The Refined Lodge of the Exegesis of the Classics (Gujing jingshe 詁經精舍) was one of the most influential private academies during the late Qing period. It was highly oriented towards practical science and paved the way for a reform of the whole educational system at the end of the nineteenth century. The remains of the academy buildings are to be found near Mt. Gushan 孤山 in Hangzhou 杭州, Zhejiang.
The life of the Gujing jingshe began in 1797 when Ruan Yuan 阮元, prefectural school instructor (xuezheng 學政) of Zhejiang, compiled his book Jingji zuangu 經籍纂詁 that gave an overview of all recent interpretations of the Confucian Classics compiled by scholars of the province. In order to avoid the term shuyuan 書院 that was reserved for such academies that were acknowledged by the government he chose the name Gujing jingshe for his institution. The actual foundation took place in 1804. In 1809 Ruan Yuan left Zhejiang, and academic life was interrupted for nearly twenty years.
The academy flourished during the early Daoguang reign 道光 (1821-1850) and was dissolved only in 1904, when the Qing government introduced a new educational system. During the Taiping rebellion the academy was destroyed and had to be rebuilt in 1866. In 1886 the upper floor of the building was destroyed by fire, and two new buildings were erected, namely the Shigu Hall 式古堂 and the Xu-Zheng shrine 許鄭祠 dedicated to the ancient scholars Xu Shen 許慎 (author of the famous character dictionary Shuowen jiezi 說文解字) and Zheng Xuan 鄭玄. In 1897 six academies in Hangzhou (Fuwen Academy 敷文書院, Chongwen Academy 崇文書院, Ziyang Academy 紫陽書院, and Gujing jingshe) and in Guangzhou (Xuehaitang Academy 學海堂書院 and Dongcheng Academy 東城書院) were reformed and integrated Western sciences into their curriculum. At the same time the Qiushi Academy 求是書院 was founded, the earliest modern college in China, that was to become Zhejiang University 浙江大学 in 1928.
The curriculum of the Gujing jingshe did not include training in stereotyped writing (zhiyi 制藝) nor were there tests in the Confucian Classics (shitie 試帖), as required for the state examinations. Disciples were tested monthly, but on an open base which enabled checking the individual progress. The Gujing jingshe offered the opportunity to do research in a lot of different scholarly fields. It stood in the tradition of the mid-Qing Confucian scholars who renounced the highly speculative field of Neo-Confucianism (lixue 理學) and preferred the interpretations and writings of Han period 漢 (206 BCE-220 CE) Confucians (Hanxue 漢學 "Han studies"). Their philosophy was to engage the Classical texts in a scholarly way and not as an instrument of "enlightening" one's own heart and forming an upright personal character. Besides the omni-present Confucian Classics and the important historiographical writings, the textbooks of the Gujing jingshe included dictionaries like the Shuowen jiezi, books on astronomy, geography, mathematics, poetry, military and jurisdictional matters, administrative matters as the transport of tribute grain, and also some books written by Western scholars (xixue 西學 "Western learning").
The dean (zhujiang 主講), the director (zhanzhang 山長 and the monitor (xuezhang 學長, also called jiaoke 教課) of the academy were appointed by the provincial governor, based on their quality as experts in the Classics and their interpretation. The academy began with 32 students, who were given a stipend for food and housing. The number of students was fixed at 36 during the early Daoguang reign, but no restriction was posed upon the length of their academic studies. The number increased later to 60, but in fact there were nearly a hundred disciples studying at the Gujing jingshe academy. From 1877 on there was no fix number of students any more. Students were divided into the "inner classes" (neike 內課) and the "outer classes" (waike 外課).
The position of dean was in the early decades occupied by Ruan Yuan, Wang Chang 王昶, Sun Xingyan 孫星衍, Chen Shouyi 陳壽祺, and Yu Yue 俞越, who was director for more than 30 years. The last directors were Tan Xian 譚獻 and Wang Mingluan 汪鳴鑾.
The most important graduates were Zhu Yixin 朱一薪, Huang Yizhou 黃以周, Zhang Binglin 章炳麟, Chen Li 陳澧, Cui Shi 崔適, Dai Wang 戴望, Wang Niansun 王念孫 and the latter's son Wang Yinzhi 王引之. Members of the academy produced some important contributions to the study of the ancient Classics, like the Shisanjing zhushu 十三經注疏, an edition of all Thirteen Classics with commentaries from different ages, or the Shisanjing jingfu 十三經經郛. Ruan Yuan also published the most important texts written by the professors in his academy, the Gujing jingshe wenji 詁經精舍文集 in 8 collections (ji 集) including more than 2,000 articles. These writings were arranged in 14 juan "scrolls" in the edition of the collectaneum Wenxuanlou congshu 文選樓叢書. The contents of the articles were related to the Thirteen Confucian Clasics and the the oldest dynastic histories (Sanshi 三史: Shiji 史記, Hanshu 漢書, Houhanshu 後漢書), as well as some other themes in the fields of lexicography, astronomy, geography, mathematics, and poetry.
Ruan Yuan as the publisher was of the opinion that each teacher and disciple could learn from the ancient writings and had therefore the duty to publish the "true facts" (shishi 實事) resulting of his research. His collection was one of the first prints produced by a Chinese school and served as an example of academic publications in the late Qing period. The collection was enlarged (second series 集) with a length of 8 juan that were published by Luo Wenjun 羅文浚 between 1832 and 1842. A second, considerable, enlargement was made by Yu Yue, the long-term director of the Gujing jingshe, who published five series of academic articles written by members of his school.
The first series of the collection in 14 juan is included in the collectaneum Congshu jicheng chubian 叢書集成初編 published in 1936. It was reproduced by the Jiangsu jiaoyupress 江蘇敎育出版社 in 1995.
Scholarly life in the Gujing jingshe was exemplarious and influenced the organisation and teaching in many other institutions, like the Xuehaitang 學海堂 in Guangzhou 廣州, Guangdong, the Zunjing shuyuan 尊經書院, the Jiaojingtang 校經堂 in Xiangshui 湘水, the Longmen shuyan 龍門書院 in Shanghai, or the Jingxin shuyuan 經心書院 in Wuchang 武昌, Hubei.