Car­ry­ing For­ward Con­fu­cian Clas­sics

Beijing (English) - - CONTENTS - Trans­lated by Wang Xiao­hua, pol­ished by Png Yu Fung

Tongzhi­tang Jingjie (“notes and com­men­tary on Con­fu­cian clas­sics”) com­piled by Xu Qianxue (1631–1694) is not only a crys­talli­sa­tion of re­search from dy­nas­ties and Con­fu­cian wis­dom, but also a rare trea­sure.

Dur­ing the reign of Em­peror Kangxi (1661–1722) of the Qing Dy­nasty (1644–1911), Grand Sec­re­tary Xu Qianxue (1631– 1694) searched for rare books from var­i­ous sources for seven years and com­piled a book series en­ti­tled Tongzhi­tang Jingjie (“notes and com­men­tary on Con­fu­cian clas­sics”) on the study of Con­fu­cian clas­sics. Xu printed the book in the name of Tongzhi­tang, the pri­vate li­brary of Nalan Xingde (1655–1685) be­long­ing to one of his stu­dents. This series be­came a fa­mous work on the study of Con­fu­cian clas­sics in the early Qing Dy­nasty.

A Num­ber One Book Col­lec­tor

Dur­ing the reign of Em­peror Kangxi, his­to­rian Wan Si­tong (1638–1702) wrote a poem to hail col­lec­tor Xu Qianxue who was a scholar and fa­mous of­fi­cial in the early Qing Dy­nasty. The well-known Chuan­shi Li­brary was his pri­vate li­brary.

In 1654, Xu left Kun­shan County for Bei­jing and stud­ied in the Im­pe­rial Col­lege. In 1670, Xu won the third place in the high­est im­pe­rial ex­am­i­na­tion and was of­fered the post as a com­piler of the Im­pe­rial Academy. His two broth­ers who were fa­mous schol­ars at that time also se­cured of­fi­cial po­si­tions for the same

im­pe­rial court. This was hailed as “an un­prece­dented event over the past hun­dreds of years.” Hence, the three broth­ers were known as “Three Xus from Kun­shan.”

Af­ter Xu got pro­moted in 1675, he had a suc­cess­ful of­fi­cial ca­reer and was con­tin­u­ously pro­moted for his schol­arly at­tain­ments and re­source­ful­ness. Later, he was pro­moted to be a scholar at the Cabi­net and as­sis­tant min­ster at the Min­istry of Rites. At the same time, Nalan Mingzhu, who used to be an im­pe­rial body­guard, be­came a high-rank­ing of­fi­cial af­ter be­ing pro­moted many times. His son, Nalan Xingde ac­quired great fame for his adept­ness and ap­ti­tude in po­etry com­pos­ing. Fond of col­lect­ing books and mak­ing friends, Xu associated him­self with many celebri­ties such as schol­ars Yan Ruoqu (1638–1704). Later, Nalan Xingde ac­knowl­edged Xu as his mas­ter and learned about Con­fu­cian clas­sics from him. Xu had ac­quired a solid foun­da­tion for learn­ing with the past guid­ance of his un­cle, scholar Gu Yanwu (1613–1682).

As a high-rank­ing of­fi­cial, he read ex­ten­sively, rang­ing from the Six Arts (Rites, Mu­sic, Archery, Char­i­o­teer­ing, Cal­lig­ra­phy and Math­e­mat­ics) and had a thor­ough knowl­edge about al­most all fields. More­over, he was never bored with col­lect­ing and search­ing for books. As time passed, he col­lected a great num­ber of rare books and built a pri­vate li­brary at Kun­shan County where he lived. He climbed up to the li­brary to­gether with his sons af­ter it was com­peted. He said to them, “What should I leave be­hind to you?” And then, point­ing to the col­lec­tions of books, he added, “These are what I would like to give you.” So, their pri­vate li­brary was named “Chuan­shilou” (which means pass­ing down all these books in the li­brary to you).

Ac­cord­ing to Chuan­shilou Shumu (“bib­li­o­graph­ica of Chuan­shilou”), Chuan­shilou housed books as many as 7,500 vol­umes. Among them, Song edi­tion and Yuan edi­tion amounted to as many as over 400 vol­umes. Xu Qianxue col­lected not only Con­fu­cian Clas­sics and his­tory books but also var­i­ous books rang­ing from Bud­dhist texts to med­i­cal books and books of un­of­fi­cial his­tory. He par­tic­u­larly en­joyed col­lect­ing works from the Ming Dy­nasty. Once, he said proudly, “I am the sole col­lec­tor who pos­sesses all the proses of the Ming Dy­nasty.”

Later, while com­pil­ing Ming Wen Hai (“gen­eral col­lec­tions of works by fa­mous schol­ars), Huang Zongxi (1610–1695), a great his­to­rian dur­ing the tran­si­tional pe­riod of Ming and Qing dy­nas­ties, quoted many books from Chuan­shilou. While the li­brary was un­der con­struc­tion, Xu Qianxue ex­pressed his wish that the books be passed down to his de­scen­dants. How­ever, all the books in the li­brary fell into the hands of prince Yinx­i­ang (1686– 1730). The fa­mous li­brary was de­stroyed in a fire in the sec­ond year of Em­peror Yongzheng's reign.

Xu not only had a large col­lec­tion of books but also wrote a num­ber of books. He was pro­fi­cient at the study of Con­fu­cian Clas­sics. For ex­am­ple, he wrote Duli Tongkao (“com­pre­hen­sive ex­am­i­na­tion of the five rit­ual texts”) while mourn­ing for his mother's death. This book was about funeral in­volv­ing eight as­pects such as the du­ra­tion of mourn­ing, mourn­ing ap­parel, uten­sils for funeral and sys­tem of funeral. Duli Tongkao had de­tailed tex­tual re­search and ex­ten­sive quo­ta­tion, hence hailed as “an in­dis­pens­able book be­tween Heaven and Earth.” The great­est work he com­piled in his life was Tongzhi­tang Jingjie, a book closely con­nected to Nalan Xingde.

Print­ing Books Named af­ter Tongzhi­tang

In 1678, a ci poem col­lec­tion en­ti­tled Yin­shuici (“poem on drink­ing wa­ter”) was widely cir­cu­lated through­out China. Among the col­lected po­ems, the ci poem en­ti­tled Mu­lan­hua Ling: Nigu­jue­jueci (“on mag­no­lia”) was widely known and read by many young men and women who were deeply in love but un­able to ful­fil their pas­sion. This poem tells a story about a man who ceases to be faith­ful and deserts his wife. It was a poem filled with sor­row. The poet was none other

than Nalan Xingde, son of Nalan Mingzhu, a pow­er­ful min­is­ter.

Nalan Xingde had been read­ing ex­ten­sively since child­hood. He prac­tised Kung Fu very hard and was adept in both the pen and the sword. At the age of 17, he stud­ied in the Im­pe­rial Col­lege where he was ap­pre­ci­ated by Xu Yuan­wen, the then Direc­torate of the Im­pe­rial Academy. Xu Yuan­wen, who used to be the Top Scholar, rec­om­mended Nalan Xingde to his elder brother, Xu Qianxue. See­ing the young man was clever and stu­dious, Xu Qianxue favoured him deeply. Ad­mir­ing Xu Qianxue's schol­arly at­tain­ments, Nalan ac­knowl­edged Xu as his mas­ter, hence the friend­ship be­tween the mas­ter and the student.

Nalan of­ten dis­cussed about Con­fu­cian clas­sics and his­tory with Xu. Nalan was adept at com­pos­ing ci po­ems. He was very fond of mak­ing friends and had as­so­ci­a­tion with celebri­ties like Gu Zhen­guan (1637–1734). Thanks to the in­struc­tion of Xu, Nalan be­came a suc­cess­ful can­di­date in the high­est im­pe­rial ex­am­i­na­tions in 1676 and was ap­pointed as an im­pe­rial body­guard at the Gate of Ce­les­tial Pu­rity of the Im­pe­rial Palace at the age of 21.

Xu had plans to com­pile the book series of Con­fu­cian clas­sics. At that time, works on the study of Con­fu­cian clas­sics in­cluded Shisan­jing Zhushu (“notes and com­men­taries on the thir­teen Con­fu­cian clas­sics”) and the fre­quently-seen Four Books (the Great Learn­ing, Doc­trine of the Mean, Analects of Con­fu­cius, and Men­cius) and The Five Clas­sics. These were in­suf­fi­cient to the schol­ars of the Qing Dy­nasty. There­fore, Xu com­piled all the works on study of Con­fu­cian clas­sics from the Pre-qin Pe­riod to the late Ming Dy­nasty and en­ti­tled it Tongzhi­tang Cong­shu (“series of Tongzhi­tang”). Ac­cord­ing to Xu, Tongzhi­tang was Nalan's pri­vate li­brary. Xu es­pe­cially col­lected two kinds of works by Nalan, to­talling over 140 cat­e­gories with as many as 1,860 vol­umes of books. Xu's two broth­ers also had many rare books. All these books pro­vided him with abun­dant doc­u­ment lit­er­a­ture for his com­pi­la­tion of Tongzhi­tang Jingjie.

In 1680, the carv­ing of this mon­u­men­tal work was com­pleted. Xu owed the suc­cess to Nalan and made an in­scrip­tion in the book which reads “re­vised by my dis­ci­ple Chengde” but did not men­tion his own name. Chengde was Nalan Xingde's other given name. The li­brar­i­ans of Em­peror Qian­long's reign (1736–1795) thought the book was com­piled and printed by Xu. How­ever, Xu re­lin­quished the merit to Nalan Xingde be­cause at that time, Nalan Xingde's father was a high-rank­ing of­fi­cial of the court who won the trust of Em­peror Kangxi. So, it was well-rea­soned that the printed set of books took on the name of Nalan Xingde.

Nalan Xingde mar­ried the daugh­ter of Lu Xingzu, Gover­nor of Guang­dong and Guangxi. How­ever, only three years af­ter their mar­riage, his wife died of child birth. He com­posed many sor­row­ful po­ems mourn­ing for the dead. Among them, the most fa­mous was Huanx­isha (“silk-wash­ing stream”) which reads, Cold on my own in the west wind, dear knows? In­cised win­dows blind by the fall of the rus­tled leaves, In the set­ting sun the past to my mind flows. Let me cup not to jerk awake her thick spring sleep, A go of the happy union was not made on nerves. Who could only as­sume that were com­mon shows!

In 1685, Nalan passed away due to drunk­en­ness at the age of 31. His pre­ma­ture death sad­dened Xu. Xu com­piled all the ci po­ems by Nalan into a gen­eral col­lec­tion and had it printed into the 20-vol­ume Tongzhi­tang Ji (“po­etry col­lec­tion of Tongzhi­tang”). This col­lec­tion of po­ems is an at­tes­ta­tion of the rare friend­ship be­tween the mas­ter and the student.

A Cul­tural Trea­sure

Tongzhi­tang Jingjie printed by Xu was the great­est mon­u­men­tal work in the early Qing Dy­nasty. It be­gan with Shisan­jing Zhushu and ends with Huangqing Jingjie (“the im­pe­rial notes and com­men­tary on Con­fu­cian clas­sics”) and it was an im­por­tant work for schol­ars of Qing study­ing Con­fu­cian clas­sics.

Tongzhi­tang Jingjie was printed in the writ­ing block-let­ter script which

is fea­tured by square and force­ful dots and strokes, rem­i­nis­cent of that of the Song-dy­nasty Zhe­jiang edi­tion and the cal­lig­ra­phy style of cal­lig­ra­pher Ouyang Xiu (1007–1072) adopted in the Ji­a­jing Pe­riod (1522–1567) of Ming. How­ever, there are marked dif­fer­ences be­tween them. Specif­i­cally, the script of Tongzhi­tang Jingjie is not as square and or­derly as that of the cal­lig­ra­phy style of Ouyang Xiu. Tongzhi­tang Ji which was printed for Nalan by Xu also adopted this script. This script is char­ac­terised by “fine and grace­ful dots and strokes, hence the model for the square and force­ful carv­ing copy of cal­lig­ra­phy style of Ouyang Xiu.”

The end of the vol­ume is printed with the char­ac­ters that said “re­vised by my dis­ci­ple Chengde.” At the left side below the type area is carved with the names of the carve work­ers (as many as over 300) such as Qi Qing and Zi Zhen. The pa­per used was mostly bam­boomade which was re­silient and of su­perb qual­ity, while some copies of the book were made of Kai­hua pa­per with fine tex­ture, which was pro­duced in Zhe­jiang Prov­ince's Kai­hua County.

Kai­hua pa­per, which was thin and smooth, was of­ten used to print books in the Im­pe­rial Store­house dur­ing the Qing Dy­nasty. For this rea­son, printed copies made of Kai­hua pa­per be­came the al­ter­nate name of the books made by the Im­pe­rial Store­house. As Tongzhi­tang Jingjie “is like the block-printed edi­tion of Song and many copies were ex­tant,” its orig­i­nal copy “was also pre­served in the Im­pe­rial Store­house.” For this rea­son, Tongzhi­tang Jingjie is also re­garded as a carved book by the Im­pe­rial Store­house.

Un­for­tu­nately, dur­ing the reign of Em­peror Qian­long of Qing, the char­ac­ters of the orig­i­nal copy of Tongzhi­tang Jingjie were in­de­ci­pher­able. Dur­ing the 50th year of Em­peror Qian­long's reign, the Em­peror de­creed to repatch the orig­i­nal copy. This repatched copy was called im­pe­rial repatched edi­tion. As early as in the pe­riod of Em­peror Kangxi, a daugh­ter of Nalan was mar­ried to mil­i­tary com­man­der Nian Gengyao (1679–1726). How­ever, Nian, self-as­sured for his mil­i­tary mer­its in the past, be­gan to em­bez­zle money and en­gaged in cor­rupt prac­tices and tyran­ni­cally abused his power. He formed a clique to pur­sue self­ish in­ter­est. Dur­ing the reign of Em­peror Yongzheng (1723–1736), Nian was dis­missed from of­fice and the em­peror or­dered him to com­mit sui­cide.

Af­ter Em­peror Qian­long as­cended the throne, he did not ap­pre­ci­ate the tal­ents of Nalan Xingde and sniffed at Xu's at­tach­ment to Nalan Mingzhu. How­ever, the em­peror ap­pre­ci­ated the mon­u­men­tal work of Con­fu­cian clas­sics. So, he said, “I would not like to re­ject an opinion be­cause of the per­son ex­press­ing it. So I de­cree to repatch the orig­i­nal copy and have it re­vised and the mis­takes cor­rected. This done, I will grant the Con­fu­cian schol­ars.” This repatched edi­tion was printed with the im­pe­rial edict by Em­peror Qian­long who hoped the fol­low­ing gen­er­a­tions un­der­stood that “Xu fawned on the in­flu­en­tial of­fi­cial fam­ily and Nalan Xingde fished for fame.”

Though Tongzhi­tang Jingjie was val­ued by the Im­pe­rial Store­house, its com­plete orig­i­nal printed copies were rare af­ter the reigns of em­per­ors Qian­long and Ji­aqing (1795–1821). At that time, schol­ars like Sun Xingyan (1753–1818) and Ni Mo kept some copies of this book, but theirs were not so com­plete. In 1873, Zhong Qian­jun, salt com­mis­sioner at Guang­dong and Guangxi, con­sid­er­ing the rar­ity of the pre­lim­i­nary prints of the book, reprinted Tongzhi­tang Jingjie based on the block­printed edi­tion of the 19th year of Em­peror Kangxi's reign. The front page of the Zhong's edi­tion was printed with the de­cree is­sued dur­ing the 50th year of Em­peror Qian­long's reign. At the end of the vol­ume, the char­ac­ters “re­vised by my dis­ci­ple Chengde” were changed into “reprinted by Zhong Qian­jun of Bal­ing.”

While tak­ing of­fice in Guang­dong and Guangxi, Zhong proof­read and re- en­graved Tongzhi­tang Jingjie and had it printed and is­sued in East­ern Guang­dong Pub­lish­ing House. His edi­tion was printed with pa­per made of young bam­boo and white pa­per and its for­mat was the same as that of the orig­i­nal copy made dur­ing the reign of Em­peror Kangxi. The difference is that its script is some­what coarse and not as neat and ex­quis­ite as that of the orig­i­nal copy.

Its pa­per is also in­fe­rior to that of the orig­i­nal copy. How­ever, this edi­tion, which spread widely in late Qing Dy­nasty, is the most fre­quently seen to­day. Ye De­hui (1864–1927), a great book col­lec­tor and book carver dur­ing Em­peror Guangxu's reign (1875–1908), pre­served two orig­i­nal copies of Tongzhi­tang Jingjie. He once said tri­umphantly, “With two orig­i­nal copies in hand, I can look askance at oth­ers.”

Tongzhi­tang Jingjie in­cludes a kalei­do­scope of fields, with works that are mostly mas­ter­pieces. Even Em­peror Qian­long ac­knowl­edged that the book “cov­ers fields so ex­ten­sive as to carry for­ward the Six Clas­sics (the Book of Songs, Book of His­tory, Book of Changes, Book of Rites, Book of Mu­sic and Spring and Au­tumn An­nals).” Tongzhi­tang Jingjie pro­vided schol­ars of the Qing Dy­nasty with a valu­able col­lec­tion of Con­fu­cian clas­sics.

In the late Qing Dy­nasty, states­man Zhang Zhi­dong, who served as an ed­u­ca­tional com­mis­sioner in Sichuan Prov­ince, com­piled Shumu Dawen (“answers to ques­tions about bib­li­og­ra­phy”) to give stu­dents sug­ges­tions on se­lect­ing books. Among the few books of the Song, Ming and Yuan dy­nas­ties rec­om­mended by Zhang, most were col­lected in Tongzhi­tang Jingjie. To­day, the rare orig­i­nal printed copies of Tongzhi­tang Jingjie are col­lected in dif­fer­ent li­braries of Bei­jing. Though hun­dreds of years have passed, these copies still have a unique charm.

Tongzhi­tang Jingjie, com­piled and printed by Xu, is a cul­tural trea­sure in an­cient China. It is not only through schol­arly re­search from the dy­nas­ties and the wis­dom of the Con­fu­cian School but also a rare Chi­nese trea­sure.

Tongzhi­tang, the name of Nalan Xingde’s pri­vate li­brary, printed on a page of part of Tongzhi­tangjingjie (“notes and com­men­tary on Con­fu­cian clas­sics”)

Hengquy­ishuo writ­ten by Zhang Zai (1020–1077) of the Song Dy­nasty on ex­plain­ing The­bookof Changeswhich is in­cluded in Tongzhi­tangjingjie (“notes and com­men­tary on Con­fu­cian clas­sics”).

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