An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Song Xiangfeng 宋翔鳳

May 6, 2012 © Ulrich Theobald

Song Xiangfeng 宋翔鳳 (1779-1860), courtesy name Yuting 虞廷 (also written 于庭), was a Confucian scholar and a representative of the Changzhou school 常州學派 of the late Qing period 清 (1644-1911). He hailed from Changzhou 長州 (modern Wuxian 吳縣, Jiangsu) and earned his juren degree in 1800. He first served as a academic instructor (xuezheng 學正) in Taizhou 泰州 and later rose to the posts of district magistrate (zhixian 知縣) of Xingning 興寧 and then of Leiyang 耒陽. His mother was a niece of the eminent scholar Zhuang Shuzu 莊述祖 (1751-1816). Song also was for some time the disciple of Duan Yucai 段玉裁 (1735-1815), an expert of Later Han period 後漢 (25-220 CE) Confucianism.

As a young man, Song Xiangfeng still stood under the influence of the new-text school that interpreted the Confucian Classics, and especially the Gongyang Commentary 公羊傳 to the Chunqiu 春秋 "Spring and Autumn Annals" as a book in which "each small word had a great meaning" (wei yan da yi 微言大義). Song focused in his studies on the relation between lord and minister and stressed in his book Daxue guyi shuo 大學古義說 that a ruler had first to cultivate his own mind (xian xiu qi shen 先修其身) before government and administration could be brought into the right order. The ruler so served as a paradigm of morality and the right fulfillment of obligations, and it was expected that all ministers, officials and subjects would imitate his exemplary behaviour.

The most important expression of moral government was pity with the people, while the attempt to increase state revenues was only of minor importance. While the Classic Chunqiu itself was, in his eyes, a sacred Confucian text that included many philosophical propositions, the commentary Zuozhuan 左傳 was to be seen as a purely historiographical text without any deeper meanings.

Song Xiangfeng was aware that Han period 漢 (206 BCE-220 CE) scholars had not paid great attention to the "Confucian Analects" Lunyu 論語, the "Sayings of Confucius". He therefore wrote the book Lunyu shuoyi 論語說義, in which he interpreted Confucius' statements in the sense of the new-texts scholars. The Lunyu was, according to his interpretation, likewise a book providing direct or indirect instruction for a "government of great peace" (taiping zhi zhi 太平之治). For the same reason he criticized the old-text book Xiaojing 孝經 "Classic of Filial Piety" that he interpreted as an artificial reconstruction of a lost text.

Only in his later years Song Xiangfeng learned from Duan Yucai that also the old-text interpretations of the Han period had their own value for the study of the history of Confucianism. In his book Guotinglu 過庭錄 he even compared the teachings of the Song period 宋 (960-1279) Neo-Confucians with the apocryphal theories of the Han period scholar Dong Zhongshu 董仲舒 (179-104 BCE) and was able to reconcile these two very different interpretations of the Confucian world.

Song Xiangfeng also wrote the books Zhouyi kaoyi 周易考異, Guaqi jie 卦氣解, Shangshu lüeshuo 尚書略說, Shangshu pu 尚書譜, Lunyu Zheng zhu 論語鄭注, Erya shi Fu 爾雅釋服, Erya xunzuan 爾雅訓纂, Mengzi Zhao zhu buzheng 孟子趙注補正, Mengzi Liu Xi zhu 孟子劉熙注, Wujing yaoyi 五經要義, Wujing tongyi 五經通義 and Sishu shidi bianzheng 四書釋地辨證. His collected writings are to be found in the series Fuxi jingshe congshu 浮溪精舍叢書.

Pang Pu 龐樸, ed. (1997). Zhongguo ruxue 中國儒學 (Shanghai: Dongfang chuban zhongxin), Vol. 2, 264.