An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Chongyoulun 崇有論

Jan 20, 2017 © Ulrich Theobald

Chongyoulun 崇有論 "In support of the existence [of an originary matter]" is a philosophical essay written by the Jin-period 晉 (265-420) master Pei Wei 裴頠 (267-300), courtesy name Yimin 逸民, from Wenxi 聞喜 in the commandery of Hedong 河東 (today's Wenxi, Shanxi). His father Pei Xiu 裴秀 (224-271) was an important official of the Jin dynasty and famous as a cartographer and theoretician on the administration of the empire. Pei Wei was palace cadet in the household of the Heir Apparent (taizi zhongshuzi 太子中庶子), cavalier attendant-in-ordinary (sanji changshi 散騎常侍), Chancellor of the Directorate of Education (guozi jijiu 國子祭酒) and concurrently General to the Right (you jiangjun 右將軍), and finally Vice Director of the Imperial Secretariat (shangshu puye 尚書僕射). Apart from the Chongyoulun, Pei Wei also wrote a text called Guiwulun 貴無論 (some authors doubt this fact), and a handbook on ritual capping (guanyi 冠儀). His collected writings Pei Wei ji 裴頠集 are lost. Fragments can be found in Yan Kejun's 嚴可均 (1762—1843) collection Quanjinwen 全晉文. The text of the Chongyoulun is also preserved in Pei's biography in the official dynastic history Jinshu 晉書 (ch. 35).

Pei was very alarmed about the way social life and moral standards had declined during his time, particularly in regard to the venerable teaching of Confucianism. He therefore submitted a memorial to the throne with the suggestion to strengthen the education of scholars and to have the Confucian Classics cut into stone slabs. In his essay Chongyoulun, he explains what he perceived as the social dangers of the time. It was vehemently attacked by contemporaries, and Emperor Hui 晉惠帝 (r. 290-306) used the rebellion of Sima Lun 司馬倫 (240-301), the Prince of Zhao 趙 (see Rebellion of the Eight Princes), to have Pei Wei arrested and executed.

In the eyes of Pei Wei, the leading scholars of the age, like He Yan 何晏 (190-249) or Wang Bi 王弼 (226-249), had forgotten the instruction of Confucius and the regulating value of rituals and propriety, and instead inclined to the Daoist teachings of Laozi 老子 and Zhuangzi 莊子 which advocated a kind of relativism and "held in esteem the void" (gui wu 貴無, i.e. the vacuum or voidness out of which the whole world had emerged; "voidness" is also an expression of the dao 道). He Yan and Wang held that "voidness" (wu) was the base, origin, embodiment or "mother" of all existing objects and creatures, while the physical expression (you 有 "to be") was just a further or secondary outcome of the originary voidness. The common thread permeating all objects and creatures was their voidness, while their physical expression was just one of many possible emanations of this voidness. He Yan, for instance, explained in a word game that "voidness opened/created the objects to bring functionality" (wu ye zhe, kai wu cheng wu 無也者,開物成務, see Jinshu ch. 43). In the realm of politics, the founding on "voidness" would mean that a laissez-faire government (wuwei 無為) was best, which means that a government should better not too actively interfere into daily affairs because the latter would quite automatically run their best way. This theory was dubbed that of "the appreciation of voidness" (guiwulun 貴無論). Yet voidness was actually not to be seen in a physical sense, but in the way Laozi had defined the dao "Way", which was the shapeless and nameless principle behind all things on earth. This would mean that an immaterial principle would give life to all objects and creatures, and not, as Pei Wei interpreted, the creation of something physical out of nothing.

In his Chongyoulun, Pei Wei maintained that the universe was based on really existing (you 有) matter, and it was impossible that the dao, the fundament of the universe, was just "voidness". In the very beginning, all matter was mixed together (zonghun qunben 總混羣本), and only later separated into different objects and creatures. It would not be possible that objects came "out of nothing", but the universe had emerged by a self-creation (zisheng 自生) based on already existing, yet undifferentiated, matter (bi ti you 必體有 "there must be a physicalness"). Only existing or living objects were able to reproduce themselves or to nourish each other (xiang ji 相濟). For the creation of objects, a mind would be necessary, just as a craftsman would be necessary to have tools produced – and no one would say that the mind or a craftsman was "nothing".

Pei Wei refused Laozi's idea of a creation out of nothing, and did it away as the unreliable meaning of one single school or person. Similar critique had already been brought forward by the philosophers Xun Kuang 荀况 (Xunzi 荀子, trad. 313 -238 BCE) and Yang Xiong 揚雄 (53 BCE-18 CE) and the historian Ban Gu 班固 (32-92 CE), but they did not further pursue a solution for this wrong conception. The words of the Chongyoulun quite directly attack the "admirers of the Nothing" to revert the order of young and old, and to bring turmoil into the levels of important and unimportant.

Marxist interpreters see Pei Wei's philosophy as an expression of "materialism".

Jiaoyu baike cidian bianweihui 《教師百科辭典》編委會, ed. (1987). Jiaoyu baike cidian 教師百科辭典 (Beijing: Shehui kexue wenxian chubanshe), 32.
Liu Wenying 劉文英, ed. (1987). Zhexue baike xiao cidian 哲學百科小辭典 (Lanzhou: Gansu renmin chubanshe), p. 253.
Pan Liangzhen 潘良楨 (1992). "Chongyoulun 崇有論", in Zhou Gucheng 周谷城, ed. Zhongguo xueshu mingzhu tiyao 中國學術名著提要, Zhexue 哲學卷 (Shanghai: Fudan daxue chubanshe), 258.
Tang Yijie 湯一介 (1987). "Pei Wei 裴頠", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, part Zhexue 哲學 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), Vol. 2, 663.
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