An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

Li Gou 李覯

Feb 7, 2014 © Ulrich Theobald

Li Gou 李覯 (1009-1059), courtesy name Taibo 泰伯, style Xujiang Xiansheng 盱江先生, was a Confucian scholar of the early Northern Song period 北宋 (960-1126). He hailed from Nancheng 南城 in the military prefecture of Jianchang 建昌軍 (modern Jiangxi) and was a private teacher who owned his own institution, the Xujiang Academy 盱江書院. In later years he was recommended by the politician Fan Zhongyan 范仲淹 (989-1052) and appointed instructor (zhujiao 助教) in the National University (taixue 太學) and then lecturer (zhijiang 直講).

As a native of the region of modern Jiangxi Li Gou belonged to a group of thinkers that fundamentally changed the political and philosophical landscape of China, like Ouyang Xiu 歐陽修 (1007-1072) or Wang Anshi 王安石 (1021-1086). Li's political thought influenced the practical measures that Fan Zhongyan took in his reform politics of the Qingli reign-period 慶曆 (1041-1048, Qingli xinzheng 慶曆新政), and also the reform politics of Wang Anshi in later decades.

Li tried to combine philosophical ideas with a practical application of these in the field of politics. He analysed the ritual classics Liji 禮記 (in his book Lilun 禮論) and Zhouli 周禮 (in his text Zhouli zhi taiping lun 周禮致太平論 "The Rites of the Zhou will lead to the Great Peace") to find practical advice for governance. In his short book Changyu 常語, Li Gou criticised the ancient philosopher Meng Ke 孟軻 (385-304 or 372-289 BCE, Mengzi 孟子), who had introduced the theorem that profit (li 利) was less important than righteousness (yi 義), which had led to the overall neglection of mercantile business by Chinese governments.

Yet Li also defended Confucian thought against the influence of Buddhism and Daoism and so stands in one line with the Tang-period 唐 (618-907) thinker Han Yu 韓愈 (768-824), who had launched a notable critique against the Buddhist dominance during the time. The rejection of the two religions finally led to the ban on religious thought in politics during the Qingli reign-period.

Li Gou also wrote a book called Qingli minyan 慶歷民言 "Words about the people under the Qingli administration". His collected writings are called Xujiang wenji 盱江文集 or Xujiang ji 旴江集 (also called Zhijiang Li xiansheng wenji 直講李先生文集, and in a modern edition Li Gou ji 李覯集).

Pang Pu 龐樸, ed. (1997). Zhongguo ruxue 中國儒學 (Shanghai: Dongfang chuban zhongxin), Vol. 2, 121.