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Persons in Chinese History - Xiang Xiu 向秀

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Xiang Xiu 向秀 (227-272), courtesy name Xiang Ziqi 向子期, was a thinker and writer of the Western Jin period 西晉 (265-316). He was one of the Seven Worthies of the Bamboo Grove (zhulin qixian 竹林七賢). Xiang Xiu came from Huai 懷 (near modern Wushe 武陟, Henan) and often met with colleagues Ji Kang 嵇康 and Ruan Ji 阮籍 for "pure conversations" (qingtan 清談). From the beginning of the Jin dynasty he was at odds with the members of the reigning family Sima 司馬, but after Ji Kang's execution he was forced to take over several posts in the capital, first gentleman cavalier attendant (sanji shilang 散騎侍郎), gentleman attendant at the palace gate (huangmen shilang 黃門侍郎) and finally cavalier attendant-in-ordinary (sanji changshi 散騎常侍), but it is said in his official biography that he never really fulfilled any administrative tasks in these positions.
The thinker Xiang Xiu was inspired by the philosophy of Laozi 老子 (Daodejing 道德經) and Zhuangzi 莊子 and believed that the ten thousand things have grown out of nature and were naturally transforming in an ever-changing cycle. His own individuality, he said, can therefore not be "himself" (fei wo 非我), but it has come accidentally into being, and will eventually vanish in the same way. There is no kind of "creator" (sheng sheng zhe 生生者 "the one who produces life"), but there must be an unchangeable and everlasting principle behind the eternal change that is the basis of all beings in the universe. Yet unlike many of his contemporaries, Xiang Xiu refused the idea that this principle might be the eternal and omni-present "nothing" (wu 無). This non-active basis does not only pervade all things on earth, but also society and the state. Non-activity is therefore in unison with nature, it is the pattern of nature (ziran zhi li 自然之理), and contrary to the articifial rules of propriety, which can only be of minor usefulness (jie zhi yi li 節之以禮 "he was sparingly in applying rituals"). If the "perfect man" (zhiren 至人) moves, he corresponds to Heaven (whose stars also move), and if he rests, he corresponds to the earth. The only way in which man can gear his life to nature is kindheartedness, the joy of beauty, colour and taste. Man may travel around in a free and easy way to become one with the world. Xiang Xiu also adhered to Zhuangzi's theory that there is in fact no difference between great and small, but such distinctions are man-made. He explained that it is not profitable to restrict human character or his feelings, but on the other side admitted that the Confucian rules of proper behaviour in a social context, have also their advantages.
Xiang Xiu has written a commentary to the Zhuangzi, the Zhuangzi yinjie 莊子隱解, that is only preserved in fragments to be found in commentaries to the books Shishuo xinyu 世說新語, Liezi 列子, Wenxuan 文選 and Jingdian shiwen 經典釋文. Xiang's most famous rhapsody is the Sijiu fu 思舊賦, in which he laments the fates of Ji Kang and Lü An 呂安.

Sources: Li Zhonghua 李中華 (1992), "Zhulin xiqian 竹林七賢", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Zhongguo lishi 中國歷史 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), Vol. 3, p. 1613. ● Gao Riguang 高日光 (1996), "Xiang Xiu 向秀", in Feng Kezheng 馮克正, Fu Qingsheng 傅慶升 (ed.), Zhuzi baijia da cidian 諸子百家大辭典 (Shenyang: Liaoning renmin chubanshe), p. 79.

February 27, 2013 © Ulrich Theobald · Mail
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