An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

Fushe 復社, the Revival Society

Dec 17, 2015 © Ulrich Theobald

The Revival Society (fushe 復社) was the largest literary movement of the Ming period 明 (1368-1644) that had political intentions. Its most important representatives were Zhang Pu 張溥 (1602-1641) and Zhang Cai 張采 (1596-1648, both were known as the Two Zhangs from East of River Lou, Loudong er Zhang 婁東二張).

The society was founded in 1628 by Wu Zeng 吳䎖, Sun Mengpu 孫孟樸 and Sun Chun 孫淳. The three intended to publish a collection of the most important writings of their time, and issued a call for a great conference in Wujun 吳郡 (today's Suzhou 蘇州, Jiangsu). In 1629 another conference was organized in Yinshan 尹山 (today known as Huqiu 虎丘) near Suzhou, in which the representatives of all important literary societies of whole China participated, for instance, the Jishe 幾社, Wenshe 聞社, Nanshe 南社 or Kuangshe 匡社 societies. Zhu Pu as the most important writer of the organizers bargained a protocol with the largest society Yingshe 應社 which became the founding document of the Revival Society.

The intention of the writers was to abolish the sterile style of the eight-legged essay (baguwen 八股文) used in the state examinations, and to replace it by forms and styles used in earlier ages (xing fu gu xue 興復古學 "revive the ancient teachings"), and enrich literature with themes that were more useful (wu wei you yong 務為有用). The Society included members of smaller associations of whole China, most of them being of younger age, but some were writers, historians, thinkers and philosophers of high standing, like Huang Zongxi 黃宗羲 (1610-1695), Gu Yanwu 顧炎武 (1613-1682), Chen Zilong 陳子龍 (1608-1647), Chen Zhenhui 陳貞慧 (1604-1656), Wang Yingji 吳應箕 (1594-1645), Wu Weiye 吳偉業 (1609-1671), Huang Chunyao 黃淳耀 (1605-1645) or Hou Fangyu 侯方域 (1618-1655). The register in Wu Yingji's Fushe xingshi lu 復社姓氏錄 bore the name of 2,255 members, yet some sources speak of more than 3,000 members and a network of several ten thousand persons.

The Fushe became famous virtually overnight. Quite a few members served in official positions, and were thus able to bring the spirit of the young literati into the political realm. This was another objective of the Society, namely the concern with political and social matters. Wu Weiye and Chen Zilong, for instance, wrote about social problems of the time. The Society was so influential that it was possible to manipulate the results of the state examinations, the occupation of local offices and even the positions of high ministers (as the overthrow of Xue Guoguan 薛國觀 and his replacement by Zhou Tingru 周延儒). It was after all a "political pressure group" of the gentry of the Southeast (Wujiang daxing 吳江大姓).

Members of the eunuch faction (yandang 閹黨) therefore saw their power endangered, and called the society "rearguard of the Donglin Faction" (donglin houqin 東林後勁) or the "Lesser Donglin Faction" (xiao donglin 小東林). When a certain Lu Wensheng 陸文聲 was not allowed membership, he took revenge by accusing the two Zhangs of rebellion. Wen Tiren 溫體仁 (1573-1638), Senior Grand Secretary (shoufu 首輔), thereupon ordered an investigation, but without compromising results. A second "informer" was Zhou Zhikui 周之夔 (1586-?), who decided to blackmail the society after he had being dismissed. This time, the process resulted in the dismission of some court officials who had supported the society. Fortunately enough, Grand Academician (daxueshi 大學士) Zhou Tingru prevented them being put into jail. In 1641 Zhang Pu died unexpectedly.

Seen from the literary aspect, the exclusive veneration of "old styles", inspired by the Seven Masters (see Earlier Seven Masters and Later Seven Masters), did not bring about the new inspirations the Society had hoped to activate. Publications as Fanggao xiang que di 房稿香卻敵 or Fanggao wenshi jing 房稿文始經 were not as widespread as expected, and some of Zhang Pu's own compilations, as Dong Liaoji ji 董膠西集, Du Zhengxi ji 杜征西集 or Lu Pingyuan ji 陸平原集 (in the collection Han-Wei-Liuchao baisan jia ji 漢魏六朝百三家集), show even his reluctance to venerate old writers and his ignorance towards younger ones. This is also true for the works of the two schools of the Gong'an Group 公安派 and the Jingling Group 竟陵派. Zhang Cai was very interested in Neo-Confucian theories, and his work is inspired by the search for the universal principle (tianli 天理) which is in fact also not deriving from the writings of antiquity.

Each writer had his own style and preferences. Some engaged in studies on the Confucian Classics, others wrote poems (like Chen Zilong and Wu Weiye), yet the most important products were individual prose writings. The Society was too large to bring about a coherent literary pattern. Much more important is therefore the cooperation among the members of the society and their principle of mutual inspiration which was quite successful to built up a strong network. There were two further plenary meetings, one in 1630 in Jinling 金陵 near Nanjing, and in 1633 in Huqiu again. Smaller meetings were held on occasion.

When the Qing 清 (1644-1911) conquered the southern parts of the Ming empire several members of the Society fiercely resisted the foreign invaders, and some of them, like Wu Weiji, Chen Zilong, Xia Yunyi 夏允彝 (1596-1645), Huang Chunyao or Hou Yue 侯岄, gave their lives for the Ming. Zhou Zhou 周鐘 even chose the service of Li Zicheng 李自成 (1606-1645), who had destroyed the Ming dynasty and continued to resist the Qing in the region of Shaanxi.

Opponents of the Society, like Ma Shiying 馬士英 (c. 1591-1646) or Ruan Dayue 阮大鋮 (1587-1646), served the last princes of the Southern Ming 南明 (1644-1661) as ministers, and did everything to diminish the Society's influence. Other members just passed away (like Shen Shoumin 沈壽民), retired from the scene, became monks (like Mao Xiang 冒襄, Yang Yi 楊彝, Fang Yizhi 方以智 or Chen Zhenhui 陳貞慧) or fled (like Wu Yingji, Huang Zongxi or Hou Chaozong 侯朝宗).

The Society fell apart in the early years of the Qing period. Gu Yanwu and Huang Zongxi, famous writers and philosophers, never served the Qing, while others, like Wu Weiye and Hou Fangyu 侯方域 (1618-1655), entered the service of the new dynasty.

The history of the Revival Society is described in Lu Shiyi's 陸世儀 (1611-1672) book Fushe jilüe 復社紀略.

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Li Kanghua 李康化 (1998). "Fushe 復社", in Zhang Dainian 張岱年 (ed.), Zhongguo wenshi baike 中國文史百科 (Hangzhou: Zhejiang renmin chubanshe), Vol. 3, 1036.
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Lin Fei 林非, ed. (1997). Zhongguo sanwen da cidian 中國散文大辭典 (Zhengzhou: Zhongzhou guji chubanshe), 333.
Zhou Rongliang 周容良 (1997). "Fushe 復社", in Men Kui 門巋, Zhang Yanjin 張燕瑾, ed. Zhonghua guocui da cidian 中華國粹大辭典 (Hong Kong: Guoji wenhua chubanshe), 637.