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Persons in Chinese History - Zhan Ruoshui 湛若水

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Zhan Ruoshui 湛若水 (1466-1560), later called Zhan Yu 湛雨, courtesy name Zhan Yuanming 湛元明, later Zhan Minze 湛民澤, style Ganquan 甘泉, was a Confucian scholar and philosopher of the mid-Ming period 明 (1368-1644). He came from Zengcheng 增城, Guangdong, and was a disciple of Chen Xianzhang 陳獻章. He obtained his jinshi degree in 1505 and was appointed bachelor (shujishi 庶吉士) of the Hanlin Academy 翰林院, later junior compiler (bianxiu 編修), and then libationer (jijiu 祭酒) of the Directorate of Education (guozijian 國子監) in the southern capital Nanjing, Vice Minister (shilang 侍郎) and then Minister of Rites (libu shangshu 禮部尚書), of Personnel (libu shangshu 吏部尚書) and finally of War (bingbu shangshu 兵部尚書). After retirement he traveled widely as a private teacher. In his own school, the Bijian Academy 必建書院, he had built a shrine for Chen Xianzhang. In 1506 he met the famous philospher Wang Yangming 王陽明 and discussed with him. Zhan's most important disciples were Liu Zongzhou 劉宗周, Tang Shu 唐樞 and Xu Fuyuan 許孚遠.
The philosopher Zhan Ruoshui explained that it was necessary to practice the Heavenly principle (tianli 天理) in all aspects, in order to become a Saint (shengren 聖人). In his eyes the Heavenly principle was to be seen in each single life, as a "multiplicity in unity" (li yi fen shu 理一分殊), in which each individual lived a different expression of the principle than other individuals. The hightest expression of the principle was in intellectual life that was geared to moral principles by compassion, a feeling for justice, refraining from bad behaviour, and polite declining. The attempt to experience the principle in all aspects requires to seach for a higher spirit in perception and reaction. The Heavenly principle was a "principle of life" (shenglirenxing 人性). Yet the principle was often obstructed by emotions and desires (qing yu 情欲), but daily practice in the realization of the Heavenly principle, embedded in human character, would help to reconcile emotions and the original shape of the principle. In Zhan's eyes the mind (xin 心) was in the end reigning over personal experience (tiren 體認) because the Heavenly principle was most vivible in human character. "Experience" therefore means to explore one's heart, and not the environment, in other words: it was helpful to analyse the principle in matters and objects, and not the objects themselves, in a physical way. This explanation makes clear that Zhan Ruoshui did not surpass the boundaries of the traditional "teachings of the mind" (xinxue 心學), where intellectual studies were more important than practice.
The most important writings of Zhan Ruoshui are 春秋正傳 and Gewutong 格物通. His collected writings are called Ganquan wenji 甘泉文集, and another collection is called Ganquan quanji 甘泉全集.

Source: Pang Pu 龐樸 (ed. 1997), Zhongguo ruxue 中國儒學 (Shanghai: Dongfang chuban zhongxin), Vol. 2, p. 167.

January 7, 2014 © Ulrich Theobald · Mail
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