An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Qianfulun 潛夫論

Nov 15, 2010 © Ulrich Theobald

Qianfulun 潛夫論 "Comments of a recluse" is a philosophical and political tractate written during the Later Han period 後漢 (25-220 CE) by Wang Fu 王符 (83-170 CE), courtesy name Jiexin 節信, from Linjing 臨涇 (today's Zhenyuan 鎮原, Gansu). Wang did not want to climb the ladder of official career but preferred to live a live in retirement as the recluse scholar (qianfu 潛夫), hence the name of his book. The Qianfulun has a length of 36 chapters which are arranged in 10 juan.

The book criticizes much of the common social values of his time. Instead, Wang Fu stressed, the true man had to look for the basics and not for decorations, and he had to live a life of austerity. A ruler had to respect his people and should push down the arbitrariness of local administrators. The emperor should select worthy advisors and smash the power of the local magnates and the mighty families. In the sphere of metaphysics, Wang Fu believed that a common originary breath (yuanqi 元氣) was penetrating all things on earth, including humans.

The Qing-period 清 (1644-1911) scholar Wang Jipei 汪繼培 (jinshi degree 1805) wrote the commentary Qianfulun jian 潛夫論箋.

The most important edition of the Qianfulun is that in the series Sibu congkan 四部叢刊. In 1979, the Zhonghua shuju Press 中華書局 published a modern edition, including a commentary written by Zhao Duo 趙鐸.

There is a partial translation by Margaret J. Pearson (1989), Wang Fu and the Comments of a Recluse (Tempe: Center for Asian Studies), and studies by Anne Behnke (1986), The Discourse of an Obscure Man: A Study of Han Lun (PhD diss. University of Michigan), and Lily Hwa (1981), translation of Wang Fu, chapter "Social Relations", in Patricia Ebrey (ed.), Chinese Civilization and Society: A Sourcebook (New York: The Free Press).

Table 1. Contents of the Qianfulun 潛夫論
1.讚學 Zanxue In praise of learning (Pearson)
2. 務本 Wuben Attending to the basics (Pearson)
3. 遏利 Eli Repressing greed
4. 論榮 Lunrong On glory
5. 賢難 Xiannan Difficulties of worthies
6. 明闇 Ming'an On clear sight and blindness
7. 考績 Kaoji Examining merit
8. 思賢 Sixian Thinking of worthies (Pearson)
9. 本政 Benzheng The basis of government (Pearson)
10. 潛歎 Qiantan The problem of dissimulation
11. 忠貴 Zhonggui Valuing loyalty (Pearson)
12. 浮侈 Fuyi On excessive luxury (Pearson)
13. 慎微 Shenwei On scrupulous attention to details (Behnke, PhD)
14. 實貢 Shigong On recommendations of substance (Pearson)
15. 班祿 Banlu On salaries
16. 述赦 Shushe Amnesties (Pearson)
17. 三式 Sanshi Three models (Pearson)
18. 愛日 Airi On the grudging of days (Pearson)
19. 斷訟 Duansong On concluding litigation
20. 衰制 Aizhi Declining order
21. 勸將 Quanjiang On generals' powers
22. 救邊 Jiubian On the defense of frontiers
23. 邊議 Bianyi On frontier problems
24. 實邊 Shibian On the population of frontier areas
25. 卜列 Bulie On divination (Behnke)
26. 正列 Zhenglie On witchcraft (Behnke)
27. 相列 Xianglie On physiognomy (Behnke)
28. 夢列 Menglie On the interpretation of dreams (Behnke)
29. 釋難 Shinan Elucidation of some difficulties
30. 交際 Jiaoji On social relationships (Hwa)
31. 明忠 Mingzhong On the ruler's enlightenment and his officials' loyalty
32. 本訓 Benxun Instruction on the roots (Pearson and Behnke)
33. 德化 Dehua On the transforming power of virtue (Behnke)
34. 五德志 Wudezhi On the virtues and goals of the Five Emperors
35. 志氏姓 Zhishixing On the names of clans and families
36. 敘錄 Xulu Summary
Ch‘en Ch‘i-yün, Margaret Pearson (1993). "Ch‘ien fu lun", in Michael Loewe, ed. Early Chinese Texts: A Bibliographical Guide
Jin Chunfeng 金春峰 (1987). "Qianfulun 潛夫論", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, part Zhexue 哲學 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), 682-683.