An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Jiujingshuo 九經說

Sep 13, 2013 © Ulrich Theobald

Jiujingshuo 九經說 "Explanations to the Nine Classics", full title Xibaoxuan jiujing shuo 惜抱軒九經說, is a collection of commentaries on the nine Confucian Classics compiled during the Qing period 清 (1644-1911) by Yao Nai 姚鼐 (1732-1815), courtesy name Jichuan 姬傳 or Menggu 夢谷, style Xibao xiansheng 惜抱先生.

Yao hailed from Tongcheng 桐城, Anhui, and was a Hanlin bachelor (shujishi 庶吉士) which qualified him to become a secretary (zhushi 主事) in various central government institutions, ending with the post of secretary in the Ministry of War (bingbu 兵部). Later he was made director (langzhong 郎中) in the Ministry of Rites (libu 禮部), then that of Justice (xingbu 刑部), and was allowed to bear the title of Censor (yushi 御史). Yao took part in the compilation of the descriptive catalogue Zongmu tiyao 總目提要 to the imperial series Siku quanshu 四庫全書, and the local gazetteers Luzhou fu zhi 廬州府志 and Jiangning fu zhi 江寧府志.

When he retired from his official post he traveled through southern China for more than fourty years and attracted large audiences during his lectures. He belonged to the so-called Tongcheng School 桐城學派 of writers that had actually been founded by his father Yao Fan 姚范 (1702-1771) and Liu Dakui 劉大櫆 (1698-1780). They saw their literay models in the great writers of the past, like Sima Qian 司馬遷 (145-c. 86), Han Yu 韓愈 (768-824), Ouyang Xiu 歐陽修 (1007-1072) or Zeng Gong 曾鞏 (1019-1083).

Yao Nai believed that had been was a fatal tendency during the Han period 漢 (206 BCE-220 CE) to establish "chairs" for individual texts, and not for the whole corpus of Confucian Classics, because this method distorted the original thoughts of Confucius. This situation was even aggravated by the incorporation of apocryphal thought in the interpretation of Confucianism during the Later Han period 後漢 (25-220 CE), and by the "void talks" that were popular during the Southern and Northern Dynasties period 南北朝 (300~600).

Yao praised Tang-period 唐 (618-907) scholars who were the first to carry out systematic interpretation of the whole Classical corpus, but was mostly inclined to the Neo-Confucian interpretation of Confucian thought that came up during the Song period 宋 (960-1279). Only thanks to the many scholars preserving these thoughts, the Ming dynasty 明 (1368-1644) had been able to survive such a long time, he believed. Yao Nai therefore heavily attacked philosophers that had discarded Neo-Confucianism and introduced the philological way of analyzing the ancient classics.

Apart from the Jiujingshuo, Yao Nai wrote quite a few books on classical texts, like Sanzhuan buzhu 三傳補注, Laozi zhangyi 老子章義, Zhuangxi zhangyi 莊子章義, and Guwenci leizuan 古文辭類纂. His collected writings are called Xibaoxuan wenji 惜抱軒文集.

The 17-juan long Jiujingshuo makes use of core passages of the Confucian Classics to demonstrate the idea behind the world of thought in Confucianism. Yao Nai explains (shuo 說) the meanings of the books Yijing 易經 (Zhouyi 周易), Shangshu 尚書, Shijing 詩經 (Maoshi 毛詩), Zhouli 周禮, Yili 儀禮, Liji 禮記, Chunqiu 春秋, Lunyu 論語 and Mengzi 孟子. He begins each text with an introduction about the history of its transmission and exegesis, and then goes on to quote the various interpretations on each paragraph.

He also points at some problematic points in which he doubts the correctness of an ancient commentary, for instance, it can be seen that many thoughts in the explanation of the brothers Cheng Hao 程顥 (1032-1085) and Cheng Yi 程頤 (1033-1107) to the Shangshu in fact date from the Han period. The great Neo-Confucian master Zhu Xi 朱熹 (1130-1200) has furthermore been the first who doubted that the Shangshu was an original text, but he did not use the right arguments to support his arguments.

In many points the late Han period master Zheng Xuan 鄭玄 (127-200) had indeed understood the right meaning, while Song-period scholars sometimes failed to do so. Yao Nai explained that the first poem of the Shijing was not about palace women, as Zhu Xi had believed, but a love song among ordinary people, and supported the brothers Cheng in their interpretation of a sentence in the Shijing, where there is word of sound rising to Heaven, while Zhu Xi had spoken of chicks.

The Jiujingshuo is not included in the series Xuehaitang jingjie 學海堂經解 (Huang-Qing jingjie 皇清經解), and also not in the Siku quanshu.

Li Xueqin 李學勤, Lü Wenyu 呂文鬰, ed. (1996). Siku da cidian 四庫大辭典 (Changchun: Jilin daxue chubanshe), Vol. 1, 495.
Sheng Guangzhi 盛廣智 (1996). "Jiujingshou 九經說", 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), 297.
Zhao Xiangqun 趙向群 (1988). "Jiujingshuo 九經說, 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), 229.