An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Xue Jixuan 薛季宣

May 21, 2021 © Ulrich Theobald

Xue Jixuan 薛季宣 (1134-1173), courtesy name Shilong 士龍 or 士隆, style Genzhai Xiansheng 艮齋先生, was a philosopher of the Southern Song period 南宋 (1127-1279). He is often seen as the actual founder of the School of Practice (shigong xuepai 事功學派) of Yongjia School of Thought (Yongjia xuepai 永嘉學派).

Xue hailed from Yongjia 永嘉 in the prefecture of Wenzhou 溫州 (today in Zhejiang) and was instructed in Neo-Confucian teachings by Yuan Gai 袁溉 (Yuan Daojie 袁道潔). Xue's career started with the post of magistrate of Wuchang 武昌, and he was then recorder (zhubu 主簿) and later director (zheng 正) of the Court of Judicial Review (dalisi 大理寺), and finally prefect of Huzhou 湖州. During his time in Wuchang, Jurchen troops from the Jin empire 金 (1115-1234) invaded the Yangtze region, but Xue was able to recruit local militia who threw back the invaders. In 1171, he inspected the circuit of Huaixi 淮西, where he had 36 dams built to reclaim land on which to resettle peasant refugees.

Xue did not just study the corpus of the Confucian Classics, but also the various masters and philosophers, and was interested in history, astronomy, geography, military and agriculture. This attitude was reflected in his philosophy, which held the Classics texts in high esteem, but gave practical knowledge an appropriate right place. He was not convinced that the study of the Classics sufficed to understand the universal principle (li 理) embedded in all things on earth, but stressed that the Way (dao 道) or universal principle was expressed in concrete action and behaviour. Daily practice led to intuitive knowledge about the Way (ri yong zi zhi zhi 日用自知之). This was of particular importance for state functionaries and the sovereign.

Xue Jixuan also scorned the Neo-Confucian interest in numerological studies of the Yellow River Chart (Hetu 河圖) and the Inscription of River Luo (Luoshu 洛書). Moreover, Xue tried to reconcile the Confucian virtue of righteousness (yi 義) with the aim of benefits or profit (li 利), and explained that benefits were able to balance out righteousness (li zhe wei yi zhi he 利者為義之和).

The teachings of Xue Jixuan were refined by Chen Fuliang 陳傅良 (1137-1203) and Ye Shi 葉適 (1150-1223).

Xue Jixuan wrote the scholarly books Shu guwen xunyi 書古文訓義 (also called Gu Shu wenxun 古書文訓) and Chunqiu jingjie zhiyao 春秋經解指要. His collected writings are called Langyu ji 浪語集 or Genzhai langyu ji 艮齋浪語集.

Chen Ying 陳瑛, Xu Qixian 許啟賢, ed. (1989). Zhongguo lunli da cidian 中國倫理大辭典 (Shenyang: Liaoning renmin chubanshe), 720.
Li Zhiqiang 李志強 (1996). "Xue Jixuan 薛季宣", in Feng Kezheng 馮克正, Fu Qingsheng 傅慶升, ed. Zhuzi baijia da cidian 諸子百家大辭典 (Shenyang: Liaoning renmin chubanshe), 161.
Pang Pu 龐樸, ed. (1997). Zhongguo ruxue 中國儒學 (Shanghai: Dongfang chuban zhongxin), Vol. 2, 147.