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Persons in Chinese History - Kong Yingda 孔穎達

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Kong Yingda 孔穎達 (574-648), courtesy name Kong Chongyuan 孔沖遠 or Kong Zhongda 孔仲達, was a Confucian scholar of the early Tang period 唐 (618-907). He came from Hengshui 衡水 in the prefecture of Jizhou 冀州 (modern Hengshui, Hebei) and hailed from a family of high officials. Accordingly he obtained an excellent education by his teacher Liu Zhuo 劉焯 and was well-versed in the Five Classics (wujing 五經) of Confucianism. He is said to have well understood the different traditions of the Confucian teachings of the "Southern School" (nanxue 南學) and the "Northern School" (beixue 北學). He was most interested in the Classic Zuozhuan 左傳, Zheng Xuan's 鄭玄 commentary to the Shangshu 尚書 "Book of Documents", Maoshi 毛詩 (Shijing 詩經 "Book of Songs") and Liji 禮記 "Records of Rites" and Wang Bi's 王弼 commentary to the Yijing 易經 "Book of Changes" and understood a lot of historiography.
During the reign of Emperor Yang 隋煬帝 (r. 604-617) of the Sui dynasty 隋 (581-618), Kong Yingda was recommended as a "classicist" scholar (mingjing 明經) nominated for participation in the state examination and was appointed erudite (boshi 博士) of the commandery of Henei 河內. He was also allowed to participate in a disputation at the imperial court. His eminent position earned him the envy of many colleagues, some of which even planned to murder him. When the Sui dynasty fell apart in the turmoil of peasant rebellions Kong Yingda fled to Hulao 虎牢, but after the foundation of the Tang dynasty Li Shimin 李世民 (Emperor Taizong 唐太宗, r. 626-649) invited him to the court and appointed him academician (xueshi 學士) in the Institute of Education (wenxueguan 文學館) of the Prince of Qin 秦. Kong so became one of the eighteen most influential Confucian scholars (shiba xueshi 十八學士) and had access to the emperor. His offices were successively erudite in the Directorate of Education (guozijian 國子監), then the institution's *Vice Chancellor (guozi siye 國子司業), and finally Chancellor (guozi jijiu 國子祭酒). Kong Yingda also participated in the compilation of the official history of the Sui dynasty, Suishu 隋書, for which he compiled the treatise on court rituals.
The foundation of the Tang dynasty required a restructuring of the whole government, with a focus on "civilian government" to compensate the military character that had prevailed for centuries. Emperor Taizong therefore invited Confucian scholars to take part in a thorough revision and standardization of Confucian texts, and to reconcile differing explanations and traditions. The scholar Yan Shigu 顏師古 was ordered to standardize the texts of the Confucian Classics, the result of which was the Wujing dingben 五經定本 "Standard edition of the Five Classics". Simultaneously Kong Yingda, as director of the Directorate of Education, was ordered to establish a standard exegesis for the Classics. He created a compilation team of experts, consisting of Ma Jiayun 馬嘉運, Yan Shigu, Yang Shixun 楊士勛, Jia Gongyan 賈公彥, Sima Cai 司馬才, Wang Deshao 王德韶, Zhu Zhangcai 朱長才 and Zhu She 朱奢. They collected all commentaries that were written in the past centuries in northern and southern China, but preferred those of the southern tradition. Their product was first named Wujing yizan 五經義贊 "Praise of meaning of the Five Classics", but Emperor Taizong did not love this title and renamed it Wujing zhengyi 五經正義 "Correct meanings of the Five Classics". This compendium was to be used as textbook in the Directorate. The Wujing zhengyi includes standard commentaries for all five texts: Wang Bi's commentary for the Zhouyi 周易 (i.e. Yijing; the part Xici 系辭 was commented by Han Kangbo 韓康伯 from the Jin period 晉, 265-420); Kong Anguo's 孔安國 commentary to the Shangshu, Zheng Xuan's commentary to the Maoshi verion of the Shijing; Zheng Xuan's commentary to the Liji; and Du Yu's 杜預 commentary to the Chunqiu 春秋 and Zuozhuan.
Kong Yingda's merits are to select those commentaries that seemed the most reliable from the many interpretations that were written in the Han 漢 (206 BCE-220 CE) and Wei 曹魏 (220-265) periods. He also eliminated their shortcomings and revised erratic passages. Kong mastered to balance out contraditions between the interpretation of the new-text school and the old-text tradition (see old-text and new-text debate), as well as conflicts between the interpretation of Zheng Xuan and that of Wang Su 王肅 and of scholars from the Southern Dynasties 南朝 (420~589) and those from the Northern Dynasties 北朝 (386-581).
The Wujing zhengyi was only finished after Kong’s death, but the final product, finished in 653, still bore the name of the great scholar. The collection served as the most important source for the canon of the Thirteen Classics (Shisanjing zhushu 十三經注疏) that was created during the Southern Song period 南宋 (1127-1279), and is still used today as the most important commented version of the Confucian Classics.

Source: Pang Pu 龐樸 (ed. 1997), Zhongguo ruxue 中國儒學 (Shanghai: Dongfang chuban zhongxin), Vol. 2, p. 97.

February 8, 2014 © Ulrich Theobald · Mail
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