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The Songyang Academy (Songyang shuyuan 嵩陽書院)

Mar 11, 2012 © Ulrich Theobald

The Academy of Songyang (Songyang shuyuan 嵩陽書院), located in Dengxian 登豐, Henan, was one of the oldest private educational institutions in China, and one of the four great academies of the Song period 宋 (960-1279).

The original name of the Academy was Taishi shuyuan 太室書院 or Taiyi shuyuan 太乙書院, and had its beginnings under the Later Zhou dynasty 後周 (951-960), one of the Five Dynasties 五代 (907-960). It was founded on the spot of a Buddhist monastery, Songyang Monastery 嵩陽寺, at the foot of Mt. Taishi 太室山 (another name for Mt. Songshan 嵩山) that had been inaugurated during the reign of Emperor Xiaowen 北魏孝文帝 (r. 471-499) of the Northern Wei dynasty 北魏 (386-534). During the Tang period 唐 (618-907) it was transformed into a Daoist monastery with the name of Songyang Temple 嵩陽觀 or Taiyi Temple 太乙觀. In 996 Emperor Taizong 宋太宗 (r. 976-997) of the Song dynasty presented the academy a tablet with the inscription of Taishi shuyuan, and a copy of the Nine Classics with commentaries, Jiujing zhushu 九經注疏. Emperor Zhenzong 宋真宗 (r. 997-1022) repeated these favours in 1010. In 1035 the name was changed into Songyang Academy. In 1205 the Academy was bestowed the status of a state-sponsored school, and given a tract of land for its subsistence.

The building complex of the Songyang Academy has five steps, the first being the Confucius shrine (Xianshi ci 先師祠) and a shrine of his disciples (Xianxian ci 先賢祠), then the Lecture Hall (jiangtang 講堂), followed by the Daotong Shrine 道統祠, and finally the library building. The flanks of the complex are covered by a shrine for the brothers Cheng and Zhu Xi (Cheng-Zhu ci 程朱祠), and the lodges and study rooms of the students. Outside the main gate a Tang period stone tablet is to be found, the Shengde ganying bei 聖德感應碑, inscribed with a text written by Li Linfu 李林甫. It is one of the most famous stone inscriptions to be found near Mt. Songshan.

Under the Yuan dynasty 元 (1279-1368) it was known under the name of Songyang Temple 嵩陽宮, but it soon ceased to be managed, and fell into ruins. During the Jiajing reign 嘉靖 (1522-1566) of the Ming period 明 (1368-1644) the prefect of Dengfeng 登封, Hou Tai 侯泰, revived the institution. At the end of the Ming period the buildings were destroyed, and only during the Kangxi reign 康熙 (1662-1722) of the Qing period 清 (1644-1911) the Academy was brought to life again by prefect Ye Feng 葉封. Geng Jie 耿介 and the prefect Zhang Xun 張壎 considerably enlarged the complex. During the late Qing school reform of 1905 the Songyang Academy was transformed into Songyang High School (Songyang gaodeng xiaoxue tang 嵩陽高等小學堂).

During the Northern Song period 北宋 (960-1126) the Academy was the living and studying place of several hundred students. The curriculum mainly included the teachings of the so-called Luoyang school (Luoxue 洛學), represented in the Neo-Confucian philosophy of the brothers Cheng Hao 程顥 and Cheng Yi 程頤, who also personally lectured at the Songyang Academy. Other famous Northern Song period teachers were Fan Zhongyan 范仲淹 and Sima Guang 司馬光. The institution remained a centre of Confucian teaching until the Qing period, when students like Geng Jie, Ran Jinzu 冉覲祖, Dou Keqin 竇克勤, Tang Bin 湯斌, Li Laizhang 李來章, Chen Rong 陳熔, Jia Zhiyan 賈之彥 or Zhang Mu 張沐 studied at Songshan, with Jiao Zichun 焦子春, Cui Yingke 崔應科, Liu Jingyao 劉景耀 or Chang Xiannian 常先念 as professors.

The teaching structure and the school laws were geared to that of the model of the White Deer Academy 白鹿洞書院. Geng Jie imitated the latter's statutes and compiled the Furen huiyue 輔仁會約. According to these statutes, the students were examined each month and had to write a two chapters long essay on the 3rd day of each month, and had to undergo an oral text on the 18th day of the month. The core texts of the curriculum were the Classics Xiaojing 孝經, the Sishu 四書 "Four Books", the Wujing 五經 "Five Classics", Zhu Xi's Xiaoxue jizhu 小學集注, Hu Guang's 胡廣 Xingli daquan 性理大全, and Zhu Xi's history Tongjian gangmu 通鑒綱目. The statutes also prescribed that the students were to discuss their findings and theories among each other, in order to mutually benefit from each other, and to make progress in this way. Concerning private conduct, the students were admonished to be sincere, honest, and humble in their words and their thoughts.

Geng Jie suggested in his six principles (Weixue liuze 為學六則) that every student might "establish his will" (lizhi 立志), "accumulate nourishment (of ethics)" (cunyang 存養), "exhaust the principles (of the Way)" (qiongli 窮理), "act with impetus" (lixing 力行), "empty his heart (from improper thoughts)" (xuxin 虛心), and "preserve (these achievements) eternally" (youheng 有恆). Some of the essays written by students have survived, like Kongmen yanren yanxiao zhi zhi 孔門言仁言孝之旨, Zi zai chuan shang yi zhang 子在川上一章, Yi qian gua 易謙卦, Gong du zi yi zhang 公都子一章, Zhiyan yangqi yi zhang 知言養氣一章, Taijitu shuyi 太極圖疏義, Daxue shouzhang 大學首章 or Zhongyong shouzhang 中庸首章.

Dou Keqin wrote a local gazetteer of the Songyang Academy, the Songyang shuyuan zhi 嵩陽書院志, in which he stressed that during the Song period it had been common that philsophers were widely educated, seriously engaged questions, reflected their findings earnestly, discussed clearly, and acted faithfully, all in order to conserve Confucius' principle that society is at peace when everyone behaves according to his social position. In his eyes, the Song period Neo-Confucians had adapted their whole life to these ideas, while in modern times were only doing a stupefying work of learning by heart. The Songyang Academy so preserved the original way of studying that had been developed by the Song period philosophers.

Sources:
Pang Pu 龐樸, ed. (1997). Zhongguo ruxue 中國儒學 (Shanghai: Dongfang chuban zhongxin), Vol. 2, 441.
Zhao Jiayi 趙家驥 (1996). "Songyang shuyuan 嵩陽書院", in Feng Kezheng 馮克正, Fu Qingsheng 傅慶升, ed. Zhuzi baijia da cidian 諸子百家大辭典 (Shenyang: Liaoning renmin chubanshe), 992.