An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Jiao Hong 焦竑

Feb 26, 2013 © Ulrich Theobald

Jiao Hong 焦竑 (1540-1620), courtesy name Jiao Ruohou 焦弱侯, style Yiyuan 漪園 or Danyuan 澹園, was a late Ming period 明 (1368-1644) philosopher. He came from Jiangning 江甯 (modern Nanjing 南京, Jiangsu) and was a disciple of Geng Dingxiang 耿定向, Geng Dingli 耿定理, Li Zhi 李贄 and Luo Rufang 羅汝芳, and stood in the tradition of the great philosopher Wang Shouren 王守仁 (Wang Yangming 王陽明). With the age of 25 sui he passed the provincial examination, but it took him another 25 years to pass the metropolitan examination, whereupon he was appointed senior compiler (xiuzhuan 修撰) of the Hanlin Academy 翰林院. A lot of colleagues were envious and finally forced him out of his office. From then on he dedicated himself to studies and so became one of the most important thinkers of his time.
Jiao Hong chose the teachings of Wang Gen 王艮, a representative of the "extreme wing" (yiduan 異端) of the Taizhou school 泰州, as his philosophical father. He argued that no knowledge is possible without the awareness of self-identity, which cannot rely on instructions from outside. The study of the Han 漢 (206 BCE-220 CE) or Song period 宋 (960-1279) commentaries to the Confucian Classics was criticized by Jiao Hong, much as the Tang period 唐 (618-907) commentaries that he dispised as the "dung and dirt teachings of state officials" (fentu guanxue 糞土官學). All these interpretations "obstruct my own knowledge" (gu wo congming 錮我聰明), as he said. This is not to mean that Jiao Hong discarded all Confucian Classics – quite contrary, he argued that Buddhism was highly influenced by Confucianism, which can be seen in his own interpretation of "awareness" or "enlightenment" (wu 悟).
He even saw the Buddhist writings as mere commentaries to the Classics, and so went a step further than the Neo-Confucian philosophers who had never openly admitted their influence by Buddhist thought.
Jiao Hong also tried adapting philosophical statements of historiographical writings, the "masters and philosophers", and of the genre of belles-lettres. It is said that Jiao Hong had a vast knowledge of all writings, and he therefore also produced a lot of texts on a wide range of topics and issues, including writings on statecraft, bronze inscriptions and bibliographies. As an expert scholar he made clear that the Yijing 易經 "Book of Changes" was a diviniation text; he denied that the Zuozhuan 左傳 contained any moral critique, but saw it as a pure historiographical text, while the Gongyang 公羊傳 and the Guliang 穀梁傳 commentaries to the Chunqiu 春秋 "Spring and Autumn Annals" clearly included moral statements. He was also of the opinion that man was the most important factor in history, and therefore compiled a vast treasure of biographies of Ming period persons, the famous Guochao xianzheng lu 國朝獻征錄, which is an important addendum to the official dynastic history Mingshi 明史. His critical view towards ancient history and its interpretation in the past can be seen as a forerunner to the new views on history that Qing period 清 (1644-1911) scholars would later initiate.
The most important writings of Jiao Hong are Danyuan ji 澹園集, Danyuan xuji 澹園續集, Jiaoshi bicheng 焦氏筆乘, Jiaoshi leilin 焦氏類林, Guochao xianzheng lu, Guoshi jingji zhi 國史經籍志, Laozi yi 老子翼, Zhuangzi yi 莊子翼, Yutang congyu 玉堂叢語 and Sushu kanwu 俗書刊誤.

Pang Pu 龐樸, ed. (1997). Zhongguo ruxue 中國儒學 (Shanghai: Dongfang chuban zhongxin), Vol. 2, 183.