Lü Zuqian 呂祖謙 (1137-1181), courtesy name Bogong 伯恭, style Donglai Xiansheng 東萊先生, was a writer and philosopher of the mid-Song period 宋 (960-1279). His ancestors hailed from the region of modern Shanxi and moved several times. When the Song court fled to Hangzhou 杭州 (today in Zhejiang) and founded the Southern Song dynasty 南宋 (1127-1279), Lü Zuqian's grandfather Lü Haowen 呂好問 (1064-1131) settled down in Wuzhou 婺州 (modern Jinhua 金華, Zhejiang). The philosophical school of Lü Zuqian is therefore called the "School of Lü" 呂學, "School of Wuzhou" 婺學, "School of Jinhua" 金華學派 or "Donglai School" 東萊學派. A lot of members of the Lü family had been high ministers under the Song emperors, like Lü Mengzhong 呂蒙正 (946-1011), Lü Yijian 呂夷簡 (979-1044), Lü Gongbi 呂公弼 (1007-1073), Lü Gongzhu 呂公著 (1018-1089), or Lü Xizhe 呂希哲 (1039-1116), and quite a few of them are mentioned among the the bibliographies of the Song-Yuan xue'an 宋元學案.
Lü Zuqian earned his jinshi degree in 1163 and was nominated candidate for the examination of erudite literatus (boxue hongci ke 博學鴻詞科). Later on he was appointed junior compiler in the Historiography Academy (guoshiyuan bianxiuguan 國史院編修官). Lü profited a lot not only from the eminent political strength of his family, but also from their educational background. He had therefore access to eminent Neo-Confucian scholars like Zhu Xi 朱熹 (1130-1200) or Zhang Shi 張栻 (1133-1180), together with whom he belonged to the "Three Worthies of the Southeast" (Dongnan sanxian 東南三賢). He was also befriended with Chen Fuliang 陳傅良 (1137-1203), Chen Liang 陳亮 (1143-1194), Ye Shi 葉適 (1150-1223), Lu Jiushao 陸九韶 (1128-1205), Lu Jiuling 陸九齡 (1132-1180) and Lu Jiuyuan 陸九淵 (1139-1193). Lü Zuqian was the initiator of the conference of Swan Lake (Ehu zhi hui 鵝湖之會), during which Zhu Xi and his philosophical opponent Lu Jiuyuan met for discussion.
Lü Zuqian himself was an adherent of the theory of the "Heavenly principle" (tianli 天理) developed by the two brothers Cheng Hao 程顥 (1032-1085) and Cheng Yi 程頤 (1033-1107), and was inclined to Cheng Hao's concept of the "teaching of the mind" (xinxue 心學), which brought him into the vicinity of Lu Jiuyuan. Yet he also cooperated with Zhu Xi and together with this great master compiled a history of Northern Song Neo-Confucianism, the book Jinsilu 近思錄.
Lü Zuqian stressed that the excellent philosopher had to combine the teachings in the Confucian Classics with a practical application (zhiyong 致用). Lü therefore wrote quite a few books in which he tried to find out practicable applications of Confucianism. These were Donglai Zuoshi boyi 東萊左氏博議 (shortly called Donglai boyi 東萊博議), Lüshi jiashu du Shi ji 呂氏家塾讀詩記, Shushuo 書說, Yishuo 易說 (also knwon as Xici jingyi 繫辭精義), Gu Zhouyi 古周易, Gu Yi yinxun 古易音訓, Zhouyi chuanyi yinxun 周易傳義音訓, Chunqiu Zuoshizhuan shuo 春秋左氏傳說, or Chunqiu Zuoshizhuan xushuo 春秋左氏傳續說.
In Lü's eyes it was important to study the books of history, in order to learn from good and bad examples of the past. Compared with very practical ancient writings like the book Guanzi 管子, it was not so easy to extract practical information from the Confucian Classics. This was, nevertheless, possible, so the the Confucian Classics could likewise serve as books on practical government (yi jing wei shi 以經為史 "the Classics as histories"). For this approach, he earned harsh critique by Zhu Xi, who totally disagreed with the historiographical interpretation of the Classics.
Lü Zuqian also wrote the books Guwen guanjian 古文關鍵 and compiled the collection Songwenjian 宋文鑒.