An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Kunzhiji 困知記

Jul 14, 2023 © Ulrich Theobald

Kunzhiji 困知記 "Knowledge acquired after painful experience", full title Luo Zheng'an Xiansheng kunzhi ji 羅整庵先生困知記 is a book on Confucian principles written during the mid-Ming period 明 (1368-1644) by Luo Qinshun 羅欽順 (1465-1547), courtesy name Yunsheng 允升, style Zheng'an 整庵, from Taihe 泰和, Jiangxi. He obtained the jinshi degree in 1492, whereafter he was made junior compiler (bianxiu 編修) in the Hanlin Academy 翰林院. In 1502, he was made director of studies (siye 司業) in the Directorate of Education 國子監 in Nanjing, but was - through intrigues - dismissed in 1508. Two years later, he was reappointed and made Chamberlain for Ceremonials (taichangqing 太常卿), then Vice Minister of the Ministry of Personnel (libu shilang 吏部侍郎 in Nanjing, and then Minister of Personnel (libu shangshu 吏部尚書) and Minister of Rites (libu shangshu 禮部尚書). Posthumously, Luo was awarded the title of Grand Guardian of the Heir Apparent (taizi taibao 太子太保). He is known with the posthumous title of Wenzhuanggong 文莊公.

Luo's philosophy is influenced by the natural thought of the Neo-Confucian master Zhang Zai 張載 (1020-1077) from the Northern Song period 北宋 (960-1126), for which reason the Kunzhiji imitates the structure of Zhang's book Zhengmeng 正蒙. The collected writings of Luo Qinshun are called Zheng'an cungao 整庵存稿, and Zheng'an xugao 整庵續稿.

The Kunzhiji has a length of 2 juan, a supplement (Xulu 續錄 or Xuji 續記) of 2 juan, and an appendix (Fulu 附錄) of 1 fascicle. Is it a collection of Luo's philosophical thought that includes also critique towards the Buddhist concept that all phenomena are exclusively produced from consciousness (wei xin 唯心). It was finished in 1528 and consists of 156 brief chapters. The supplement, finished in 1531, has 113 chapters, and the supplement presents 6 letters between Luo and his partners of discussion. In 1546, two further supplements were published, Sanxu 三續, and Sixu 四續, each with a length of one fascicle. The title is derived from a phrase in the Confucian Classic Zhongyong 中庸 "Doctrine of the Mean", where it is said that “some are born with the knowledge [of those duties]; some know them by study; and some acquire the knowledge after a painful feeling [of their ignorance]” (transl. Legge).

The book discusses the intricate relation between matter (qi 氣) and the Heavenly principle (li 理), stressing that the latter could not exist without physical substance. Matter itself run through an eternal cycle of movement and rest that was visible in the changes of life on earth and in societal changes. Luo renounces the existence of a higher force that steered these movements. He criticizes Zhu Xi's 朱熹 (1130-1200) proposition that the Heavenly principle stood independently above matter and existed before the physical world came into being. He also contradicts Lu Jiuyuan 陸九淵 (1139-1193) and Wang Shouren 王守仁 (Wang Yangming 王陽明, 1472-1529), who believed that the existence of a mind or consciousness in each single individual was the ready key for understanding the Heavenly principle (ci xin dan cun, ze ci li zi ming 此心但存,則此理自明).

Luo was also critical towards the belief that a single person obtained the Heavenly mandate because of his superior character (tianming zhi xing 天命之性) because the innate moral goodness embedded in the Heavenly principle was equally distributed over all persons, and even part of physical objects. This is what he called the "equality in [having part of] the Heavenly principle" (li yi 理一). Luo also discards Lu Jiuyuan's concept of "innate knowledge" (liangzhi 良知) with the argument, that not all products and forces in the universe could possess it.

Concerning the human character, Luo held that there was a general "mind of the Way (i.e., the Heavenly principle)" (dao xin 道心) naturally given to everyone, but in human activities and thoughts, this "mind of the Way" was expressed in emotions (qing 情) of the "human mind" (ren xin 人心). By self-cultivation (xiuyang 修養), humans were able to find the original "mind of the Way" and could control their emotions and restrict their desires, but without "eliminating" them.

Luo's book was highly praised by the contemporary scholar Gao Panlong 高攀龍 (1562-1626). It is included in the collection San xiansheng yulu 三先生語錄 (which also includes Xue Xuan's 薛瑄 Dushulu 讀書錄, and Hu Juren's 胡居仁 Juyelu 居業錄) and the series Siku quanshu 四庫全書, Zhengyitang congshu 正誼堂叢書 and Congshu jicheng 叢書集成.

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