An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Yangzi fayan 揚子法言

Nov 15, 2010 © Ulrich Theobald

Fayan 法言, often called Yangzi fayan 揚子法言 "Model words by Master Yang", is a philosophical treatise written by the mid-Han period 漢 (206 BCE-220 CE) scholar Yang Xiong 揚雄 (53 BCE-18 CE). The book is 13-chapters long and imitates the structure of the "Confucian Analects" Lunyu 論語.

The Fayan is mainly oriented towards Confucianism. It stresses the importance of the Classics for the cognition of the nature of the "way" (dao 道). Daoism, on the other side, neglected the social prominence of ritual and etiquette. Yang Xiong reproaches Zhuangzi 莊子 and the individualist Yang Zhu 楊朱 for their social irresponsibility, he criticizes Mozi 墨子 and Yanzi 晏子 for the simplicity of their social concepts, and the legalists for their impotence of transforming society into a better stage of living together. Yang nevertheless accepts the self-sufficiency and modesty brought forward by Daoists and the Yin-Yang theoretician Zou Yan 鄒衍.

The Fayan focuses on the attainment of knowledge and studies as an important method of perfecting the self and society. In spite of his clearly Confucian attitude, Yang Xiong interpreted the human nature as a mixture of both good and bad. His critique of superstitious beliefs might have made him a pioneer of the later rationalists Huan Tan 桓譚 (23 BCE-56 CE, author of Xinlun 新論) and Wang Chong 王充 (27-97 CE, wrote Lunheng 論衡) at the end of the Later Han period 後漢 (25-220).

There are several commentaries on the Fayan, namely Liu Gui's 李軌 Yangzi fayan zhu 揚子法言注 from the Jin period 晉 (265-420) , Sima Guang's 司馬光 (1019-1086) Fayan jizhu 法言集注 from the Northern Song period 北宋 (960-1126), and Wang Rongbao's 汪榮寶 (1878-1933) Fayan yishu 法言義疏 from the late Qing period 清 (1644-1911).

Table 1. Contents of the Yangzi fayan 揚子法言
1. 學行 Xuexing Practicing what has been learned
2. 吾子 Wuzi My sons
3. 修身 Xiushen Cultivating the self
4. 問道 Wendao Asking about the way
5. 問神 Wenshen Asking about high spirits
6. 問明 Wenming Asking about enlightenment
7. 寡見 Guajian Seldom seen
8. 五百 Wubai Five hundred
9. 先知 Xianzhi Putting formemost knowledge
10. 重黎 Zhongli Estimating the masses
11. 淵騫 Yuanjian Yuan and Jian
12. 君子 Junzi The perfect man
13. 孝至 Xiaozhi Filial piety perfected
Chen Keming 陳克明 (1987). "Fayan 法言", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, part Zhexue 哲學 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), 193-194.
Knechtges, David R. (1993). "Fa yen", in Michael Loewe, ed. Early Chinese Texts: A Bibliographical Guide (Berkeley: Society for the Study of Early China/Institute of East Asian Studies), 100-104.