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Shenmielun 神滅論 "On the Extinction of the Soul"


Shenmielun 神滅論 "On the extinction of the soul" was an anti-Buddhist pamphlet written by the Liang period 梁 (502-557) master Fan Zhen 范縝 (c. 450-c. 515), courtesy name Zizhen 子真, from Wuyang 舞陽 in the commandery of Nanxiang 南鄉 (today's Miyang 泌陽, Henan). He was a disciple of Liu Yan 劉瓛 and an excellent student of the Confucian Classics, with a focus on the three ritual books. Under the Southern Qi dynasty 南齊 (479-502) he served as a XXX 尚書殿中郎, and was under the Liang dynasty promoted to the posts of XXX 尚書左丞、中書郎. Fan was a retainer of Xiao Ziliang 蕭子良, the Prince of Jingling 竟陵王, together with Shen Yue 沈約, and was also well acquainted with Xiao Yan 蕭衍, the eventual Emperor Wu 梁武帝 (r. 502-549) of the Liang.
Later on Fan Zhen became somewhat estranged with his protector because the Prince supported quite a few Buddhist monks. Known as an upright person, he cared for a proper local governance during his time as governor of Yidu 宜都 and later of Jin'an 晉安. When his friend Wang Liang 王亮 was charged with a crime, Fan Zhen supported Wang, and was therefore exiled to Guangzhou 廣州, where he remained several years. Back at the court, he was made XXX 中書郎、國子博士. Fan published his Shenmielun just at the time when Emperor Liang decided to make Buddhism the state religion.
The collected writings of Fan Zhen encompassed between 11 and 15 juan. Today, just five chapters of his writings remain, among them fragments of the Shenmielun.
The text was arranged in 31 chapters in a question-and-answer style, and promoted the tenet that the soul was living in the body as long as the body was intact, but when it fell apart the soul would also disintegrate (xing xie ze shen mie 形謝則神滅). In this way, body and soul were actually the same (shen ji xing, xing ji shen 神即形,形即神). The body was the matter of a person ("a blade in relation to sharpness", ren zhi yu li 刃之于利), and the soul its "movens" or "agens" ("sharpness in relation to a blade", li zhi yu ren 利之于刃), and the one could not be without the other. Fan also argued that a living human person was something different than a piece of wood, even if a dead person and a piece of wood would have the same fate of decaying. From the state of life to that of death, the nature (zhi 質) of the human body thus underwent a substantial change. The difference between the two was that living humans have knowledge (zhi 知). Body and soul were connected in the way they were able to feel, but while arms and legs would feel pain, only the heart would be able to feel what was right and what wrong. While the four lims had "knowledge" (zhi) of pain, it was the heart which had the potential to consider and to think ( 慮).
An exceptional person (shengren 聖人 "a saint") would possess a body and a soul different from that of an average person (fanren 凡人). In spite of all these "materialist" arguments, Fan Zhen still held that ghosts existed, mainly such of persons who had come to death by violence. Finally, Fan also criticized the negative influence of the Buddhist clergy on the government (Futu hai zheng 浮屠害政).
The critical text had such a strong impact, that Emperor Wu ordered no less than 64 persons to write pamphlets against the Shenmielun. Unfortunately, nothing is known about the outcome of Fan Zhen's polemic. The short text of the Shenmielun is preserved in Fan Zhen's biography in the official dynastic history Liangshu 梁書 (49 Rulin liezhuan 儒林列傳) and the Buddhist collection Hongmingji 弘明集.


Sources: Zhao Shulian 趙書廉 (ed.), Zhongguo zhexue xiao cidian 中國哲學史小辭典 (Zhengzhou: Henan renmin chubanshe, 1986), p. 263. ● Xu Xinghai 徐興海, "Shenmielun 神滅論", 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, 1988), p. 452. ● Chen Ying 陳瑛, Xu Qixian 許啟賢 (ed.), Zhongguo lilun da cidian 中國倫理大辭典 (Shenyang: Liaoning renmin chubanshe, 1989), p. 528. ● Jiang Xijin 蔣錫金 (ed.), Wen-shi-zhe xuexi cidian 文史哲學習辭典 (Changchun. Jilin wenshi chubanshe, 1990), p. 962. ● Jiaoyu da cidian 教育大辭典, Vol. 8, Zhongguo gudai jiaoyu shi 中國古代教育史, ed. by Jiaoyu da cidian bianzuan weiyuanhui 《教育大辭典》編纂委員會 (Shanghai: Shanghai jiaoyu chubanshe, 1991), Vol. 1, p. 282. ● Pan Liangzhen 潘良楨, "Shenmielun 神滅論", in Zhou Gucheng 周谷城 (ed.), Zhongguo xueshu mingzhu tiyao 中國學術名著提要, Zhexue 哲學卷 (Shanghai: Fudan daxue chubanshe, 1992), p. 305. ● Shi Jun 石峻, "Fan Zhen 范縝", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Zhexue 哲學 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe, 1992), Vol. 1, p. 200. ● Yan Guocai 燕國材, "Shenmielun 神滅論", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Xinlixue 心理學 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe, 1992), p. 332. ● Gu Baotian 顧寶田, "Shenmielun 神滅論", in Shi Quanchang 石泉長 (ed.), Zhonghua baike yaolan 中華百科要覽 (Shenyang: Liaoning renmin chubanshe, 1993), p. 391. ● Qin Song 秦松, "Shenmielun 神滅論", 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, 1996), p. 464. ● Lin Chongde 林崇德, Yang Zhiliang 楊治良, Huang Xiting 黃希庭 (ed.), Xinlixue da cidian 心理學大辭典 (Shanghai: Shanghai jiaoyu chubanshe, 2003), Vol. 2, p. 1091.
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January 20, 2017 © Ulrich Theobald · Mail