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Chinese Literature
Yulizi 郁離子


Yulizi 郁離子 is a philosophical treatise written by the early Ming period 明 (1368-1644) master Liu Ji 劉基 (1311-1375), courtesy name Bowen 伯溫, from Qingtian 青田, Zhejiang. The 2-juan long book was already finished under the rule of the Yuan dynasty 元 (1279-1368). The title is derived from the trigram li 離 ("Fire"), which is identified with the fire, one of the Five processes (according to the preface by Xu Yikui 徐一夔). Liu wished that his writing would "enlighten" (yu 郁) the world and its rulers, and the founder of the Ming, Zhu Yuanzhang 朱元璋 (Emperor Taizu 明太祖, r. 1368-1398), in particular. He also used this image as his own style: Yulizi, the "Master of the bright trigram Li", or "Master of a Clear Writing".
Liu Ji served the Yuan dynasty XXX as 江西高安縣縣丞、江浙儒學副提舉, but soon retired. Afterwards, he entered officialdom again and was appointed 江浙行省都事, but was dismissed when he XXX Fang Guozhen 方國珍. Emperor Taizu was impressed by his helpful book Yulizi and made him 御史中丞兼太史令 and enfeoffed him as Earl of Chengyi 誠意伯. In 1371 he finally retired, but was slandered at the court and is said to have died out of sorrow. Some sources say he was poisoned on order of XXX Hu Weiyong 胡惟庸. His posthumous title was Earl Wencheng 文成伯. His collected writings are called Chengyibo Liu Wenchenggong ji 誠意伯劉文成公集. Apart from the Yulizi he also wrote Qimen dunjia 奇門遁甲 (a book on divination), Duoneng bishi 多能鄙事, Maiganzhe yan 賣柑者言, Baizhan qilüe 百戰奇略 (a book on strategy and tactics), and many other books.
The book consists of 182 short chapters most of which consist of a proverb and an allegory. It was originally arranged in 10 juan and 18 chapters with 159 articles. The text delivers not only examples for an excellent rule or economic and diplomatic policy, but also shows Liu Ji's philosophical standpoints.
Like most Neo-Confucian thinkers, Liu was of the opinion that the universe was based on "primordial breath" (yuanqiqi. Heaven and Earth produced the ten thousand objects and creatures, among which man would follow the "Way" (dao 道) of Heaven and Earth. Man had thus a superior position and was able to transform objects if he strictly followed the rules of Heaven and the primordial qi.
The human body and the character of a person were given to him by Heaven and could thus not change is the course of a life. Nonetheless, all human character was bound to the dao or the universal order (li 理), which was intrinsically good. All men had thus the potential to be good persons. Just like the dao could not be separated from matter (or qi), the human character could not be separated from emotions and desires (qing yu 情欲), which could be good or evil.
Liu maintained that even if there might be a difference between knowing and action, man would not be able to change objective circumstances – nonetheless, man was not wholly powerless in this respect.
Liu Ji criticized the widespread belief in ghosts, spectres, Daoist immortals and the Buddhist theory of retribution in a later existence.
In the field of politics, Liu Ji used the analogy of a physician who inspected the veins in order to find out problems and only so would be able to apply a type of medicine. The ruler had to to everything to support the common people and to make himself free from the pursuit of own profit. Yet the people was like sand. Lacquer or water would not help to bind it together, and not even a tight fist would be able to keep it for a long time: once opened, the hand would loose all grains of sand. For an effectful government, a ruler had to prevent corruption and to clarify reward and punishment, i.e. to have a law code compiled. Liu's examples and analogies came out of experience, and rarely draw from images in the Confucian Classics.
The earliest print of the Yulizi was published by Master Zhang 章氏 from Longquan 龍泉, another one was published in 1470 in Liu's collected writings with the title Chengyibo Liu xiansheng wenji 誠意伯劉先生文集 (the Chenghua edition 成化本). During the Ming period, four more editions were published, three of them in Liu's collected works (Chengyibo wenji 誠意伯文集), and one stand-alone edition (the Jiajing edition 嘉靖). The most important Qing period 清 (1644-1911) edition is found in the collectanea Sibu congkan 四部叢刊, Xuejin taoyuan 學津討原 and Baizi quanshu 百子全書 (very abridged). In 1981 the Shanghai guji Press published a modern edition commented by Wei Jianyou 魏建猷 and Xiao Shanbang 蕭善邦 (series Ming-Qing biji congshu 明清筆記叢書). In 1983 the Huacheng Press 花城出版社 published Zhang Xuezhong's 張學忠 commented version. The same year saw the publication of Bao Yanyi's 鮑延毅 edition in the Beijing Press. The book Yulizi is described in the catalogue Siku quanshu zongmu tiyao 四庫全書總目提要.


Sources: Wu Feng 吳楓 (ed. 1987), Jianming Zhongguo guji cidian 簡明中國古籍辭典 (Changchun: Jilin wenshi chubanshe), p. 478. ● Hong Bo 洪波 (1992), "Yulizi 郁離子", 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. 615. ● Wu Feng 吳楓 (ed. 1994), Zhonghua gu wenxian da cidian 中華古文獻大辭典, Wenxue 文學卷 (Changchun: Jilin wenshi chubanshe), p. 379. ● Zheng Yunbo 鄭雲波 (ed. 1992), Zhongguo gudai xiaoshuo cidian 中國古代小說辭典 (Nanjing: Nanjing daxue chubanshe), p. 445. ● Li Xueqin 李學勤, Lü Wenyu 呂文郁 (ed. 1996), Siku da cidian 四庫大辭典 (Changchun: Jilin wenshi chubanshe), Vol. 2, p. 1890. ● Qin Song 秦松 (1996), "Yulizi 郁離子", 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), p. 465. ● Lin Fei 林非 (ed. 1997), Zhongguo sanwen da cidian 中國散文大辭典 (Zhengzhou: Zhongzhou guji chubanshe), p. 296.
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January 21, 2017 © Ulrich Theobald · Mail