An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Hui Dong 惠棟

May 6, 2012 © Ulrich Theobald

Hui Dong 惠棟 (1697-1758), courtesy name Dingyu 定宇, style Songya 松崖, was a mid-Qing period 清 (1644-1911) philosopher and main representative of the Wu School 吳派. He came from Wuxian 吳縣 (modern Suzhou 蘇州, Jiangsu) from a family of scholars studying the Confucian Classics.

His father Hui Shiqi 惠士奇 (1671-1741) was deeply interested in the Han period 漢 (206 BCE-220 CE) interpretations of the Yijing 易經 "Book of Changes". Hui Dong continued these studies of Han period Confucianism that was, in his eyes, much more authentic than Song period 宋 (960-1279) Neo-Confucianism. Hui Dong found out that the traditions of the various explanations of the Classics during the Han period were transmitted in well organised "family" structures (jiafa 家法), in which a teacher orally instructed his disciples that later on brought their master's words to paper. For each of these different traditions, official teachers (xueguan 學官) were appointed to spread their interpretation according to the "teacher principle" (shifa 師法). Hui Dong himself therefore continued doing research on the Book of Changes and published the study Zhouyi shu 周易述, in which he investigated the interpretations of the early scholars Xun Shuang 荀爽 (128-190), Yu Fan 虞翻 (164-233), Song Xian 宋咸 and Gan Bao 干寳 (286-336?).

His book Yi Hanxue 易漢學 focused on the interpretive tradition of Meng Xi 孟喜, Yu Fan, Jing Fang 京房 (77-37 BCE), Xun Shuang and Fei Zhi 費直.

Hui Dong explicitly did not produce new interpretations but saw himself, like Confucius, only as a transmitter. Transmission was a secure method of spreading the original intention of Confucius, while interpretation would lead to confusion and misconception. The simple and unadorned passing down of the ancient meaning of the Classics ensured their freshness and vitality. In order to enable this, the Han period texts had to be investigated under the aspects of philology and phonology. The original sound and meaning of a character was therefore to be found out in order to undertstand the texts.

Hui Dong compiled the book Jiujing guyi 九經古義 "The original meaning of the Nine Classics", in which he presented the results of his phonologic research. The error in his concept lies in the subordination of meaning to philogical research instead of making philology a tool to find out the original meaning.

Hui Dong also authored the books Yili 易例, Mingtang dadao lu 明堂大道錄, Zhouyi benyi bianzheng 周易本義辨證, Guwen shangshu kao 古文尚書考, Zuozhuan buzhu 左傳補注, Houhanshu buzhu 後漢書補注, and the "brush note" style essay collection Songya biji 松崖筆記.

Pang Pu 龐樸, ed. (1997). Zhongguo ruxue 中國儒學 (Shanghai: Dongfang chuban zhongxin), Vol. 2, 226.