An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Weng Fanggang 翁方綱

Feb 2, 2014 © Ulrich Theobald

Weng Fanggang 翁方綱 (1733-1818), courtesy name Zhengsan 正三, style Tanxi 覃溪 or Suzhai 蘇齋, was a mid-Qing period 清 (1644-1911) philosopher, calligrapher, writer and collector. He hailed from Daxing 大興 close to Beijing and obtained his jinshi degree in 1752. Because of his translation of Tao Qian's 陶潛 (Tao Yuanming 陶淵明, 365-427) Taohuayuan ji 桃花源記 "Story of the Peach Blossom Source" into the Manchu language he attracted the Qianlong Emperor's 乾隆 (r. 1735-1796) attention and was appointed junior compiler (bianxiu 編修), and later rose to the offices of vice supervisor of the household of the Heir Apparent (shaozhanshi 少詹事) and then Chamberlain of State Ceremonial (hongluqing 鴻臚卿), and finally academician (xueshi 學士) in the Grand Secretariat (neige 內閣).

Unlike most philosophers of the early and mid-Qing period Weng Fanggang estimated the writings of the the Song period 宋 (960-1279) Neo-Confucians Cheng Hao 程顥 (1032-1085), Cheng Yi 程顥 (1032-1085) and Zhu Xi 朱熹 (1130-1200), and criticized the studies of the so-called school of Han Studies (hanxue 漢學) that discarded Neo-Confucian writings and interepreted the original texts of the Confucian Classics in a new, more scholarly way.

Weng was of the opinion that it was first necessary to understand the meaning of the "principles of righteousness" (yili 義理) before undertaking text-critical analysis. The particularly attacked Dai Zhen 戴震 (1723-1777), who had dispised Neo-Confucian teachings as influenced by Buddhism and Daoism, and even brought forward the argument that Wang Yangming's 王陽明 concept of the innate goodness of (every) man (zhi liang zhi 致良知) destroyed the ideal of the former Saints and worthies of Confucianism. Perfect knowledge was only to be attained by investigating matters (ge wu zhi zhi 格物致知), as Zhu Xi had tought. As a consequence, Weng neglected the study of the character dictionary Shuowen jiezi 說文解字 and the glossary Erya 爾雅, two books on which a lot of reasearch was carried out during that time.

Yet this did not mean that Weng was not at all interested in critical reasearch. His writings include many critical analyses of ancient texts, and he was very interested in old bronze and stone inscriptions and wrote excellent comments on them.

In his calligraphy, Weng Fanggang followed the ancient masters Ouyang Xun 歐陽詢 (557-641) and Yu Shinan 虞世南 (558-638). He also studied the ancient chancery script (lishu 隸書) that he mastered so perfectly that he was one of the great calligraphers of his time and often mentioned together with Liu Yong 劉墉 (1719-1805), Liang Tongshu 梁同書 (1723-1815) and Wang Wenzhi 王文治 (1730-1802). He was also admired for his poetry with its "divine rhymes" (shen yun 神韻).

Weng Fanggang's most important writings are Jingyikao buzheng 經義考補正, Tongzhitang jingjie mulu 通志堂經解目錄, Shisanjing zhushu xingshi kao 十三經注疏姓氏考, Chunqiu fennian xizhuan biao 春秋分年系傳表, Liang-Han jinshi ji 兩漢金石記, Han shijing canzi kao 漢石經殘字考, Jiaoshan dingming kao 焦山鼎銘考 and Sumizhai lanting kao 蘇米齋蘭亭考. His collected writings are called Fuchuzhai wenji 復初齋文集 and Fuchuzhai shiji 復初齋詩集, and his poetry critique Shizhou shihua 石洲詩話.

Pang Pu 龐樸, ed. (1997). Zhongguo ruxue 中國儒學 (Shanghai: Dongfang chuban zhongxin), Vol. 2, 242.