An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

Zheng Xuan 鄭玄

Dec 29, 2011 © Ulrich Theobald

Zheng Xuan 鄭玄 (127-200), courtesy name Kangcheng 康成, was a famous Confucian scholar of the Later Han period 前漢 (206 BCE-8 CE). He is known as one of the few scholars that reconciled the tradition of the old-text school with that of the new-text school. His own adherents are called those of the Zheng school (Zhengxue 鄭學), the "comprehensive school" (tongxue 通學) or the "generalists schools" (zonghe xuepai 綜合學派).

Zheng Xuan hailed from Gaomi 高密 (modern Gaomi, Shandong) and travelled to the capital Luoyang 洛陽 (modern Luoyang, Henan) where he enrolled at the National University (taixue 太學). His teacher was Diwu Yuanxian 第五元先 (sic!) who instructed him in Jing Fang's 京房 interpretation of the Yijing 易經 "Book of Changes" (called Jingshi yi 京氏易), the Gongyang commentary (Gongyangzhuan 公羊傳) to the Chunqiu 春秋 "Spring and Autumn Annals", the Santong calendar (Santongli 三統歷) of Liu Xin 劉歆 and the mathematical book Jiuzhang suanshu 九章算術.

He then moved to Dongjun 東郡 (modern Puyang 濮陽, Henan) and became a student of Zhang Hongzu 張恭祖 who instructed him in the Zhouguan 周官 "Offices of the Zhou" (i.e. the Zhouli 周禮), Liji 禮記 "Records of Rites", Zuozhuan 左傳 (a commentary and parallel to the Chunqiu), Han Ying's 韓嬰 version of the Shijing 詩經 "Book of Songs" (Hanshi 韓詩), and the Guwen shangshu 古文尚書 Old-Text "Book of Documents".

All Confucian texts he had studied until then were of the new-text tradition. This fact incited in him all the more the interest to also study the old-text tradition. He therefore travelled to Chang'an 長安 (modern Xi'an 西安, Shaanxi) where he met the Confucian scholar Lu Zhi 盧植, a disciple of Ma Rong 馬融. Ma Rong himself did not reveive Zheng Xuan until he heard of the latter's expertise in astronomical calculations.

Zheng Xuan returned to his home town and was consulted by hundreds of students that came visiting him. Because the eunuch clique at the court had a tight grip on each state office, it was not easy to obtain a post in the government institutions. During the time Zheng Xuan lived as a private teacher, a nother clash between adherents of the new-text and old-text schools happened. It was caused by the new-text scholar He Xiu 何休 who promoted the study of the Gongyang commentary to the Chunqiu. Zheng Xuan both supported and appeased He Xiu, so that the tensions between the adherents of the two schools relaxed.

At the end of Emperor Ling's(Han)靈帝 (r. 167-189) reign the prohibition of the court factions (danggu 黨錮) relaxed, and Confucian scholars were allowed to take over offices again. The regent He Jin 何進 invited Zheng Xuan to serve the government, but he refused under the pretext of old age.

According to his biography in the history Hanshu(Han)書, Zheng Xuan had written commentaries to virtually all Confucian Classics, as well as a discussion about sacrificial rituals in Confucius' home state of Lu 魯 (Lu li dixia yi 魯禮禘袷義), a treatise on all Six Classics (Liuyilun 六藝論), notes to the Book of Songs (Maoshipu 毛詩譜), a discussion about the concept of filial piety in the Rites of the Zhou (Da lin xiao cun Zhouli nan 答臨孝存周禮難), but also some treatises on calendar, like the Zhonghou 中候, Qianxiangli 乾象歷 and Tianwen qizheng lun 天文七政論. Zheng Xuan's scholarly contribution was hardly matched by any contemporarian of his.

Zheng's commentary to the Yijing was based on Fei Zhangweng's 費長翁 version of this classic (Feishi yi 費氏易) but also included thoughts of Jing Fang's version and commentaries of the new-text commentaries to the Yijing. He explained the "Changes" by the Confucian rituals (li 禮), stressing that non-change is the ground of human relationship, which was a very new kind of interpretation. He was also of the opinion that the Eight Trigrams (bagua> 八卦) had been invented by Shen Nong 神農 and not by Fu Xi 伏羲.

His commentary to the Shangshu was based on those of Jia Kui 賈逵 and Ma Rong, and it is therefore a summary of Han period old-text interpretation of this Classic and contributed to the survival of this version instead of the new-text version.

Ma Rong's interpretation of the Shijing was Zheng Xuan's basis for his own commentaries to this Classic, the Maoshi jian 毛詩箋 and Maoshi pu 毛詩譜, but he also integrated thoughts of Han Ying's new-text version of the Shijing, the Hanshi 韓詩, and other new-text versions that have not survived. Zheng Xuan informs his readers that there was a Mao Senior 大毛公 and a Mao Junior 小毛公. The former was the author of the book Guxunzhuan 故訓傳 that was detected in the house of Prince Xian of Hejian 河間獻王, while Mao Junior was only an erudite (boshi 博士) for the Book of Songs. Also for this book, Zheng Xuan explained the text with the Confucian concept of ritual (li) as a regulating instrument for society and state. He also was of the opinion that the Great Preface (Daxu 大序) had been written by Confucius' disciple Zixia 子夏, while the small prefaces (xiaoxu 小序) were a joint creation of Zixia and Master Mao 毛公.

The commentaries to three ritual classics (sanli 三禮) were mainly based on Ma Rong's old-text interpretation, at least the commentary to the Rites of Zhou (Zhouguan zhu 周官注) and that to the Lijing 禮經 (i. e Yili 儀禮). The commentary to the Liji is a thoroughly new concept of Zheng Xuan. He was also the first to unite the three ritual classics in one corpus, while they had formerly been discussed separately. Zheng Xuan saw them as one unit and tried to solve many contradictions occurring in the earlier separate commentaries.

The three commentaries to the Chunqiu (Zuozhuan, Gongyangzhuan and Guliangzhuan 穀梁傳) were a great problem, because the two contending traditions quarrelled around the problem of the correct interpretation of the Chunqiu. Zheng Xuan saw the strengths of the Zuozhuan commentary in the application of rituals (li), that of the Gongyang commentary in its apocryphal interpretation (chen 讖) and that of the Guliang commentary in its character as guideline (jing 經) to the Confucian concept of government and society. He merged the various traditions in his interpretation and pointed at the importance of the Zuozhuan commentary instead of the two others. It is known that Zheng Xuan once discussed his interpretation of the Zuozhuan with Fu Qian 服虔, who had a very similar opinion than himself and compiled a commentary to this book. It seems that Zheng Xuan himself had never finished such a commentary for the Zuozhuan alone.

There were not many scholars who wrote a comprehensive commentary for all the "Six Skills" (liuyi 六藝), viz. the Five Classics (wujing 五經). Liu Xiang 劉向 had compiled the Wujing tongyi 五經通義 and Wujing yaoyi 五經要義. Liu Xin's 劉歆 treatise Qilüe 七略 also includes a general summary of the Confucian Classics, the Jilüe 輯略. Cao Bao 曹褒 and Zhang Xia 張遐 were authors of books called Wujing tongyi 五經通義, and Xu Shen 許慎 wrote a Wujing yiyi 五經異義. All of these scholars made use of old-text and new-text commentaries, but none of them was more a more systematic reconciliation of the two contending schools than Zheng Xuan's Bo wujing yiyi 駁五經異義. He has also written a short compendium on the classics, the Liuyi lun 六藝論 that gives a good overview of the specifications and the history of the six books Yijing, Shangshu, Shijing, Liji, Yue 樂 (a not identified book about music) and Chunqiu.

Unfortunately the greatest part of Zheng Xuan's writings is lost. The only two books that have survived more or less complete are his Maoshi jian 毛詩箋 and the Sanli zhu 三禮注 that are part of the collection Shisanjing zhushu 十三經注疏. Suriving fragments of Zheng's writings are to be found in two collections, namely Zhengshi yishu 鄭氏遺書 (first published in the series Hou zhibuzuzhai congshu 後知不足齋叢書), and Zhengshi yishu 鄭氏佚書.

鄭氏佚書 Zhengshi yishu
(Han) 鄭玄 Zheng Xuan (comp.)
書名, length in juan Title Author(s)
易注 九卷 Yi zhu (Han) 鄭玄 Zheng Xuan
尚書注 九卷 Shangshu zhu (Han) 鄭玄 Zheng Xuan
尚書中候注 一卷 Shangshu Zhonghou zhu (Han) 鄭玄 Zheng Xuan
尚書大傳注 三卷 Shangshu dazhuan zhu (Han) 鄭玄 Zheng Xuan; (Qing) 袁堯年 Yuan Yaonian (comm.)
尚書五行傳注 一卷 Shangshu wuxing zhuanzhu (Han) 鄭玄 Zheng Xuan; (Qing) 袁堯年 Yuan Yaonian (comm.)
尚書略說注 一卷 Shangshu lüeshuo zhu (Han) 鄭玄 Zheng Xuan; (Qing) 袁堯年 Yuan Yaonian (comm.)
詩譜 三卷 Shi pu (Han) 鄭玄 Zheng Xuan
三禮目錄 一卷 Sanli mulu (Han) 鄭玄 Zheng Xuan
喪服變除 一卷 Sangfu bianchu (Han) 鄭玄 Zheng Xuan
魯禮禘祫義 一卷 Lu li dixia yi (Han) 鄭玄 Zheng Xuan
荅臨碩難禮 一卷 Dalin shuonan li (Han) 鄭玄 Zheng Xuan
箴膏肓 一卷 Zhengaowang (Han) 鄭玄 Zheng Xuan
釋廢疾 一卷 Shifeiji (Han) 鄭玄 Zheng Xuan
發墨守 一卷 Famoshou (Han) 鄭玄 Zheng Xuan
春秋傳服氏注 十二卷 Chunqiu zhuan Fushi zhu (Han) 服虔 Fu Qian
孝經注 一卷 Xiaojing zhu (Han) 鄭玄 Zheng Xuan
論語注 十卷 Lunyu zhu (Han) 鄭玄 Zheng Xuan
孔子弟子目錄 一卷 Kongzi dizi mulu (Han) 鄭玄 Zheng Xuan
駁五經異義 十卷 Bo wujing yiyi (Han) 鄭玄 Zheng Xuan; (Qing) 袁堯年 Yuan Yaonian (comm.)
六藝論 一卷 Liuyilun (Han) 鄭玄 Zheng Xuan
鄭志 八卷 Zhengzhi (Wei) 鄭小同 Zheng Xiaotong (comp.)
鄭記 一卷 Zhengji () NN
鄭君紀年 一卷 Zhengjun jinian (Qing) 陳鱣 Chen Shan; 袁鈞 Yuan Jun (rev.)
Shanghai Tushuguan 上海圖書館, ed. (1982). Zhongguo congshu zonglu 中國叢書綜錄 (Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe), Vol. 1, 609.
Pang Pu 龐樸, ed. (1997). Zhongguo ruxue 中國儒學 (Shanghai: Dongfang chuban zhongxin), vol. 2, 69, 370.