Eminent Chinese of the Ch'ing Period/Yen Yüan

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YEN Yüan 顏元 (T. 易直, 渾然, H. 習齋, childhood name 園兒, his name before 1673 being Chu Pang-liang 朱邦良), Apr. 27, 1635–1704, Sept. 30, founder of a pragmatic school of philosophy, was born and reared in the village of Liu-ts'un 劉村 in the district of Li-hsien, Chihli, but took residence after 1673 in his ancestral village of Pei-yang ts'un 北楊村 in the neighboring district of Po-yeh. His father, Yen Ch'ang 顏昶 (1617–1672), was adopted by a man of Liu-ts'un named Chu Chiu-tso 朱九祚 (T. 盛軒, d.1673) and therefore took the surname Chu. In 1638, when Yen Yüan himself was only three years old, his father was forced to accompany invading Manchu soldiers back to Manchuria and never returned. As Yen Yüan grew up he knew that his father had been taken away, but believed him to be, like himself, of the surname Chu. At the age of five sui he accompanied his foster grandfather to the district city of Li-hsien where the latter was serving as a minor local official. There, from 1642 to 1646, he studied under Wu Ch'ih-ming 吳持明 (T. 洞雲), and after 1647 continued his studies under a fellow-townsman, Chia Yü 賈琻 (T. 金玉). About the year 1648 he became interested in occult Taoist writings on the prolongation of life. He married, in 1649, the adopted daughter (born 1634) of Chang Hung-wên 張宏文, but owing to the Taoist beliefs he then held, he did not consummate the marriage relationship. Soon afterwards he became convinced of the irrationality of these Taoist doctrines and by 1653 betook himself to serious studies under the tutorship of a local scholar, Chia Chên 賈珍 (T. 襲什, d. age 64 sui). In the same year (1653) his foster grandfather left home, after being involved in a law-suit, and Yen Yüan was imprisoned in his stead. Meanwhile he continued his studies. When he regained his freedom he registered in the district -school under the name Chu Pang-liang. Returning to Liu-ts'un in 1654, he began a study of the famous chronological history of China, Tzŭ-chih t'ung chien (see under Yen Yen). At this time he privately decided to abandon the type of scholarship required in the civil service examinations, and so gave up hope of an official career. Obliged, however, to earn more money for the support of his family, he took up in 1656 the study of medicine, which he began to practice two years later. While teaching in a private school which he opened in 1658 he wrote a small treatise, entitled 王道論 Wang-tao lun, 1 chüan, on the ideal system of government, attributed as usual to remote antiquity. The title was later changed to 存治編 Ts'un-chih pien and the work was printed with that title in 1705. Being interested in ancient ethical systems, he named his studio Ssŭ-ku chai 思古齋, "Studio for Reflecting on the Ancients", and styled himself Ssŭ-ku jên (人), "Contemplator of the Ancients".

About 1660 Yen Yüan made a study of the famous symposium of Sung philosophy known as 性理大全 Hsing-li ta-ch'üan, 70 chüan, compiled by imperial decree (1414) under the editorship of Hu Kuang 胡廣 (T. 光大, 晃庵, 充之, 1370–1418) and completed in 1415. Yen thus became deeply interested in "Sung Learning" (see under Ku Yen-wu), and strictly observed the ethical admonitions of the Sung scholars, including the practice of sitting in contemplation and divesting the mind of extraneous influences, as the way to intellectual enlightenment. In the same year (1660), at the behest of his foster grandfather, he went to Peking to compete in the provincial examination, but failed. Upon his return he continued to conduct a private school located in a nearby village called Hsi-wu-fu ts'un 西五夫村. In 1661 he went to a neighboring district, Ch'i-chou (present An-kuo), where he made the acquaintance of Tiao Pao 刁包 (T. 蒙吉, H. 非有, 用六居士, chü-jên of 1627, 1603–1669) who gave to him a copy of his book, entitled 斯文正統 Ssŭ-wên chêng-t'ung, 12 chüan, which so influenced Yen that, upon his return from Ch'i-chou, he erected a shrine in which to honor the Sung scholars almost as he did Confucius. In the following year (1662) he and several local scholars, including Kuo Ching-kung 郭靖共 (T. 敬公, d. 1678), organized a literary society called Wên-shê 文社 to promote the writing of essays and the observance of ancient ceremonies. Early in 1664 he made the acquaintance of Wang Yang-tsui 王養粹 (T. 法乾, d. 1699), a native of Li-hsien who became his life-long friend and with whom he kept a diary. This diary was later used by Yen's disciple, Li Kung [q. v.], to compile Yen's chronological biography, entitled 顏習齋先生年譜 Yen Hsi-chai hsien-shêng nien-p'u, 2 chüan, completed in 1705, but expanded by another disciple, Wang Yüan [q. v.], in 1706. Yen and Wang met every ten days for self examination and mutual improvement. Humble and eager to learn, Yen Yüan, during the ensuing two years (1664–66), repeatedly paid visits to a number of contemporary scholars of near-by districts, among them Wang Yü-yu 王餘佑 (T. 介祺, H. 五公山人, 1615–1684), Li Ming-hsing (see under Li Kung), Chang Lo-chê 張羅喆 (T. 石卿, b. 1602), and Lü Shên 呂申 (T. 文甫[輔], original ming, 牙興, d. age 55 sui). In 1666 he went to Peking in the hope of locating his father by distributing descriptive handbills to travellers who came from Manchuria.

On March 26, 1668 Yen Yüan's foster grandmother died and this event effected a great change in his life, both socially and intellectually. Still supposing himself to belong to the Chu clan, he carried out at the time of her death every detail of the mourning ceremonies which his overconscientious Confucian studies now demanded, with the result that his mind became greatly agitated and his health endangered. In this crisis a member of the Chu family took compassion on him and disclosed to him, for the first time, that his father came originally from a family in Po-yeh, named Yen, and that he himself was an adopted grandson. After confirming this news, he decided to join the Yen clan, but did not carry out his intention until the decease of his foster grandfather five years later (1673). His intellectual revolution took the form of a violent reaction against his hitherto implicit belief in the adequacy of Sung scholarship. During the mourning period he had followed punctiliously the rules laid down in the venerated book 家禮 Chia-li, or "Family Ritual", 5 + 1 chüan, usually attributed to the great Sung philosopher, Chu Hsi (see under Hu Wei). But when he compared the text of this work with the original classics he found discrepancies and distortions of meaning which caused him to doubt the fidelity of Sung interpretations. It may be noted, in passing, that a younger contemporary of Yen, named Wang Mou-hung 王懋竑 (T. 與[予]中, H. 白田, 1668–1741), attempted to prove that the Chia-li is not a work of Chu Hsi, though it seems to have been produced in the Sung period. Yen Yüan's own corrections of the Chia-li are listed in an essay by him, entitled 居憂愚見 Chü-yu yü-ch'ien, "Things Observed in a Period of Mourning". Thus he became convinced that the concepts of the Sung and Ming scholars, tinctured as they were with Buddhist notions, were misleading, heterodox, and at variance with the Classics which, in his opinion, stressed the importance of a life of practical activity. This belief resulted in a decisive change in attitude, from which a new pragmatic philosophy took shape.

In 1669 Yen set forth his ideas in two works, though neither was printed until some twenty years later, owing to lack of funds. They are: (1) Ts'un-hsing (性) pien, 2 chüan, printed in 1705, a treatise on human nature, based on the teachings of Mencius as over against the ideas of the Sung scholars who wrote under the influence of Buddhism and Taoism; and (2) Ts'un-hsüeh (學) pien, 4 chüan, printed in 1701, an exposition of education before the time of Confucius. In the latter work he stressed practical training as opposed to the book-learning which had been fostered officially for many centuries. He now denounced all studies that ended in mere contemplation, or in the composition of more books devoted to abstract morality, to the neglect of bodily activity or social amelioration. In the end, he came to believe that the proponents of both the Sung School and the School of Han Learning (see under Ku Yen-wu) were fostering a type of education that was hopelessly bookish and physically and mentally stultifying. He would revive what, from his reading of the Classics, he supposed was the real teaching of the sages. According to his investigations they taught, among other things, the Liu-hsing 六行 or "Six Duties" and the Liu I 六藝 or "Six Arts or Departments of Knowledge"—the former consisting of Filial Reverence 孝, Sincerity in Friendship 友, Kindliness 睦, Love of Kindred 婣, Endurance on Behalf of Others 任, and Charity 恤; the latter comprising Ceremonial Observances 禮, Music 樂, Archery 射, Charioteering 御, Writing 書, and Mathematics 數. As he believed practice (hsi 習) to be the essential thing in learning, he altered (1669) the name of his studio to Hsi-chai, "Studio of Practical Knowledge". By example, as well as by precept, he strenuously promoted his theory, and by 1676 his views and those of his friend, Wang Yang-ts'ui, gained in North China a wide hearing.

Prior to this he had corresponded (1670) with Sun Ch'i-fêng [q. v.] and (1672) with Lu Shih-i [q. v.], sending to them his writings for criticism. In 1678 he went to see Li Yin-tu (see under Ch'ü Ta-chün) in the near-by district of Ch'ing-yüan, when the latter was on his way to Peking to participate in the special examination known as po-hsüeh hung-tz'ŭ. Early in 1679, when Yen was forty-five sui, Li Kung came to study under him, and before long became the most important expounder of Yen's philosophy—being, in fact, the one who eventually obtained for those doctrines a nation-wide hearing. Though Yen was the founder of the school, whatever succert the school had was due to Li Kung; so closely are their names associated that the school im still commonly referred to as the Yen-Li P'ai 顏李派. Late in the same year (1679) Yen lost the use of his left eye owing to an abscess. Three years later (1682) he completed his last work, 喚迷途 Huan mi-t'u, in which he denounced Buddhism as unhumanitarian. The title of this work was later changed to Ts'un-jên (人) pien and was so published in 4 chüan in 1705.

On May 21, 1684 Yen Yüan set out to find his father. When he arrived in Peking, nine days later, he caused handbills to be printed giving descriptions of his father, and these he posted wherever he went. Passing through Shanhaikuan on July 2, 1684, he spent almost a year in Manchuria in this pious search. Finally he met a half-sister at Shên-yang who informed him that their father had died some thirteen years earlier. After a visit to his father's tomb, he returned (June 6, 1685) to Po-yeh, carrying with him an ancestral tablet on which his father's name was inscribed. In the following year his mother, who in the meantime had remarried, also died. Feeling a need for wider personal contact with scholars in other places, he devoted half a year, in 1691, to travel in southern Chihli and part of Honan, teaching wherever he went. Early in 1694 Hao Wên-ts'an 郝文燦 (T. 公函), a native of Fei-hsiang, Chihli, came to study under him and later invited him to be director of the Chang-nan 漳南 Academy at Fei-hsiang. After repeated solicitations, Yen accepted the invitation, assumed his duties in June 1696, and prepared a curriculum in accord with his theories of education which provided for military training, including strategy, archery, riding and boxing; for classical and historical study, including the dynastic histories, imperial decrees, memorials, and poetry; and for such practical sciences as mathematics, astronomy, and mechanics. But unfortunately on September 11, 1696 the school buildings were inundated by a flood of the Chang River. Yen returned in the same year to the village of Pei-yang ts'un where three years later he mourned the death of his best friend, Wang Yang-ts'ui. Yen himself died there in 1704 and was privately canonized as Wên-hsiao 文孝.

Yen Yuan's native stoicism, his abhorrence of mere book-learning, and his devotion to practical activity precluded the writing of many books. But in addition to the four titles already mentioned there are miscellaneous essays and letters which were collected by a disciple, Chung Ling 鍾錂 (T. 金若, d. age 78 sui), and published under the title Hsi-chai chi-yü (記餘), 10 chüan, with a preface by Chung dated 1750. With Yen's diary as a basis, Chung compiled another work, entitled Yen Hsi-chai hsien-shêng yen-hsing lu (言行錄), 2 chüan, Chung's preface being dated 1737. The writings of Yen in denunciation of Buddhism were brought together by Chung Ling under the title Yen Hsi-chai hsien-shêng p'i-i lu (闢異錄), 2 chüan, with Chung's preface dated 1738. About 150 years after Yen's death Tai Wang 戴望 (T. 子高, 1837–1873), a scholar of Tê-ch'ing, Chekiang, became so interested in the teachings of the pragmatic school that, during the years 1868–69, he made an intensive study of them and produced a work on the philosophy of Yen and his disciples, under the title 顏氏學記 Yen-shih hsüeh-chi, 10 chüan. Tai's preface is dated 1869. Thanks to this study, the teachings of the Yen-Li School came again into favor. In recent years the works of Yen and his disciples have often been reprinted, notably by Hsü Shih-ch'ang (see under Tuan-fang) who compiled a collectanea of some twenty items entitled Yen-Li i-shu (遺書). He also published several studies, among them: Yen-Li shih-ch'êng chi (師承記), 9 chüan, comprising biographies of Yen and his disciples; and Yen-Li yü-yao (語要), 2 chüan, important quotations from Yen and Li. In 1919, when Hsü Shih-ch'ang was President, a mandate was issued that the memory of the two philosophers would thereafter be celebrated, together with other sages, in the Temple of Confucius. In the following year a society was formed in Peking to study their teachings. This society took the name Ssŭ-ts'un-hsüeh hui 四存學會, after Yen's four books, named above, whose titles begin with the word "Ts'un". The society reprinted many works by Yen and Li and maintained several schools.

One of the few exponents of the Yen-Li philosophy in central and south China, particularly in his early years, was Ch'êng T'ing-tso 程廷祚 (earlier ming 默 T. 啟生 H. 綿莊, 1691–1767). He characterized Yen as "one man in five-hundred years", and seems indirectly to have brought the Yen-Li philosophy to the attention of Tai Chên [q. v.]. But after middle life, owing perhaps to the persecution of heterodox thinkers in the first half of the eighteenth century, he did not actively promote these views, though he seems not to have abandoned them.

[1/486/20a; 2/66/55a; 10/16/1a; 15/1/1a; 17/1/101a; Chung-kuo chin san-pai nien hsüehshu shih: two works by this title, one by Liang Ch'i-ch'ao (see bibl. under Hui Tung) pp. 167–221, another by Ch'ien Mu (see bibl. under Mao Ch'i-ling) pp. 158–219; Ch'ing-tai hsüeh-shu kai-lun (see bibl. under Fang Tung-shu); Chin Hsü-ju 金絮如, Yen yüan yü Li Kung (1935); 北平學術機關指南 Peiping hsüeh-shu chi-kuan chih-nan (1935) p. 30; Hu Shih, "The Philosopher Ch'êng T'ing-tso of the School of Yen Yüan" (in Chinese) Kuo-hsüeh chi-k'an (Jour. of Sinological Studies) vol. 5 no. 3 pp. 1–43.]

J. C. Yang