An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Dushulu 讀書錄

Sep 23, 2013 © Ulrich Theobald

Dushulu 讀書錄 "Records while studying" is a philosophical treatise written by the Ming-period 明 (1368-1644) scholar Xue Xuan 薛瑄 (1389-1464).

Xue Xuan's basic idea was Zhang Zai's 張載 (1020-1077) philosophy of the innate wisdom that is enclosed in the heart or mind. Each time he was reading a book, he discovered a new aspect of truth in his mind, and decided to write down his thoughts. Over a period of more than twenty years he thus compiled his 11 juan-long book Dushulu, and the 12 juan long supplement Xu dushu lu 續讀書錄. The text of the two books is highly influenced by Neo-Confucian thought.

The universal principle, originating in the "utmost extreme" (taiji 太極), found shape in the ten thousand things on earth that accordingly were naturally part of the all-embracing "principle" (li 理). The original status of the utmost extreme was absolute quietness (jing 靜), expressing the non-active energy Yin 陰, but it spontaneously began to move, expressing the active energy Yang 陽, out of which all objects were born. The universal principle was embedded in all types of substance (qi 氣), like the principle can only exist in the shape of matter, and not without it (wu wu qi zhi li 無無氣之理).

In the human body, the universal principle was embodied in the shape of the human character (xing 性). In order to go back to the universal principle (fu xing 復性), it was therefore necessary to study the nature of all things. In a human society, man-made standards (fa 法 "laws") were in fact obstructing the universal principle, and it was therefore better to organize society and state according to a principle of "correct greatness" of common fairness (gongping zhengda 公平正大). A ruler had to select his ministers according to their strengths, and to see to it that their weaknesses could be overcome.

The Dushulu is written in a quite simple language that can easily be understood by a wide readership. It was therefore one of the most widespread educational texts of Neo-Confucianism during the Ming period, side by side with Hu Juren's 胡居仁 (1434-1484) Juyelu 居業錄. During the Hongzhi reign-period 弘治 (1488-1505), Yang Qian 楊謙 submitted the two books to the throne with the request to include them into the canon of the Directorate of Education (guozijian 國子監), in spite of is uneven composition that results from the fact that it was compiled over a long period of time. During the Wanli reign-period 萬曆 (1573-1620), Hou Heling 侯鶴齡 revised the text of the two books and republished them as a one-volume book with the title Dushu quanlu 讀書全錄, yet the revision had shortened the text so much that many passages did not reflect any more the original spirit of Xue Xuan. In 1614, this version was printed and published under the title Dushulu leibian 讀書錄類編. Another edition included the Juyelu and Luo Qinshun's 羅欽順 (1465-1547) book Kunzhiji 困知記. This version was called San xiansheng yulu 三先生語錄 "Sayinf of the Three Gentlemen".

The Dushulu is to be found in the series Siku quanshu 四庫全書 and Jinsheng yuzhen 金聲玉振.

Li Xueqin 李學勤, Lü Wenyu 呂文鬰, eds. (1996). Siku da cidian 四庫大辭典 (Changchun: Jilin daxue chubanshe), Vol. 2, 1566.