From Bamboo Slips to Screens: The Reading of Confucian Classics in East Asia, from the Warring States to the Twenty-First Century

Title: 1319 | From Bamboo Slips to Screens: The Reading of Confucian Classics in East Asia, from the Warring States to the Twenty-First Century
Area: Border Crossing and Inter-Area
Stream: History
Presentation Type: Panel Presentation
Yi Shan, The Ohio State University, United States (organizer, presenter)
Hyeonung Jo, The Academy of Korean Studies, South Korea (presenter)
Yukun Zeng, University of Chicago, United States (presenter)
Boqun Zhou, Tsinghua-Michigan Society of Fellows, United States (presenter)
Bettina Gramlich-Oka, Sophia University, Japan (chair, discussant)


Our panel provides a broad and yet focused discussion of the reading, interpreting, and reproducing of Confucian classics in different times and spaces in East Asia. We aim to understand how the meaning of the classics was understood, interpreted, and transmitted within different socio-political and historical contexts, and how these processes were influenced, if not shaped, by the different material and technological conditions. This multi-disciplinary panel consists of four case studies: recently excavated Warring States bamboo slips, 18th-century Joseon scholars’ reinterpretation of the Analects, the collating and republishing processes by the Qing evidential scholars, and the contemporary spiritualized reading of Confucian classics in Taiwan. The modes of reading, interpreting, and reproducing of the classics by different people in different times and spaces reveal the positioning of these classics in relation to the changing material world, the expanding corpus of knowledge, the varying nature of political authority, and the ever-diversifying intellectual and religious life. This panel also hopes to provoke the discussion of a few methodological questions: how do we understand and situate the classics in the intellectual and spiritual lives of Confucian scholars as both canonized texts and material objects? How do the modes of reading, interpreting, and reproducing of the classics inform us about the nature and significance of Confucianism/Neo-Confucianism in different historical contexts?

Panel Abstracts:
Where the Mind Gratifies: Gu Guangqi (顧廣圻 1770-1839) and the Reading, Collating, and Republishing of Confucian Classics in Jiangnan
This paper examines the collation and republication of Confucian classics from the 1780s to the 1840s in Jiangnan (lower Yangzi region) through the lenses of the book history and the history of reading. Specifically, it studies the evidential scholar, Gu Guangqi’s (顧廣圻 1770-1839). Originated from a modest Suzhou literati family, Gu won his fame through his collation of rare books for a number of Jiangnan collectors, including the famous Suzhou collector Huang Pilie (黃丕烈 1763-1825), and official-collectors Sun Xingyan (孫星衍 1753-1818) and Zhang Dunren (張敦仁 1754-1834). Gu was also once a member of Ruan Yuan’s (阮元 1764-1849) project to produce comprehensive exegeses on the Confucian classics in Hangzhou in the early 1800s. Later in his life, Gu played a central role in several republication projects sponsored by several local officials in the region. This paper analyzes the power of these collating and republishing projects in shaping the Jiangnan intellectual and social landscapes in two aspects. On the one hand, they provided viable patronage to literati like Gu -who had limited socio-economic resources and did not succeed in the civil service exams- and introduced book collectors to more extensive intellectual and political networks. On the other hand, these projects created a new order of texts as collectible and sources of knowledge in classical studies and bibliography and provided tangible and spiritual vehicles for the collector, the collator, and the publisher to connect themselves with history. 

The Structure of Jeong Yagyong’s "In (仁)": Focusing on His Noneo Gogeumju
In the mid-17th century, after the invasions from Japan (1592-98) and later the Manchus (1636) and in the wake of the Ming-Qing transition, Joseon scholars began to demonstrate the need to innovate or deepen the existing Neo-Confucian orthodoxy. Specifically the diversifying and internalizing world of learning could be represented, for example, by Song Siyeol’s (宋時烈 1607-1689) ritual learning (禮學) and his opponent Yun Jeung’s (尹拯 1617~1680) practical learning (實學), Yun Hyu’s (尹鑴 1617-1680) criticism of Zhu Xi, Park Sedang’s (朴世堂 1629~1703) commentaries on Laozi and Zhuangzi, and the Kwanghwa school’s (江華學派) interests in Wang Yangming 王陽明, and Jeong Yakyong’s (丁若鏞 1762-1836) deconstruction of the learning of coherence (理學). In this paper, I examine how Jeong Yagyong, in this historical context, conceptualized the idea of “in 仁” in his Noneo gogeumju (論語古今注 “Exegeses of the Analects of all time” ). Precedent research has argued that Jeong rejected the Neo-Confucian assumption of the internality of sung (性) and li (理) and interpreted it in a relational term. However, this paper will demonstrate that the relatedness of in cannot be understood in the background of intersubjectivity or modern sociology, because the aim of Jeong’s interpretation was to reveal the situational limit of human existence and encourage individual efforts to complete moral self-cultivation. In short, this paper argues that the relatedness of in should be understood in the background of the situationality of the individual through the discussion of some exemplifications of this claim in Noneo gogeumju.

"Why Don’t We Invite Confucius to interpret the Analects?" Reading Classics Through Spiritual Writing in Contemporary Taiwan
What is the nature of learning, as put in the beginning of the Analects? Why does Confucius make reference to Fate (天命) in the book’s last chapter? How to reconciliate the inconsistency of “eight steps” in the Great Learning? These questions have set out the development of intellectual histories in East Asia for millennials, across different countries and distinct teachings. The distance between commentators and authors of the canon electrifies rather than pales the vital vicissitude of Confucian exegesis by carving out the space for “breakthrough” from and “return” back to the canonical origin. This paper, however, turns to the popular side of Confucian hermeneutics and looks into what the “real,” instead of textual, intimacy between Confucian saints and their contemporary readers can do for the reading of classics from the distant antiquity. Based on six-months fieldwork among Yiguandao groups in Taiwan, a now civil religion bearing the history of being “redemptive society,” this paper spells out 1) how redemptive societies have kept constantly conjuring up ancient saints since late Qing dynasty to spiritually comment on their own writings; 2) the features of a newly compiled spiritual version of the Four Books; 3) how contemporary participants of these groups read this version, and what individual and societal impacts their reading renders. Methodologically syncretizing linguistic anthropology, history of reading, and religious history of China, this paper reflects on the denotational and canonical textual ideology that undergirds modern intellectual practices and bridles the perception of popular use of classics.

"King Wu Trod on the Eastern Stairs": A Textual History
The "King Wu Trod on the Eastern Stairs" (Wu Wang jian zuo) is a chapter in the Records of Ritual According to Dai the Elder (Da Dai Liji) edited by the Confucian scholar Dai De towards the end of the Western Han (206–202 BCE). In 2008, the Shanghai Museum published two Warring States (475–221 BCE) bamboo manuscripts of the same text, both of which diverge from the received one significantly. This paper compares the three versions and examines how the text evolved in the hands of multiple readers/editors. Borrowing redaction criticism from Biblical textual methodology, I argue that the received version is not a monolithic unity but a composite that bears witness to several ideological revisions. The original text is no more than the Cinnabar Document quoted as admonitions to the king after his rise to power. Due to the changed historical circumstances, however, the teachings in the Cinnabar Document were no longer perceived as sufficient, and more passages about the king’s reception of the document were added to revive its message in a different age. Finally, the editor of the received version brought together different manuscript traditions and reconciled the discrepancies by extending the narrative, producing a much longer text recounting ritually appropriate exchanges between the king and his minister regarding ancient wisdom about governance. This analysis of the textual history of the “Wu Wang jian zuo” demonstrates how a text was read, copied, rewritten, and finally canonized in an early scribal culture informed by Confucian learning

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