Carrying Forward Confucian Classics
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”).