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Mingyi daifang lu 明夷待訪錄

Jun 8, 2012 © Ulrich Theobald

Mingyi daifang lu 明夷待訪錄 "An obscured paragon of virtue awaiting a royal visit" is a philosophical treatise written by the early Qing period 清 (1644-1911) scholar Huang Zongxi 黃宗羲 (1610-1695). His short book was finished in 1663 and is divided into 21 chapters dealing with various aspects of administration. The term mingyi 明夷 "brightness hiding" is the name of a hexagram of the Yijing 易經 "Book of Changes", the explanation of which says that the bright virtue of Prince Jizi 箕子 was disturbed by the cruelty of King Zhou 紂 of the Shang dynasty 商 (17th-11th cent. BCE).

Wishing not to meet the same fate as the prince, Huang Zongxi refused to serve the Qing dynasty in any office. The book is, corresponding to this background, a critique of the traditional Chinese state. The ruler is in Huang Zongxi's eyes the sole reason for all disaster and upheaval. The well-being of a state does not lye in the hand of one family or dynasty, but depended on the happiness of the people. Therefore the state would be in a better condition if the authority of the ruler would be checked by that of a responsible chief counsellor (zaixiang 宰相) who was supported by the suggestions coming from a wide range of excellent academies (xuexiao 學校) that were thus involved into political decisions and would, furthermore, control and check local authorities.

The tax system, he suggested, was to be geared to the ancient, hypothetical well-field (jingtian 井田) system. Most revolutionary, he brought forward the argument that the ideological suppression of labourers and merchants and the negligence towards them in financial matters brought harm to the national economy. In his book, Huang Zongxi covers all important aspects of government and expressed his own opinion towards field allotment, education, military and the monetary system.

The book was prohibited from circulation from the Qianlong reign-period 乾隆 (1736-1795) on, and instead, Li Ziran's 李滋然 (1847-1921) critique Mingyi daifang lu jiumiu 明夷待訪錄糾謬 was publicly promoted. Yet the Daifanglu provided new ideas for reform during the late 19th century, when the introduction of a constitution was discussed among some scholars. Some modern Chinese scholars even argue that the book contained a democratic spirit and as a forerunner of a "Chinese enlightenment" (minzhu qimeng zhuyi 民主啓蒙主義).

It was first printed by the Erlao Studio 二老閣 in Cixi 慈谿, Zhejiang, but the earliest surviving print dates from the Daoguang reign-period 道光 (1821-1850) and was produced in Panyu 番禺, Guangdong. It is included in the series Haishanxianguan congshu 海山仙館叢書, Xiaoshi shanfang congshu 小石山房叢書 and Lizhou yizhu huikan 梨洲遺著匯刊 from 1915. A modern edition was published in 1955 by the Beijing guji Press 北京古籍出版社, and in 1981, the Zhonghua shuju Press 中華書局 published a new edition.

There is a complete translation by William Theodore De Bary (1993), Waiting for the Dawn: A Plan for the Prince. Huang Tsung-Hsi's Ming-I-Tai-Fang Lu (New York: Columbia University Press).

Sources:
Li Xueqin 李學勤, Lü Wenyu 呂文鬰 (1996). Siku da cidian 四庫大辭典 (Changchun: Jilin daxue chubanshe), Vol. 2, 1589.
Xin Guanjie 辛冠潔 (1987). "Mingyi daifang lu 明夷待訪錄", in: Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, part Zhexue 哲學 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), Vol. 1, 624.