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

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Sacred Books of the East, Vol. III, The Hsiâo King
Introduction, Chapter III: Criticism of the Hsiâo since the Thang Dynasty by James Legge

Chapter III.

Criticism of the Hsiâo since the Thang Dynasty.

Works on the old text by Sze-mâ Kwang and Fan Zû-yü.1. Notwithstanding the difficulty about one chapter which has been pointed out on p. 455, Hsüan Zung's text was generally accepted as the representative of that in modern characters, recovered in the second century B.C. There were still those, however, who continued to advocate the claims of 'the old text.' Sze-mâ Kwang, a distinguished minister and scholar of the Sung dynasty (1009–1086), presented to the court in 1054 his 'Explanations of the Hsiâo King according to the Old Text,' arguing, in his preface and in various memorials, for the correctness of that text, as recovered by Liû Hsüan in the sixth century. Fan Zû-yü (1041–1098), a scholar of the same century, and in other things a collaborateur of Kwang, produced, towards the end of his life, an 'Exposition of the Hsiâo King according to the Old Text.' He says in his preface:—'Though the agreement between the ancient and modern texts is great, and the difference small, yet the ancient deserves to be preferred, and my labour upon it may not be without some little value[1].'

Sceptical criticism. Views of Kû Hsî.2. But our classic had still to pass the ordeal of the sceptical criticism that set in during the Sung dynasty. The most notable result of this was 'the Hsiâo King Expurgated,' published by Kû Hsî in 1186. He tells us that when be first saw a statement by Hû Hung (a minister in the reign of Kâo Zung, 1127–1162), that the quotations from the Book of Poetry in the Hsiâo were probably of later introduction into the text, he was terror-struck. Prolonged examination, however, satisfied him that there were good grounds for Hû's statement, and that other portions of the text were also open to suspicion. He found, moreover, that another earlier writer, Wang Ying-khăn, in the reign of Hsiâo Zung (1163–1189), had come to the conclusion that much of the Hsiâo had been fabricated or interpolated in the Han dynasty. The way was open for him to give expression to his convictions, without incurring the charge of being the first to impugn the accepted text.

The fact was, as pointed out by the editors of the Catalogue Raisonné of the Imperial Library of the present dynasty, that Kû had long entertained the views which he indicated in his expurgated edition of the Hsiâo, and his references to Hû and Wang were simply to shield his own boldness. He divided the treatise into one chapter of classical text, and fourteen chapters of illustration and commentary. But both parts were freely expurgated. His classical text embraces the first six chapters in my translation, and is supposed by him to form one continuous discourse by Confucius. The rest of the treatise should not be attributed to the sage at all. The bulk of it may have come from Zăng-zze, or from members of his school, but large interpolations were made by the Han scholars. Adopting the old text, Kû discarded from it altogether 223 characters.

Attention will be called, under the several chapters, to some of the passages which he suppressed, and to the reasons, generally satisfactory, which he advanced for his procedure. Evidently he was influenced considerably by the way in which Khăng Î (1033–1107), whom he called 'his master,' had dealt with the old text of 'the Great Learning;' but he made his innovations with a bolder pencil and on a more extensive plan, not merely altering the arrangement of paragraphs, and supplementing what was plainly defective, but challenging the genuineness of large portions of the treatise, and removing them without scruple.

Views of Wû Khăng.Under the Yüan dynasty, Khăng (1249–1333), the greatest of its scholars, followed in the wake of Kû Hsî, yet with the independence characteristic of himself. As Kû had preferred the old text, Wû decided—and, I believe, more correctly—in favour of the modern, arguing that the copy of Khung An-kwo's text and commentary, said to have been recovered and published in the sixth century by Liû Hsüan, was a fabrication. He adopted, therefore, Hsüan Zung's text as the basis of his revision, which appeared with the title of 'the Hsiâo King, in paragraphs and sentences[2].' He adopted Kû's division of the treatise into classical text and commentary. The chapter of classical text is the same as Kû's; the chapters of commentary are only twelve. He discarded, of course, the chapter peculiar to the old text, which has been referred to more than once, united Hsüan Zung's eleventh chapter with another, and arranged the other chapters differently from Kû. His revision altogether had 246 characters fewer than the old text.

Later works on the Hsiâo.3. Kû Î-tsun gives the titles of nearly 120 works on our classic that appeared after the volume of Wû Khăng, bringing its literary history down to the end of the Ming dynasty. The scholars of the present dynasty have not been less abundant in their labours on it than their predecessors. Among the collected works of Mâo Khî-ling (1623–1713) is one called 'Questions about the Hsiâo King,' in which, with his usual ability, and, it must be added, his usual acrimony, he defends the received text. He asserts—and in this he is correct—that there is no difference of any importance between the ancient and modern texts; when he asserts further that there never was any such difference, what he affirms is incapable of proof. He pours scorn on Kû Hsî and Wû Khăng; but he is not so successful in defending the integrity of the Hsiâo as I have allowed him to be in vindicating the portions of the Shû that we owe to Khung An-kwo.

The Hsiâo King has always been a favourite with the emperors of China. Before Hsüan Zung took it in hand, the first and eighth emperors of the eastern Kin dynasty (317–419), the first and third of the Liang (502–556), and the ninth of the northern Wei (386–534) had published their labours upon it. The Manchâu rulers of the present dynasty have signalised themselves in this department. In 1656 the first emperor produced in one chapter his 'Imperial Commentary on the Hsiâo King,' and in 1728 the third published a 'Collection of Comments' on it. Between them was the long reign known to us as the Khang-hsî period (1662–1722), during which there appeared under the direction of the second emperor, the most distinguished of his line, his 'Extensive Explanation of the Hsiâo King,' in 100 chapters. The only portion of the text which it gives in full is Kû Hsî's chapter of Confucian text; but most of the topics touched on in Kû's supplementary chapters, added, as he supposed, by some later hand, are dealt with in the course of the work, the whole of which will amply repay a careful study.

Conclusion regarding the genuineness and integrity of the Hsiâo.4. It will have been seen that the two great scholars, Kû Hsî and Khăng, who have taken the greatest liberties with the text of our classic, allow that there is a Confucian element in it, and that more than a fifth part of the whole, containing, even as expurgated by Kû, about 400 characters, may be correctly ascribed to the sage. I agree with them in this. All the rest of the treatise, to whomsoever it may be ascribed, from Zăng-zze, the immediate disciple of Confucius, down to Liû Hsiang (B.C. 80–9), took its present form in the first century before our Christian era. The reader will fail to see in it a close connexion between the different chapters, and think that the author or authors try to make more of Filial Piety than can be made of it. The whole, however, is a valuable monument of antiquity, and an exhibition of the virtue which Chinese moralists and rulers, from the most ancient times, have delighted to celebrate as the fundamental principle of human virtue, the great source of social happiness, and the bond of national strength and stability.

Note on the Translation.

In preparing the translation of the Hsiâo King for the present work, I have made frequent reference to four earlier translations.

Two of them were made by myself;—the one about thirty years ago, simply as an exercise for my own improvement in Chinese; the other four years ago, when I was anxious to understand fully the Confucian teaching on the subject of Filial Piety, but without reference to my earlier version.

The third is a translation in the fourth volume of the Chinese Repository, pp. 345–353 (1835), for the accuracy of which much cannot be said. Very few notes are appended to it. The fourth is in the 'Mémoires concernant les Chinois' (Paris, 1779), being part of a long treatise on the 'Ancient and Modern Doctrine of the Chinese about Filial Piety,' by P. Cibot. In a preliminary notice to his version of our classic, he says:—'P. Noël formerly translated the Hsiâo King into Latin. Our translation will necessarily be different from his. He laboured on the old text, and we on the new, which the scholars of the Imperial College have adopted. Besides this, he has launched out into paraphrase, and we have made it our business to present the text in French such as it is in Chinese.' I have not been able to refer to P. Noël's translation in preparing that now given to the public; but I had his work before me when writing out my earliest version. The difference between the old and modern texts is too slight to affect the character of translations of them, but P. Noël's version is decidedly periphrastic. The title of his work is:—'Sinensis Imperii Libri Classici Sex, nimirum Adultorum Schola, Immutabile Medium, Liber sententiarum, Mencius, Filialis Observantia, Parvulorum Schola, e Sinico idiomate in Latinum traducti à P. Fr. Noël, S. J. (Prague, 1711).' The present version, I believe, gives the text in English, such as it is in Chinese, more accurately and closely than P. Cibot's does in French.

  1. In the Hsiâo King, as now frequently published in China, either separately by itself, or bound up with Kû Hsî's Hsiâo Hsio, 'the Teaching for the Young,' we find the old text, without distinction of chapters. The commentaries of Hsüan Zung and Sze-mâ Kwang, and the exposition of Fan Zû-yü, however, follow one another at the end of the several clauses and paragraphs. Some portions also are in a different order from the arrangement of Hsüan Zung and Hsing Ping, which I have followed in my translation. As has been already said, the difference between its text and that of the Thang emperor is slight,—hardly greater than the variations in the different recensions of our Gospels and the other books of the New Testament.
  2. The title of this work in the Catalogue of the Imperial Libraries is 'Settlement of the Text of the Hsiâo King.'