The Legacy of Philoso­phers

Beijing (English) - - CONTENTS - Trans­lated by Li Jing, pol­ished by Roberta Raine

The legacy passed down from the pre- Qin pe­riod in­flu­enced China for 2,000 years, al­low­ing mod­ern civil­i­sa­tion to ap­pre­ci­ate the philo­sophic view of “a hun­dred schools of thought” dur­ing the Spring and Au­tumn pe­riod.

Af­ter the mid- Ming Dy­nasty (1368–1644), there were many big mer­chants in the An­hui area. They were good at busi­ness and ac­cu­mu­lated wealth, es­pe­cially mer­chants in Huizhou. Grad­u­ally, these mer­chants be­gan to block- print books and open book­shops, us­ing their wealth to en­grave books. In this way, book en­grav­ing in Huizhou reached its peak. Of the pri­vate block- print­ing masters in Huizhou, Wu Mianxue, a suc­cess­ful busi­ness­man, was one of the most renowned. Through­out his life­time, he had more than 300 kinds of books en­graved.

Dur­ing the reign of Em­peror Wanli (1573–1620) of the Ming Dy­nasty, Wu Mianxue searched ev­ery­where for rare books. Over time, he col­lected all the mas­ter­pieces of philoso­phers in the pre- Qin pe­riod (be­fore 221 BC) and com­piled them as a book se­ries en­ti­tled Er­shi Zi (“twenty philoso­phers”). To­day, books that Wu Mianxue had block-printed are held in all of Bei­jing's li­braries, telling the fas­ci­nat­ing story of Chi­nese book en­grav­ing.

En­graved Books of An­hui

In 1589, Jiao Hong (1540–1620), a 49-year-old scholar, went from Nan­jing to Bei­jing to take the im­pe­rial ex­am­i­na­tion, and ranked first of all the stu­dents that year. Ap­pointed a scholar of the Im­pe­rial Academy, he be­came the as­sis­tant lec­turer of the em­peror's el­dest son Zhu Changluo (1852–1620). Jiao Hong wrote a book en­ti­tled Yangzheng Tu­jie (“tra­di­tional virtues with illustrations”), in which leg­ends and lit­er­ary al­lu­sions from the reign of King

Wen of Zhou (1099–c. 1050 BC) to the Song Dy­nasty (960–1279) were recorded. With 60 illustrations, its con­tent was in­ter­est­ing. Af­ter the book was writ­ten, the man­u­script was passed on to carvers in Huizhou for en­grav­ing. Soon, the Huizhou edi­tion of Yangzheng Tu­jie was shipped to Bei­jing. Once pub­lished, it be­came a best­seller, sought af­ter by both of­fi­cials and schol­ars. Known as a “rare trea­sure,” some said that the Huizhou block-printed ver­sion “was as fine as the Song Dy­nasty edi­tion.” Illustrations in the book were con­sid­ered to be "ex­quis­ite, with both beau­ti­ful hand­writ­ing and pa­per." Thus, one can see that books block-printed in Huizhou had an out­stand­ing qual­ity.

In the early Ming Dy­nasty, book en­gravers in An­hui still car­ried on the two tra­di­tions of of­fi­cial and pri­vate en­grav­ing from the Song Dy­nasty and Yuan Dy­nasty (1271–1368), but there were very few pri­vate pub­lish­ing houses. In the Ming Dy­nasty, the of­fi­cial en­grav­ing or­gan­i­sa­tions were the gov­ern­ments of pre­fec­tures, prov­inces and coun­ties, gov­ern­ment-run schools, and im­pe­rial academies. The books en­graved at that time were mainly Con­fu­cian clas­sics and his­tor­i­cal books. Ac­cord­ing to Gu­jin Shuke (“book en­grav­ing in an­cient and mod­ern times”), writ­ten by an of­fi­cial and scholar named Zhou Hongzu in the Ming Dy­nasty, there were 89 of­fi­cially-en­graved books in the An­hui re­gion be­fore the reign of Em­peror Wanli in the Ming Dy­nasty. Of these, 31 were from Huizhou. How­ever, the ac­tual num­ber of en­graved books was much greater. Be­cause all of­fi­cially en­graved books in the An­hui area were funded by the na­tional trea­sury and pro­duced for the court, most were based on rare edi­tions from the Song and Yuan dy­nas­ties and were proof­read cau­tiously.

These books, which were the tra­di­tional Chi­nese clas­sics, were exquisitely en­graved and beau­ti­fully printed on high-qual­ity pa­per. Most of the books were based on well-known edi­tions, and those still in ex­is­tence are con­sid­ered quite rare. An­other type pro­duced in An­hui were pri­vately en­graved books. Con­fu­cian schol­ars and high of­fi­cials at­tached great im­por­tance to books about fam­ily, an­ces­tors, and fa­mous his­tor­i­cal fig­ures. Pri­vately en­graved books by au­thors such as Zhu Sheng, Zhao Fang, Cheng Minzheng and Hu Zongx­ian were all well-known in Huizhou Pre­fec­ture. An­other ma­jor kind of en­graved book in An­hui was ge­neal­ogy, of which there was a great va­ri­ety. These books were large and beau­ti­fully printed, but were only printed in small quan­ti­ties. They con­tained a wealth of in­for­ma­tion, in­clud­ing ge­nealo­gies, fam­ily trees, clan his­to­ries and house his­to­ries. Dur­ing this pe­riod, en­grav­ing of ge­neal­ogy books through­out An­hui was quite com­mon, es­pe­cially in Xi­un­ing County and Shex­ian County in Huizhou Pre­fec­ture, where pa­tri­ar­chal ide­ol­ogy was par­tic­u­larly strong. There are cur­rently more than 200 An­hui edi­tions of ge­neal­ogy books from the Ming Dy­nasty held at the Na­tional Li­brary of China. Most were pri­vately en­graved, with only a hand­ful be­ing hand-copied Ming edi­tions.

Af­ter the mid-ming Dy­nasty, the num­ber of Huizhou busi­ness­men in­creased, and the num­ber of wealthy mer­chants also rose. At the time it was said, “the rich­est men are mostly from Xin'an,” with Xin'an re­fer­ring to the re­gion of present- day Huizhou and Shex­ian County. Mer­chants in the Huizhou area oc­cu­pied a dom­i­nant po­si­tion in the mar­ket. Mer­chants from Shex­ian County spe­cialised in tea, clothes and gro­ceries; peo­ple from Xi­un­ing owned pawn shops; and peo­ple from Jixi mainly owned food and wine shops. An­hui mer­chants at one time dom­i­nated the re­gions both north and south of the Yangtze River and be­came quite rich, pro­vid­ing good con­di­tions for the growth of pri­vate pub­lish­ing houses. As the power of An­hui mer­chants in­creased, they grad­u­ally en­tered into the book en­grav­ing in­dus­try. Re­ly­ing on strong cap­i­tal and the sup­port of Huizhou carvers, Huizhou book­sellers be­came very in­flu­en­tial and slowly spread to both sides of the Yangtze River. Along with the ad­vent of book­sellers came count­less carvers. In the Ming Dy­nasty, most pub­lish­ing houses in the An­hui area were lo­cated in Huizhou Pre­fec­ture, and af­ter the reigns of Em­peror Longqing (1567–1573) and Em­peror Wanli, these pub­lish­ing houses took over the work of of­fi­cial and pri­vate en­gravers. Thus, Huizhou Pre­fec­ture quickly be­came the na­tional cen­tre for book en­grav­ing, and was still one of the four book en­grav­ing cen­tres of China un­til the Qing Dy­nasty (1644–1911).

At that time, the hand­i­craft in­dus­try was also well de­vel­oped in Huizhou, which had abun­dant sup­plies of pa­per and ink, with An­hui ink. Many en­grav­ing ex­perts ap­peared as well. In Qi­u­cun, Shex­ian County in Huizhou, there were two big fam­i­lies sur­named Qiu and Huang. Since the reign of Em­peror Hongzhi (1488–1506), the two fam­i­lies had mainly fo­cused on the block print­ing in­dus­try. Be­ing es­pe­cially good at en­grav­ing and hav­ing artis­tic skills, they were known as the “Huizhou School.” The Huang fam­ily in par­tic­u­lar had been en­gravers for sev­eral gen­er­a­tions and pro­duced many good crafts­men. Huizhou's cal­lig­ra­phers also made a con­tri­bu­tion to the new art of block-print­ing. Af­ter the Wanli pe­riod, the carved blocks were writ­ten with thin hor­i­zon­tal strokes but thick ver­ti­cal strokes, a cal­li­graphic style that orig­i­nated from An­hui carv­ing. Thus, the pub­lish­ing in­dus­try in Huizhou, es­pe­cially in Shex­ian County, grad­u­ally de­vel­oped based on the ap­pear­ance of a large num­ber of out­stand­ing carvers.

At that time, book­stores were ev­ery­where in Huizhou and crafts­men from Shex­ian County were of­ten asked to cut blocks. Af­ter the Wanli pe­riod, the block-print­ing in­dus­try de­vel­oped more rapidly, and as a re­sult carvers scat­tered to dif­fer­ent ar­eas. Among them, crafts­men in Ning­guo, Huizhou, and Suzhou were the most nu­mer­ous and skil­ful. Hav­ing in­her­ited their trade from their fa­thers, they not only en­graved books in lo­cal places, but also trav­elled around for work. A dozen fa­mous book­shops were doc­u­mented in his­tory books, the most fa­mous be­ing Shi Gu Book­store, which was owned by Wu Mianxue. Two of the books in the Twenty Philoso­phers se­ries com­piled by Wu Mianxue, Zhuangzi (writ­ings by the fa­mous philoso­pher Zhuangzi) and Chuci Jizhu (“col­lected com­men­taries on the Songs of Chu”), were so beau­ti­fully carved that book­sellers would of­ten sell them as edi­tions of the Song Dy­nasty for more profit. Huizhou style carv­ing played an im­por­tant role in the preser­va­tion of an­cient books, the dis­sem­i­na­tion of tra­di­tional cul­ture, and the pro­mo­tion of the an­cient Chi­nese wood­block

print­ing in­dus­try. Of the books pop­u­lar at the time, Twenty Philoso­phers, en­graved by the learned clas­si­cal cal­lig­ra­pher Wu Mianxue from Shex­ian County, was one of the most ad­mired.

Wu Mianxue’s Ex­cel­lence in Book En­grav­ing

Like other Huizhou busi­ness­men, Wu Mianxue's fam­ily also had been mer­chants for gen­er­a­tions. Wu Mianxue was very fond of read­ing when he was young. He later be­came the as­sis­tant of­fi­cer of the gov­ern­ment's Ban­quet­ing Depart­ment. But soon he felt tired of of­fi­cial­dom, so he aban­doned his high po­si­tion and set up a place to col­lect and print books —Shi Gu Book­store. With his fam­ily's wealth and a large col­lec­tion of books, he was able to print many books in his book­store's name. Shi Gu Book­store was both Wu's per­sonal li­brary and a pub­lish­ing house, and was fa­mous for its large scale, care­ful di­vi­sion of labour, and ex­cel­lent carv­ing. Although Wu Mianxue's fam­ily had been busi­ness­men for gen­er­a­tions, he was es­pe­cially in­ter­ested in medicine, so he block-printed many med­i­cal books. What he loved most in life was to col­lect clas­si­cal books, and he is widely known in China for his knowledge and vast col­lec­tion of books. Ac­cord­ing to sta­tis­tics, Wu Mianxue pub­lished more than 300 kinds of books through­out his life­time, and was es­pe­cially fa­mous for the med­i­cal books that he had en­graved, which were known as “Wu edi­tions.” These books were all care­fully proof­read and beau­ti­fully printed, cher­ished by many schol­ars.

Ac­cord­ing to a folk le­gend, Wu Mianxue once had a ter­ri­fy­ing dream in which Yama, the Lord of Hell, had cap­tured him. Wu kow­towed to Yama, ask­ing to be saved and say­ing that he was will­ing to do good deeds. Yama asked him, “What good deeds will you do?” Wu Mianxue replied, “I have read many med­i­cal books, but there are many mis­takes in them. I think I should re­vise and amend them.” Yama asked him, “How will you pub­lish these books?" He replied, “I will pub­lish all of them pri­vately.” There­fore, Yama set him free to let him print med­i­cal books. Af­ter this dream, he spent all this money pub­lish­ing large quan­ti­ties of med­i­cal books. Once he had made enough money, he be­gan search­ing for clas­sics from both an­cient and mod­ern times and block-printed them too. The pub­lish­ing of these books cost him about 100,000 yuan.

Even­tu­ally, in 1601, he pub­lished a se­ries of books en­ti­tled Gu­jin Yi­tong Zheng­mai Quan­shu (“en­cy­clopae­dia of med­i­cal tra­di­tions and sys­tems in an­cient and mod­ern times”). In the book's pref­ace, he wrote, “There are med­i­cal tra­di­tions and med­i­cal sys­tems. With the cor­rect sys­tem, a med­i­cal tra­di­tion can be passed down.” One can see that as a book­seller he paid special at­ten­tion to tra­di­tion, for which he was widely praised. Although Wu Mianxue pub­lished books pri­vately, most were so- called ortho­dox books, such as Shisan­jing ( The Thir­teen Con­fu­cian Clas­sics), Xingli Daquan (“com­plete col­lec­tion [of Con­fu­cian works] on hu­man na­ture and moral­ity”), and Twenty Philoso­phers, in or­der to pro­mote tra­di­tional cul­ture.

Af­ter the mid-ming Dy­nasty, it was quite com­mon for book­stores to also do book en­grav­ing work. The books pub­lished in these book­stores were called “pri­vate pub­li­ca­tions.” At that time, although pri­vate pub­li­ca­tions flour­ished, their qual­ity was un­even. Some book­stores printed books in­dis­crim­i­nately just to make a profit, mak­ing changes to the books as they wished. These ran­dom re­vi­sions were of­ten crit­i­cised by schol­ars. How­ever, the books block-printed by Wu Mianxue's book­store were of the high­est qual­ity. Wu Mianxue was very strict when en­grav­ing books, and tried his best to care­fully and ac­cu­rately proof­read and en­grave hun­dreds of his­tor­i­cal and clas­si­cal books. Scholar

Xie Zhaozhe (1567–1624), who wrote the nat­u­ral his­tory mas­ter­piece Wu Za Zu (“five mis­cel­la­nies”), spoke highly of Wu's edi­tions. Ac­cord­ing to Xie, Wu's books were as good as those printed in the Song Dy­nasty. Later, in the Qing Dy­nasty, of­fi­cials at the im­pe­rial li­brary also praised Wu Mianxue's books.

At the same time of pur­su­ing book en­grav­ing, Wu Mianxue also held joint book sales with other book­sellers in Huizhou. When en­grav­ing books, Wu ei­ther hired oth­ers for proof­read­ing, or did it him­self, and then asked other book­sellers to print them. At times he worked to­gether with other well-known en­gravers so as to in­crease the num­ber of books that could be proof­read and shorten the print­ing cy­cle, thus bring­ing eco­nomic ben­e­fit. When Wu started to block-print the En­cy­clopae­dia of Med­i­cal Tra­di­tions and Sys­tems in An­cient and Mod­ern Times, he worked to­gether with the fa­mous med­i­cal master Wang Ken­tang (1549–1613). When block-print­ing Twenty Philoso­phers, he asked Huang Zhi­cai, a fa­mous proof­reader from Huizhou, to be re­spon­si­ble for the proof­read­ing, while he him­self was re­spon­si­ble for the print­ing.

Af­ter Wu Mianxue's death, his son Wu Zhongheng con­tin­ued his fa­ther's ca­reer in book en­grav­ing. He later be­came a fa­mous book carver in the late Ming and early Qing dy­nas­ties. In par­tic­u­lar, they made the great­est con­tri­bu­tion to com­pil­ing med­i­cal books, and Shi Gu Book­store con­tin­ued to en­grave books un­til the Kangxi reign (1662–1723) of the Qing Dy­nasty. Later, Shi Gu Book­store went bank­rupt due to poor busi­ness and Huang Zhi­cai, who had helped Wu proof­read Twenty Philoso­phers, bought many of Wu's print­ing blocks and pub­lished them un­der his own name.

Thoughts by Twenty Philoso­phers

Dur­ing the chaos of the Spring and Au­tumn and War­ring States pe­ri­ods (770–221 BC), po­lit­i­cal changes also brought about a sea change in schol­arly thought. At that time, of­fi­cial schools of philo­sophic thought were in de­cline while pri­vate schools be­gan to rise, which led to di­vi­sions and the formation of “a hun­dred schools of thought.” Be­cause the em­peror had be­come weak and lo­cal vas­sals were be­com­ing stronger in pol­i­tics, dif­fer­ent schools of thought were born, such as the Con­fu­cian school, the Taoist school, the Mo­hist school, and the Yin-yang school. Each group of thinkers wrote dif­fer­ent books to ex­press their ideas and con­tra­dicted each other. Grad­u­ally, each the­ory had its own ra­tio­nal­ity and ba­sis for ex­ist­ing. There­fore, it was dif­fi­cult to tell who was right, but their

works were grad­u­ally be­com­ing ac­cepted.

When Con­fu­cius (551–479 BC) be­gan to or­gan­ise lit­er­a­ture, he clas­si­fied the Con­fu­cian clas­sics into “six arts,” namely, the Book of Songs, the Book of Doc­u­ments, the Book of Rites, the Book of Changes, the Book of Mu­sic and the Spring and Au­tumn An­nals, start­ing the prece­dent for us­ing a clas­si­fi­ca­tion method to com­pile books. Dur­ing the Western Han Dy­nasty (206 BC– AD 24), fa­mous scholar Liu Xiang (77 BC–6 BC) and his son com­piled their lit­er­a­ture into a work en­ti­tled Qi Lue (“seven epit­o­mes”), which in­cluded seven parts: in­tro­duc­tion, the six arts, philoso­phers, var­i­ous po­ems, mil­i­tary books, div­ina­tion, and medicine. As the first part was a pre­lude, “the six di­vi­sion meth­ods” was pro­duced. Grad­u­ally, doc­u­ments on lit­er­a­ture, his­tory, Bud­dhist scrip­tures, YinYang, and the Five El­e­ments (metal, wood, wa­ter, fire and earth) in­creased in num­ber. How­ever, this di­vi­sion method was not suit­able for clas­si­fy­ing lit­er­a­ture. Dur­ing the reign of Em­peror Wu (265–290) of the Western Jin Dy­nasty (265–316), Sec­re­tary Xun Xu and the head of sec­re­tar­iat Zhang Hua were in charge of or­gan­is­ing books. Imi­tat­ing Wei Zhongjing Bo (“col­lec­tion of Con­fu­cian clas­sics of the Wei Dy­nasty”), they com­piled Zhongjing Xinbo (“new col­lec­tion of Con­fu­cian clas­sics”), di­vid­ing the book into four parts, A,B, C, and D.

At the be­gin­ning of the Tang Dy­nasty (618– 907), the fa­mous of­fi­cial Wei Zheng (580–643) named this clas­si­fi­ca­tion method for the first time when he com­piled Suishu Jingjizhi (“clas­si­cal records of the Sui Dy­nasty”), for­mally es­tab­lish­ing the sys­tem of di­vid­ing bib­li­ogra­phies into four parts. In the Qian­long pe­riod (1736–1795) of the Qing Dy­nasty, when the im­pe­rial li­brary of­fi­cials com­piled Siku Quan­shu (Com­plete Li­brary in Four Sec­tions), they di­vided the out­lines of the an­cient books into four cat­e­gories, namely, clas­sics, his­to­ries, philoso­phers and lit­er­a­ture, and used this sys­tem when com­pil­ing Qingding Siku Quan­shu Zongmu Tiyao (“com­pos­ite cat­a­logue of Siku Quan­shu made by im­pe­rial or­der”), so this clas­si­fi­ca­tion method was firmly im­printed in the hearts of read­ers.

In the Wanli pe­riod of the Ming Dy­nasty, Wu Mianxue ex­ten­sively col­lected rare an­cient books. He com­piled the works of 21 philoso­phers of the pre-qin pe­riod into a se­ries of books named Twenty Philoso­phers. Then he asked Huang Zhi­cai, the fa­mous proof­reader from Shex­ian County, to proof­read it. In this se­ries of block-printed books, Zhuangzi was a rare trea­sure. It con­sisted of 221 vol­umes and was printed on bam­boo pa­per pro­duced in An­hui. The pa­per was slightly yellow and the ink was a rich black colour that Huizhou ink was fa­mous for. The cuboid char­ac­ter font the book adopted was formed dur­ing the Wanli pe­riod and first carved by Huizhou crafts­men. Af­ter the Qing Dy­nasty, the char­ac­ter be­came more up­right and four-square, be­com­ing the so-called “Song type­face.” This font has been in use ever since and is a pop­u­lar font in print­ing. In the front of each vol­ume of Twenty Philoso­phers, the book ti­tle ap­pears, while at the back of each vol­ume are the words “proof­read by Wu Mianxue of Xin'an in the Ming Dy­nasty.”

In this col­lec­tion of philo­sophic works are won­der­ful ar­ti­cles by philoso­pher Zhuangzi (c. 369–286 BC) in which one can ex­pe­ri­ence his oth­er­worldly mood and free style. For ex­am­ple: “There is a fish in Beim­ing; its name is kun. So gi­gan­tic, it can travel for thou­sands of miles.” The idea of the kun peng, a myth­i­cal gi­ant fish that could turn into a gi­ant bird, made Zhuangzi—who had once dreamt of be­com­ing a but­ter­fly—feel ex­tremely free and un­fet­tered. The lit­er­ary master Lu Xun (1881–1936) spoke highly of Zhuangzi, say­ing, “No other philoso­pher can sur­pass him.” The vol­ume Zhuangzi that was block-printed by Wu Mianxue was so care­fully checked and proof­read that if his name weren't printed on it, peo­ple would think it was the much-lauded Song edi­tion.

Twenty Philoso­phers is filled with the wis­dom of dif­fer­ent philoso­phers in Chi­nese his­tory. For ex­am­ple, Guan Zhong (c. 720–645 BC) was pre­mier of Qi in the Spring and Au­tumn Pe­riod. With his help, Duke Huan of Qi be­came the first over­lord, also known as the first Chi­nese pre­mier. Know­ing the con­cept of hon­our and dis­grace, Guan put for­ward his idea that, “only those whose barn is full can learn about man­ners; only those whose wardrobe is full can have a sense of dig­nity.” Guan Zhong be­lieved that only when the peo­ple had am­ple food and cloth­ing could they take into ac­count con­cepts such as eti­quette, hon­our and dis­grace. Xunzi (c. 310–235 BC), the Con­fu­cian rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the War­ring States Pe­riod, warned peo­ple to study un­remit­tingly in his writ­ing Quan Xue (“ex­hor­ta­tion to learn­ing”) through the fol­low­ing max­ims: “One can never stop learn­ing. Green is deeper than blue, although it comes from blue; ice comes from wa­ter, but is colder than wa­ter. With­out a small step, a thou­sand miles can't be reached; with­out a small stream, no sea would ex­ist.” These lines are still widely read by peo­ple to­day. Xunzi is a fa­mous thinker and politi­cian whose dis­ci­ple Li Si be­came prime min­is­ter dur­ing the reigns of Qin Shi Huang and Qin Er Shi (246–206 BC). It is be­cause of this book Twenty Philoso­phers that im­mor­tal mas­ter­pieces have been handed down, form­ing a trea­sury of wis­dom in Chi­nese cul­ture.

The legacy passed down from the pre- Qin pe­riod in­flu­enced China for two thou­sand years, al­low­ing mod­ern read­ers to ap­pre­ci­ate the philo­sophic view of “a hun­dred schools of thought” dur­ing the Spring and Au­tumn pe­riod, thanks in part to Wu Mianxue, the great block-print­ing master of the Ming Dy­nasty.

“Yan Zi Chun­qiu” from Twenty Philoso­phers

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