An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

Fu Sheng 伏勝

Sep 16, 2011 © Ulrich Theobald

Fu Sheng 伏勝, also known as Fu Sheng 伏生 "Master Fu", was a Confucian scholar at the beginning of the Former Han period 前漢 (206 BCE-8 CE).

He hailed from Jinan 濟南 (modern Zhangqiu 章丘, Shandong) and had been an erudite (boshi 博士) for the Shangshu 尚書 "Book of Documents" under the Qin dynasty 秦 (221-206 BCE). When the imperial edict to burn all "useless" books (jiashulü 挾書律, better known as fenshuling 焚書令) was issued in 213 he hid a copy of the Shangshu in the walls of his mansion.

When the law of book prohibition was declared invalid during the early Han period, he opened the wall but only found 28 chapters intact, the other parts had decayed over the years. Another chapter, the Taishi 泰誓, was submitted to Fu Sheng from among the population. These 29 chapters are constituting the Shangshu that has come upon us today. Some scholars are of the opinion that even those chapters were not originals but have been written down from what Fu Sheng had in memory.

Fu Sheng began teaching the Shangshu in his home region of Qi 齊 and Lu 魯 (modern Shandong). Within a short time he became so popular that even the imperial court requested instruction from him. Yet because Fu Sheng was already older than ninety years he was unable to travel to the capital. Emperor Wen therefore dispatched Chao Cuo 晁錯 as Chamberlain for Ceremonials (taichang 太常) to visit Fu Sheng. Too old to teach, instruction was left to Fu Sheng's daughter and his disciples Master Zhang 張生 and Master Ouyang 歐陽生.

Chao Cuo was appointed erudite (boshi 博士) for the Shangshu, likewise Master Zhang and Master Ouyang's great-grandson Ouyang Gao 歐陽高 who was founder of one of the three main schools for the Shangshu under the rule of Emperor Wu 漢武帝 (r. 141-87 BCE). The others were Xiahou Sheng 夏侯勝 (Xiahou Senior 大夏侯) and Xiahou Jian 夏侯建 (Xiaohou Junior 小夏侯).

The original text of the Shangshu had been written in the contemporary writing style of the Smaller Seal Script (xiaozhuan 小篆), yet when Fu Sheng salvaged the surviving parts he transcribed the chapters into the modern Chancery Script (lishu 隸書). His version was therefore called the "modern script" version (Jinwen Shangshu 今文尚書), while other version gradually appearing throughout the empire were called the old-text versions (Guwen Shangshu 古文尚書) because these text still used the Seal Script.

Fu Sheng is also credited with the compilation of a parallel transmission of ancient texts, the Shangshu dazhuan 尚書大傳. This book was in fact compiled after his death by disciples of him. The Shangshu dazhuan is more narrative and includes stories of less historiographical or documentary character, so that the actual Shangshu was ever more venerated as a sacred text. Except the chapter Hongfan wuxing zhuan 洪范五行傳, the other parts of this book are only preserved in fragments. There is a critical edition of the Shangshu dazhuan by the Qing period 清 (1644-1911) scholar Chen Shouqi 陳壽祺.

Pang Pu 龐樸, ed. (1997). Zhongguo ruxue 中國儒學 (Shanghai: Dongfang chuban zhongxin), Vol. 2, 35.
Wang Huxua 王煦華 (1996). "Fu Sheng 伏生", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Zhongguo lishi 中國歷史 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), Vol. 1, 233.