An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Sun Yirang 孫詒讓

May 6, 2012 © Ulrich Theobald

Sun Yirang 孫詒讓 (1848-1908), courtesy name Zhongrong 仲容 or Zhongsong 仲頌, style Zhougao 籀膏, was a late Qing period 清 (1644-1911) Confucian scholar. He hailed from Rui'an 瑞安, Zhejiang, and was from 1867 on secretary (zhushi 主事) in the Ministry of Justice (xingbu 刑部), yet he soon retired because of illness. From then on he dedicated himself to the study of the Confucian Classics, the "masters and philosophers", Chinese history, and of Chinese characters and language. In his later years he supported the Shifan Academy 師范學堂 in Wenzhou 溫州 and was head of the Zhejiang Study and Teaching Group 浙江教學會.

Sun Yirang was one of the earliest scholar studying the newly discovered oracle bone inscriptions from the Shang period 商 (17th-11th cent. BCE), and was so able to make important contributions to the research on the early Chinese script. His book Qiewen juli 契文舉例 is the oldest Chinese book on the oracle bone inscriptions. Sun Yirang saw himself as a scholar in the tradition of Wang Niansun 王念孫 (1744-1832), Wang Yinzhi 王引之 (1766-1834), Duan Yucai 段玉裁 (1735-1815), Qian Daxin 錢大昕 (1728-1804) and Liang Yusheng 梁玉繩. During his lifetime he was known for his study of the Classic Zhouli 周禮 "Rites of the Zhou", the Zhouli zhengyi 周禮正義. In the preface to this study, he explained that it was important to investigate all steps of the transmission of such a texts, from the Tang period 唐 (618-907) stone slab versions and the Song 宋 (960-1279) and Ming 明 (1368-1644) period prints, Lu Deming's 陸德明 (c. 550-630) commentaries on the classics (shu 疏), and the old Han period 漢 (206 BCE-220 CE) stratum of commentaries (zhu 注).

The scholar Liang Qichao 梁啟超 (1873-1929) praised this book for its accuracy and details, the respect for the old commentaries mixed with a portion of caution, and the great care with which the various interpretations of the past were brought together with a new view. Zhang Taiyan 章太炎 (1869-1936) rated Sun Yirang's commentary to the Zhouli as the best ever written.

In his book Zhayi 札迻 Sun Yirang presented the results of text-critical research to more than 70 ancient books from all literary genres. This book has to be named side by side with Wang Niansun's Dushu zazhi 讀書雜志 and Yu Yue's 俞樾 (1821-1907) Zhuzi pingyi 諸子平議. Of greatest value are Sun Yirang's studies to the often neglected book Mozi 墨子. He wrote the commentaries Mozi xiangu 墨子間詁, Mozi zhuanlüe 墨子傳略, Mozi nianbiao 墨子年表, Moxue chuanshou kao 墨學傳授考, Mozi xuwen 墨子緒聞, Moxue tonglun 墨學通論, and Mojia zhuzi gouchen 墨家諸子鉤沉. These texts are an important contribution to the reassessement of this ancient classic from the "masters and philosophers".

Sun Yirang also wrote the books Zhouli zhengyao 周禮政要, Shangshu pianzhi 尚書駢枝, Jiuqi gu tongyi 九祈古通義, Guzhou shiyi 古籀拾遺 and Guzhou yulun 古籀餘論.

Pang Pu 龐樸, ed. (1997). Zhongguo ruxue 中國儒學 (Shanghai: Dongfang chuban zhongxin), Vol. 2, 282.