Sacred Books of the East/Volume 3/The Hsiao/Introduction/Chapter 2

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Sacred Books of the East, Vol. III, The Hsiâo King
Introduction, Chapter II: The Recovery of the Hsiâo King under the Han Dynasty, and its Preservation down to the Publication of the Commentary of the Thang emperor Hsüan Zung by James Legge

Chapter II.

The Recovery of the Hsiâo King under the Han Dynasty, and its Preservation down to the Publication of the Commentary of the Thang emperor Hsüan Zung.

1. The Hsiâo King suffered, like all the other Confucian books except the , from the fires of Khin. Its subsequent recovery was very like that of the Shû, described on pp. 7, 8. We have in each case a shorter and a longer copy, a modern text and an ancient text.

Recovery of the Hsiâo King.In the Catalogue of the Imperial Library, prepared by Liû Hin immediately before the commencement of our Christian era, there are two copies of the Hsiâo:—'the old text of the Khung family,' which was in twenty-two chapters, according to a note by Pan Kû (died A.D. 92), the compiler of the documents in the records of the western Han; and another copy, which was, according to the same authority, in eighteen chapters, and was subsequently styled 'the modern text.' Immediately following the entry of these two copies, we find 'Expositions of the Hsiâo by four scholars,'—whose surnames were Kang-sun, Kiang, , and Hâu. 'They all,' says Pan Kû, 'had laboured on the shorter text.'

The shorter or modern text.The copy in eighteen chapters therefore, we must presume, had been the first recovered; but of how this came about we have no account till we come to the records of the Sui dynasty. There it is said that, when the Khin edict for the destruction of the books was issued, his copy of the Hsiâo was hidden by a scholar called Yen Kih, a member, doubtless, of the Yen family to which Confucius' favourite disciple Yen Hui had belonged. When the edict was abrogated in a few years, Kăn, a son of Kih, brought the copy from its hiding place. This must have been in the second century B.C., and the copy, transcribed, probably by Kăn, in the form of the characters then used, would pass into the charge of the board of great scholars' appointed to preserve the ancient books, in the reigns of the emperors Wăn and King, B.C. 179–141.

The old or longer text.The copy in the ancient text was derived from the tablets found in the wall of the Confucian house in the time of the emperor Wû (B.C. 140–87), and is commonly said to have been deciphered, as in the case of the tablets of the Shû, by Khung An-kwo. An-kwo wrote a commentary himself on the Hsiâo, which does not appear in Hin's Catalogue, just as no mention is made there of his commentary on the Shû. We find it entered, however, among the books in the Sui Library with the following note:—'The work of An-kwo disappeared during the troubles of the Liang dynasty (A.D. 502–556), and continued unknown till the time of Sui, when a copy was found in the capital, and came into the possession of a scholar called Liû Hsüan.' Hsüan made his treasure public, and ere long it was acknowledged by the court, while many scholars contended that it was a forgery of his own, and ascribed by him to An-kwo. Whatever opinion we may form on this matter, the discovery of the old text, and the production of a commentary on it by Khung An-kwo, can hardly be called in question.

Was another copy in the old text discovered?It might be argued, indeed, that another copy in the old text was found in the first century B.C. In a memorial addressed about the Shwo Wăn dictionary to the emperor An, in A.D. 121, by Hsü Kung, a son of the author, he says that the Hsiâo King which his father used was a copy of that presented, by 'a very old man of Lû,' to the emperor Kâo (B.C. 86–74)[1]. Many Chinese critics, and especially Wang Ying-lin (better known as Wang Po-hâu, A.D. 1223–1296), say that this is a different account of the recovery of the old text from that with which the name of Khung An-kwo is connected. It is difficult to reconcile the two statements, as will be seen on a reference to the note below[2]; and yet it is possible that the difficulty would disappear, if the details of the discovery and the subsequent dealing with the tablets had come down to us complete.

Can we rely fully on the copies catalogued by Liû Hin?Certainly, in the first century B.C. there were two copies of the Hsiâo King in the Imperial Library of Han. If those copies, catalogued by Liû Hin, were the actual text, presented by Yen Kăn, and a faithful transcript in the current Han characters of the ancient text discovered in the wall of Confucius' old lecture hall, we should be able to say that the evidence for the recovery of the Hsiâo, as it had existed during the Kâu dynasty, was as satisfactory as we could desire; but there are some considerations that are in the way of our doing so.

According to the records of Sui, after the old text came into the possession of the court, and the differences between it and the text earlier recovered were observed, Liû Hsiang (B.C. 80–9), the father of Hin, was charged by the emperor (Khăng, B.C. 32–7) to compare the two. The result of his examination of them was that 'he removed from the modern text what was excessive and erroneous, and fixed the number of the chapters at eighteen.' It does not appear that previously there was any division of Kăn's copy into chapters. What Hsiang did in the case of the old text we are not told. A note by Yen Sze-kû of the Thang dynasty, appended to Hin's Catalogue, quotes from him that 'one chapter of the modern text was divided into two in the old, another into three, and that the old had one chapter which did not appear in the other.' This missing chapter, it is understood, was the one beginning, 'Inside the smaller doors leading to the inner apartments,' which I have appended, from the current old text, to my translation of the classic as published by Hsüan Zung; and yet the Sui account says that that chapter was in the Hsiâo of Kang-sun, one of the four early commentators on the modern text.

The copies catalogued by Hin were made after the examination and revision of the two texts by his father. There are suspicious resemblances between the style and method of the present classic and those of the original works of Hsiang that have come down to us. It is impossible to say, from the want of information, what liberties he took with the documents put into his charge. The differences between the two texts as we now have them are trivial. I believe that the changes made in them by Hsiang were not important; but having them as they came from his revision, we have them at second hand, and this has afforded ground for the dealing with them by Kû Hsî and others in the manner which will be described in the next chapter.

From Khung An-kwo to the emperor Hsüan Zung.2. I have said above (p. 450) that for the text of the classic,—the modern text, that is,—as we now have it, we are indebted to the labours of the emperor Hsüan Zung of the Thang dynasty. Kû Î-tsun, of the Khien-lung period (1736–1795), in his work on the classics and the writings on them, has adduced the titles of eighty-six different works on our classic, that appeared between Khung An-kwo and Hsüan Zung. Not a single one of all these now survives; but the enumeration of them shows that the most distinguished scholars during the intervening centuries exercised their powers on the treatise, and would keep a watch on one another in the preservation of the text. Moreover, several of the works continued through the Thang dynasty, and on into that of Sung. The Catalogue of the Sui Library contains the titles of nineteen in its list.

Hsüan Zung's work.The emperor Hsüan says, in his preface, that in the making of his commentary he had freely used the commentaries of six earlier writers, whom he names. They were, Wei Kâo, Wang Sû, Yü Fan, and Liû Shâo, all of our second and third centuries; Liû Hsüan, of our sixth century, who laboured on the commentary of Khung An-kwo, which, as I have already stated, is said to have been discovered in his time and presented to him; and Khang, rather earlier than Liû, who dealt critically with the commentary attributed to Kăng Khang-khăng. 'But,' says the imperial author, 'if a comment be right in reason, why need we enquire from whom it came? We have therefore taken those six writers, considered wherein they agreed and differed, and decided between their interpretations by reference to the general scope of the five (great) King. In compendious style, but with extensive examination of the subject, we have made the meaning of the classic clear.'

The emperor says nothing himself about the differences between the ancient and modern texts, though we know that that subject was vehemently agitated among the scholars of his court. The text as commented on by him is in eighteen chapters, which do not include the chapter to which I have referred on p. 455 as having been in the copy of Kang-sun in the first century B.C. It is said, and on sufficient authority, that this chapter was excluded through the influence of the scholar and minister Sze-mâ Kăn. To each of his chapters the emperor prefixed a brief heading or argument, which I have retained in the translation. These headings, probably, were selected by him from a variety proposed by the scholars about the court.

The text employed in this imperial commentary might now be considered as sufficiently secured. It was engraved, in less than a century after, on the stone tablets of Thang, which were completed in the year 837, and set up in Hsî-an, the Thang capital, where they remain, very little damaged, to this day[3]. And not only so. The emperor was so pleased with the commentary which he had made, that he caused the whole of it to be engraved on four large tablets or pillars of stone in 745. They are still to be seen at Hsî-an, in front of the Confucian College.

The work of Hsing Ping.It is hardly necessary to say more on the preservation of the Hsiâo King. In A.D. 996 the second emperor of the Sung dynasty gave orders for an annotated edition of it to be prepared. This was finally completed in 1001, under the superintendence of Hsing Ping (932–1010), with a large critical apparatus, and a lengthened exposition, both of the text and of Hsüan Zung's explanation. This work has ever since been current in China.

  1. The language of the memorial is:—'The Hsiâo King' (used by my father in the composition of his dictionary) 'was what San lâo of presented in the time of the emperor Kâo.' The San lâo most readily suggests to the reader the idea of 'three old men;' but the characters may also mean, in harmony with Chinese idiom, 'the three classes of old men,' or 'an individual from those three classes.' The classical passage to explain the phrase is par. 18 in the first section of the sixth Book in the Kî, where it is said that king Wăn feasted the San lâo and Wû kang, 'the three classes of old men and five classes of men of experience,' in his royal college. The three classes of old men were such as were over 80, 90, and 100 years respectively. It was from a man of one of these classes that the emperor received the Hsiâo in the old text. According to the account given in the next note this man was Khung Zze-hui; and in the Books of Sui that is given as the name of the individual of the Khung family, who had hidden the tablets on the appearance of the Khin edict for the destruction of all the old books.
  2. The Catalogue Raisonné of the Imperial Libraries commences its account of the copies of the Hsiâo with a description of 'the Old Text of the Hsiâo with the Commentary of Khung An-kwo,' obtained from Japan; but the editors give good reasons for doubting its genuineness. There is a copy of this work in the Chinese portion of the British Museum, an edition printed in Japan in 1732, which I have carefully examined, with the help of Professor R. K. Douglas and Mr. A. Wylie. It contains not only the commentary of Khung An-kwo, but what purports to be the original preface of that scholar. There it is said that the bamboo tablets of the copy in 'tadpole characters,' found in the wall of Confucius' old 'lecture hall, in a stone case,' were presented to the emperor by Khung Zze-hui, 'a very old man of Lû.' The emperor, it is added, caused two copies to be made in the current characters of the time by 'the great scholars,' one of which was given to Zze-hui, and the other to General Ho Kwang, a minister of war and favourite, who greatly valued it, and placed it among the archives of the empire, where it was jealously guarded.
    This account makes the meaning of the phrase 'the San lâo of Lû quite clear; but there are difficulties in the way of our believing that it proceeded from Khung An-kwo. No mention is made of him in it, whereas, according to the current narrations, the tablets with the tadpole characters were first deciphered by him; nor is the name of the emperor to whom Khung Zze-hui presented the tablets given. No doubt, however, this emperor was Kâo, with whom Ho Kwang was a favourite. If the preface were genuine, of course An-kwo was alive after Zze-hui went to court with the tablets. Now, the tablets were discovered in the period Thien-han, B.C. 100–97, and Kâo reigned from B.C. 86 to 74. An-kwo died at the age of sixty, but in what year we are not told. He had studied the Shih under Shăn Kung, whose death can hardly be placed later than in B.C. 135. If An-kwo were born in B.C. 150, he would have been more than sixty years old—the age assigned to him at his death—at the accession of Kâo. I cannot believe, therefore, that the preface in the Japanese Hsiâo was written by him; and if we reject the preface, we must also reject the commentary before which it stands.
    The text of the Hsiâo in the work is nearly identical with that of Sze-mâ Kwang, mentioned below on p. 458; but to the chapters there are prefixed the headings (which Kwang did not adopt), that cannot be traced farther back than the Thang dynasty. This might be got over, but the commentary throws no new light on the text. 'It is shallow and poor,' say the editors of the Catalogue Raisonné, 'and not in the style of the Han scholars.' I must think with them that Khung An-Kwo's commentary, purporting to have been preserved in Japan is a forgery.
  3. These tablets are commonly said to contain the thirteen classics (Shih-san King). They contained, however, only twelve different works,—the , the Shû, the Shih, the Kâu Lî, the Î Lî, the Kî, and the amplifications of the Khun Khîu,—by Zo Khiû-ming, by Kung-yang, and by Kû-liang. These form 'the nine King.' In addition to these there were the Lun Yü, the Hsiâo King, and the R. According to Kû Yen-wû (1613–1682), the characters on the tablets were in all 650,252. Mr. T. W. Rhys Davids (Buddhism, p.19) estimates that our English Bible contains between 800,000 and 950,000 words. The first Psalm, in what is called the Delegates' version, very good and concise, contains 100 Chinese characters, and in our English version 130 words. The classics of the Thang tablets, if the translator were a master of both languages, might be rendered in English so as to form a volume not quite so large as our Bible.