An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Sun Qifeng 孫奇逢

Feb 20, 2013 © Ulrich Theobald

Sun Qifeng 孫奇逢 (1585-1675), courtesy name Qitai 啟泰, style Zhongyuan 鐘元, also called Xiafeng xiansheng 夏峰先生, was a Confucian scholar who lived during the transition period from the Ming 明 (1368-1644) to the Qing 清 (1644-1911) dynasty. He hailed from Rongcheng 容城 and later moved to Nanhui 南輝 (both modern Hebei). Together with Huang Zongxi 黃宗羲 (1610-1695) and Li Yong 李顒 (1627-1705), Sun Qifeng was called one of the three great Confucians of the early Qing period (Qingchu san da ru 清初三大儒).

Sun participated four times in the metropolitan state examination (huishi 會試) but failed each time to pass. When the Ming empire was taken over by the Manchus he swore never to serve the new dynasty. The Qing court nevertheless five times invited him to take over a responsible post in the educational structure of the new dynasty, and even offered him the post of libationer (jijiu 祭酒, i.e. director) of the Directorate of Education (guozijian 國子監), but Sun refused. In 1646, after moving to Nanhui, he built up his own library and school (xueshe 學社), where he professed as a private teacher who attracted large numbers of students from all over the empire.

Sun Qifeng adhered to the philosophy of the Neo-Confucian masters Zhu Xi 朱熹 (1130-1200) and Wang Shouren 王守仁 (Wang Yangming 王陽明), but stressed the practical application of philosophy. He said that Wang Yangming had talked a lot about the mind or heart (xin 心, disposition) as the place where the Heavenly principle (li 理) was to be found, and not so much about the basics of the character (xing 性) of man. Sun expanded Wang's theories and said that the human character—which is good by nature—can be continuously brought to its completion by nourishing goodness. There were, as he said, two types of heart, namely the human heart (renxin 人心) and the heart of the Way (daoxin 道心), the latter always weaker than the former. Sun Qifeng stressed that both, heart and character, were in the end one unity, and that the Heavenly character (tianxing 天性) could be found in one's heart. Because the Heavenly character was good, there was no proper distinction between a good and an evil disposition. Wang Yangming had integrated some aspects of Buddhist philosophy in his philosophical theories, which Sun Qifeng vehemently criticized.

Yet Sun Qifeng did not take over the Neo-Confucian theories of the brothers Cheng Hao 程顥 (1032-1085) and Cheng Yi 程頤 (1033-1107) and Zhu Xi without further reflection. The main shortcoming of their philosophy was, as Sun Qifeng said, the stress they laid on the study of books, instead of looking for the Heavenly principle in the personal disposition and the personal character. On the other hand, Sun praised the importance that Zhu Xi had posed on learning, contemplation and practical experience.

In his later years Sun Qifeng studied the Confucian Classics, especially the Yijing 易經 "Book of Changes", from which he believed to be able to explain the flourishing and extinction of dynasties and success and failure in private life. He also compiled a history of Neo-Confucianism since its origins in the Northern Song period 北宋 (960-1126), the book Lixue zongzhuan 理學宗傳. It describes the history of eleven great masters and their schools, and covers the teachings of 146 philosophers.

Sun Qifeng left a vast treasure of writings, the most important of which are Lixue zongzhuan, Daoyilu 道一錄, Shengxuelu 聖學錄, Beixuebian 北學編, Luoxuebian 洛學編, Sishu jinzhi 四書近指, Shujing jinzhi 書經近指, Du Yi dazhi 讀易大旨, Silizhu 四禮酌, Zhongzhou renwu kao 中州人物考, and Jifu renwu kao 畿輔人物考. His collected writings, including prose and poetry, are to be found in the books Xiafeng xiansheng ji 夏峰先生集 and Sun Xiafeng xiansheng quanji 孫夏峰先生全集.

Pang Pu 龐樸, ed. (1997). Zhongguo ruxue 中國儒學 (Shanghai: Dongfang chuban zhongxin), Vol. 2, 189.