An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Fang Bao 方苞

Feb 4, 2014 © Ulrich Theobald

Fang Bao 方苞 (1668-1749), courtesy name Fengjiu 鳳九 or Fang Linghao 方靈皋, style Wangxi 望溪, was a philosopher of the early Qing period. He hailed from Tongcheng 桐城, Anhui, and is therefore called the founder of the Tongcheng School 桐城派. He obtained his jinshi degree in 1706 and was director-general of compilation (xiushu zongcai 修書總裁) in the Hall of Military Glory 武英殿, instructor-bachelor (jiaoxi shujishi 教習庶吉士) and then Vice Minister of Rites (libu shilang 禮部侍郎).

Fang Bao was involved in the so-called Nanshan Case (Nanshan an 南山案) from 1713, a trial targeting Dai Mingshi's 戴名世 (1653-1713) collection Nanshan ji 南山集, where the reign motto Yongli 永曆 of the Prince of Gui 桂王 (r. 1646-1661) of the Southern Ming dynasty 南明 (1644-1661) was used, and for which Fang Bao had written the preface. While Dai was executed, Fang was spared, but dismissed.

Fang Bao was an adherent of Song-period 宋 (960-1279) Neo-Confucianism, particularly of the school of the brothers Cheng Yi 程頤 (1033-1107) and Cheng Hao 程顥 (1032-1085) and Zhu Xi 朱熹 (1130-1200). He was an expert in the three ritual classics (Sanli 三禮: Yili 儀禮, Liji 禮記 and Zhouli 周禮) and the Chunqiu 春秋 "Spring and Autumn Annals".

Although Fang did some research on the Confucian Classics, he was bettern known among contemporarians for his literary critique. In his eyes good writers followed the Confucian principles of studying the ancient writings, enlightening the Way (ming dao 明道), to observe the principles of righteousness (yi li 義理) and to seek its origins, in order to pursue the way of Confucius, Mengzi 孟子 and the Neo-Confucian masters of the Song period. The Way would so be visible in literature, and literature was therefore an excellent way to clarify the Confucian Way.

The best literature was therefore to be found in the Six Classics (liujing 六經), the Lunyu 論語 "Confucian Analects" and the book Mengzi 孟子. The second of literatureclass were histriographical writings like the Classic Zuozhuan 左傳 and the standard history Shiji 史記 from the Han period 漢 (206 BCE-220 CE). The third class consisted of classical writers like Han Yu 韓愈 (768-824) from the Tang 唐 (618-907) and Ouyang Xiu 歐陽修 (1007-1072) from the Song period, and the lowest of quality was to be found in writings from the Ming 明 (1368-1644) and Qing periods. This categorization did not include poetry and rhapsodies (fu 賦), because these literary genres were not applicable to express the meaning of the Confucian Way.

According to Fang's literary theory, the writer was to bring the concept of righteousness (yi 義) with literary standards (fa 法). Fang Bao explained that "righteousness" were the matters described in the Yijing 易 "Book of Changes", while the "models" was the sequence of changed described in this text. In other words, righteousness were the warp threads (jing 經), and models the weft threads (wei 緯) of literature. Concretely spoken, shape and content had to be brought to conversion.

Fang Bao's mode of literary creativeness was later imitated by Liu Dakui 劉大櫆 and Yao Nai 姚鼐 (1731-1815) and became a concept of one local school that was called the School of Tongcheng 桐城派.

Fang Bao's most important writings are Zhouguan jizheng 周官集證, Zhouguan xiyi 周官析疑, Zhouguan bian 周官辨, Yili xiyi 儀禮析疑, Kaogongji xiyi 考工記析疑, Liji xiyi 禮記析疑, Chunqiu zhijie 春秋直解, Sangli huowen 喪禮或問, Chunqiu tonglun 春秋通論, Chunqiu bishi mulu 春秋比事目錄, Zuozhuan yifa juyao 左傳義法舉要, Shiji zhu buzheng 史記注補正 and Lisao zhengyi 離騷正義. His collected writings are called Wangxi wenji 望溪文集.

Pang Pu 龐樸, ed. (1997). Zhongguo ruxue 中國儒學 (Shanghai: Dongfang chuban zhongxin), Vol. 2, 223.