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Redefinition of Ideas in Time: The Chinese Classics and History

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  15 August 2016

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In a paper that appeared some time ago, I suggested that Chang Ping-lin (1868-1936) spared the Classics by condemning the Throne. K'ang Yu-wei (1858-1927), the intellectual leader of the fin-de-siècle monarchist Reformers, had tied his radical prescriptions for Chinese society and culture to a highly personal reading of old texts, especially the Kung-yang chuan, one of two long-overshadowed alternates to the Tso-chuan as the key to the meaning of the Ch'unch'iu, the Spring and Autumn annals. His exploitation of the Kung-yang chuan, in turn, depended on the discrediting of a whole class of texts to which the Tsochuan belonged, the so-called ku-wen or “ancient-text” Classics, accepted as the orthodox canon since the end of the Later Han dynasty. Unlike the ku-wen Classics, to whose prototypes orthodox Confucian tradition attributed a pre- Ch'in antiquity, the Kung-yang chuan existed only in a Han (hence, chin-wen or “modern-text”) version, allegedly a faithful reconstruction of an early original.

Copyright © The Association for Asian Studies, Inc. 2009

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1 “ ‘History’ and ‘Value’: the Tensions of Intellectual Choice in Modern China,” Studies in Chinese Thought, ed. Arthur F. Wright (Chicago, 1953), pp. 146-194.

2 Shigeyuki, Motoda, Ching-hsüeh shih-lun [On the History of Classical Scholarship], trans. Hsia-an, Chiang (Shanghai, 1934), p. 365 Google Scholar.

3 On this point, see Ch'i Ssu-ho, “Professor Hung on the Ch'un Ch'iu,” Yenching Journal of Social Studies, I (June 1938), 50-51.

4 Derk Bodde, “Harmony and Conflict in Chinese Philosophy,” in Wright, p. 34.

5 Ojima Sukema, “Rokuhen seru Ryö Hei no gakusetsu” [“Six Stages in the Development of Liao P‘ing’s Theories“], Shinagaku, II (May 1922), 714.

6 Chang Ping-lin, “Kuo-ku lun-heng” [“Discussion of National Origins”], 2.73b, Chang-shih ts‘ung-shu (Che-chiang T‘u-shu Kuan, 1917-19).

7 Wu Ching-hsien, “Chang T‘ai-yen chih min-tsu chu-i shih-hsüeh” [“Chang Pinglin's Nationalist Historiography”], Tung-fang tsa-chih, XLIV (April 1948), 40.

8 Chang, 2.67b.

9 The first words of the Wen-shih t‘ung-i [General Principles of Literature and History] of Chang Hsüeh-ch‘eng. The same sentiment was expressed and elaborated upon by Chang in many texts, both formal treatises and personal letters. See David Shepherd Nivison, “The Literary and Historical Thought of Chang Hsiieh-ch'eng (1738-1801): A Study of His Life and Writing, with Translations of Six Essays from the Wen-shih t‘ung-i,” unpubl. Ph.D. thesis, Harvard Univ. (May 1953), pp. 67, 114, 127-130, 190; and Nivison, “ ‘Knowledge’ and ‘Action’ in Chinese Thought since Wang Yang-ming,” in Wright, p. 127.

10 Liang Ch‘i-ch‘ao, “Chung-kuo li-shih yen-chiu fa” [“Methods of Research in Chinese History”], Yin-ping-shih ho-chi (Shanghai, 1936), chuan-chi XVI, 9.

11 Su Hsün, “Shih-lun shang” [“First Discourse (of three) on History”], Chia yu chi, Ssu-pu pei-yao ed. (Shanghai, n.d.), 8.1b.

12 Nivison, “Chang Hsiieh-ch‘eng,” p. 130.

13 Nivison, ibid., p. 202, points out Hu Shih's error in representing Chang as a modern critic before his time, seeing the Classics as “historical material.”

14 Chou Yü-t‘ung, Ching chin-ku-wen hsüeh [Study of the chin-wen, ku-wen Classics Issue] (Shanghai, 1926), p. 32.

15 Wu, pp. 40-41.

16 Som, Tjan Tjoe, Po Hu T‘ung: the Comprehensive Discussions in the White Tiger Hall (Leiden, 1949), I, 119 Google Scholar. The greater part of Ku's researches have been published in Ku shih pien [Symposium on ancient history] (Peking, Shanghai, 1926-41), I-VII.

17 See The Autobiography of a Chinese Historian: Being the Preface to a Symposium on Ancient Chinese History (Ku Shih Pien), trans. Arthur W. Hummel (Leiden, 1931), esp. pp. 40-47.

18 Ch‘i Ssu-ho, “Wei Yüan yü wan-Ch‘ing hsüeh-feng” [“Wei Yuan and late-Ch'ing scholarship“], YCHP, XXXIX (Dec. 1960), 222.

19 Cf. Ku's ultimate reservations about the otherwise highly regarded textual critic, Ts‘ui Shu (1740-1816): Ts‘ui Shu had done excellent work in the exposure of forgeries, particularly in his discovery of chronological strata of deposits of legend in early literature. Yet, said Ku, Ts'ui Shu probed for forgeries only to establish the really orthodox materials of the ancient sages. He only criticized post-Chan-kuo texts for falsifying pre-Chan-kuo facts; he did not look at pre-Chan-kuo texts (i.e., the Classics) to test their own authenticity. “He was only a ju-che (Confucianist) making his discriminations in ancient history, not a historian doing so.” And—“The distinction between ‘Classics’ (ching-shu) and ‘tales’ (ch‘uan-ch‘i) is only one of time.” See Wei Ying-ch‘i, Chung-kuo shih-hsüeh shih [History of Chinese Historiography) (Shanghai, 1941), p. 244.