An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Hu Wei 胡渭

Feb 3, 2014 © Ulrich Theobald

Hu Wei 胡渭 (1633-1714), original name Hu Sheng 胡生, courtesy name Feiming 朏明, style Dongqiao 東樵, was an early Qing period 清 (1644-1911) philosopher. He hailed from Deqing 德清, Zhejiang, and several times failed to pass the provincial examination. Unable to pursue an official career, he decided to become a private scholar.

Yet when Xu Qianxue 徐乾學 (1631-1694) submitted the proposal to compile an imperial geography, the Da-Qing yitong zhi 大清一統志, Hu Wei was invited to participate in the compilation. During the southern inspection tour of the Kangxi Emperor 康熙 in 1703 he attracted the attention of the ruler, and was therefore granted an imperial signature (Shinian duxue 蓍年篤學) for his book Yugong zhuizhi 禹貢錐指.

Hu Wei concentrated on two texts of the canon of Confucian Classics, namely the Yijing 易經 "Book of Changes", and the Shangshu 尚書 "Book of Documents". In his book Yitu mingbian 易圖明辨 Hu Wei discussed the relevance of several concepts on the formation of the hexagrams in the Book of Changes. These were the "River Chart" Hetu 河圖 and the "Inscription of the River Luo" Luoshu 洛書, the boundless expansion (taiji 太極), the dimensionless expansion (wuji 無極), the Former Heaven (xiantian 先天) and the Later Heaven (houtian 後天). Hu describes how the mythological emperor Fu Xi 伏羲 transformed the inscription and the scripture into the eight trigrams (bagua 八卦), and how King Wen 周文王 of the Zhou dynasty 周 (11th cent.-221 BCE) created the sixty-four hexagrams.

During the 10th century, the Daoist master Chen Tuan 陳摶 (872-989) had compiled 55 charts as numbers of the "Great Development" (dayan 大衍), making use of the nine-palaces method of the Great Unity (taiyi jiugong fa 太乙九宮法) described in the apocryphal classic Yiwei qianzuan du 易緯乾鑿度. Chen so designed an imaginary Luoshu with 45 black and white circles. He called this the chart of the "Former Heaven" (i.e. an ideal draft of the world before it came into being).

The early Song period 宋 (960-1279) Neo-Confucians Shao Yong 邵雍 (1011-1077) and Zhou Dunyi 周敦頤 (1017-1073) expanded this theory with the houtian, taiji and wuji concepts, and used them to explain the meaning of the Yijing. The great Neo-Confucian master Zhu Xi 朱熹 (1130-1200) intensified these concepts to explain the relation between the natural order (li 理), human desires (yu 欲), the human mind (xin 心) and the human character (xing 性). Hu Wei demonstrated that in the end, the Neo-Confucian interpretation of the Book of Changes originated in Daoist thinking and had in fact nothing to do with Confucianism.

In his studies on the Shangshu, Hu Wei analysed the chapter Yugong 禹貢 "Tribute of Yu" that is a kind of geography of ancient China. It was written in the very late Eastern Zhou period 東周 (770-221 BCE) and described the topography of the putative Nine Provinces (jiuzhou 九州), the course of rivers, local products and tributes delivered by the local communities to Emperor Shun 舜. The geographical aspect of this text was long neglected in favour to the economical and political content.

Hu Wei collected a lot of information on the geography of China during the period in question, like the treatises on geography (di zhi 地志) in the official dynastic histories, or the book Shuijing 水經 (see Shuijingzhu 水經注) and compared this with statements in the Yugong chapter. He was of the opinion that the compilers of the chapter must have been in the possession of maps, but the oldest maps of China, of which histories give evidence, Wang Jing's 王景 map from the Han period 漢 (206 BCE-220 CE) and Pei Xiu's 裴秀 (224-271) from the Jin period 晉 (265-420), are lost. With the help of ancient sources Hu Wei was able to draw a map of ancient China in 47 parts that played a great role for the history of geography in late imperial and Republican China.

Hu Wei's most important writings are Yugong zhuizhi 禹貢錐指, Yitu miangbian 易圖明辨, Hongfan zhenglun 洪範正論 and Daxue yizhen 大學翼真.

Pang Pu 龐樸, ed. (1997). Zhongguo ruxue 中國儒學 (Shanghai: Dongfang chuban zhongxin), Vol. 2, 213.