An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

Mao Qiling 毛奇齡

May 6, 2012 © Ulrich Theobald

Mao Qiling 毛奇齡 (1623-1716), courtesy name Dake 大可, style Chuqing 初晴, Qiuqing 秋晴 or Xihe xiansheng 西河先生, was a philosopher of the early Qing period 清 (1644-1911). He hailed from Xiaoshan 蕭山, Zhejiang, and in his younger years participated in the local resistance against the Manchurian troops of the Qing dynasty when they conquered southern China. During that time he changed his name and lived the unsecure life of a tramp in the lower Yangtze region.

Fortunately enough, he became acquainted with the writers Yan Ruoqu 閻若璩 (1636-1704) and Shi Guizhang 施閨章 (1618-1683) and was allowed to participate in the metropolitan examination of 1679. He degreed and was appointed examining editor (jiantaoguan 檢討官) of the Hanlin Academy 翰林院. His expertise in literature allowed him being appointed member of the compilation team for the official dynastic history of the Ming dynasty 明 (1368-1644), the Mingshi 明史. In 1685 he was made examining official of the metropolitan examination (huishi tongkao guan 會試同考官) but soon retired and lived as a private resercher in Hangzhou 杭州, Zhejiang.

As a philosopher, Mao Qiling criticized all Neo-Confucian schools because they heeded in all various directions without going to any target. The ancient Confucians like Confucius 孔子 himself and Mengzi 孟子, had a clear idea about the main guidelines for life and society. The Neo-Confucian Zhu Xi 朱熹 (1130-1200) was, in Mao's eyes, unable to understand the real meaning of Confucius' concept of ge wu 格物. Zhu Xi interpreted this term as "going to all matters" (zhi shi 至事) [for investigation in order to understand the Celestial principle (li 理)], while Confucius was speaking of "measuring" (duliang 度量) or identifiying the real and the void, in order to assess if someone's actions were congruent to his position. Words and deeds were to be matched; otherwise government and society would not work.

Zhu Xi with his literary studies or investigations had totally neglected this coherence between designations and reality. The Neo-Confucians had, in Mao Qiling's eyes, also overstressed the antagonism of human desire (yu 欲) and the Celestial principle of goodness. The "Four Books" Sishu 四書, the core writings upon which the Neo-Confucians based their theories, did not mention such an antagonism, and the theories of the Neo-Confucians were therefore based on ficticious assumptions, alterations or abbreviations of the Confucian Classics.

Mao Qiling therefore corrected errors in Zhu Xi's famous commentary on the "Four Books", the Sishu jizhu 四書集注, in his book Sishu gaicuo 四書改錯.

Mao Qiling was also one of the first scholars demonstrating that the chart of the highest extreme (Taijitu 太極圖) in Zhou Dunyi's 周敦頤 (1017-1073) writings were borrowed from Daoist texts like Peng Xiao's 彭曉 (10th cent.) Cantongqi fenzheng tongzhen yi 參同契分章通真義 and Mingjing tujue 明鏡圖訣, where this chart is an illustration of the "correct outlines of the processes water and fire" (shuihuo kuangkuo tu 水火匡廓圖) and the "highest essence of the trinity and the fiveness" (sanwu zhijing tu 三五至精圖). The Confucian Classics were, according to Mao, to be interpreted on the base of facts, and not guided by assumptions and one's own intuition. It was highly important, as Mao Qiling stressed, to carry out philological research to obtain a correct interpretation of old writings.

Mao was the forerunner of a large group of new researchers that made themselves free from Neo-Confucian speculation and relied on the correct words of the Han period 漢 (206 BCE-220 CE) original texts of the Confucian Classics. The most famous is the Qian-Jia School 乾嘉學派.

Mao Qiling's most important writings are included in the book Xihe heji 西河合集.

Pang Pu 龐樸, ed. (1997). Zhongguo ruxue 中國儒學 (Shanghai: Dongfang chuban zhongxin), Vol. 2, 207.