An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Yuan Xie 袁燮

May 20, 2021 © Ulrich Theobald

Yuan Xie 袁燮 (1144-1224), courtesy name Heshu 和叔, style Jiezhai Xiansheng 絜齋先生, posthumous title Zhengxiangong 正獻公, was a philosopher of the Southern Song period 南宋 (1127-1279). He was one of the "four great for masters of Mingzhou of the time" (Mingzhou Chunxi si xiansheng 明州淳熙四先生, Siming si xiansheng 四明四先生 or Yongshang si xiansheng 甬上四先生) and a representative of the "School of the four thinkers of Mingzhou" (Si ming xuepai 四明學派), the others being Shu Lin 舒磷 (1136-1198), Shen Huan 沈煥 (1139-1191), and Yang Jian 楊簡 (1141-1226).

Yuan Xie hailed from Yinxian 鄞縣 in the prefecture of Qingyuan 慶元 (today close to Ningbo 寧波, Zhejiang; old name Mingzhou 明州) and won the jinshi degree in 1181, during the Chunxi reign-period 淳熙 (1174-1189). His career started with the post of district defender (wei 尉) of Jiangyin 江陰. He was then appointed supervisor (zheng 正) in the National University (taixue 太學) and junior compiler (bianxiu 編修) in the Bureau of Military Affairs (shumiyuan 樞密院), but was dismissed because he was involved in a factional strife. Later on, he was Director of the Bureau of Honours (sifenglang 司封郎), then Chancellor of the Directorate of Education (guozijian jijiu 國子監祭酒), and finally Vice Minister of Rites (libu shilang 禮部侍郎). Because of frictions with Counsellor-in-chief Shi Miyuan 史彌遠 (1164-1233), he was dismissed. In his later years, Yuan regained the favour of the court and was made prefect of Wenzhou 溫州, and then auxiliary academician (zhi xueshi 直學士). Yuan bore the honorific title of *Grand Master for Thorough Service (tongfeng dafu 通奉大夫).

Yuan was befriended with Lu Jiuling 陸九齡 (1132-1180), an older brother of the philosopher Lu Jiuyuan 陸九淵 (1139-1193), and was therefore well familiar with the latter's "teachings of the mind" (xinxue 心學). Yet Yuan was also influenced by 文獻派 and the "School of Benefit" (gonglipai 功利派, see Yongjia School 永嘉學派) which suggested to combine contemplation on the universal principle (li 理) within one's heart with practice and action, where the universal principle was likewise to be found. Yuan Xie was once instructor in the Chengnan Academy (Chengnan Shuyuan 城南屬院) in Changsha 長沙 (today in Hunan). He held that in order to achieve perfect knowledge of the principles of cosmos and society, one had to refine one's thoughts (jing si yi de zhi 精思以得之), and to preserve it in the fulfillment of duties (jing yue yi shou zhi 兢業以守之). He thus followed the Neo-Confucian belief that man had innate knowledge about moral behavior (ren xin ben shan 人心本善) and formed by nature a unity with Heaven (tian ren yi li 天人一理). Consequently, rulers and their subjects were also tied together (jun min yi ti 君民一體) by the universal principle. The latter was thus expressed by practical cooperation of social hierarchies.

Yuan Xie's collected writings are Jiezhai ji 絜齋集, Jiezhai houji 絜齋後集, and Jiezhai jiashu shuchao 絜齋家塾書鈔. His lectures on the Shijing 詩經 "Book of Songs" are assembled in the book Jiezhai Maoshi jingyan jiangyi 絜齋毛詩經筵講義. Yuan Shijie 袁士傑 (1994) published the collection Yuan Zhengxiangong wenchao 袁正獻公遺文鈔.

Li Zhiqiang 李志強 (1996). "Yuan Xie 袁燮", 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), 167.
Liu Jianli 劉建麗 (1988). "Yuan Xie 袁燮", in Zhao Jihui 趙吉惠, Guo Hou'an 郭厚安, ed. Zhongguo ruxue cidian 中國儒學辭典 (Shenyang: Liaoning renmin chubanshe), 90.
Xu Xinghai 徐興海, Liu Jianli 劉建麗, ed. (2000). Rujia wenhua cidian 儒家文化辭典 (Zhengzhou: Zhongzhou guji chubanshe), 384.