An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

Sishu zhangju jizhu 四書章句集注

Sep 13, 2013 © Ulrich Theobald

Sishu zhangju jizhu 四書章句集注 "Interlinear analysis of and collected commentaries on the Four Books", shortly called Sishu jizhu 四書集注, is a collection of fundamental commentaries on the Four Books (Sishu 四書) compiled by the great Neo-Confucian master Zhu Xi 朱熹 (1130-1200). It is his main written contribution to the spreading and consolidation of Neo-Confucianism. The collection consists of the interlinear analysis of the Four Books, namely Daxue zhangju 大學章句 (with a length of 1 juan), Zhongyong zhangju 中庸章句 (1 juan), Lunyu jizhu 論語集注 (10 juan) and Mengzi jizhu 孟子集注 (14 juan).

Table 1. Parts of Zhu Xi's 朱熹 Sishu zhangju jizhu 四書章句集注
大學章句 一卷 Daxue zhangju (Song) 朱熹 Zhu Xi
中庸章句 一卷 Zhongyong zhangju (Song) 朱熹 Zhu Xi
論語集注 十卷 Lunyu jizhu (Song) 朱熹 Zhu Xi
孟子集注 十四卷 Mengzi jizhu (Song) 朱熹 Zhu Xi

For his commentaries on the Daxue 大學 and Zhongyong 中庸 Zhu Xi divided the text into new chapters, paragraphs and sentences (zhangju 章句), but for the Lunyu 論語 and Mengzi 孟子 he retained the structure that had been created by the brothers Cheng Hao 程顥 (1032-1085) and Cheng Yi 程頤 (1033-1107) and their disciples, and added his "collected commentaries" (jizhu 集注).

Zhu Xi followed the interpretation of the early Neo-Confucians and elevated the Daxue, which was actually only a chapter of the ritual classic Liji 禮記, to the status of a book in its own right that served as a guideline to learning everything about moral principles. He was of the opinion that the core part of the Daxue (what he called jing 經 "classic") was a text written by Confucius himself and explained by his disciple Zengzi 曾子 (505-436 BCE), while what Zhu Xi defined as the "commentary part" (zhuan 傳) was a compilation by Zengzi's disciples. The commentary part quotes from the Classics corpus to illustrate the words of the "Classic", i.e. the text of the Daxue.

While the older commentaries on the Daxue by Zheng Xuan 鄭玄 (127-200) or Kong Yingda 孔穎達 (574-648) interpreted the text as a political handbook to be used by a ruler, Zhu Xi identified it as a guideline to self-cultivation and self-perfection. Operating with an ontological perspective, Zhu Xi saw that the "illustrious virtue" was naturally given to all persons, and had to be laid open and adhered to.

Likewise the Zhongyong was made from a chapter of the Liji to an individual classic. It was interpreted as a writing by Zisi 子思 (personal name Kong Ji 孔伋, c. 481–c. 402 BCE), who instructed his disciples, and in the end also the philosopher Mengzi 孟子 (Meng Ke 孟軻, c. 385–c. 304), about the "standards of the heart" (xin fa 心法).

In the eyes of the Neo-Confucians the Four Books constituted the most important teachings of Confucius and demonstrated how his thoughts were transmitted from one generation of philosophers to the next.

The commentaries of Zhu Xi were written over a period of more than forty years and were finished in 1177 or 1179—according to other sources the two jizhu texts in 1168, the two others in 1189—and printed in 1190. They clearly show a Neo-Confucian method of interpretation, according to which each single word was analysed in detail and brought into the context of the Neo-Confucian world view. The collection immediately spread to all academies in the empire and was often reprinted. The Sishu zhangju jizhu became a standard text for the preparation of the state examinations and was called a "ladder to the Six Classics" (liujing zhi jieti 六經之階梯).

The corpus of the four commentaries is included in the collectanea Siku quanshu 四庫全書 and Sibu beiyao 四部備要, and found entrance into the Xinbian Zhuzi jicheng 新編諸子集成, published in 1983 by the Zhonghua Book Company 中華書局.

Quotation 1. Example from Zhu Xi's Commentary Daxue zhangju 大學章句
(大,舊音泰,今讀如字。) In former times, 大 was read like 泰 [tai]. Today it is read like 大 [da].
【章句】(子程子曰:「大學,孔氏之遺書,而初學入德之門也。」於今可見古人為學次第者,獨賴此篇之存,而論、孟次之。學者必由是而學焉,則庶乎其不差矣。) [Sentence Commentary] The Masters Chengzi (i.e. Cheng Yi and Cheng Hao) said: "The Great Learning is a text left by Master Kong. It is the entrance gate to the efficacious virtue at the beginning of studies." From these words it can be seen that the old relied on the existence of this text to start their studies with, and that the books Lunyu and Mengzi only followed in the second place. Only if students begin their studies with this [book], one can be sure that they will not miss their aims.
【經】大學之道,在明明德,在親民,在止於至善。 [Classic] What the Great Learning teaches, is to illustrate illustrious virtue; to renovate the people; and to rest in the highest excellence.
【章句】(程子曰:「親,當作新。」大學者,大人之學也。明,明之也。明德者,人之所得乎天,而虛靈不昧,以具眾理而應萬事者也。但為氣稟所拘,人欲所蔽,則有時而昏;然其本體之明,則有未嘗息者。 Master Cheng said: "Qin 親 (familiar) must be interpreted as xin 新 (renovate)." The Great Learning is the teaching of the great people. Ming 明 means, to illustrate. "Illustrious virtue" is what people have received from Heaven, and which is empty, spiritual, and not darkened; it is that by which the manifold patterns [of order] are provided and thus are resonated [in] the ten thousand affairs. Yet because it is absorbed by material constellations, and because it is obscured by human desires, there are times when it is darkened. Yet the brightness of its original constitution is something which never abates.
故學者當因其所發而遂明之,以復其初也。 For this reason students should follow what it emanates, and to make it illustrious, so they can go back to its origins.
新者,革其舊之謂也,言既自明其明德,又當推以及人,使之亦有以去其舊染之污也。 "Renovation" is a designation for an improvement of old matters. This means that if someone has by himself illustrated his illustrious virtue, he should push it on that it reaches others, and to give them something at hand to dispose of the impurities of their old defects.
止者,必至於是而不遷之意。至善,則事理當然之極也。 "To rest" means that one must move toward it without leaving it then. The highest excellence is therefore the extreme status of how the patterns [of order] ought to be.
言明明德、新民,皆當至於至善之地而不遷。蓋必其有以盡夫天理之極,而無一毫人欲之私也。 This means that someone illustrating illustrious virtue and renovating others ought to move towards the position of highest excellence and not leave it. Then it might be sure that [this position] has something by which the highest excellence of the Heavenly patterns [of order] is accomplished and there is not the slightest selfishness of human desires.
此三者,大學之綱領也。[...]) These three issues are the main guidelines of the Great Learning.[...]
(右經一章,蓋孔子之言,而曾子述之。凡二百五字。其傳十章,則曾子之意而門人記之也。[...]) The above (lit. right) paragraph is a classical text. The word are those of Confucius, and written down by Master Zeng. The ten commentary paragraphs reflect the interpretation of Master Zeng and were recorded by his disciples.[...]
【傳】康誥曰:「克明德。」 [Master Zeng's Commentary] The "Announcement of the Prince of Kang" says: "[King Wen] was able to illustrate his virtue".
【章句】(康誥,周書。克,能也。) [Zhu Xi's commentary] The "Announcement of the Prince of Kang" is [a chapter] of the Zhoushu [which is a book in the Shangshu 尚書]. Ke 克 means, to be able.
【傳】大甲曰:「顧諟天之明命。」 [Master Zeng's Commentary] The [Shangshu chapter] "[King] Tai Jia" says: "[The former king] kept his eye continually on the bright requirements of Heaven."
【章句】([...]顧,謂常目在之也。諟,猶此也,或曰審也。天之明命,即天之所以與我,而我之所以為德者也。常目在之,則無時不明矣。) [Zhu Xi's commentary] [...] "To observe" (顧) means, to keep a constant eye. 諟 means the same, or "to investigate". The "bright requirements of Heaven" are what Heaven wants to bestow upon me, and by which I display virtuous behaviour. Keeping a constant eye, it will at all times be illustrated.
Gu Jian 古鋻 (1997). "Sishu zhangju jizhu 四書章句集注, in Men Gui 門巋, Zhang Yanqin 張燕瑾, ed. Zhonghua guocui da cidian 中華國粹大辭典 (Hong Kong: Guoji wenhua chuban gongsi), 499.
Hu Zhenning 胡振宇 (1997). "Sizhu zhangju jizhu 四書章句集注", in: Pang Pu 龐檏, ed. Zhongguo ruxue 中國儒學 (Shanghai: Dongfang chuban zhongxin), Vol. 3, 130.
Jiaoyu da cidian bianzuan weiyuanhui 《教育大辭典》編纂委員會 (1991), "Qianziwen 千字文", in: Jiaoyu da cidian 教育大辭典, Vol. 8, Zhongguo gudai jiaoyu shi 中國古代教育史 (Shanghai: Shanghai jiaoyu chubanshe), Vol. 1, 229.
Li Xueqin 李學勤, Lü Wenyu 呂文鬰, ed. (1996). Siku da cidian 四庫大辭典 (Changchun: Jilin daxue chubanshe), Vol. 1, 547 (entry Daxue zhangju 大學章句).
Liu Jianli 劉建麗 (1988). "Sishu zhangju jizhu 四書章句集注", in Zhao Jihui 趙吉惠, Guo Hou'an 郭厚安, ed. Zhongguo ruxue cidian 中國儒學辭典 (Shenyang: Liaoning renmin chubanshe), 712.

Further reading:
Gardner, Daniel (1983). "Chu Hsi's Reading of the Ta-hsüeh: A Neo-Confucian's Quest for Truth", Journal of Chinese Philosophy, 10/3: 183-204.
Gardner, Daniel (1986). Chu Hsi and the Ta-hsüeh: Neo-Confucian Reflection on the Confucian Canon (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press).
Gardner, Daniel (2003). Zhu Xi's Reading of the Analects: Canon, Commentary and the Classical Tradition (New York: Columbia University Press).
Gentz, Joachim (2007). "Die Architektur des Zhu Xi-Kommentars: Eine Textstudie zum ersten Teil des Daxue", Oriens Extremus, 46: 231-245.