Early China, by K. E. Brashier 92. Women and National Trauma in Late Imperial Chinese Literature, by Wai-yee Li 93. The Destruction of the Medieval Chinese Aristocracy, by Nicolas Tackett 94. Savage Exchange: Han Imperialism, Chinese Literary Style, and the Economic Imagination, by Tamara T. Chin 95. Shifting Stories: History, Gossip, and Lore in Narratives from Tang Dynasty China, by Sarah M. Allen 96. One Who Knows Me: Friendship and Literary Culture in Mid-Tang China, by Anna Shields 97. Materializing Magic Power: Chinese Popular Religion in Villages and Cities, by Wei-Ping Lin

98. Traces of Grand Peace: Classics and State Activism in Imperial China, by Jaeyoon Song 99. Fiction’s Family: Zhan Xi, Zhan Kai, and the Business of Women in LateQing China, by Ellen Widmer 100. Chinese History: A New Manual, Fourth Edition, by Endymion Wilkinson 101. After the Prosperous Age: State and Elites in Early Nineteenth-Century Suzhou, by Seunghyun Han 102. Celestial Masters: History and Ritual in Early Daoist Communities, by Terry F. Kleeman 103. Transgressive Typologies: Constructions of Gender and Power in Early Tang China, by Rebecca Doran 104. Li Mengyang, the North-South Divide, and Literati Learning in Ming China, by Chang Woei Ong